Background Switcher (Hidden)

How it All Works

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Mountaintop removal mining is a huge thing, of enormous scale and destructiveness. It's a permanent blight upon the land. There can be no mitigation for removing a mountain and filling a valley with poisonous waste. What hubris could be greater than to take a mountain down for profit and leave it gutted, blasted and baked; to leave the streams buried and the communities below poisoned and without drinkable water? To promise jobs and then yank them away when the project is finished and the mountain is destroyed? Git-r-now. Or somebody else will.

It was a great struggle for me to speak about MTR in my keynote for the New River Birding and Nature Festival, and it has been a struggle for me to wind up to speak of it here. To me, it's an obscenity, and I did not want to defile this web log--which I fight to keep a celebration of what's good and right in this world-- by speaking of it. Nor did I particularly want to rail against it in my keynote talk, which was ostensibly about the biology of migration in warblers, at a festival, no less. Aren't festivals supposed to be fun? But the insult to our forests and birds and water and people is so great, so outrageous, so devastatingly permanent, that I had to say something. It seemed so ridiculous to be leading a field trip, pointing out cerulean warblers, with this going on all around us.
photo of a furious cerulean warbler by Brandon Holden,

Cerulean warblers are going extinct, thanks to this practice, pressure on the wintering grounds, and this administration's unbelievably arrogant, self-serving, hugely protracted and wholly illegal freeze on adding any more species to the Endangered list. There are species that have been waiting 15 years to be listed. Oh. I almost forgot. The administration, with much hoopla and self-congratulation, just added the big, sexy polar bear, while denying that global warming might have anything to do with the fact that its pack ice habitat is melting out from under it. Huzzah. Who cares about little blue birds?

 So it's May, 2008, and I'm standing there, pointing this endangered sky-blue warbler out to happy festivalgoers on the slopes of a beautiful forested mountain that, this time next year, will likely be gone. I did that in two places, two mountains covered with mature mesic deciduous forest like Sugar Tree, that are slated for destruction. Do you think that bothers me? It feels like fiddling on the listing deck of the Titanic.

I want you to know that this is going on all over Appalachia. I want you to know what people are talking about when they mention mountaintop removal mining. Even the name is so sanitized, so clinical. It should be called Blasted Earth Mining, or Habitat Destruction Mining, or Community Devastation Mining. It should be called off. And I'd suggest that our president, and the president of Powellton Coal Company, and the Director of the WVDEP, while we're at it, should have to live in Ansted or Gauley Bridge, little communities beneath mountains that are being taken down, where he'd have to drink bottled water, watch his neighbors fall two by two to cancer, and listen at night to the rain pounding on the roof, and wait for a flash flood to take his little house by the poisoned creek clean away.

It is the business of the coal companies to operate where they will meet little resistance. It is part of their plan. Just like the huge chemical companies, that have all situated their plants along the Ohio River in Washington County, where I live, they're counting on us hillbillies to be too ignorant and compliant to complain. They belch their toxic, fetid waste out in the wee hours of the morning, leaving a sickly brown stain on the sky for 360 degrees around, leaving our cancer rate astronomical and growing every day, and the Ohio EPA nods and takes our calls of complaint and nods and smiles again. Thank you for your call. We're working on, (er, with) it. You may be assured we'll keep your views in mind.

That's why Washington County is the second dirtiest county in Ohio. There's been a judgement made about us, and that judgement is that we're too backward to stop them. Back to West Virginia: You aren't going to see mountaintop removal in the Catskills or the Adirondacks, and you're not going to see a filthy chemical plant belching smut into the skies along the lower Connecticut River. These things don't happen where there's money. These things happen where the corporations can wave their JOBS banner and dazzle us all with the hope of being able to pay for our gas to get to work. It's not a deal we should accept, but we do, we do.

Yes, I love nature and every single wonder she grants us, every moment of grace, every perfect petal, leaf, and feather. But the other side of a love that great is caring a whole lot about it, and that sparks a kind of fury. And so I'm telling you this. In the next posts I want to show you just a few of the things we lose when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the State of West Virginia make a few strokes of their pens, smile and nod, and let them take the mountains down.

For a spectacularly thorough discussion of mountaintop removal mining--how it could be allowed to happen, why it keeps happening, and what it does to all of us-- with links to myriad organizations dedicated to fighting MTR, please see the inaugural post of Arms Around the Planet.


I used to write and say to people when the topic came up that if bottom dredging fishing took place on land where people could witness the destruction they would be so horrified the practice would be stopped immediately. I guess, for now, I was wrong....but I still believe that if people actually see the damage they'll stop it which is why posts like this whilst not cheery or fun are vital. Thanks Zick.

Ah, now you've got it; I recognize this writing: white-hot fury shot through every line! Only a monumental love can engender such rage. It's what we need (but it hasn't made me too popular at family gatherings!) Go get 'em, girl!
Spread the fury.


Impassioned writers like Julie can only brings us the facts -- its up to us to take that incited rage and demand change.

If we continue to sit on the sidelines clapping and allow this to be one writer's battle - nothing can or will change.

The removal of the mountain tops in Appalachia may seem like a regional conflict but make no mistake it is a metaphor on a grand scale of what has been allowed to go on for eight years across the breadth and width of our nation.

There is no stopping this mass destruction of our natural resources if we continue to stand behind these heroes like Julie, clapping in support, instead of along side them ready to fight.

You should be protesting with your voice and your vote. There are presidential candidates on the ballot with environmental policies as appalling as the ones we have now. This is not over on the second Tuesday in November, not by a long shot.

When we finally come to terms with our moral obligation to protect this planet -- and hold our elected representatives to that moral standard -- issues like this will no longer be irresponsibly labeled with inflammatory rhetoric designed to keep the masses sedated.

The time has come. As Mr. Ghandi said, you have to become the change you want to see in the world.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good
(wo)men to do nothing." - Edmund Burke (1729-1797)

Sorry, had to add the (wo)

Thanks for saying what needed to be said and what needs to be heard. Even my valued PBS has sponsorship from the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. This is a front group for over 40 companies involved in the coal industry. And they are publishing clever materials for school children. You know, get'em while they are innocent and brainwash them into believing the "reclamation" of the mountain brings everything back better than it was.

Here's a direct quote from the President of that organization:
“Protecting the environment is a shared responsibility – for individuals, businesses,
and government alike. At the same time, many Americans are also deeply concerned
about the growing reliance on imported energy and increasing energy costs. Coal is an abundant energy resource found right here at home, and it is also
affordable. Shielding American consumers – especially working families and people
living on fixed incomes – from unnecessary energy price increases must be a national
priority." He might well have added, "at whatever the cost to the environment and the people."

Keep up the fury! People have to listen!

Julie--right on, again and again. It is stunning to look at Google maps (or Google earth) and be able to see exactly what happens in this obscene practice.
Now here's part of the problem--this practice is done to get coal to feed our high energy demands.
So we need to protest, and learn to reduce our over-use of carbon resources.

Amen Sister! What a struggle I face as I sit in front of my electrically powered computer reading your fantastic blog, the hum of the dishwasher, washing machine and dryer in the background blissfully giving me the time to read and educate myself to this devastation. Unfortunately I don't have the answer to this catch 22 but I can't agree more that this kind of holistic devastation has to stop and hope the great minds and sympathetic politicians of this country's future can lead us down a new and better path. Keep up the great blog; I look forward to each and every one. Thanks!

Well, I am sufficiently pissed enough to do something.

Julie, this post reminds me of your "Calling Kali" chapter in your book. Fired up and ready to take action.

I know this is long and not exactly blog-like; but it might be helpful. Julie gave this out at the New River festival.

What You Can Do To Help Stop Mountaintop Removal (MTR)

1. Write your representatives
The Clean Water Protection Act will restore the intent of the Clean Water Act by prohibiting coal companies from burying streams with mining waste. Contact your congressional representatives and urge them to co-sponsor the Clean Water Protection Act.

• Making contact
* Letter or email: Please write your Representatives and Senators at their district offices, as mail delivery to D.C. Congressional offices continues to be slowed by security measures. For district office addresses and more information on your Congress people, visit
* Phone: Call the Congressional switchboard at 202-225-3121.

• Points to remember
* The Clean Water Act of 1977 is meant to protect, not bury, rivers and streams.
* About 500,000 acres in West Virginia alone have been leveled, and mountaintop removal
mining has destroyed an estimated total of a million acres of Appalachia's mountains.
* Across the Appalachian coalfields more than 1,200 miles of streams are now buried or
otherwise destroyed by mountaintop removal mining practices.

2. Educate yourself and others about MTR
• Share this handout with your friends.
• Write letters to the editors of your local or statewide newspapers about MTR.
• Write to state and national politicians. Tell them about MTR and why you think it should
be banned.
• To learn more about MTR, visit,, or

3. Conserve energy
• Cut your electricity consumption
• Switch to alternative sources of power wherever possible
• Become informed; learn more about solar and wind energy and energy in general.


I can relate to that fury –although maybe not by an extreme of an example. Here in the Upstate of SC conservation groups are diligently working to save our mountains from golf course development and gated communities. It is often hard to explain to folks who supposedly wanted to get 'closer to nature'–with a straight face– why bears are showing up in their backyards.

I feel your pain!


Hi Julie,
I came here via TR's "Faraway, Nearby." Well said, well written. I learned a lot from reading your diatribe. Your indignation and outrage are contagious. Thank you for writing. I took Deborah's directives to heart.

It's true. The mountain can take care of us, but it can't take care of itself when faced with such evil-doers. We must speak up and defend it. I will write to my reps.

A result of greed. Greed takes over the world, it seems. Affects every aspect of living.

Thanks for firing me up.

On behalf of my fellow West Virginians THANK YOU for talking about mountaintop removal!

[Back to Top]