Mountaintop Removal Mining



Roston, via Wikimedia Commons

On the campaign trail, candidate Trump told Americans that they needed “crystal clear and clean water,” but on February 16, he signed into law a bill killing the Stream Protection Rule, which was supposed to restrict coal companies from dumping mining debris in streams.

Earlier, on February 2, Congress had passed the joint resolution to stop the implementation of rule submitted by the Department of the Interior known as the Stream Protection Rule.  It was one of their earliest actions as the new congress and the rule was very new so it was low-hanging fruit, making it easier to kill.

Many Americans expressed a range of reactions from bewilderment to outrage at the news, particularly on social media.  As someone who does not live in coal country, I formed a simplistic mental picture of a dirty dump truck backing up a pristine stream and dumping black filthy debris into a sparkling Appalachian stream as woodland creatures ran for their lives, frogs jumped frantically for safety before being hit by rubble and fish were smothered in mining waste.

I have since begun reading anything I can find on information related to surface mining in general, and mountaintop removal mining in particular, which utilizes dumping mining spoil down into the valleys. What I have found is that the practice of dumping debris in streams is way more complicated and multi-faceted than I had originally envisioned, and no less egregious.

I have also learned that the popularity of mountaintop removal mining does not break down by predictable groups, with northeastern elites hating it and populations in coal country unanimously loving it.  Many residents in these coal-mining areas are resentful and angered by the fallout from mountaintop removal mining.  They see their streams being buried, beautiful mountains being destroyed and the corrosive effects of the dumping of spoil down in the valleys where they live.

Additionally, with the coal industry and dwindling mining jobs in the news, it may come as a surprise that mountaintop removal mining is an automation which displaces jobs, and thus putting restrictions on the practice does not neatly translate into job-killing.  Killing the Stream Protection Rule will not reverse coal industry job decline.

I am working on a series of articles on these mining practices and impacts on local economies, environmental and health implications, and past and present policies.   Aerial images of mountaintop removal mining may be familiar to most Americans. What goes on down in the valley is familiar to local residents and environmental groups but perhaps not so familiar to most of us.




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