For Immediate Release, December 10, 2009
Contact: Tierra Curry, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 522-3681
Surface Mining Devastation in Appalachia Detailed in New Federal Report
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.— Up to 23 percent of the land area of some counties in Appalachia has been permitted for surface coal mining, according to a new report issued by the U.S. Government Accountability Office on surface mining in Kentucky and West Virginia. The report shows a two-percent annual growth rate in the number of acres under open mining permits in the two states since 1990. As of July 2008, surface coal-mining permits had been issued for 778,800 acres of land in eastern Kentucky and for 435,200 acres in West Virginia.
Vast, contiguous areas of forest have been lost as mining has become more concentrated in a handful of counties. In West Virginia, nearly 50 percent of mining is now concentrated in Boone, Logan, and Mingo counties. More than 178,000 connected acres in West Virginia have been opened to mining since 1990, including a single contiguous 21,700-acre area. In Kentucky, 44 percent of surface mining now takes place in Knott, Perry, and Pike counties. Despite increased surface mining, these counties remain among the poorest in the nation. In Knott County, 18 percent of the land area has been surface-mined, yet 32 percent of residents still live below the poverty line.
“Coal destroys the environment and keeps residents locked in poverty. It is time to say enough is enough and end surface coal mining in Appalachia,” said Tierra Curry, a Knott County native and scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.
In Appalachia, coal-mining wastes are dumped directly into streams. Since 1990, West Virginia has approved the filling of 177 miles of stream. From 1990 to 2008, the states of Kentucky and West Virginia approved nearly 2,000 fills, allowing at least 4.9 billion cubic yards of mining waste to be dumped into valleys and hollows.
After mining, coal operators are not required to return the land to its original contour or elevation, and reclamation requirements can be waived entirely. The report reiterates that even with reclamation, mining has led to forest fragmentation, loss of wildlife habitat, increased flood potential, and reduced carbon sequestration, and that some reclaimed areas do not differ from lands where reclamation wasn’t carried out.