The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Removing the mountaintops, coal companies set in motion a new round of disasters in Appalachia

Aug 26, 2002

In small towns in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and other states, big mining companies have been coming in and stripping the tops off entire mountains to recover the coal available. Rainwater and mud start cascading down the sides of many such strip-mined mountaintops flowing into the towns and villages on the mountain sides and into the valleys below. There is regular flooding now of areas that previously had rarely experienced serious rain water problems before mountaintop removal mining began.

The mining companies involved claim that they restore the mountain tops after blasting them apart with explosives and using huge bulldozers, cranes, trucks, crushers and other equipment to grind them up to recover coal from seams in the rock. But residents of towns and villages on the mountain sides and in nearby valleys say the mining companies' reclamation efforts are cosmetic. Restoration never returns the mountains to their former selves, and even if it did, it would not undo the damage to mountainsides and valleys from rain water running off of flattened mountain tops and out of completely buried streams while the strip mining is underway.

Add to this the honeycombing of abandoned mine shafts throughout this whole area, which regularly threaten a collapse of the ground above, and this area has been set up for disaster.

"The company and government inspectors tell us the rain's an act of God," said one resident of a now regularly flooding town. "Well it wasn't God who went up on our mountain with a 'dozer to leave it naked. They are destroying us here."