Saturday, February 23, 2008

The dark side of energy independence

Is America's burning desire for energy independence being exploited by profiteers in the coal industry? A story in today's Toronto Star examines coal-extraction practices in Appalachia that raise disturbing environmental and public health issues. The political machinations alone are enough to turn your stomach. An excerpt:

"This is the new face of coal mining in Central Appalachia. It is called mountaintop removal.

Instead of extracting coal the old-fashioned way, by burrowing, the mountain is extracted from the coal – blown up sequentially to reveal each black seam. Everything left over – trees, soil, plants and rock – is considered "overburden." It's dumped into the valleys below, filling them up.

Some say as many as 470 mountains in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia have been flattened this way. For the industry, it's a financial jackpot – fast, cheap and thorough. But for the mountains, and the communities nestled between them, it's war.

Their homes have been flooded, walls cracked, wells poisoned, streams polluted; their jobs have been forfeited, cemeteries unearthed and communities abandoned. Many suffer from early-onset dementia and kidney stones. And they've lost their ancestral home.

"We're mountain people. You don't understand our connection with the land," says Gibson, who traces his heritage back 120 years to this very spot. He had never ventured beyond the company store, halfway down the mountain, until he was 11. "We didn't live on the land, we lived with it."

People who live here think of themselves as collateral damage – accidental victims of a war to feed the nation's insatiable demand for energy.

Read the entire story: Coal mining ravages Appalachia

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