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161 eight Stories about Mountaintop Removal in the Appalachian Coalfields geoffrey l. buckley and laura allen There was just no way to gauge how tall the thing was because there was nothing natural about it, nothing you could compare it to, and then it dawned on me exactly what I was standing under—Yellowroot Mountain, dead. I knew from Lace and Uncle Mogey that after they blasted the top off the mountain to get the coal, they had no place to put the mountain’s body except dump it in the head of the hollow. So there it loomed. Pure mountain guts. Hundreds of feet high, hundreds of feet wide. Yellowroot Mountain blasted into bits, turned inside out, then dumped into Yellowroot Creek. Ann Pancake, Strange as This Weather Has Been App a l a c h i a n r e s i d e n t s k n o w a l l t o o w e l l t h e injustice of mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining. Many people living close to these mining sites are frustrated and angry about the damage inflicted on their homes, communities, and environment.1 They blame the coal companies , the government, the courts, and the media for thirty years of unchecked abuse. While local residents have spoken out against the practice, their objections have generally fallen on deaf ears—ignored by the public institutions Geoffrey L. Buckley and Laura Allen 162 set up to protect them and by others who view them as backward hill folk opposed to modernization and progress. While many of us who live in urban America benefit from the“cheap”electricity generated at coal-fired power plants, relatively few of us actually know where these plants are located or what it takes to keep them operational. Fewer still have ever visited an active coal mine, let alone a mountaintop removal site. Only rarely are we exposed to the landscapes of mineral extraction and energy production that keep our lights on and our air conditioners running.Interviews with some of West Virginia’s most prominent citizen-activists cast light on the day-to-day struggles endured by those who live in the shadow of MTR operations .Their stories, excerpted below, are powerful and compelling. “A War Zone” According to U.S. EPA reports, over ninety thousand acres in southern West Virginia were permitted for mountaintop removal mining between 1992 and 2002.2 Flying over the coal-mining regions of West Virginia, the most obvious impacts of mountaintop removal are the environmental ones. MTR techniques have not only altered the geomorphology of this section of Appalachia, they have had a significant effect on the region’s forest and water resources as well. The first step in the process of mountaintop removal mining involves the clearing of trees and other vegetation. Next, explosives are used to remove what industry professionals refer to as overburden. Vernon Haltom and Jim Foster are familiar with the practice. Haltom, currently codirector of Coal River Mountain Watch, describes what it is like to live near an MTR site: I live in an area that gets rocked by blasting pretty frequently. It’s just horrendous blasting. It’s hard to describe. Unless you’re in a war zone there’s really nothing to compare it to. It’s very much like that sometimes.The sound of it can be heard for miles away. The jolt of it is pretty readily apparent. I live about three thousand feet from the edge of a mountaintop removal site. It’s bone rattling sometimes. . . . It’s very nerve shattering. Foster, who is eighty years old, has lived in Boone County,West Virginia, his entire life. He, too, lives next to a mountaintop removal site: They claim that they’re using 3 million pounds of explosives per day here in WestVirginia on these mountaintop removal sites.I sometimes believe that Stories about Mountaintop Removal in the Appalachian Coalfields 163 there’s that much used right here in this one county where I live. Right here in Boone County. The coal trucks and the explosives trucks run constantly. They run twenty-four hours a day, six days a week, and sometimes even on Sundays they haul coal. Once the trees and other vegetation are removed, and the soil and subsoil layers are blasted away to expose the coal seam, bulldozers and heavy trucks are employed to remove the coal.The process is repeated as new seams of coal are...


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