Front Porch Blog

A Washington Post editorial on mountaintop removal’s dirty consequences

The editorial board of The Washington Post understands that mountaintop removal is still happening, and that the consequences are devastating. Photo by Lynn Willis, courtesy of SouthWings.

The editorial board of The Washington Post understands that mountaintop removal is still happening, and that the consequences are devastating. Photo by Lynn Willis, courtesy of SouthWings.

Today, the editorial board of The Washington Post published a strongly worded condemnation of mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia. The piece begins with what we all know:

“For decades, coal companies have been removing mountain peaks to haul away coal lying just underneath. More recently, scientists and regulators have been developing a clearer understanding of the environmental consequences. They aren’t pretty.”

As evidence, the editorial highlights two recent studies that we’ve also covered here. First, the U.S. Geological Survey’s findings that pollution from mountaintop removal is devastating fish populations in Appalachian streams. We summed up that research on this blog in July:

Over the summer, a U.S. Geological Survey study compared streams near mountaintop removal operations to streams farther away. In what should be “a global hotspot for fish biodiversity,” according to Nathaniel Hitt, one of the authors, the researchers found decimated fish populations, with untold consequences for downstream river systems. The scientists noted changes in stream chemistry: Salts from the disturbed earth appear to have dissolved in the water, which may well have disrupted the food chain.

The second study the editorial points to is new research out of West Virginia University that found dust pollution from mountaintop removal promotes lung cancer. We wrote last week:

The Charleston Gazette reported on a new study finding that dust from mountaintop removal mining appears to contribute to greater risk of lung cancer. West Virginia University researchers took dust samples from several towns near mountaintop removal sites and tested them on lung cells, which changed for the worse. The findings fit into a larger, hazardous picture: People living near these sites experience higher rates of cancer and birth defects.

We’re glad one of the largest newspapers in the country is paying attention, even when many policymakers are not. The editorial does, however, give a bit too much credit to the Obama administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for their actions to reduce the environmental and human toll of mountaintop removal. Actions have been taken, certainly, but mountaintop removal is still happening in Appalachia.

With the mounting scientific evidence that mining pollution is decimating fish populations, causing air and water pollution, wiping out trees and mountains, and promoting a host of human health problems, there is no excuse for the Obama administration to allow mountaintop removal to continue.

Take a moment to let the president know that Appalachian communities are still being put at risk.




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  1. Bonnie Walkup on October 31, 2014 at 9:02 am

    I would like to see a union of organizations put aside their differences to work towards the real issue of ending MTR. Please Appalachian Voices acknowledge and work with the ACHE team in passing the ACHE Act today.

  2. George Carnahan on October 26, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    . . . . . . Mr. Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away.

  3. Allen Ray Johnson on October 24, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    Ending mountaintop removal is a moral test of the American conscience and political integrity. More than a sufficient number of peer-reviewed studies point to the poisonous toxic effects upon community and personal health from the pollutants spewed by the extractive process of mountaintop mining.

    The coal-producing state political establishments are too beholden to the coal industry to take any responsible measures, indeed they are trying to loosen the weak and poorly-enforced regulations that are on the books. An analogy is the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, in which southern states were not going to effect integration, voting, and other justices for African-Americans. National policy that has priority of human health over industry profit is essential. The ACHE ACT solidly addresses this with a freeze on new MTR permits followed by a federal health study. I urge all App Voices supporters to get behind this bill. PLEASE! for further information.

  4. Vernon Haltom on October 24, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    Josh, less than one percent of the WV workforce does mountaintop removal. As the new report demonstrates, the practice is a direct threat to our health by the airborne blasting dust that it generates. Better economic opportunities have been proposed, such as the Coal River Wind project and other viable, bona fide businesses, but the state economic development folks will often not even bother to return phone calls.
    The coal decline here has very little to do with government regulation and very much to do with competition from gas and western coal, as well as the fact that this non-renewable fuel is being mined out.
    To end mountaintop removal and protect human lives and health, some of us came up with the Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) Act, HR 526 in this Congress. for more details.
    I find it bizarre that so many people’s first concern is for the jobs of the handful of people conducting this deadly practice, and the last concern is for the people whose lives are ended by it.

  5. Josh Kilgore on October 22, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    Though you are against MTR, would you consider underground coal mining an acceptable option for this region’s future? And, secondly, what concrete steps are you all taking to assure that those communities impacted by decreased mining employment can successfully transition economically? Are there boots on the ground examining the impact that increased regulations are having on small businesses in, say, Boone County, West Virginia?

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