Front Porch Blog

Hope renewed across the Appalachian coalfields

Today the Associated Press broke the news that the EPA is putting hundreds of mountaintop removal coal mining permits on hold until it can evaluate the projects’ ecological impacts. We thought you would would be interested in the reaction from Appalachia, including people who are working to stop mountaintop removal coal mining and individuals who live in the coalfields.

Photos, video B-Roll, and interviews available upon request.


Dr. Matthew Wasson, Executive Director, Appalachian Voices, 828-262-1500
Jamie Goodman, Communications Coordinator, Appalachian Voices, 828-262-1500

Community and environmental groups across Appalachia strongly applauded the EPA’s Tuesday decision to delay and review permits for two mountaintop removal coal mining operations. The EPA’s action calls into question over 100 pending valley fill permits that threaten to bury hundreds more miles of headwater streams.

Mountaintop removal coal mining is an extreme form of surface mining where explosives are used to blast up to 1000 feet of mountaintop in order to reach thin seams of coal. The remaining rubble, or overburden, which contains toxic heavy metal particles, is dumped into adjacent valleys burying headwater streams. Over 1200 miles of streams and 500 mountains have been destroyed due to mountaintop removal.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama expressed concern over mountaintop removal, stating “we have to find more environmentally sound ways of mining coal than simply blowing the tops off mountains.”

“This decision illustrates a dramatic departure from the energy policies that are destroying the mountains, the culture, the rivers and forests of Appalachia, and our most deeply held American values,” said Bobby Kennedy Jr., Chairman of the Waterkeeper Alliance. “By this decision, President Obama signals our embarking on a new energy future that promises wholesome, dignified, prosperous and healthy communities that treasure our national resources.”

Mountaintop removal coal mining, a heavily mechanized process, employs far fewer workers than underground mining. Coal mining once provided over 120,000 jobs in West Virginia alone, but that number has dropped to less than 20,000. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, counties with a high concentration of mountaintop removal mines are some of the most impoverished counties in the United States.

Groups in the region view the recent EPA decision as an acknowledgement of the destruction mountaintop removal coal mining inflicts on the environment and communities of central Appalachia. They hope that, with the halt of new mountaintop removal mining permits, there will be room for green industry and that the president’s green jobs stimulus and renewable energy development plans will reach the Appalachian coalfields.

“Not only does mountaintop removal coal mining destroy mountains, it also destroys the economic potential of Appalachia,” said Dr. Matthew Wasson, Director of Programs for the environmental non-profit organization Appalachian Voices. “This decision rekindles hope for a new economy in Appalachia built around green jobs and renewable energy,” Wasson said.

Carl Shoupe, a retired coal miner and member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, echoed Wasson’s sentiment that this decision is a step in the right direction. “We finally have an administration in place that uses scientific reasoning to make decisions instead of ideology,” Shoupe said. “We fought for this for years. I hope the EPA comes through and permanently stops the permits in our community.”






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