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.