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MOUNTAINTOP-REMOVAL STRIP MINING OF COAL IN APPALACHIA

This is what used to be Kayford Mountain in south-central West Virginia. It is the site of the Samples Mine, which removes the upper layers of soil and rock to expose coal seams, many of which are too thin to mine any other way. The excavated material is placed in large fills at the heads of hollows, or valleys. Hundreds of miles of streams, largely intermittent or ephemeral, have been buried, and mining is blamed for increased sedimentation and flooding downstream. There are many other issues in mountaintop-removal mining; to examine them, members of the Society of Environmental Journalists traveled to Kayford Mountain in October 2008 as part of SEJ's annual conference, in and around Roanoke, Va. The day before the field trip, some attended "Covering Climate Change and our Energy Future in Rural America," a seminar sponsored by SEJ, Virginia Tech, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and the Yale Project on Climate Change\Yale Forum on Climate Change & Media. (Creative Commons photo by Dennis Dimick, National Geographic Magazine; for a larger version, click here.)

Watch this space for reports from the seminar, the field trip and sessions on coal and mountaintop removal at the conference.

Aug. 8, 2007

Mountaintop-removal foes, rebuffed at state and local levels, look to Congress

Opponents of mountaintop-removal coal mining like Sam Gilbert, above, "have found some allies in their fight, but most come from outside the Appalachian coalfield – activists, authors and journalists who write stories for national and regional newspapers and magazines," Mary Jo Shafer writes for The Mountain Eagle and other newspapers. "Much the same has been said in the legislatures of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, where efforts to limit mountaintop removal have failed or never gotten off the ground. So now the debate is moving to the halls of Congress, where opponents think they have a better chance for change."

Shafer's story includes polling done by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, showing that opinion about use and conservation of natural resources is deeply divided in southeastern Kentucky's Harlan and Letcher counties, part of the area where mountaintops are mined. The Eagle is published in Letcher County, where Gilbert lives. (The report does not name the two counties, but their inclusion was confirmed for the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues by Mil Duncan of Carsey.)

Shafer, now the assistant city editor at The Anniston (Ala.) Star, did the report for the Institute as part of an internship to earn a master's degree in community journalism from the University of Alabama, through the Knight Community Journalism Fellows program, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Shafer's report also includes stories about a Kentucky legislator who is trying to limit mountaintop removal and also interviewed coalfield residents and an industry official who see mountaintop mining as a source of jobs and land for development or tourism. Another story examines the state of the United Mine Workers of America in Eastern Kentucky -- no working miners, but members in other fields and a strong heritage.

Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues
School of Journalism and Telecommunications, College of Communications & Information Studies
122 Grehan Building, University of Kentucky, Lexington KY 40506-0042
Phone 859-257-3744 - Fax 859-323-3168

Al Cross, director al.cross@uky.edu

Last Updated: 11/09/2008