Mountaintop removal mining in the Appalachian region is one of the most ecologically destructive activities being undertaken to meet our domestic energy needs. To understand the devastation, you need to first get a picture of the process of the destruction.
Before mountaintop mining begins, forests are logged off the mountain. Then the overburden (organic material, topsoil, and bedrock to the depth of the coal seam) is removed. Mining companies had difficulty in disposing of this "mining waste," so in 2002 the Bush administration decided to allow them to dump the overburden in adjacent forest streams.
Just one mountaintop removal mine can lay bare up to 10 square miles and pour hundreds of millions of tons of waste material into as many as a dozen "valley fills" -- some of which are 1,000 feet wide and a mile long.
And if that’s not bad enough, the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act allows mining companies to restore MTR sites in grass -- which means that it will take thousands of years for forest to develop again, and the Appalachian temperate forest ecosystem is gone forever. Filled streams are no longer streams. They are ditches or culverts, their ecological function gone forever.
Janelle Corn, Ph.D., is an ecologist and wildlife biologist living in western Montana. She has lived and worked in the western U.S. for 30 years, and is currently an activist for addressing climate change before it's too late. Her new blog is Natural History Now. The author's opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the 1Sky campaign.