Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Kari Lydersen: Resisting Mountaintop Removal in Tennessee

Resisting Mountaintop Removal in Tennessee
by Keri Lydersen
The New Standard; AlterNet: Envirohealth

A revival of the controversial strip-mining practice is stirring ire and protest from locals in the North Cumberland Mountains.

Paloma Galindo's chihuahua skittered ahead of her, jumping back in surprise when a small cascade of loose rocks and dirt at the Egan Mountain mine in Tennessee tumbled down a jagged cliff created by the type of mountaintop removal mining that has left the mountains of Appalachia increasingly scarred, pocked and leveled.

Galindo, an environmental activist with the group United Mountain Defense who has come to know the mines of Tennessee like the back of her hand, gestured toward a scrub-covered hillock at the end of a gently sloping meadow, a "reclaimed" strip mine that was once home to lush forest.

"It looks like it's back to its original shape, but it acts like a big sponge," she said of the hillside, which was reconstructed out of rubble after part of the mountain was blasted away to get at coal seams. "It's all broken rock slapped on there and compacted with no hydrological system, so it will soak up water, and five years down the line you'll get massive landslides. Then the mining company will have already bonded out so the cost will fall on the taxpayers."

During a flyover of Egan and other mines in eastern Tennessee and Kentucky the next day, landslides of the type Galindo was describing were visible: gashes of jumbled gray boulders, upended trees and debris cutting through the autumn colors.

From the air, the North Cumberland Mountains in Tennessee look like the coat of a once-beautiful animal with a debilitating case of mange. Mountaintops are laced with strangely shaped bald spots, where trees give way to brushy undergrowth. Giant hunks have been bitten out of the mountainsides, revealing sores of crumbling sand, broken rock and black tar. Once-neat layers of sediment are visibly torn asunder, cascading down hillsides. Strange top-hat-shaped protrusions of land rise up sharply. For miles and miles, it looks as if someone took a giant potato peeler to the side of the range.

And six days a week, fleets of enormous dump trucks and bulldozers crawl along the open wounds of the earth, drilling, blasting and extracting truckloads of shiny black coal.

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