The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Rob Perks, NRDC, 202-286-7435 or

The Myth of Mountaintop Removal Reclamation

New Research by NRDC and Appalachian Voices Shows Extent of Mining; Exposes the False Promise of Post-Mining Restoration


Roughly 1.2 million acres, including 500 mountains, have been
flattened by mountaintop removal coal mining in the central Appalachian
region, and only a fraction of that land has been reclaimed for
so-called beneficial economic uses, according to new research by
environmental groups.

A study by Appalachian Voices, which analyzed recent aerial
imagery of eastern Kentucky, southern West Virginia, southwest Virginia
and eastern Tennessee, confirms for the first time the extent of
mountaintop removal throughout the region; nearly half of which has
taken place in Kentucky.

"The fact that coal companies can blast away the tops of 500
of the oldest and most biodiverse mountains on the continent shows an
utter disrespect for the communities that have to live with the
destruction of their land, air and water," said Matt Wasson, with
Appalachian Voices.

The mining industry has long exploited a federal statutory
provision that exempts them from restoring the land to its "approximate
original contour" if there is a plan to develop the land for "equal or
better economic use" such as "industrial, commercial, residential or
public use." However, NRDC's analysis -- released today in its report Reclamation
-- confirms that nearly 90 percent of mountaintop removal
sites have not been converted to economic uses.

"Mining companies don't love mountains but they love bragging
about how they restore mine sites for the benefit of local
communities," says NRDC's Rob Perks. "Our study exposes Big Coal's
broken promises by proving that post-mining economic prosperity is a
big, flat lie."

NRDC examined 500 mountaintop removal sites in Kentucky, West
Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee. Of these locations, 90 were excluded
from the study due to active, ongoing mining activity. Of the 410
remaining sites surveyed:

  • 366 (89.3 percent) had no form of verifiable post-mining
    economic reclamation excluding forestry and pasture
  • 26 (6.3 percent of total) yield some form of verifiable
    post-mining economic development

Only about four percent of mountains in Kentucky and West
Virginia, where 80 percent of the mining is occurring, had any
post-mining economic activity. Virginia had the highest proportion of
economic activity on its reclaimed mountaintop removal sites at 20
percent. Tennessee, which has relatively little mountaintop removal
compared to the other three states, had no economic activity on the six
sites examined in that state. Overall, economic activity occurs on just 6
to 11 percent of all reclaimed mountaintop removal sites surveyed as
part of this analysis.

"This research shows what a sacrificial lamb Kentucky has
been for an industry that is not interested in any kind of restoration,"
said Mick McCoy, a member of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, noting
that Kentucky has more destroyed mountains and acreage than other
states. "Here in Martin County, more than 25 percent of the land has
been leveled by coal companies yet we are among the poorest of counties
not just in Kentucky, but the entire country."

"We watch our Appalachian communities being destroyed every
day with the false promise of reclamation," said Lorelei Scarbro, with
Coal River Mountain Watch in West Virginia. "We, the citizens living at
ground zero are losing our way of life and our history with every
mountain they take. I am heartbroken to think what my grandchildren
will have left when they grow up if we don't stop this rogue mining."

More about the report at Rob Perks' blog: Mountaintop
Removal: Reclamation FAIL

NRDC works to safeguard the earth--its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. We combine the power of more than three million members and online activists with the expertise of some 700 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water, and the wild.

(212) 727-2700