Appalachians speak out on mountaintop mining

It’s not hard to find opinions on Appalachian mountaintop mining (or mountaintop removal, as opponents call it), but many of the campaigns, for or against, are headed by people who don’t experience the effects of mining firsthand.  If you’re debating whether to dig for coal in the mountains, why not ask the folks who live there?

The RAN recently did just that.  In their blog, The Understory, they interviewed several residents of Appalachia who are speaking out against mountaintop mining.  The stories are moving, and definitely worth reading.

We spent this morning with Maria Gunnoe from Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, this year’s Goldman Prize winner…Maria’s life has been threatened frequently, from bomb threats to attempts to run her off the road. Abuse is a constant part of her life; just yesterday someone almost hit her car as she drove with her daughter and son…

Maria is an animal person and lives with rescued cats and dogs and once fostered an injured deer. Around 2000 she noticed that frogs, once ubiquitous in the fields in front of her home, had started disappearing. The field used to be so loud with croaking that you couldn’t hold a conversation, but not anymore. She soon found out that the stream running by her home carried polluted run-off from a blast site.

She spoke about how several family cemeteries are currently being destroyed by mountaintop removal. Her group went in and marked off the required 100 foot buffer zone around three cemeteries, and the coal company moved the markers. The cemeteries are in the company’s permit zone, so people who want to visit gravesites…must make arrangements with the coal company…

As vulnerable as the cemeteries are, they’re about all that’s left of Lindytown. Over the past year, the town has been systematically de-populated and now there are just a few occupied homes remaining. Many of the homes that are left have been vandalized and looted…

Today, we arrived in Lindytown in time to meet Laura Webb, as her friends packed up her house and got her ready to move two hours away. Laura doesn’t want to move, and she’s furious at what the coal companies are doing to her community. She faced threats and intimidation before she agreed to sell her land. And even after signing a contract, her horse was killed and a truck knocked out her phone lines.

Laura is a plant person, and she’s nurtured many rare and endemic plants on her land. Some are underground now, so she can’t relocate them. I also saw her well-tended garden with the ripening tomatoes that will likely never be eaten.

When the mountains are blown up, they’re “reclaimed” by being sprayed with hydroseed – a mix of grass seed, newspaper and green dye). It’s not native grass and it has no nutritional value for wildlife. Most of the plants they use on reclaimed lands are invasive. The reclaimed land tends to shift and ends up in streams, so that invasive plants now line the streams.

The article goes on to describe the health effects of coal mining: The community is exposed to the same toxins that miners wear masks to protect themselves from.  You can check The Understory for the other interviews with Appalachian MTR opponents.

I know that personal stories aren’t as reliable as scientific studies.  Not all Appalachian residents experience such devastating impacts from mining; some may even support it.  But if mountaintop coal mining damages even a few communities and disrupts even a few lives, isn’t that a problem?

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