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New Book: Mountaintop Removal Comes with High Human Cost in WV

September 4, 2007

There is a high human cost to mountaintop removal coal mining in West Virginia, according to a new book published this month. Shirley Stewart Burns, author of Bringing Down the Mountains, says mountaintop removal mining hurts more than the environment. Burns explains communities in those mining areas face rising poverty, dwindling populations, and damage to public health and water quality.

"This is really a negative situation for these communities. It's not a winning situation for the people working on these sites, or for the people fighting against these sites, because in the end, the very place that they love and they're striving to stay in is being obliterated."

Coal companies say mountaintop removal is the cheapest way to get at West Virginia's low-sulfur coal veins, and it brings needed jobs. According to environmental impact statements about the projects, the mines create an average of 80 jobs for ten years. However, Burns explains that the benefits of those jobs are outweighed by the costs of health risks, pollution, and water quality. According to Burns, government regulation is the only way to turn things around.

"Business is going to do as much as they are allowed to do, so it's really up our elected officials to enact the laws that are established to protect these communities, and to ensure that the agencies charged with enforcing the rules and regulations are doing their jobs."

Burns says while coal veins run out, the damage lingers for years after they are gone.

"The communities are going to feel these impacts for generations. When you are obliterating entire streams and, in essence, water systems, and you're eradicating the mountains themselves which give the definition to these communities, you're really doing away with the entire culture that the folks have."

Rob Ferrett/John Robinson, Public News Service - WV