Coal Destroys Mountains

6 Ways Coal Destroys With

Mountaintop Removal










Before mining can begin, all topsoil and vegetation must be removed. Because coal companies frequently are responding to short-term fluctuations in the price of coal, these trees are often not even used comercially in the rush to get the coal, but instead are burned or sometimes illegally dumped into valley fills.


Many Appalachian coal seams lie deep below the surface of the mountains. Accessing these seams through surface mining can require the removal of 500-800 feet or more of elevation. Blowing up this much mountain is accomplished by using millions of pounds of explosives.

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Coal and debris is removed by using this piece of machinery, called a dragline. A dragline stands 22 stories high and can hold 24 compact cars in its bucket. These machines can cost up to $100 million, but are favored by coal companies because they displace the need for hundreds of jobs.

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The waste from the mining operation, also known as overburden or spoil, is dumped into nearby valleys, burying streams. According to an EPA environmental impact statement, more than 1,000 miles of Appalachian streams were permitted to be buried as of 2001.

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The coal is washed and treated before it is loaded on trains. The excess water left over from this process is called coal slurry or sludge and is stored in open coal impoundments. Coal sludge is a mix of water, coal dust, clay and toxic chemicals such as arsenic mercury, lead, copper, and chromium. Impoundments are held in place by mining debris, making them very unstable.

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While reclamation efforts such as stabilization and revegetation are required for mountaintop removal sites, in practice, state agencies that regulate mining are generous with granting waivers to coal companies.

Most sites receive little more than a spraying of exotic grass seed, but even the best reclamation provides no comfort to nearby families and communities whose drinking water supplies have been polluted and whose homes will be threatened by floods for the hundred or thousands of years it will require to re-grow a forest on the mined site.

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Top 5 Reasons Moutaintop Removal Destroys our Environment

#1: More than 1,200 miles of streams across the region have been buried or polluted [by mountaintop removal waste] between 1985 and 2001. An additional 535 miles of streams have been permitted since then.

#2: More than 1 million acres total have been destroyed by mountaintop removal.

#3: In West Virginian's Appalachian Plateau, iron and manganese concentrations exceeded US Environmental Protection Agency drinking water guidelines in at least 40% of the wells, and about 70% of the wells near reclaimed surface coal mines.

#4: Less than 1 percent of mined land is currently reused for any development purpose.

#5: The EPA estimates that mountaintop removal will double over the next decade.

Information and photos courtesy of I Love Mountains and Appalachian Voices.

For more on the environmental and economic impacts of moutaintop removal visit

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