Mountaintop Removal/Valley Fill Mining: Unresolved Conflicts and Questions between Industry, Conservation, Public, and Government Interests
J. Bruce Wallace, University of Georgia, 413 Biological Sciences Building, Athens, GA 30602-2603
The practice of mountaintop removal/valley fill (MTR/VF) mining for coal in the central Appalachians has resulted in extremely heated debates and many legal arguments. During the late 1990s the extensive loss of forests, mountains, and burial of headwater streams with expanded coal mining triggered lawsuits sponsored by various citizen and conservation groups. These lawsuits resulted in the development of an extensive Environmental Impact Study of MTR/VF coal mining practice. Unfortunately, this EIS was conducted by the same agencies that were the defendants in the original lawsuit rather than an independent group such as the National Academy of Sciences or other outside scientists. Available evidence indicates that political appointees unduly influenced the final “conclusions” of the EIS. Several successful lawsuits against MTR/VF mining in district Federal Courts have been overturned by the Richmond Court of Appeals. I will attempt to cover different aspects of the problem, including the contention of mining interests that there are few negative effects of MTR/VF compared to the value of the resource, conservation interests, scientific interests and needs, and some of the ongoing legal processes. As citizens, we need to ask what relative values we place on cheap energy versus the environment.