Free Research Paper On Mountaintop Removal In West Virginia
In the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, fish are disappearing at an alarming rate (Fears n.p). Not only has the number of fish species fallen significantly, but the population of the species left is alarmingly low. In addition, some of the fish look dangerously skinny. This observation has been attributed to a variety of factors, but a recent study has pointed to one factor that is contributing to the observed fish trend (Fears n.p). This study claims that mountaintop removal (a coal mining practice that involves the cutting down of vegetation and trees from a mountain before their tops are blown off with explosives) is responsible for this trend. It is such findings that have seen the emergence of a dispute in the relatively quiet state of West Virginia where mountaintop removal is a popular mining technique. It is not only fish that has been affected; rather, the effects of this technique have been wide and varied and have been observed on people, animals and vegetation. Before dwelling on the dispute itself, it would be wise to get a comprehensive understanding of what mountaintop removal exactly entails.
Mountaintop removal commences with the removal of all the vegetation and topsoil at the top of a mountain (Appalachian Voices n.p). This may be done through some environmentally destructive means including the burning of trees. The second step involves the blasting of the mountain tops. The coal seams in the Appalachian Mountains lie deep below the surface and to reach them, about 500-800 feet of elevation has to be removed (Appalachian Voices n.p). This is achieved by blasting the mountaintops using tons of explosives. The mining then commences whereby the coal along with the debris are removed using a machine known as a dragline. After mining has occurred, the waste from the mine which is sometimes referred to as spoil or the overburden is usually dumped into nearby pits and valleys (Appalachian Voices n.p). Federal law stipulates that companies that utilize this form of mining initiate reclamation after mining this way, but more often than not, ,many of the mining companies end up getting waivers from this requirement with the excuse being that newly flattened land will spur some form of economic development in the future. However, research suggests that the amount of mountain removal sites, where economic development has occurred, is less than three percent (Appalachian Voices n.p). In addition, once a mountain top has been cleared and blasted, it may take several centuries before a full-fledged forest can re-establish itself.
The history of this type of mining goes back to the 1960’s when it was first introduced. Since this time, mining companies have openly blasted more than 500 mountains in America and has also led to the destruction of about 2000 miles of headwater streams (Appalachian Voices n.p). In addition to West Virginia, other states that have felt the full brunt of this kind mining include Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. Mountains peaks that have been formed progressively over hundreds of years are usually obliterated within a couple of months through this destructive mining technique ((Appalachian Voices n.p).
The dispute regarding this form of mining has been spurred by several research studies that have revealed the destructive effects of mountaintop removal. It has been particularly shown that mountaintop removal has a devastating effect on both the surrounding community as well as stem ecology of the immediate region where this occurs (Fox 163). For instance, the dynamite blasts that are used to open up the cool seams usually splinter and scatter rock particles and strata that are so strong that they even crack the walls as well as foundations of houses. Additionally, this type of mining is responsible for the drying of nearby and the contamination of even more (Fox 163).
It has also been shown that the families who live close to these sites often gave to contend with frequent flooding. The removal of mountain tops facilitates increased production of runoff and also hinders surface flow detention leading to increased flooding (Barry 120). Sludge dams constructed to handle waste from the mining sites often leak and contaminate the local drinking water (Fox 165).
All these effects have led to intensive calls for this mining practice to be banned in West Virginia. This has led to a dispute with the primary stakeholders being the local community. The other primary stakeholder are the mining companies since the dispute is between them and the local community. However, there are also other stakeholders who have lent their voice and input to the dispute. These secondary stakeholders include state officials and the state government, environmental protection and conservation groups/organizations. A third party that has also lent its voice to this dispute is the federal government. The main argument by those calling for the abandonment of this mining practice is that the negative consequences of this practice particularly on the environmental outweigh any possible benefits that might be accrued from this economic activity (Barry 120).
As observed, the primary stakeholders in this dispute include the local community in West Virginia since they are the ones that are directly affected by the effects of mountaintop removal. Many people from the local community in West Virginia have openly turned against mining which is actually the state’s oldest industry (McQuaid n.p). This included even former miners. An example is given of Jim Foster, a former mine site welder who has lived his entire life in Boone County in the state of West Virginia. Foster recalls how as a boy he used to hike in Mo’s Hollow which was a mountain valley and how he used to camp there. However, Mo’s Hollow has now been turned into a waste disposal center and is filled with rubble and water from a nearby mountaintop removal site (McQuaid n.p). Such occurrences have prompted Foster to join a local environmental group that has filed a lawsuit to prevent the encroachment of another valley fill on the grounds that the site’s environmental consequences and impacts have not been assessed adequately. Foster and his compatriots won the first round of the trial although the mining company that wanted to utilize the valley fill (called the Roach Branch Valley) appealed the decision (McQuaid n.p).
Foster is just one of the many residents in West Virginia who are actively calling for the destructive technique that is mountaintop removal to be banned because of its observed destructive effects.
Perhaps the fact that West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the nation has had a significant impact on the continued utilization of the mountaintop removal technique. In fact, the dispute highlights the predicament of the state economy-wise (Burns 34). Poverty in the state of West Virginia is particularly concentrated around the coal fields where as high as 20% of local residents live below the federal line of poverty. As mentioned earlier mining has been the major economic activity in West Virginia since time immemorial, and many of the residents in the state’s towns have found employment in this sector (Burns 40). Therefore, mountaintop removal might be welcomed by the state residents due its rich mining history. However, this mining technique has had a huge toll on the local surroundings whereby it has threatened the life of the local community that the traditional coal mining industry once helped to build. In addition, mountaintop removal mining does not employ as many people as traditional underground mining employed (Burns 54). Simply put, this new form of mining does not bring as many benefits as the traditional coal mining brought to the state. Instead, it has only led to destruction, and this is primarily the reason why there has been more opposition to it rather than support (Burns 57).
As mentioned earlier, other stakeholders that have been actively involved in this dispute are environmental conservationist groups. One of these groups, for example, is Earth Justice. From its website, this organization claims that it has been at the forefront of calling for this destructive practice to be wiped out. Earth Justice has been actively advocating in the Congress for more and stronger protection of the Appalachian community and its people together with region’s waterways since 1999 (Earth Justice n.p). The organization with the support of other clean water activists has been fighting hard to ensure that mining companies in the Appalachian region, particularly those that utilize the mountaintop removal technique do not contaminate the local waterways. In addition, the organization claims that is constantly educating lawmakers in the nations on the serious public health threat that emanates from this mountaintop removal mining technique (Fox 170).
However, the mining industry has been very fast to defend itself in this mining dispute citing several justifications and arguments. First, the mining industry and mining companies claim the mountain removal and surface coal mining are indeed necessary mining techniques in the Appalachian region. They claim that the soil that surrounds the coal deposits has distinguishable characteristics such as poor stability and consequently, using traditional mining techniques would not be viable (Burns 60). They also claim that the valleys fills are necessary because the steep landscape makes many types of waste storage or disposal impossible. The argument is that if the mining companies were stopped from storing their spoils in the valleys, they would have to result to more expensive means of waste storage and disposal that would make the mining endeavor itself uneconomical. These mining companies have also been frequently defended themselves against other effects such as stream degradation claiming that they have permits from the state and federal government that allow them to carry out their activities. One of the stipulations of these permits is compliance with environmental regulations such as the Clean Water Act and therefore, any concerns about the mining activities and its effect on the local streams and waterways should be forwarded to the relevant authorities (Burns 62). Another strong claim or argument that has often been forwarded by the mining companies that the activity of mountaintop removal is beneficial to the economy because a flattened mountaintop site can, for example, be a popular tourist site. In combination with the proceeds from the mining activity, the companies claim that their contribution to both the state and the national economy is huge and, therefore, the process of mountaintop removal should continue without any obstruction.
The federal government has also played a significant role in this dispute despite being a third stakeholder. This has particularly been through the passage of several acts that either support the continuation of mountaintop removal mining or inhibit it. A close analysis, however, reveals that the federal government has been more orientated to the former. This is traceable through several federal acts passed through the years. Both the Obama and the Bush administration have passed several laws that have had a significant impact on the mountaintop removal mountain techniques. For example, the Bush administration is charged with alteration one of the federal environmental laws that allowed mining companies to store their waste in fills which could then be directed into streams. This was covered by the Clean water Act and, therefore, mining companies could this without being accused of contravening federal law. The Obama administration has been in the process of reviewing the current procedures for obtaining work permits for mining in the Appalachian region, but not much has been done to facilitate the banning of this destructive mining technique.
However, what is clear that there have been very little efforts to resolve this dispute. The conflict of interest is too large that none of the conflicting parties are willing to compromise or come up with a solution that works for both sides. The local community in association with environmental conservationists have been adamant that this destructive mining technique needs to be abolished immediately as it has already led to permanent damage of the local ecology nd ecosystem and that it has also affected the health of people (McQuaid n.p). On the other hand, the mining companies have been arguing that this method of mining is safe, and the perceived effects on the environment are exaggerated. The state and the federal government have not done much to help as up to now; there have been no clear laws that have been passed to guide mountaintop removal.
The problem and dispute about mountaintop removal mining is well documented in a variety of sources. These range from books, scholarly articles, periodicals, newspaper articles, government publications, magazines, and the internet among many other sources. These sources have placed primary focus on the issues at hand with the primary issue being the destructive effects of this mining technique.
The internet is particularly laden with a lot of information about this mining technique. There are a lot of online newspaper articles and magazine articles, blog posts, personal opinion pages and a host of other vices where information is available on the issue. Even the social media has not been left behind and searching for the topic on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook yields hundreds of results where individuals, as well as organizations, are discussing the issue. In fact, the internet reveals that the debate on the issue is fully two-sided. There are those who argue for the continued use of the mountain removal mining techniques while there are others who are clearly opposed do this practice.
When it comes to scholarly articles, most employ the quantitative or the qualitative approach in exploring the issue. Some are longitudinal studies conducted to establish the progressive effect of mountaintop removal mining on the local community, ecology and ecosystem. Some also focus on the economy effects of this mining technique to the local region. These articles then give conclusions. On the other hand, there are some articles that are theoretical in nature and mainly involve authors giving their personal views and opinions on this dispute. There are some who support the continued employment of this mining technique while others are vehemently opposed to it and cite several reasons for the opposition.
There are also several books published on the issue. For instance, I came across several books on mining whereby the mountain real mining technique together with is its effect and history was discussed. These books went into great details about how the mountaintop removal has affected the local community whether socially, economically or even health wise. Therefore, when it came to looking for information on this particular subject, it was a pretty easy affair given the humongous amount of literature and information that is available on the issue. As mentioned earlier, the internet is particularly the greater information resource from which was able to accrue of crucial information on this dispute, However, since there is a lot of information on the internet that is unproven and that may, therefore, be unreliable, I turned to peer articles to get real and accurate facts on this topic and issue and by combining and comparing it with the information gained from the various internet resources, I was able to fully comprehend the dispute or issue at hand. This included a conclusive understanding of the (primary, secondary and tertiary) as well as the primary, secondary and tertiary stakeholders in this dispute. In addition, I was able to gather the history of the dispute and how it has been resolved, or the attempts that have been made to resolve it and whether they have succeeded. In addition, even before understanding the dispute itself, I had engaged the books as well as a few internet resources to get an idea of what mountaintop removal exactly entailed and through this, I was able to understand the other aspects better.
In looking for information on this issue, I took approximately 24 hours. A large part of this was dedicated to searching for various sources while the other part was spent analyzing whether the information from the found sources was applicable to the requirement of this project. In the end, I was able to come up with several credible sources from which I was able to draw all the information related to the topic.
In trying to find even more information on this topic, there are a few obstacle that might exhibit themselves. Looking for primary data from the mines can, for example, be hard as the mining companies prefer keeping their activities and actions discrete. In addition, accessing state records in order to find out information on issues like permits may be hard as these records may be unavailable or may be stored in storage centers that are hard to access or gain entry into. In addition, they may be stored together with thousands of other files and finding the specific records related to mountaintop removal may take a lot of time.
In regards to state records or even state-sanctioned studies on the effects of mountaintop recovery, I will required to be patient. I will have to visit the state offices physically and plead my case so that I can be allowed access to the state records concerned with mountaintop recovery mining.
When it comes to environmental matters, disputes between the local community and businesses are likely to emerge. This is exactly what is happening in West Virginia. The mountain removal mining that is popular with local mining companies has been widely criticized by the local community and environmental conservationists, and this has led to a great dispute between the two parties. Both sides have forwarded their arguments with the local community and the environmental conservationist arguing that mountaintop removal mining is destructive to the local ecology and ecosystem and has negatively affected the quality of life of the local people. On the other hand, the mining companies argue that these perceived effects are exaggerated and, in addition, the local community is bound to benefit economically from the mining economic activity. Up to now, no viable resolution techniques and have been employed, and it appears that the dispute will remain for the foreseeable future.
(Existing and already accessed)
Barry, Joyce. "Mountaineers are always free? An examination of the effects of mountaintop removal in West Virginia." Women's Studies Quarterly (2001): 116-130.
Burns, Shirley Stewart. "Bringing down the mountains: The impact of mountaintop removal on southern West Virginia communities." (2007).
Earth Justice. "What Is Mountaintop Removal Mining?" Earth justice. 4 June 2010. Web. 26 Feb. 2015. <http://earthjustice.org/features/campaigns/what-is-mountaintop-removal-mining>.
Fears, Darryl. "Exploration for West Virginia Coal Moves Mountains, and Apparently Fish, a Government Study Says." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 13 July 2014. Web. 26 Feb. 2015. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/mountaintop-removal-for-coal-hurts-water-quality-and-harms-fish-study-says/2014/07/13/0072f69e-0783-11e4-bbf1-cc51275e7f8f_story.html>.
Fox, Julia. "Mountaintop Removal in West Virginia an Environmental Sacrifice Zone." Organization & Environment 12.2 (1999): 163-183.
McQuaid, John. "Mining the Mountains.” History, Travel, Arts, Science, People, Places | Smithsonian. Smithsonian Magazine, 1 Jan. 2009. Web. 26 Feb. 2015. <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/ecocenter-energy/mining-the-mountains-130454620/?sessionGUID=43720c49-32ea-9a75-21aa-9062e83999a5&no-ist=&page=1>.
"Mountaintop Removal 101." Appalachian Voices RSS. Web. 26 Feb. 2015. <http://appvoices.org/end-mountaintop-removal/mtr101/>.
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