The Dernogalizer

September 2, 2008

Going Topless

Mommy, Wheres the Mountain?

Mommy, Where's the Mountain?

So my column in my school’s newspaper The Diamondback can be found Here, however due to word count constraints(and my title being too cool for school!) some things were nixed. Heres the longer version:

Going Topless

The coal companies want to get to the coal that’s under the mountains in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, known as Appalachia. It’s become cheaper to blow the top off the mountain than the traditional way of mining it. The result is millions of tons of rock, dirt, and vegetation raining down on the surrounding area. Rihanna better bring her umbrella. Entire valleys are covered, and whole streams are poisoned. This is mountaintop removal. Of course, before they blow up the mountain, they need to clear-cut the entire mountainside so it’s free of trees and brush. What’s left in the aftermath is large expanses of grey plateaus spotted with dark craters and large black ponds filled with a toxic byproduct called coal slurry.

Billions of tons of coal slurry are stored all over the destruction sites in dams, right within the communities of the people who live there. There have been incidents near coal slurry dams with large numbers of residents having ailments such as asthma, diarrhea, vomiting, shortness of breath, blisters in the mouth, and nausea. These can be linked to the coal dust that floats around in the air like pollen and high levels of contaminants such as mercury, nickel, and cadmium which leak into the drinking water from the coal slurries. The long term implication of what these people are ingesting is fatal.

Despite big coal’s attempts to distort reality before our eyes by insisting that their services provide jobs and boost the local economy, the opposite is true. It takes very few people to run a mountaintop removal operation, and giant machines do most of the labor. It’s just a bunch of giant WALL-Es skirting around rewired to make a giant mess rather than organize. Although coal production has substantially increased by over 25% in the past couple of decades, mining jobs have dropped by that same amount. The property value of areas in Appalachia takes a huge hit. It’s hard to pitch your home when there are constant blasts raining down rubble while simultaneously poisoning your air and water. The landslides and floods which result from no trees to trap the water from rain is sweeter than 0% financing. These communities have become impoverished since their land is now worthless, and other businesses won’t invest anywhere near there.

Of course the residents in these areas aren’t sitting around and taking it lying down. They’ve been fighting the coal companies tooth and nail with little luck. Not only does big coal have more resources at it’s disposal, but the government hasn’t intervened at all. In fact, the very agencies that are supposed to be regulating these corporations are disregarding the law, and in some cases changing it to convenience big coal. The grossest example was when the Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior Steven Griles had his staff change the part of the Clean Water Act to redefine all waste from mountaintop removal that goes into streams, calling it harmless “fill material”– the very thing that’s making people sick, and killing them. Would it surprise you that Steven Griles was a former coal lobbyist?

The people of Appalachia have worked in the coal mines for decades. They’ve been the lifeblood of this country, and the reason our energy is cheap. Now they’re being exploited for profit. This is the economic argument that says we should burn coal rather than utilize cleaner and more socially just alternatives, which would actually be the economic shot in the arm that these people need. So much attention is focused on the pollution from burning coal, that it’s too easy for the casualties of its extraction to be swept under the rug. As graceful as it would be to place the blame squarely on big coal and government negligence, I’m going to hold the mirror up. We pay for that coal in Maryland and DC. The coal companies have sold us their soul, and it’s time to find the receipt and give it back. It’s time to speak out against a means of producing energy that destroys people’s lives. To say: not in this country, not in this state, not on my electric bill, and not on their life. Contact your elected representative, and spread the word. Sell coal back its soul.


  1. […] which will be introduced again in the upcoming Congress.  I touched upon this issue in a column of mine back in September.  Basically back in 2002 the Bush Administration’s Interior […]

    Pingback by The Clean Water Protection Act « The Dernogalizer — January 18, 2009 @ 10:23 pm | Reply

  2. […] a reality, especially considering that it’s extraction often involves the very destructive mountaintop removal. Oh..and coal is getting more […]

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  3. […] F. Kennedy about mountaintop removal.  I’ve written on this subject before as you can see here.  The coal companies aren’t going to go down on this issue without one big fight, but the […]

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  4. […] EPA is moving to regulate coal ash, there has not been a move to stop permits for the destructive mountaintop removal, too much talk of clean coal technology, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is talking too […]

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  5. […] the fact that efforts to develop clean coal technology had failed, that the extraction of coal is destructive, and whether or not Congressman Hoyer would support a moratorium on new coal plants.  This was […]

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  6. […] EPA regulations earlier this year which in hindsight were over-hyped, and an introduction to the practice and impacts of blowing up mountains for coal.  Although I’ve participated in protesting a bank over […]

    Pingback by A Day of Fighting for Appalachia « The Dernogalizer — September 28, 2010 @ 2:33 pm | Reply

  7. […] EPA regulations earlier this year which in hindsight were over-hyped, and an introduction to the practice and impacts of blowing up mountains for coal. Although I’ve participated in protesting a bank over […]

    Pingback by A Day of Fighting for Appalachia « It’s Getting Hot In Here — September 28, 2010 @ 2:36 pm | Reply

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