You can move a mountain, it takes five guys and some dynamite
Posted January 22, 2009
I recently returned from a trip where I saw environmental destruction worse than anything I saw during my week in China. I saw something that I just can't believe is happening in the United States of America. It's called Mountain-Top Removal Mining. Basically, coal companies blast off the top of a mountain, dump the top into the valley below, creating an earthen dam that destroys streams, and spew toxic chemicals all over the whole thing. Then, they move on to the next mountain.
I've heard about this practice for years, seen photos, met people who live in these communities. But seeing it with my own eyes was truly transformational.
I shot video with my Flip camera - this one shows the tiny town of Montgomery Creek - one of the remaining creeks in an area where many creeks no longer exist. The beginning is shot from a car window. The car is being driven by a salt-of-the earth man who took us to his hometown and into his home to show us the devastation. In the back seat of the car was the oxygen tank he uses because he has black lung from being a miner.
The second video starts in the plane, taking off from a flat runway where their once was a mountain. What's left behind looks like Southwestern mesas. And there, beside those flat-top mountains, instead of valleys, there were more flat bridges to the next mesa, where the mining waste had been dumped.
Frequently, the filled-in valleys served as dams to hold back ponds of chemical waste, unnatural in color, hovering above the valleys below.
In addition to the flat mountaintop removal sites, we also saw what's called contour mining, where machines go around the mountain, creating level steps, and take the coal out there. I'm told that contour mining can be done responsibly, as miners take the coal out of one section, they can replace the rock and dirt they've moved aside to get the coal. But we saw no sign of this alleged responsible contour mining. We saw bare rock steps, with the dirt and topsoil dumped below.
We met people who live amongst the mining. They were united in their fight against mountain-top removal, but divided on what to do about coal in general. Many of them worked in coal mining - in deep-shaft mines where more than a thousand men would work, often for good wages. Now, they tell me, it takes 5 men to blow apart a mountain and plow out the coal, and bulldoze the rest into the valley to create a hollow fill. Five men, thanks to technology. And someone is getting rich. But not the people who live among the destruction. They are poorer than they were a generation ago.
Usually when I think and write about energy I look to technology to solve problems. And though technology has hastened the ruin of Eastern Kentucky, technology can also be the answer there. Eastern Kentucky needs an economic base. Jobs. A future. Without mountain-top removal mining.
Take a look at the map of wind energy that exists or is being built across the US. Notice that one of the states with no wind whatsoever is Kentucky.
Now look up close at the potential wind map for Kentucky. There is clearly potential for wind in exactly the areas of south-eastern Kentucky that are being flattened -- -- but of course the potential for wind there decreases when the mountains disappear. So Kentuckians are trading their mountains now for their clean energy future. And it's permanent.
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