An Appalachian Alternative to Mountaintop Removal Coal Mines

| 1/30/2013 5:00:00 PM


In the last 30 years, the coal industry in West Virginia has increased production by 140 percent while eliminating more than 40,000 jobs.  Alternatively, the wind industry in the United States. already operates more than 35,000 turbines, and employs 85,000 people — a number equal to those employed by the coal industry. One of the best solutions for high poverty rates in Appalachia, especially central Appalachia, is to phase out mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining. This solution will eliminate a variety of problems in the region.  MTR coal mining has ruined land that would otherwise be suitable for viable agriculture, sustainable forest products and other economic developments. Although the coal industry frequently boasts of MTR improving land for other uses, only about 10 percent of former MTR sites have been converted to anything besides a barren area of rock.Another issue with MTR coal mining is its impact on county tax revenues through absentee land ownership. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, railroad companies bought immense amounts of surface and mineral rights from local mountaineers. According to the last study of land ownership patterns in Appalachia (completed in 1981), over 60 percent of West Virginia’s land is owned by landholding corporations.  This percentage is even higher in coalfield counties. The landholding companies do not pay their fair share of property tax, causing lower tax revenues throughout the region.

mountaintop coal mining 

Finally, coal production is expected to decline 40 percent from 2010-2015, according to the 2010 Annual Energy Outlook by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, creating a need for other economic options.  In 2000, the U.S. Geologic Survey estimated that the most economically recoverable coal in West Virginia would be mined out within 20-30 years. West Virginia must move away from coal mining in order to have a sustained economy in the future.

To replace mountaintop removal, the Appalachian region should invest in both energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. The Appalachian Regional Commission has invested over $4.3 million and leveraged $18 million in private investment that improved energy efficiency and reduced business costs. This type of funding should not only continue, but grow. A downside to this solution is its reliance on government assistance funding. Hopefully, once the programs are implemented, the communities will become self-sustaining and no longer need government support. Funding should also target Central Appalachia to implement the strongest concentration of poverty in the region.

In terms of renewable energy, a non-profit based in West Virginia, Coal River Mountain Watch, has proposed wind turbines on top of Coal River Mountain in southern West Virginia instead of continuing coal mining. In 2007, a wind potential study was conducted to see if there was the potential to place wind turbines on Coal River Mountain. The wind potential and subsequent economic studies found that it is possible to place 328 megawatts of wind energy on Coal River Mountain. That’s enough to power 70,000 West Virginia homes and provide $1.7 million in taxes to the county every year. It is also estimated that the proposed wind farm would only lead to the clearing of 50-100 acres of forest — less than 2 percent of the proposed mining area.  The four surface mining permits proposed for the same area would produce coal and energy for only 14 years, while the wind farm would offer renewable energy for much longer.

Eric Mathis
9/13/2013 9:37:54 AM

Lindsay... Sorry for the belated response. I am not throwing the bath out with the bath water. Its as simple as this, a lot, I mean A LOT of groups are working together (collaboratively) on economic diversification in Central Appalachia and a small few are working on the more radical end to STOP something - here being MTR. These groups have their reasons and I do not attempt to validate or invalidate them but when it comes to real world economic development, that is, the daunting task of creating a real-world job that is sustained over time. Working together means a genuine interest to reach across the table and sometimes this means working with nontraditional allies. This, from my perspective, is simply not possible with aforementioned groups like OVEC and CRMW...

7/25/2013 2:51:13 PM

I have written two songs about the destructive mountaintop removal coal-mining in Appalachia. One is called “Last Man on the Mountain” and calls for the end to this destructive practice, and the other is called “No Auburn, No Orange, No Rust,” and is a more personal look at the effects of MTR. These songs can be heard in their entirety at my website

High-quality MP3 versions of each song can be purchased (at my website,, or for just 99 cents, and all on-line proceeds of sales of these songs will be donated to groups fighting against mountaintop removal coal mining. MTR must end. Bill McIver, singer-songwriter California

4/3/2013 2:00:46 PM

Eric, thank you for your comment. However, I think that instead of placing blame on one group or another, we should all be working together towards solutions that are healthier for people and the planet.

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

Money-Saving Tips in Every Issue!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters