Lost Mountains Part II

Having finished Lost Mountain by Erik Reece made me realize how blind I was to coal mining issues in the United States. I know I am not completely to blame for my ignorance, coal mining accidents are usually not top stories you find in the newspaper.

I want to finish this post by wrapping up some of the issues Reece addressed in his book then finish with how that part of the world is doing almost 6 years later and what you can do to help.

One of the biggest problems with mountaintop removal is the destruction of habitats. Patchy work creates habitat isolation and fragmentation, making it very challenging for species to survive. One of the ways coal companies claim to right their wrongs is with reclamation. The problem is, they either work around this rule or use a technique that is not even effective. “I believe a large percentage of the carbon tax should be returned to the coalfields in the forms of subsidies for jobs in reforestation – jobs that would lead to carbon sequestration and jobs that would begin to give real credence to the term reclamation. If a carbon tax was implemented to supply the materials and labor to reforest even 50 percent of abandoned strip mines with sustainable hardwoods, the unemployment rate would drop to zero almost overnight. Urban centers across the country should remember this: Central Appalachia is poor because so much has been taken from it and so little has been returned.”

“To create an industry around real reclamation in the mountains would be the first step toward turning the linear economy into a closed-loop economy that emulates the principles of ecology and sustains itself.”

Reece, who visited Lost Mountain regularly documented the tremendous change the mountain underwent throughout the year. What he documented as an “arching” razorback was quickly turned into a “sunken crater” due to explosives. At the bottom on this sunken crater was the source of Lost Creek, “What is known is that when underground pirite is oxidized through blasting, it releases sulfuric acid. And it is almost certain that the blasting on Lost Mountain will create underground fissures through which mine acid will drain down into seeps that will leach out into this watershed.” This is why, “47 percent of Kentucky’s rivers and streams are too polluted for drinking, fishing, or swimming – a figure that has risen 12 percent in the last four years. The study also found that the largest source of pollution in sedimentation, and most of that run-off is caused by mining.”

Coal companies who participate in mountaintop removal are required to keep topsoil in order to preserve whatever is left. However, there are ways around this. “…he said Leslie had received an Alternate Topsoil Variance from the state agency and could dump all the topsoil it wanted. An officer at OSM later told me that such variances are handed out like coupons by the state agency.”

Also, they are required to dump their waste into durable fills that meet certain requirements. Many companies neglect this causing devastating mudslides that ruin the homes and property of people who cannot afford flood insurance. On top of that, the erosion caused by these inadequate fills clog up streams and rivers wrecking havoc on riparian and aquatic ecology.

Good news is, there are economical options to repairing the damages we’ve created. For example in New York city in “1989 the EPA ordered the city to build a water-filtration plant that would cost $8 billion to build and $300 million a year to maintain. Instead, New York spent $2 billion reforesting a 2,000-square-mile watershed in the Catskill Mountains. For billions of dollar less, that riparian forest resumed the purification tasks it has been performing for millions of year.”

And in the Appalachian region a “visionary organization” called the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI). They have successfully developed and tested a plan that will bring forests back to the strip mines. How they do this is by leaving the soil uncompacted because the loose soil gives their roots room to grow, making the growth rate double. Luckily, in the past three years 15,000 acres in Kentucky alone have been truly reclaimed using this method.

As of recently, policies are beginning to become tougher on the coal companies and their practices.

Here are some groups working to stop mountaintop removal:

STOP Mountaintop Removal COAL MINING

Earth Justice


“Material gain, speed, and convenience are the most dominant forces within this country, and they have done much to crush the spiritual, ethical, and aesthetic elements of our nature. If we understood the natural world as a spiritual presence….we would recognize the natural world not merely as a resource, but as something much more profound…”

Keep on thinking green thoughts!