Pike County, Kentucky

Pike County, Kentucky

Coal production in Central Appalachia has declined roughly 50% since 2008 due largely to the rise of cheap natural gas as a fuel for generating electricity. And while the extremely destructive form of surface mining known as mountaintop removal also declined, it’s still happening.

Some mountaintop removal mines are posing an ever greater threat as they expand closer to communities, bringing decimated landscapes, toxic air and water pollution, and health threats including higher rates of cancer, heart disease and premature death.

Appalachian Voices has developed the first-ever, time-lapse map showing the encroachment of mountaintop removal on communities. Of the more than 3,000 communities with surface mining within a mile radius, we identified the 50 communities that are most at risk based on rates of mine expansion, population loss, poverty, and other socio-economic factors.

Communities where mountaintop removal mine encroachment is increasing suffer higher rates of poverty and are losing population more than twice as fast as nearby rural communities with no mining in the immediate vicinity. The 23 counties where the at-risk communities are located accounted for more than 85% of Central Appalachian surface coal production in 2014.

Using the new interactive map, and working with impacted citizens in the coal-bearing region, Appalachian Voices can now identify mining “hot spots” and access on-demand, up-to-date, high-resolution satellite images through a unique partnership with Google Inc.’s Skybox For Good initiative.

The "Communities at Risk" map is a new tool in our ongoing campaign urging President Obama to end mountaintop removal mining before he leaves office. The president has proposed an ambitious budget, the “POWER+ Plan,” that would provide more than $1 billion to help revive the region, whose people and economy have borne the brunt of much of America’s industrial power. But to leave a truly positive legacy, President Obama must take action to end mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia.

The mapping tool was developed by Appalachian Voices for iLoveMountains.org on behalf of The Alliance for Appalachia.