Thursday, August 23, 2007

Mountaintop removal strip mining rules may be relaxed

Today, Thursday Aug. 23, 2007, The New York Times has a front page story by John M. Broder, “Rule to Expand Mountaintop Coal Mining: U. S. Plan Intended to Ease Confusion Over Techniques.” New rules to be published in the Federal Register on Aug. 24 would allow mountaintop removal to continue and expand, with loosely defined rules as to what kind of damage to streams from valley filling with debris is acceptable. The rules are likely to draw legal challenges and litigation. The link is here. The rules are coming out on the same day that Leonardo Di Caprio's film about global warming, "The 11th Hour", starts in many cities and seems like a blow below the belt.

The Times website has a graphic color picture of typical mountaintop removal near Hale Gap, VA It also has a detailed diagram ("Mining Mountains") explaining how mountaintop removal works. The overall result is, besides leaving debris, to flatten the landscape somewhat. It is true that dragline equipment can remove several hundred feet of overburden. Some defenders of strip mining note the risks of underground mining, as in recent disasters in Utah and Indiana, as well as earlier collapses in Pennsylvania.

In the past, other publications had discussed auxiliary methods of stripmining, such as the "box cut" method leaving steps of highwalls.

In some areas coal companies have done a reasonable job of at least restoring greenery to a striped area, although not the original contour. This seems to be the case near Mt. Storm, W Va as well as near Clinchwood and Norton in SW Virginia near the “Trail of the Lonesome Pine.”

I have written about this issue on this blog Sept 17 2006 and June 8 2007.

I also have a discussion of how to look at satellite views of stripmines from Google here. Look at footnote 0 on this file.

The following websites oppose mountaintop removal. As far back as 1970, a Kentucky politician said “my beautiful state is being destroyed. In a few decades the mountains will be gone.” This website has a short video "Kilowatt Ours."

Update: Sept. 7, 2007. Bill Moyers on PBS depicted the problem of mountaintop removal, showing graphic shots of mines in southern W. Va. (near Barrett W Va), that look like moonscapes, although they really are not flattened. The program interviewed evangelical Christians in the area who see coal companies as behaving in a way contrary to Biblical teaching.

Picture: Near Mt. Storm, W Va, behind Allegheny Front Mountain, stripmined heavily in the early 1970s.

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