Appalachia Threatened by Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining
Many mining operations in the region are operating without valid permits, and as a result, have been the defendants in numerous lawsuits.
The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, showed the world what horrible tragedies can occur when people’s water sources aren’t protected and properly maintained, and although public outcry has led to the situation in Flint being greatly improved, water quality is still a massive public health issue there and in many other American cities. This problem is typically a result of old pipes made out of toxic metals or improper water treatment practices, but in Appalachia one of America’s most isolated and impoverished areas, large corporate mining interests are actively poisoning the water.
Videos of water combustion as a result of contamination from fracking and other forms of natural gas extraction exist, but less known and possibly even more terrifying is the effect mountaintop removal coal mining has on people’s water supply. Most people in Appalachia live in isolated rural areas, and as a result, use wells for water as opposed to a public water source. When contaminants from mountaintop removal coal mining enter the water table, the result can be disastrous for nearby residents.
The sludge and contaminated sediment that is present in this water is disgusting and ugly, leaving hideous orange and brown stains in showers, sinks and washing machines. But its effects are far worse than its horrible appearance indicates. This contamination contains many highly toxic chemicals, which pose a grave risk to both humans and the environment. Water affected by mountaintop removal coal mining is not only undrinkable, it’s unusable for pretty much anything due to its toxic content and capacity to permanently stain nearly every material.
The sheer impact of the problem can be easily observed and is truly alarming. According to a study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey and researchers from Duke University, streams near mountaintop removal mining operations “have less than half as many fish species and about a third as many fish as non-impacted streams.” Further, a report from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies stated that mountaintop removal coal mining is the cause of more than 1000 deaths every year.
Residents in these areas who have become concerned and attempted to pursue action often face lack of support or even downright opposition from their neighbors because many people believe that without the coal industry it would be impossible to make a living in Appalachia. The majority of people in this region are employed in a capacity at least related to coal mining and believe that if this industry is threatened, many valuable jobs would be lost.
Jason Walker, a West Virginia resident who has been involved in lawsuits attempting to hold energy companies accountable for the damage they have done to the water supply near his home, detailed how severely this type of legal action can divide members of the community. “There’s a lady down the street here who wouldn’t join the lawsuit,” he says. “She hasn’t spoken to me in almost two years because of it. They were scared it would mean losing jobs.” Interestingly enough, practices such as mountaintop removal mining may actually be to blame for the loss of mining jobs in Appalachia since they require far fewer miners than conventional underground mining operations and have led to the mining workforce being drastically reduced since their adoption.
Trump has vowed to get rid of federal regulations until there are fewer than there were in 1960, which is obviously very troubling since these current federal restrictions are the only things keeping hungry coal companies at bay. Many people view this stance as a way to protect mining jobs in Appalachia that would otherwise be lost, and as a result, many people in affected regions of Appalachia are hesitant to take a stand against the mining companies.
The Trump administration has also both blatantly ignored and actively stopped scientific research into the potential hazards of mountaintop removal mining, for example by canceling a government-funded national Academy of the Sciences study investigating negative health effects caused by mining operations in Appalachia.
Many mining operations in the region are also operating without valid permits, and as a result have been the defendants in numerous lawsuits, such as the one Coal River Mountain Watch, Appalachian Voices and the Sierra Club filed against Republic Energy regarding its sprawling Eagle no. 2 mine in November 2018.
America has a seemingly endless need for energy sources and given the money at stake, it seems unlikely that mining companies and energy conglomerates will stop extracting coal from this region until there is none left. The coal industry has the financial resources at its disposable to continue silencing the voices of the people of Appalachia both in the courts and in the media, but even this cannot deny the fact that everyone deserves access to clean, safe water. Raising awareness about mountaintop removal coal mining and its horrific consequences is the only way to protect this unique corner of America from the grasps of big coal.