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Bringing Down the Mountains

The Impact of Mountaintop Removal on Southern West Virginia Communities

Shirley Stewart Burns

Publication Year: 2007

Coal is West Virginia’s bread and butter. For more than a century, West Virginia has answered the energy call of the nation—and the world—by mining and exporting its coal. In 2004, West Virginia’s coal industry provided almost forty thousand jobs directly related to coal, and it contributed $3.5 billion to the state’s gross annual product. And in the same year, West Virginia led the nation in coal exports, shipping over 50 million tons of coal to twenty-three countries. Coal has made millionaires of some and paupers of many. For generations of honest, hard-working West Virginians, coal has put food on tables, built homes, and sent students to college. But coal has also maimed, debilitated, and killed. Bringing Down the Mountains provides insight into how mountaintop removal has affected the people and the land of southern West Virginia. It examines the mechanization of the mining industry and the power relationships between coal interests, politicians, and the average citizen.

Published by: West Virginia University Press

Series: West Virginia and Appalachia

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xv

This work is the culmination of years of research, both personally and professionally. There are a number of people to thank. My dissertation members at West Virginia University provided valuable input on the earliest draft of this work, which appeared as my doctoral dissertation. A continuing thanks is offered to all of them: Elizabeth Fones-Wolf, Roger...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xvii

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Introduction: “Open for Business": The Shameful Legacy of Natural Resource Extraction

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pp. 1-8

West Virginia policymakers have a history of favoring big business over other citizens. This was not always the case: the use of legislative tax favors to develop the backcounties of West Virginia during the 1870s and 1880s was hindered by a legal system rooted in common law that protected the rights of individuals over those of the emerging industrial corporations....

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1. Making Molehills out of Mountains: Power Relationships and the Rise of Strip Mining in Southern West Virginia

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pp. 9-18

In a small storefront in Whitesville, West Virginia, a hand-lettered sign spells out “Coal River Mountain Watch.” Flyers adorning the window advertise meetings to discuss the halting of mountaintop removal. Inside the sparsely furnished headquarters are a couple of tables, a few computers, and a bevy of energetic, determined volunteers. Since 1998, this grassroots...

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2. Solidarity Forever?: The UMWA and Southern West Virginia

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pp. 19-32

The United Mine Workers of America organized in 1890 in Columbus, Ohio, in an effort to unite coal miners for “action and purpose, in demanding and securing by lawful means the just fruits of [their] toil.”1 Throughout its tenure, the union strove to secure better working conditions and decent pay for its members. Its efforts can be seen through many important...

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3. To Dance with the Devil: The Social Impact of MTR

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pp. 33-59

As the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, West Virginia’s rural backcounties experienced a fundamental transformation. Natural-resource speculators pervaded the area. Chief among them were the coal and timber industries, along with their handmaiden, the railroad industry. Throughout West Virginia, beautiful hardwood forests came crashing...

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4. "You Scratc h My Back and I’ll Scratch Yours": The Political Economy of Coal

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pp. 60-98

From its inception, West Virginia supplied numerous opportunities for the business entrepreneur, and its earliest political leaders acted as its biggest salesmen. An abundance of largely untapped natural resources offered a variety of ways to make a fortune, attracting businessmen looking for new...


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5. Showdown in Charleston: The Judicial System and MTR

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pp. 99-117

In the southern coalfields of West Virginia, both federal and state laws regulate MTR. Any state law must be as strict as, or stricter than, the federal law. If a state law is weaker, the stronger federal law always trumps it. Most lawsuits brought forth regarding MTR have been based on federal law, or specifically, the state agencies’ failure to properly execute its duties under...

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6. “Show Me Where to Put My Fishing Pole": The Environmental Impact of MTR

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pp. 118-140

At the onset of the nineteenth century, much of Appalachia had yet to be explored, and the forests were thick and dense. From 1880 through 1920, an industrial transition occurred there. This massive industrialization was accompanied by widespread environmental destruction. At the beginning of the twentieth century, two-thirds of West Virginia was covered...

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Epilogue: Requiem for the Mountains?: Central Appalachian Coalfields at a Crossroad

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pp. 141-143

West Virginia is not alone in its struggles over mountaintop removal. Across central Appalachia, coalfield communities are dealing with the ravages of MTR. In varying degrees, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, have all witnessed MTR operations flattening mountains and filling in valleys and streams. If the demand for coal continues to increase, these...


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pp. 144-184


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pp. 185-199

Appendix One. An excerpt from John D. Rockefeller’s “Citizens to Abolish Surface Mining” Speech

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pp. 200-201

Appendix Two. Coal Impoundments Found in the Nine Southern Coalfield Counties of West Virginia

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pp. 202-207

Appendix Three. Coal-slurry Spill Information for the Nine Southern Coalfield Counties of West Virginia

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pp. 208-209


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pp. 210-214

E-ISBN-13: 9781933202990
E-ISBN-10: 1933202998
Print-ISBN-13: 9781933202174
Print-ISBN-10: 1933202173

Page Count: 215
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: West Virginia and Appalachia