Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mountaintop Removal

Santee Cooper gets all of its coal thru a practice called "mountaintop removal" -- essentially using dynamite to blow up mountains to quickly and cheaply get at the coal underneath.

We've written about this state of affairs before, pointing out that this practice is destroying the South's natural hertiage (i.e. the Appalachians). To be clear: backing the Pee Dee "energy campus" is a vote AGAINST our mountains.

For those of you with the stomach to learn more about this morally unjustifiable practice, I encourage you to read this in-depth article recently published in the Toronto Star. As it turns out Ontario's coal plants are hooked on Appalachian coal as well. Fortunately, like many U.S. states, Ontario is taking steps to move away from coal, even shutting plants down.

Coal mining ravages Appalachia mountains

By Catherine Porter, Environment
Toronto Star
February 23, 2008

They're ripping the tops off mountains in West Virginia coal country to feed our insatiable appetite for power. It's cheaper that way. And the trees and the animals and the flooding? It may not be pretty, but we've got all those dishwashers to run.

CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA-When you flick on the lights this evening, think of Kayford Mountain. Or what was Kayford Mountain, but now is a sprawling, muddy, trembling construction site 100 metres below Larry Gibson's home.

Three years ago, Gibson hunted wild boar here, picked gooseberries and peaches, and sat under the shade of white oaks and hickories so thick he couldn't see the sky.

"Now, you can see the sky below your feet," Gibson says.

The boars have long scurried away. The trees have been reduced to a heap of pulp. The gooseberries have been bulldozed, replaced by rows of explosives. Just past the "Do Not Enter" sign, the mountain has been brought to its knees -- cut down like a giant tree. Instead of gazing 200 metres up to its peak, as Gibson once did, you peer down at its rubbly remains, clawed at by giant shovels and trundled off by bucking yellow dump trucks.

There are no birdsong or rustling leaves -- just beeping and grinding, and sounds like a 747 taking off.

A small sliver of the former mountain slumps to one side of the construction, like the last piece of Black Forest cake left amid the deflated balloons and streamers. On top are the trees and soil, then sandstone and shale, and at the bottom, a thick chocolate layer - coal.

"They say they can make the land better than it originally was," says Chuck Nelson, gazing down sorrowfully from his friend's property, hands in his pockets. "Who can do a better job than God? This land will never be no good for nothing."

Except of course, electricity.

Which is why all this is happening.

This is the new face of coal mining in Central Appalachia. It is called mountaintop removal. Instead of extracting coal the old- fashioned way, by burrowing, the mountain is extracted from the coal - blown up sequentially to reveal each black seam. Everything left over- trees, soil, plants and rock -- is considered "overburden." It's dumped into the valleys below, filling them up.

Some say as many as 470 mountains in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia have been flattened this way. For the industry, it's a financial jackpot -- fast, cheap and thorough. But for the mountains, and the communities nestled between them, it's war.

Their homes have been flooded, walls cracked, wells poisoned, streams polluted; their jobs have been forfeited, cemeteries unearthed and communities abandoned. Many suffer from early-onset dementia and kidney stones. And they've lost their ancestral home.

"We're mountain people. You don't understand our connection with the land," says Gibson, who traces his heritage back 120 years to this very spot. He had never ventured beyond the company store, halfway down the mountain, until he was 11. "We didn't live on the land, we lived with it."

People who live here think of themselves as collateral damage - accidental victims of a war to feed the nation's insatiable demand for energy.

Read more.

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