Can you think of a more destructive way to extract resources than blowing up a mountain? How about if the waste from doing it is dumped straight into mountain streams?

Mountaintop removal is a radical form of coal mining in which the tops of mountains are literally blasted off to access seams of coal. It takes place in the Appalachian Mountains, one of the oldest mountain ranges on Earth. During mountaintop removal, diverse hardwood forests teeming with life — turtles, bats, wildflowers, snakes — are blown to bits. After all life on the mountaintop is destroyed, the carnage is pushed directly into streams, right on top of rare salamanders, crayfish, and mussels — so all life in surrounding streams is destroyed. The toxins from mining wash downstream, killing wildlife outright and poisoning the animals that manage to survive in the toxic environment — which, as part of the food web, then spread the poison to other creatures. Water birds and mammals eat poisoned fish and die themselves, or else they lose the ability to reproduce. Contaminants from mountaintop removal even poison the drinking water of downstream communities. And this form of mining makes a twofold contribution to climate change: The forests destroyed in the process no longer store carbon, and the burning of the coal that's mined releases carbon into the atmosphere. The lost forests don't grow back. The effects of mountaintop removal are permanent.

Ruined drinking water

Clean coal? These folks in Rawl, West Virginia can tell you there's no such thing. Their water is now unusable because of contamination caused by mountaintop removal. Photo by Vivian Stockman.

Mountaintop removal destroys lives and communities. Citizens living in mining areas say it's like being in a war zone. Blasts shake houses, crack windows and foundations, ruin wells, send boulders careening into homes, and coat everything in dust. In 2004, a three-year-old child was killed in his sleep when a boulder from a mine site crashed into his home. Stripped mountains cause devastating flooding and landslides. Locals who speak up against mountaintop removal are harassed by coal thugs who kill their pets, threaten their children, and try to run them off roads.

Mountaintop removal perpetuates poverty. It's highly mechanized and employs few people. The counties with the most mining remain the poorest counties in Appalachia. Economic studies in West Virginia and Kentucky have shown that mountaintop removal mining costs states more revenue than it produces. Industry claims that mountaintop removal creates flat spaces for development, but only 3 percent of former mine sites are developed. Surface mining destroys the potential for development based on tourism and sustainable forest products.

Mountaintop removal has annihilated more than 500 mountaintops and 2,000 miles of streams — and the Center is working to stop mountaintop removal before it annihilates any more. Through outreach, education, and activism, we're spreading the word: Don't let anyone convince you that coal is clean. There's no such thing as a clean coal mine.

Rawl, West Virginia photo by Kent Kessinger, courtesy of Appalachian Voices and Southwings