The first crack in a firewall that has protected big coal for decades.
Since the 1990s, small bands of Appalachian residents, regional environmental groups, and more recently the EPA have fought what often seemed like a futile battle against mountaintop-removal mining, the radical practice of blowing the tops off mountains to get at the coal seams underneath. The coal companies, backed by local political establishments and conservative jurists skeptical of possible regulatory overreach, have fended off multiple attempts to shut down mountaintop operations. As a result, an ever-widening swath of Appalachian peaks and valleys has been obliterated: approximately 2,200 square miles, according to the EPA, in what is likely a conservative estimate because the footprint often extends beyond the permit zones. That’s an area almost the size of Delaware.
That expanse kept growing as the battles mostly went in coal’s favor. Until this month, that is, when environmental groups won a decisive legal victory over a coal company. It may prove to be turning point in the war over the mountaintops, and for the future of coal.
On Nov. 15, St. Louis-based Patriot Coal agreed to phase out its mountaintop excavations and redirect its efforts back to underground mining. Adding a symbolic punch, Patriot agreed to decommission its two draglines—enormous boom excavators that do the actual mountaintop demolitions—and can sell them only on the condition that they’re never used in the Appalachian coalfields again. Coal executives usually shrug off complaints about mountaintop-removal impacts as the grumbling of dilettantes and naysayers who don’t understand the need for mining jobs. Yet here was the practically unheard-of spectacle of Patriot’s CEO, Ben Hatfield, acknowledging that mountaintop removal affected both people and ecology: “Patriot Coal recognizes that our mining operations impact the communities in which we operate in significant ways, and we are committed to maximizing the benefits of this agreement for our stakeholders, including our employees and neighbors," Hatfield said in court. "We believe the proposed settlement will result in a reduction of our environmental footprint." ...
Two weeks ago I posted this graph in my post Divergent Life Expectancies in the U. S.
As you can see, some of the worst declines in life expectancy are in moutain top mining areas of Kentucky and West Virginia. Allen Johnson of Christians for the Mountains makes the, as does this article, that this strongly connected to the mining operations.