Guess what else that's man-made besides the Great Wall of China and is visible from space? The missing mountains of Appalachia pockmark the Cumberland Plateau of eastern Kentucky in this satellite image. Zoom in a bit. This is a mountain top removal and valley fill coal mining operation north of Hazard, KY. Have a closer look in West Virginia. Fire up Google Earth and visit The National Memorial for the Mountains and view before and after images of gutted mountains and buried river valleys all across Appalachia.
This is how the EPA defines what you've just witnessed:
"Mountaintop removal/valley fill is a mining practice where the tops of mountains are removed, exposing the seams of coal. Mountaintop removal can involve removing 500 feet or more of the summit to get at buried seams of coal. The earth from the mountaintop is then dumped in the neighboring valleys."
Despite the provisions of the Clean Water Act, the devastating impact that these practices have on the environment and on the communities of the region, these are permitted activities. Headwater streams are smothered, groundwater tainted, a landscape irrevocably blighted and Big Coal is allowed to continue to defile and degrade the region.
"For 25 years, the Clean Water Act (CWA) allowed for the granting of permits to place “fill material” into waters of the United States, provided that the primary purpose of the “filling” was not for waste disposal. As such, the CWA prohibited mountaintop removal operations from using the nation’s waterways as waste disposal sites. That changed in 2002, when the Army Corps of Engineers, under the direction of the Bush administration and without congressional approval, altered its longstanding definition of “fill material” to include mining waste. This change accelerated the devastating practice of mountaintop removal coal mining and the destruction of more than 1,000 miles of Appalachian streams."
The environmental impacts are horrendous. The impacts on the people of the coalfields are callous and appalling. The grassroots organization Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, for whom my sister has worked for many years, spells them out:
"The heavy use of explosives causes extensive damage to the homes and water wells of nearby residents...Blasting also sometimes sends 'flyrock' off the permitted mining area into residential areas and public roads, creating dangerous conditions...There are also personal and cultural impacts as communities are displaced, people are forces away from family homesteads, cemeteries are made inaccessible, health is adversely affected, feelings of powerlessness persist and living in fear becomes a way of life."
A lot of good people and organizations across the mountains of Appalachia are working to put an end to the practice of mountain-top removal and valley fill. It is shameful and unjust that we permit such flagrant and callous abuse of those who live on the land and these natural resources to continue in our country. It is time to put an end to it.