It stopped me in my tracks.
As soon as I glanced up, after we crested the ridge at Kayford Mountain in West Virginia, I gasped.
I had never seen anything like it before.
Where once stood a magnificent, lush and majestic mountain, now laid gravel and dust. A flat and barren landscape. It felt like a punch in the gut, seeing this kind of devastation. After the initial shock and sadness, a deep and guttural anger started to bubble up.
"How dare they," I thought. "Who the hell do they think they are?"
Aerial view of mountaintop removal coal mining in WV. Note the trucks on the right. They are massive in person. But dwarfed by the size of this particular devastating site.
This raping of the Appalachian mountain range is perpetrated by the coal industry.
Three million pounds of explosives are ignited every day, blasting off the tops of those beautiful mountains so that they can get to the coal seams that are imbedded deep inside. The debris is literally dumped in valleys, creating fills where serene hollows used to be. Or it's dumped in surrounding waterways. To date, there are, at a minimum, 1,200 miles of rivers and streams that have been buried from the debris from mountaintop removal. After the coal is washed, the toxic ash slurry is dumped in unlined lagoons, like the one in Harriman Tennessee that overflowed in December 2008. One billion gallons of that sludge spilled over 300 acres. That's the equivalent of 3,000 acres being covered with a foot of that toxic soup. There are 1,300 of these lagoons in this country, seeping toxic chemicals like selenium, arsenic, mercury and lead into the groundwater.
This unlined lagoon is filled with an estimated two billion gallons of toxic ash slurry.
Fifty tons of mercury are spewed into the air every year from coal-fired power plants, poisoning our waterways, our fish and our bodies. Every state in the U.S. has a freshwater fish advisory because of high levels of mercury in the fish. High mercury levels have been linked to a number of permanent neurological development difficulties in newborns, such as autism, ADD, and permanent IQ loss. Adults can experience decreased stress tolerance and an increase in depression from high levels of mercury in their bodies.
The coal industry is not only annihilating one of the most bio-diverse regions in this country, it has debilitated the local communities that surround the Appalachian mountains.
There used to be a flourishing community beside Kayford Mountain. Now there is a ghost town, dotted with the shells of where schools, hospitals, playgrounds and homes used to thrive. Rampant poverty, unemployment and destitution have forced out many people. Only 2% of the people employed by the coal industry around Kayford Mountain come from that community.
Rooftops are blackened by coal dust. Asthma, cancer and premature death are rampant.
Big coal has busted up the unions, impoverished communities, and lined the pockets of state politicians and judges. They have left our nation with high levels of greenhouse gases, poisoned waterways and toxic air.
It's time for this to stop.
It's time for America to move forward by investing in clean energy technologies, industries and jobs.
Call your Senators. Tell them you want climate legislation that will leave dirty fossil fuels behind, and lead us to a cleaner, greener future.
NO MORE COAL.