Top of the Mountain to Ya

The Appalachian Mountains are breathtaking. That would be cliché if it wasn’t so true. Drive through West Virginia on a cool spring morning and try to stay depressed about that project at work; it’s tough when your mouth is gaping wide open and your brain is working hard to make your lungs expand. There’s also that pesky little condition called black lung. Breathtaking, indeed.

Coal is a controversial source of energy. Obama talks Clean Coal. Ilovemountains.org chants “Clean Coal is a Dirty Lie.” Miners break bread because of their mining wages; dozens die when safety becomes secondary to profits. But the only folks I can think of that like mountaintopping are coal execs. Mountaintopping is just what it sounds like; detonating the landscape to reveal energy and profits. Sort of like sucking up ocean water instead of dropping a net or a line.

A recent study from the Natural Resources Defense Council argues persuasively that “reclamation,” coal companies’ argument that topped mountains bring economic development to Appalachia, just ain’t happening. 89% of mountain top removal mines are not used for economic development. Over 500 mountains and 1 million acres destroyed. This includes 66 in my home state of Virginia and almost 300 in Kentucky. Kentucky doesn’t have Broadway, Hollywood, the Grand Canyon to draw visitors. It does have some of the most beautiful scenic views in the US. If nothing else, there goes tourism.

I don’t consider mountaintopping something one does or doesn’t support dependent upon one’s slot on the political spectrum. Rather, it’s something about which one either does or doesn’t know or care. It’s tough to fight big profits in an economically depressed and stereotyped region like Appalachia. But some of the best activism in the US comes straight from the hills. Even those of us in the Midwest, where the only mountains we know are of snow in the Wal-Mart parking lot in January, should care about what happens to our purple mountains’ majesty. What if coal was found in your 10,000 lakes, Minnesota? Under your thousands of acres of grain gold (corn), Iowa?

Read summaries and details of the study here. Look around the site a bit and read stories of how mountaintopping has destroyed residents’ drinking water and livelihoods. Ideally, we would leave coal where it lies. But we can at least stop the worst of the worst.

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