Mountains into molehills
How the destructive process of mountaintop removal is affecting the Blue Ridge Mountains of Northeast Georgia.
Friday, June 11, 2010 - 17:27
Photo: Matt Phillips/Flickr
The pure grandeur of the Appalachian Mountain Range stretches supremely from the island of Newfoundland through most of America's Northeast states and North Georgia to central Alabama. Characterized by winding rivers and streams coiling their way around dense deciduous forests, the ancient Appalachian Range is home to a diverse group of mammals, birds, reptiles and plants. Unfortunately, Georgia is also branded the largest state user of mountaintop removal coal from the Appalachia region, and Georgia Power, based in Atlanta, is the country's largest corporate user. Coal is widely known as the producer of the most carbon emissions of any fossil fuel, and as Georgia uses the most coal power in the United States, we shall require a substantially new manner of thinking.
Mountaintop removal coal mining is one of the most destructive environmental practices, and is largely concentrated in the Appalachia region. The process begins with forest clear-cutting, that also leads to the removal of topsoil, understory organisms and wildlife habitat. The deadly consequences of this process are often landslides and floods. Following the removal of lumber, explosives are implemented to blast over 800 feet off mountaintops. These particular explosives are nearly 100 times as strong as ones that tore open the Oklahoma City Federal building.
Draglines are then used to dig into the mountain itself to expose the veins of coal within. In two-thirds of instances, millions of tons of what used to be mountaintops are thrown into adjacent valleys. Coal companies have forever buried more than 1,200 miles of biologically crucial Appalachian streams during this step of the process. In fact, 99 percent of the valleys contain a water source. These annihilated mine sites are left stripped bare, and residents are forced to relocate in part due to dust, the dangers of explosives, and coal washing; in which contaminated sludge containing toxins and heavy metals flood residential areas.
Since President Obama took office in January of 2009, only one set of permits has been presented by the coal companies to the Environmental Protection Agency, which was vehemently dismissed by the organization as a violation of the Clean Water Act. Unfortunately, upon denial of the permits, the coal industry is then granted the allowance to "revise" these applications and re-submit. Georgia activists worry that the EPA may soon approve these amendments.
The impacts of this procedure are irreversible and overwhelmingly damaging to not only the ecosystem, but to human populations, as well. Aside from the obvious eradication of mountaintops, water is saturated with coal and heavy metals, residents are displaced, local economies suffer, and the permanent cloud of toxic air afflicts both humans and wildlife. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has also noted dramatic decreases in migratory bird populations in the Appalachia region due to the habitat destruction.
As mountaintop removal becomes more widely implemented across the Appalachia region it is crucial to pressure local corporations and coal companies to abandon this practice. It is, without question, impairing the environment, as well as the humans and wildlife that depend on it for survival. We must continue to support the progression of clean alternative energy, as coal is a fossil fuel of the past. Allowing mountaintop removal in the ancient Appalachian Mountain Range is a tragedy and a crime. Please note the organizations below to see how you, the individual, can take part in preserving Mother Nature's purple mountain majesty.
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