Image Grok: Mountaintop Removal = Field of Dreams?

by Bill Chameides | October 7th, 2009
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | 10 comments

Mountaintop removal good? (Graham Mountain Foundation)

Good news for West Virginia — mountaintop removal proclaimed to be good for the state!

Or at least that’s what a WV coal group exec says. On Monday E&E Daily (sub req’d) reported that Jason Bostic of the West Virginia Coal Association, an industry group, claimed that “plateaus created by mountaintop mining operations provided development opportunities” otherwise not available. “If you really want to rob the economic future of Appalachia,” E&E quotes him as saying, “then take away the coal industry and the secondary benefit of the alternative land uses that follow.”

That’s the same message the industry has been proclaiming for more than a decade. Back in 1998, the mining industry ran a series of ads promising “West Virginia’s Own Field of Dreams.” As quoted in the Charleston Gazette, the ads say:

“Like the Iowa farmer in the movie, Field of Dreams, if we build the sites, they will come. And when they come they bring with them better jobs, housing, schools, recreation facilities, and a better life for all West Virginians.”

Pictures Tell the Story of West Virginia’s ‘Future According to Coal’

The first mountaintop removal (MTR) mine opened in West Virginia in 1970 on Bullpush Mountain, but the practice really took off after the oil shock of the early 1970s and a resurgent demand for coal. By 2006, almost 27 percent of the coal mined in West Virginia came from MTR mines. Precise numbers are hard to come by, but an oft-reported tally is that more than 500 Appalachian mountain tops have been removed so far.

An Economic Future Without Mountains?

For those who haven’t seen just how much mining coal via mountaintop removal changes the Appalachian landscape, take a look at these before and after photos from southern West Virginia. (Click on any photo for larger version.)

Appalachian mountain before mountain-top removal
Before (Graham Mountain Foundation)
Appalachian mountain after mountain-top removal
After (Graham Mountain Foundation)


And here’s what was left behind from a coal slurry pond.

Remains of a coal slurry pond
(Nicholas School EcoTox Team )


More photos here.

An Economic Future of New Plateaus

Foul, cries the mining industry! No fair showing those pictures. Sure, the mountains are removed, but the land is reclaimed. In fact, it is argued that the flattened landscape left behind — euphemistically referred to as “plateaus” — is prime real estate for development. Per the 1977 U.S. Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, these plateaus were allowed with the intent that they be redeveloped for new industrial, commercial, agricultural, residential, or public facilities.

In the words of the Coalition for Mountain Mining, “mountaintop mining has also created numerous sites for new schools, hospitals, shopping centers, parks, golf courses, housing, airports, industry, agriculture and timber — providing southern West Virginia valuable sites for sustainable economic development.”

Here are two examples of those wonderful redeveloped sites (or plateaus) wrought by the coal-mining industry. And don’t forget that these pictures do not show the devastation to West Virginia’s rivers and streams from MTR. (A topic for another day.)

Twisted Gun Golf Course, WV (
Twisted Gun Golf Course, Mingo County
(Vivian Stockman /
Wind River Mine Site, WV (
Wind River Mine Site, Boone County
(Vivian Stockman /


Wow, if I lived in West Virginia, with the future so bright, I’d have to wear shades.

Further Reading (and More Images)

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  1. Michael
    Oct 13, 2009

    So I take it that everybody who is opposed to strip mining doesn’t use lights in their house. If coal mining is gone nobody will have power. I don’t see how you tree huggers make it to all of these sites opposing coal walking, oh yeah you all drive vehicles that pollute the earth my bad. Michael

    • Bill Chameides
      Oct 14, 2009

      Michael, Did not realize that the only way to mine coal was to lay mountains bare and pollute rivers and streams.

      • Jake from WV
        Nov 16, 2009

        I just want to say how glad I am that someone all the way at Duke, who from what I understand has done a minimal amount of research, can tell the rest of us how it is here in West Virginia. My family in West Virginia actually owns a reclaimed strip mine, near the town of Summersville. I absolutely love to go there. It is beautiful, and suprisingly teeming with wildlife. As a college student, I just recently did a research project on these methods of mining. I am well aware of the enviromental impacts, and I feel that many of the anti-mining arguments are mis-informed. I fully support the practice of MTR and strip mining. Too bad many people jump to conclusions about the subject.

        • Bill Chameides
          Nov 20, 2009

          Jake: Sounds like that college research project really added a lot to your knowledge base. All I can say is that it’s great to hear from an expert like yourself.

  2. hollergirl
    Oct 8, 2009

    I live in the coal extraction area of WV and let me tell you that these strip mining jobs are short term destructive jobs that blast, poison and terrorize local communities. Whether we stop strip mining now or not- these jobs will be gone in 15 years as Appalachian surface coal has peaked- it is finite. WV has been mining coal for over 100 years and we are the poorest state in the nation. The coal industry backed by coal bought elected officials are using 3 1/2 million pounds of explosives daily to blast our homes, mountains and poison our streams. If we citizens try to speak out the pro coal thugs threaten to beat us up and burn our homes. Coal is evil and corrupt and so is coal’s supporters.

  3. Watcher
    Oct 8, 2009

    You said it, If I lived in W V. Well, you don’t and I do. On jobs alone,direct 14,000, indirect 60,000, average salary,$ 66,000.00. On your choice of pics. skewed as usual, but totally expected given the sources.

    • Marcus
      Oct 8, 2009

      I have friends who live in W.V. who feel quite differently than you: yes, coal mining provides a number jobs in their community, but those jobs are often dangerous, unhealthy, and often transitory. My friends have seen coal mining jobs break up marriages and kill workers. The answer should not be “eliminate mountaintop coal mining, period, end of sentence”. The answer should be something closer to “eliminate as much mountaintop coal mining as feasible, while ensuring (through government subsidies, if need be) that new industries move into the communities most reliant on coal – emphasis on making whole the workers, not the shareholders.” And indeed, there may be ways to make coal mining more environmentally and occupational-hazard friendly by increasing regulations – the less-damaging mining will likely be more labor-intensive, which again would be good for the mining communities, even if worse for shareholders.

    • Chris Winter
      Oct 8, 2009

      An average of $66,000, eh? I would guess that includes top-level executive pay, such as the $1 million to $2 million Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, reportedly earns. I say reportedly because this is what the company’s 10-K reports. If you read “Coal River”, you’ll find the total package for “Mr. B” comes close to $13 million. That book also tells us that Mr. B’s motto in running Massey is that a man is like a tool; if it breaks, you throw it away and get a new one. It is a fact that coal mining jobs are the only way to earn a living in much of West Virginia. But let’s hear the rest of the story, Watcher. How much do the hardrock miners earn, and what are their working conditions? Another point is that since we have the technology to tear mountains down, we also have the technology to rebuild them. In practice, however, what happens is that a few feet of topsoil are spread over the bare rock, so that in a year or so a grassy meadow develops. This is not restoration of the previous conditions, it is doing the absolute minimum the regulations allow — said regulations having been stretched by the state’s powerful mining interests.

  4. Peter Griffith
    Oct 7, 2009

    “Daddy, won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County, down by the Green River, where paradise lay? Sorry my son, but you’re too late in askin’, Mr. Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away”. -John Prine

  5. Chris Winter
    Oct 7, 2009

    There are many books about mountaintop removal in Appalachia, and even more films and videos. One book I’ve seen mentioned is “Night Comes to the Cumberland.” I haven’t read that one, but I have read Michael Shnayerson’s “Coal River.” This is the story of lawyer Joe Lovett’s ten-year battle against the destructive practice in southern West Virginia. It’s a fascinating tale, filled with intricate legal maneuvering against a backdrop of plain-spoken protests by the plain folk who suffer the impact of the habitat loss and pollution. I recommend it highly.

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