Sarah Hopkins, Capital High School
Our Mountain State is being destroyed, one mountaintop at a time. To meet our nation's ever increasing need for fuel, West Virginia's majestic mountains are sought out for the seams of black diamonds running beneath them: coal.To streamline the industry, (and subsequently cut 10,000 jobs), companies have been switching from the less visually invasive underground mining to the environmentally scarring mountaintop removal mining.Mountaintop removal mining, also referred to as strip mining and surface mining, is the practice of blowing up land to extract the supposedly more valuable substance hidden below. Sure, the resulting coal is turned around for a profit, but what is the true cost? Along with the obvious production costs, surface mining has a significant ecological and ethical price tag as well. After companies use ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel to literally blast away the top of a mountain and exploit it for its coal deposits, they are legally responsible for restoring the landscape to its original, glorious state. This process of replenishing the overburden (trees, rock and topsoil), or at least turning the remaining pox-marked plateau into a useable area, is called reclamation.
However, reclamation gets nowhere close to compensating for the habitat lost in the wake of strip mining's destruction. Local wildlife is forcibly uprooted from its home, hundreds of streams are filled with excess sediment and the land is rendered impractical to cultivate due to the lack of fundamental farming elements that mining destroyed. Humans are struck particularly hard by strip mining. In the rural Appalachian areas primarily affected by strip mining, local residents have already been through the ringer with the economic downturn sweeping the nation, as well as with jobs being lost due to mechanization in the workplace.Now, they are suffering the harrowing consequences of surface mining. Byproducts of this mining method -- such as ponds of slurry (liquid coal waste), excess sediments and dissolved minerals -- have permeated the water table and left many areas with polluted water. Studies have linked the additives in the water to elevated rates of certain birth defects, especially those pertaining to respiratory and circulatory systems.Safe drinking water is something Americans take for granted, but this simple luxury is out of reach for anyone trapped in the caustic environment created by strip mining. The water they drink from their tap could literally be killing them.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Appalachian community leaders have gone to Congress with the issue of this reckless endangerment of the locals' health in an attempt to bring to light the horrors that have been brought upon the area through strip mining. Anti-mountaintop removal advocate Maria Gunnoe proclaims, "The spiraling health crises in the central Appalachian coalfields have reached a breaking point...We appeal to the nation to intervene and bring an end to the staggering human costs and mounting death toll from one of the most egregious health and civil rights violations in our times."Fortunately, there are alternatives to mountaintop removal, such as the Coal River Wind Project. This proposed wind farm would be built on land in Raleigh County previously accounted for as a potential coal extraction site.The 220 windmills would create enough energy to power more than 150,000 homes in West Virginia. Also, these air turbines will create more than 200 jobs during construction, as well as 40-50 permanent jobs once the plan is instituted.Even after the coal supply has been exhausted and an area has been "reclaimed," issues such as loss of natural habitat and endangerment of those living nearby raise the question: Is MTR worth it? No. The destruction of the Appalachian Mountains for the sake of non-renewable resources as well as the complications and dangers that result from strip mining by no means justify the practice.We live in a time when there are other options for fuel sources than those that require the barbaric demolition of our habitat. We have a responsibility to take care of the Earth, as well as the residents of surface mining areas.
The mountains define who we are as residents of this wild and wonderful state. Without a doubt, we cannot allow mountaintop removal mining to continue. If you are a real West Virginian, you know this to be true.