Mountaintop Removal (MTR) Mining – USA

Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources have both implemented the highly controversial practice of mountaintop removal (MTR) mining. Recent studies of mountaintop removal mining found that the practice causes “pervasive and irreversible” environmental damage. In MTR, mountain summits are blasted away to expose thin seams of coal buried below. After mountains are leveled off, the leftover dirt and rock – full of toxins from the mining process – is dumped into nearby valleys. Heavy metals and contaminants like cadmium, selenium, and arsenic then seep into the local groundwater supply. Mountaintop removal also pollutes the air with hazardous particles. Local communities have exhibited elevated risks of cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, birth defects, and premature mortality.[1]

Several examples of MTR are found in the Appalachian region of the United States where the mining technique has destroyed over 5,000 square kilometers of mature hardwood forests. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that MTR has buried around 3,200 km of streambed.[2]
 
Residents living near MTR mining facilities exhibit health issues such as cancer, liver and kidney diseases, and skin rashes as a result of mining activities in their area. Recent studies have shown that cancer rates have doubled for those living near a mine. [3]  According to an SNL Energy analysis of annual safety and health data conducted in 2011, coal mines operated by Alpha Natural Resources were subject to more (nearly $33 million) federal safety and health violation fines than all other major public coal companies combined in potential fines. [4]
 
The Rainforest Action Network reported that, “property owners in West Virginia sued [Alpha Natural Resources] for subsidence damage and ruined groundwater due to ‘reprehensible, intentional, and grossly negligent’ conduct in mining operations.” [5]

In December 2011, Alpha Natural Resources settled a lawsuit regarding selenium pollution at three facilities with a coalition of citizen and environmental organisations. In July 2012, the same parties filed a lawsuit against Alpha Natural Resources for selenium pollution at nine different Alpha Natural Resources mining sites. [6]

In early 2014, EPA fined Alpha Natural to invest $200 million on installations and upgrades of its wastewater and pollution systems and to pay a $27 million for permit violations. [6a] 

The EPA has been disputing the legality of Arch Coal’s permit to expand its Spruce No. 1 mine for nearly 15 years. The expansion would make the mine one of the largest in the region.[7] In 2013, the EPA withdrew a permit allowing Arch Coal to dump contaminated waste from the Spruce No. 1 Mine into local streams.[8]
 
Arch Coal is awaiting a permit renewal to begin work at the Adkins Fork MTR mine near the town of Blair, West Virginia. The mine poses threats to the region’s historic preservation, ecosystems, and the local water supply. Company officials contended in an interview that, based on previous Arch Coal mining ventures near the town, the mine, “would make life so miserable for many Blair residents that they would want to sell their homes and move.”[9]
 
Arch Coal is criticized in Montana for its planned expansions to the Otter Creek coal mine. The proposed mining site lies between two national forests and would cover 7,639 acres of land. Environmental regulators stated that applications for the mine and a corresponding coal-transport railroad are incomplete. Mining activities have been postponed pending further environmental study.[10]
 
Last year, Arch Coal agreed to a settlement of $575,000 for violations of the Clean Water Act at its eastern Kentucky mines.[11]
 

[1] M. A. Palmer et al. (2010): “Mountaintop Mining Consequences”, Science Magazine, 327(5962), pp. 148-9: www.sciencemag.org/content/327/5962/148.summary?HITS=10&maxtoshow=&resourcetype=HWCIT&RESULTFORMAT=&FIRSTINDEX=0&searchid=1&hits=10&fulltext=mountaintop%20mining (accessed 23.09.2013).

[2] Physicians for Social Responsibility (2010): Mountaintop Removal. ‘Pervasive and irreversible’ Damage in Appalachia: www.psr.org/environment-and-health/codeblack/mountaintop-removal.html (accessed 23.09.2013).
 
[3] “Mountaintop Removal Mining: Digging into Community Health Concerns.”, David Holzman, Environmental Health Perspectives, 2011: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3226519/
 
[4] Ken Ward Jr. 2012: Report: Alpha tops coal industry in MSHA fines, in: Coal Tattoo, March 21, 2012: http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/2012/03/21/report-alpha-tops-coal-industry-in-msha-fines/

[5] Rainforest Action Network 2011: Report Card on Banks and Mountaintop Removal: 

[6] Sierra Club Press Release, July 16, 2012: Coalition Acts to Protect Waterways from Pollution at 9 Alpha Natural Resources Facilities http://action.sierraclub.org/site/MessageViewer?em_id=245343.0

[6a] Ana Komnenic (2014): “US coal miner to pay largest-ever water pollution penalty”, mining.com, 5 March. http://www.mining.com/us-coal-miner-to-pay-largest-ever-water-pollution-penalty-13267/?utm_source=digest-en-mining-140305&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=digest (accessed 6 March 2014)

[7]  Manuel Quinones (2013): “Coal. Appeals court backs EPA in battle over retroactive veto of Clean Water Act permit”, Greenwire, 23 April: www.eenews.net/stories/1059979957 (accessed 23.09.2013).
 
[8] The Wall Street Journal (2013): Arch Coal Set Back in Fight Over Mine, 23 April: online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142412788732355100457844108
3674958850.html (accessed 23.09.2013).
 
[9]  Ken Ward Jr. (1998): “Buying Blair”; Sunday Gazette Mail, 22 November: www.wvgazette.com/static/series/mining/MINE1122.html (accessed 23.09.2013); Ben Collins (2013): “It’s Easier to Mine Coal Without People Around”, The Understory, 4 March: understory.ran.org/2013/03/04/its-easier-to-mine-coal-without-people-around/ (accessed 23.09.2013).
 
[10]  Associated Press (2013): Regulators seek more information on Otter Creek coal mine proposal, 16 April: billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/montana/regulators-seek-more-information-onotter-creek-coal-mine-proposal/article_04957f22-0fe0-5fd7-9294-92b5e2377eae.html (accessed 23.09.2013).
 
[11]  Dylan Lovan (2012): “Arch Coal Fines Settled After Clean Water Act Violations Lawsuit”, Huffington Post, 21September: www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/21/arch-coal-fines-clean-wateract_n_1903251.html (accessed 23.09.2013).
Affected topics
  • Environmental and Climate protection
Directly and indirectly (through shareholding) involved companies Indirect investors through shareholding

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