Mountaintop removal has become the dominant form of surface mining in the state. Coal operators are blasting off hilltops, and dumping leftover rock and dirt into nearby valleys.
An untold amount of the state has been flattened, and hundreds of miles of streams have been buried.
In October 1999, a federal judge ruled that the practice had to be limited. On April 24, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Haden's decision. Click here for more information on the appeal, including court rulings and briefs.
Since early 1998, The Charleston Gazette and Sunday Gazette-Mail have provided comprehensive coverage of the controversy.
A series of investigative articles by reporter Ken Ward Jr. revealed that state regulators routinely ignore the law when they issue mountaintop removal permits. Editorials and columns by editorial page editor Dan Radmacher have called for much-needed reforms.
In January 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the 4th Circuit's ruling. But Haden just ruled in a similar case, once more finding that valley fills must be limited. As these developments continue, the Gazette will keep up its coverage. Ward's original series of articles, numerous follow-up stories, and opinion pieces from various sides are all collected on this web site.
Winner of the 1999 Livingston Award
Winner of the 1998 Roy W. Howard Award
Winner of the 1998 Thomas L. Stokes Award
Winner of the 1998 Southern Journalism Award for Investigative Reporting
SHARPLES - On a cold, rainy night last December, more than 125 people gathered to talk about a strip mine. They came from Blair, Clothier and Sharples to pack the bleachers of an elementary school gym.
West Virginia coal operators want the state to permit bigger and bigger strip mines. The state seems willing. But federal regulators may stop them.
LOGAN - Ken Stollings points to the maps and charts on his office wall to show how Hobet Mining will turn the rugged peaks and valleys around Blair Mountain into flat plains and a few rolling hills.
CANNELTON - Bullpush Mountain isn't a mountain anymore. It's a flat, grassy meadow that stands out among the wooded hills along the Fayette-Kanawha County line.
State regulators don't know how many mountaintop removal mines there are in West Virginia.
Do timber companies need flat land in order to make money cutting down trees? Should West Virginia coal operators be able to leave mountaintop removal mine sites leveled for the loggers?
BLAIR - In 1992, when Arch Coal Inc. bought a huge Logan County mountaintop removal mine, company officials decided upon a plan to buy out nearby residents so there would be no one left to complain about blasting, dust and flyrock.
BLAIR - In 1996, Ashland Coal officials added a 20-story-tall, earth-moving machine to the army of giant shovels and trucks at the Dal-Tex mountaintop removal mine.
Since late 1997, when mountaintop removal first made headlines, Arch Coal Inc. officials have argued that they can't make money mining in steep mountain terrain unless their draglines operate full tilt, and unless they are allowed to bury miles of streams.
In July 1997, Arch Mineral Corp. acquired Ashland Coal Inc. The merged companies formed St. Louis-based Arch Coal Inc., the largest coal producer in West Virginia.
ANJEAN - Roger Green walked to the edge of a bright orange pond and pointed at a small rubber hose.
Future mountaintop removal coal mining may eventually destroy an area of Appalachian forest the size of Putnam County, according to a draft environmental study obtained by the Sunday Gazette-Mail.
The U.S. Department of the Interior wants to provide coal operators with "one-stop permitting" for mountaintop removal mining, new government records reveal.
GARY - Charlie Miller smiled as he drove his clean, white Jeep across a broad, green plateau atop a McDowell County hill.