Big Coal: Making Mountains Even Better

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Mountaintop Removal
Making Mountains Better

Coal provides jobs. The jobs are dirty, they produce a product that’s harmful to the planet, hazardous to the health and welfare of the workers and their neighbors, but… hey, they’re jobs.

Besides, some of those jobs involve improving our mountains. They blow the tops off them, and haul away the coal, leaving flat tops, suitable for landing pads, parking lots, NASCAR racing, or Appalachian soccer matches.

Where once was a vista of jagged, irregular, disorganized peaks, we now have a neat, orderly range of mountains that looks like a platoon of Bob Haldemans.

They also leave behind some pretty ugly mountains.

CNN ran a documentary Sunday night by anchor Soledad O’Brien titled “Battle for Blair Mountain” which should have carried a warning that it was an advertisement for Big Coal.

In their zeal to ensure the appearance of objectivity, to present “both sides of the story,” they present the ongoing struggle between the wealthy mine operators and those resisting the rape of the mountains and criminal pollution of their environment as a struggle between environmental activists and workers over jobs. There is much more going on here and CNN should know that and present it fairly.

Glossed over is the fact that communities have been decimated, many jobs have actually been lost, and people are dying from the pollution caused by these giant strip mines. Mountaintop removal is destructive to the environment — it ruins the land, the watersheds, pollutes the streams, and kills flora and fauna. It is profitable but incredibly wasteful and harmful way to get a few BTUs.

Rather than miners removing coal by traditional methods, they use millions of pounds of explosives (ammonium nitrate combined with diesel fuel) every day to blast away the overburden of the mountaintop and get to the coal beneath. Then they scoop it up and haul it away with gigantic equipment to produce about 2-3% of our electricity and billions of dollars for the owners.

Along the way, they create a dangerous toxic fallout in the smoke and dust, a residue of pulverized rock, heavy metals, and fuel that have accelerated cancer rates in the affected areas and have been killing off residents for years.

There’s an excellent report on this documentary at Huffington post in which Jeff Biggers prints statements from local workers, residents, and environmentalists who have been involved in the struggle.

Please take a minute and contact Soledad O’Brien at CNN, asking her to revisit this documentary and tell the rest of the story.

Photograph: JW Randolph [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons MTR1

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