Proponents of the mountain top removal (MTR) method of coal mining argue that it is more cost efficient. In 1998, Arch Coal Inc. defended MTR in advertisements, calling it “good for West Virginia, and it’s the right thing to do.” However, opponents of MTR call it destructive.
MTR is a type of coal mining in the Southeast Appalachian Region that uses explosives to blast 800 to 1,000 feet off mountain tops. MTR can strip up to ten square miles, and then dump hundreds of millions of pounds of waste into valley fills. MTR results in tons of rock, dirt, and vegetation being dumped into the surrounding valleys. It also damages aquatic systems, destroys ancient forests, harms water quality, and releases greenhouse gases.
In 2003, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report about MTR. According to the report, over seven percent of Southeast Appalachian forests were destroyed between 1985 and 2001, and 1,200 streams were either polluted or buried. It was estimated that an area equal in size to one-quarter of New York City was destroyed in Southeast Appalachia.
The EPA report cited the impact MTR had on the environment, including:
* An increase of minerals in the water may increase and negatively impact fish and macro-invertebrates leading to less diverse species
* Forests may become fragmented (broken into sections)
* The regrowth of trees and woody plants on disregraded land may be slowed due to compacted soils
* Free flowing streams at MTR sites are hard to reconstruct.
* Full reforestation of large mine sites may not occur for 100s or years.
The Obama administration’s mixed record on MTR
During President Obama’s campaign he spoke against MTR. Last March, EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson announced the Obama administration was putting a hold on MTR permits until evaluated the environmental impacts. Before the announcement, the EPA announced it sent a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers about the impact of MTR on water.
Last month, the Obama administration released a plan to regulate MTR. The plan aims to provide more regulation and environmental review. However, as the website, SustainableBusiness.com put it, “it is a clear indication that the administration intends to allow the continuation of MTR.”
“So far, the administration’s approach to mountaintop removal coal mining has been a mix of strong words, but weak action,” National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) senior scientist, Dr. Allen Hershkowitz said. “Today’s announcement is more of the same: unspecified references to strengthening permit reviews provides no assurance that the administration will end this abhorrent practice soon.”
Activists arrested while protesting against MTR
On June 23, 30 people were arrested in West Virginia while protesting mountain top removal (MTR) for blocking traffic and obstructing an officer. Among those arrested were NASA climate scientist James Hansen, actress Daryl Hannah, and 94 year-old former U.S. Representative Ken Hechler.
In a statement written after the June 23 arrests, James Hansen said that MTR provides only seven percent of U.S. coal. In the statement, Hansen called for a “moratorium on new coal plants” and for existing plants to be phased out within the next 20 years. The phase out, according to Hansen’s statement, “should start with termination of MTR now.”