Scientists Call for Moratorium on Mountaintop Removal Mining

A group of the nation’s leading environmental scientists is calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop issuing new mountaintop mining permits, arguing that the ecological and human health costs of the controversial mining practice are “pervasive and irreversible.” 

The group of scientists published the first comprehensive assessment of the ecological and health impacts of mountaintop removal mining today in the journal Science, describing how the impacts of current and former mountaintop removal operations will be felt for centuries, with major implications for water quality, biodiversity, and human health.  Shockingly, there’s never been a comprehensive assessment of MTR impacts until now.

Published only a few days after the Obama EPA misguidedly approved the expansion of Hobet 45, part of the largest mountaintop removal coal mine in West Virginia, the paper concludes that mountaintop removal’s impacts are much too steep to justify.  The authors’ analysis of peer-reviewed research unequivocally confirms irreversible environmental impacts from mountaintop removal, a practice that also exposes local residents to a greater risk of serious health problems.

The paper, titled “Mountaintop Mining Consequences,” is the result of a broad analysis of the latest scientific findings and new data on the environmental impacts of mountaintop removal.  The scientists received no outside funding and donated their time to work on the study. 

Co-author Dr. Emily Bernhardt of Duke University describes in the study how toxic chemicals and metals released into streams from “valley fills” - the debris blown off the mountaintops and dumped into valleys below where it impairs, or often literally buries, streams – take a serious toll on Appalachian biodiversity.  Despite industry claims that mine reclamation and mitigation practices have lessened the impacts, the facts clearly show that these efforts do not prevent toxic contaminants from moving into downstream waters where the harm magnifies and affects the entire ecosystem.

“Over the last 30 years, there has been a global increase in surface mining, and it is now the dominant driver of land-use change in the Central Appalachian region,” says Dr. Keith Eshleman also of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. “We now know that surface mining has extraordinary consequences for both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Notwithstanding recent attempts to improve reclamation, the immense scale of mountaintop mining makes it unrealistic to think that true restoration or mitigation is possible with current techniques.”

Along with this environmental devastation, the authors confirm major impacts on human health in the Appalachian region, including “elevated rates of mortality, lung cancer, and chronic heart, lung and kidney disease in coal producing communities” according to the study. Other authors included William H. Schlesinger, president of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Michael Hendryx of West Virginia University, and Orie Loucks of Miami University in Oxford, OH.

The scientists also pointed out to David Roberts at Grist and other reporters on a conference call today that mountaintop removal has climate consequences as well.  The forests that are destroyed in the MTR process stored tons of carbon, while the vegetation planted during reclamation doesn’t.

The release of this study should also provide excellent fodder for the upcoming sold-out debate in Charleston, West Virgina between environmental attorney Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Don Blankenship, the CEO of Massey Energy, the worst offender when it comes to mountaintop removal.

With this evidence in hand, it should be impossible for the EPA and other regulatory agencies to justify allowing coal companies to continue destroying Appalachian mountains at enormous expense to public health, wildlife habitat, water quality and the climate. 

If President Obama is sincere in upholding scientific integrity and regulating based on published evidence rather than industry influence, then this groundbreaking study should provide ample incentive to pound the final nail in the coffin of the ridiculous practice of mountaintop removal.


“The group of scientists published the first comprehensive assessment of the ecological and health impacts of mountaintop removal mining today in the journal Science” … how do we know that these scientists are ethical? how do we know that they didnt try to manipulate their data? sorry i am so skeptical but i heard once that some scientists tried to dupe the world while they got millions in grants. i’m just sayin’…..maybe desmog will post this one since my other two sarcastic posts seem to have not made it.

I think your skepticism about this is ill-founded, if it’s based on the whole Copenhagen email hoax story that turned out to be a big fat nothing, on par with the balloon boy story. Science is one of the world’s most prestigious publications.

And for what it’s worth, my posts don’t seem to be making it through Desmog’s filters either.

In particular, his support for coal-to-gasoline schemes during his Senate days has apparently continued, as his support for tar sand oil extraction and importation.

You can see this in the fraudulent “FutureGen” project, which has been labeled by the Stephen Chu DOE as a plausible “zero-emission” coal plant. In reality, examination shows that it is simply a coal gasification plant that, once constructed, will be sold off - and coal gasification is the central technology in coal-to-gasoline schemes. This is also going on in Virgina, where the coal source is the Appalachian mountains. Similarly, Wyoming wants to do the same thing.

Coal gasoline, tar sand oil, and oil shale gas are all being promoted by the DOE, which has actually been decreasing transparency, hiding contractor performance reviews from journalists, and refusing to put any money into solar and wind research programs, while delivering billions to the fossil fuel lobby. Needless to say, these projects all produce far more CO2 per energy delivered than any other fossil fuel project, and will result in rapid amplification of emissions if pursued.

It’s an almost complete betrayal of the promises made during the campaign - but most people are unaware of this because the media is refusing to report on it in any detail, and is letting Obama’s hypocrisy on the issue go unchallenged, much as was the case during the Bush years (Bush, recall, was the one who proposed “zero-emission” coal plants as the solution to global warming - along with “hydrogen cars”).

Some radical changes are needed at the DOE - which has become little more than a PR agency and funding conduit for fossil fuel lobbyists and contractors.

Coal mining is an ugly and dirty practice.

Many want to stop it. What does Obama say? Does he want to shut it down by a certain date? I don’t think so.

Chu and by extension Obama don’t really talk about the end of coal mining and mountaintop removal as far as I can tell. In fact Chu is still seeing coal as a necessary evil and he hopes for some kind of carbon sequestration.

I believe that Chu and Obama see the end of coal as a far future concept.
Not important or close enough to talk about much.

surface mining causes ireversable damage to the environment and exposes local resedent to serious helth problem. there is an overwhelming scientific evedence with the impact of Mountaintop Removal Mining.
It was said that most of the people leaving around the area has this health concerns:
Lung Cancer
Heart Disease
Lung and Kidney Disease