Between 1985 and 2001, more than 700 miles of Appalachian streams were buried by the mining practice known as mountaintop removal, in which the tops of mountains are blasted off to expose coal seams.

(Video: Chris Carmichael/Powering a Nation)

Organizers in West Virginia have mounted a vigorous fight against the practice, which they say creates air and water pollution as well as increased flooding. This summer, waves of protesters risked arrest by engaging in civil disobedience, even going as far as to chain themselves to enormous earth-moving machines. But miners, too, are growing aggressive in defense of their livelihood. The debate has been fueled by mixed messages from Congress and President Obama, who has called for scrutiny of mountaintop mining but has yet to declare a moratorium on the practice. Until legislators can make up their minds, the battle for the mountains will continue.

Chris Carmichael/Powering a Nation

Learn more:

• Information graphic: Moving mountains


Powering a Nation is a News21 project by students of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The project was conceived, reported and produced entirely by the student journalists.

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Mountaintop removal: Battle for the mountains
While activists against mountaintop removal grow, miners of the region defend their practices as a way of life.