Jan. 9, 2013 - I remember the first mountaintop removal coal mining site I ever saw. Those images of Kayford Mountain in southern West Virginia have never left my mind — a barren landscape where there was once lush forest. And right around the destroyed site, homes where people were trying to live despite having the world blown up next door.
In mountaintop removal coal mining, a common practice in Appalachia, mining companies literally blow the tops off mountains to reach thin seams of coal. They then dump millions of tons of rubble and toxic waste into the streams and valleys below the mining sites.
As President Barack Obama's second term begins, Americans are looking for more leadership on clean energy and an end to pollution that harms public health and contributes to climate disruption. Now is the time to eliminate mountaintop removal coal mining. It devastates communities, endangers public health, and irrevocably destroys the natural wonder of the Appalachian countryside.
This practice has damaged or destroyed nearly 2,000 miles of streams, and threatens to destroy 1.4 million acres of mountaintops and forests by 2020.
This scene repeats all through Appalachia — and it's not just the barren wasteland and explosions that affect Appalachian families. Mountaintop removal coal mining pollutes waterways and allows toxic heavy metals such as cadmium, selenium, and arsenic to leach into Appalachia's local water supplies. And the danger isn't limited to drinking water. Mountaintop removal also causes air pollution that affects communities for miles around. Many of the toxins that pollute mountaintop removal sites are carcinogens.
This practice is linked to an increase in the rates of cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, birth defects, and other issues.
It's time for Obama to put our nation on the path to securing energy from clean, renewable sources that don't destroy communities and harm public health.
We can fight climate disruption and create millions of jobs by ending our fossil fuel addiction. The first step is to stop mountaintop removal coal mining.
Meanwhile, our leaders in Appalachia must start a real dialogue about diversifying the region's economy and preparing for a future beyond coal. Our changing energy landscape is creating fear and uncertainty among many in the coalfields, and our decision-makers need to lead by charting a path forward, ensuring families in the region have a sustainable economic path, rather than clinging blindly to the past.
The clean-up settlement that motivated Patriot Coal to give up mountaintop removal mining is only a first step in the process that will ultimately end this kind of mining while ensuring that companies are responsible to the communities they've harmed and the people they employ. But we can't do it without the EPA's leadership.
What will be Obama's legacy on this destructive practice? Will eight years of his administration pass without an end to America's most shameful form of environmental destruction? Or will Obama and the EPA take bold steps to end mountaintop removal coal mining?
Mary Anne Hitt is the Director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign. BeyondCoal.org Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)
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