Front Porch Blog

The Elephant in Wise County, Virginia

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported on Thursday that a consortium of power companies, led by Richmond-based Dominion Power, has selected a location for a new “Mouth of the Mine” plant in Wise County. According to the Times Dispatch:

The plant, which would be built on a reclaimed strip mine partially within the town of St. Paul in an area known as Virginia City, could feed electricity to Virginia consumers by 2012.

Congressman Rick Boucher voiced enthusiastic support for the plan, which is estimated to create 75 permanent plant operator jobs in the county. The Times Dispatch also reports:

About 250 coal miners would be needed to supply the 2 million tons of coal that it would burn annually.

Using highly efficient technology, modern pollution controls, and local resources, in addition to providing jobs in a county that badly needs them, this is almost the kind of coal-fired power plant a person could really get behind. Except, of course, for that giant elephant in the room – the coal is coming from mountaintop removal mines that are destroying wells, homes, communities, and lives and threaten to make a big part of the county all but uninhabitable.

Wise County needs jobs, but this is a deal with the devil that could irreparably harm the economic potential and quality of life in one of the most beautiful counties in Virginia.

Of course, the deal looks a lot better if you ignore the fact that they’re blowing up Virginia’s mountains to get at the coal. That is precisely the approach taken by Congressman Boucher who believes, according to his staff, “there is no mountaintop removal in Virginia.”

The following photos were taken last month by Steve Wussow – an intern with Appalachian Voices.



Here’s a photo Steve took of the stream just down from the mine:


Even the staff at the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy acknowledge that there is mining happening that falls well within the Office of Surface Mining’s (OSM) definition of mountaintop removal. But the efforts of DMME and the coal companies to muddle up the definitions seems to have give Mr. Boucher enough wiggle room to say that there’s simply no mountaintop removal in Virginia.

He should really take a trip to Appalachia, VA, where a toddler by the name of Jeremy Davidson was killed in 2004 when a boulder from a mountaintop removal mine (at least by OSM’s definition) came crashing through the roof of his home in the middle of the night and landed on his bed. At a minimum, he should support the Clean Water Protection Act, which would curtail the biggest types of mountaintop removal mining, which involves fill stream valleys with the waste from the blasting. If the coal companies that support his campaigns aren’t doing it, what’s he got to lose?

Regardless of whether our politicians and government agencies choose to bury their heads in the sand, the fact remains that the coal companies are blasting Virginia’s mountains into rubble to get coal. To add insult to injury, this coal, when it is burned in the new “Mouth of the Mine” plant, will be called “clean coal” because it will be burned with newer technology, which reduces the air pollution caused by burning it.

While that technology is great, and we can all be thankful that the technology is improving, could we ever really call coal that is mined in a manner that destroys homes, communities, mountains and an entire culture clean? The citizens of Wise County deserve better than that.

Those of us who love Virginia’s mountains enough to fight for them have our work cut out for us: this juggernaut may well be impossible to stop. But at least we can use the opportunity to call attention to that giant elephant in southwest Virginia. Whether we call it mountaintop removal, cross-ridge, or modified contour mining, it’s destroying the beauty and the very culture and economic future of southwest Virginia and it has to stop.

Time to get involved, folks – there’s a lot to lose, we’re losing more mountains every day, and there’s not a lot of time to save what’s left.





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