Mining As If Living Things Matter

Power: to the people. Power–electrical power. It comes at too high a cost when you factor human and forest community destruction of MTR–mountain removal mining–in the debit column. Coal companies mostly haven’t.

But because of the democratizing technologies now in wider use, average citizens have the power to learn, to understand and to have their voices heard, to tell the true cost of MR coal in terms of human health, fragmented communities and buried mountain streams. And it is making a difference. Consider this one major effort by to use Google Earth to experience what otherwise might be simply one more abstract catastrophe:

While the site first launched in September 2006, its most recent upgrade this November, which connects coal-burning utilities to residential zip codes, has succeeded in motivating thousands of citizens to write letters. “The reality now is that a lot of people have been calling, and it’s sort of a non-stop rush to keep up,” says Matt Wasson, conservation director of Appalachian Voices, the non-profit overseeing the site.

Google Earth agreed to partner with I Love Mountains and included the site’s National Memorial for the Mountains, the project’s first phase, as part of the Google Earth map software. The Memorial appears on a map of the eastern states as a field of 450 American flags spanning the Appalachian Mountains, each commemorating a ‘decapitated’ mountain. Zoom in close to a single mountain and there’s a step-by-step explanation of how machinery literally scrapes away peaks, and aerial photos of a site the size of Manhattan.

People power. Individual voices have come together–more than 43,000 of them–to say that mountaintop removal mining as it is practiced cannot go on. Yes we need power, but the bigger-hammer approach favored by Mr. Bush and by almost half of those in his party must end. The battle has only just begun.

“The public has clearly spoken: Mountaintop removal is a national disgrace and Bush should not change another rule in order to help Big Coal blow up more mountains and bury more streams,” said Chuck Nelson, a former deep miner and volunteer with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the West Virginia citizens’ group at .

The strong opposition to OSM’s proposed SBZ rule is consistent with the findings of a September 2007 survey sponsored by project of the nonprofit and nonpartisan Civil Society Institute (CSI) think tank. That survey conducted by Opinion Research Corporation that two out of three Americans (65 percent) oppose the Bush Administration’s proposed rule “to ease environmental regulations to permit wider use of ‘mountaintop removal’ coal mining in the U.S.” The survey also found that the Bush Administration plan to permit wider MTR coal mining is favored by only about one out of four Americans (26 percent), including just 14 percent of Democrats, 27 percent of Independents, and 42 percent of Republicans. Full survey findings are available online at

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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