Mountaintop Removal: Making it an Election Issue

Mountaintop removal isn't something the candidates have been talking about much. Here's why that should change.

Mountaintop removal should be a bigger issue for the presidential candidates.(Photo: Getty Images)

Sep 13, 2012
writes about environment and energy for the NYT, Popular Science, OnEarth Magazine, and more.

Today in D.C., dozens of prominent Appalachian community leaders and hundreds of supporters gathered in front of the White House for "Stand with Appalachia Solidarity Day," an event designed to draw attention to the ongoing threats posed by mountaintop removal.

As part of the event, Earthjustice delivered its Mountain Hero photo petition to the Obama Administration. The petition contains stories and images from over 13,400 Americans who are calling for the end of the destructive and dangerous practice of mountaintop removal.

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"The petition is a beautiful display of solidarity," said Liz Judge, a campaign manager at Earthjustice. "People from all over the nation submitted photos and stories explaining why they stand with Appalachia and why mountaintop removal needs to end now. We need to keep the message strong in the election season that it doesn't matter who you are or what party you belong to, mountaintop removal is one of the most enduring environmental justice disasters of our time. Cancer and birth defects don't care if you're a Democrat or a Republican."

The event was dedicated to Larry Gibson, an outspoken opponent of mountaintop removal, who was instrumental in planning the event but passed away on Sunday of a heart attack at his home in West Virginia.

Gibson gained national attention when he refused to sell his family's land at Kayford Mountain to the coal companies who pursued mountaintop removal by blasting the local mountain landscape into otherworldly ruin. 

Instead, Gibson chose to turn his coal-seam-riddled property, estimated to be worth nearly $650 million, into a land trust where he welcomed thousands of visitors to view what his beloved mountains used to look like and escorted them to a heart-wrenching vista of what the rest of the area had become.

"There's not enough money that's been printed or made that can buy this place. Some things, money shouldn't be able to buy," Gibson told documentary filmmakers from Earthjustice.

Many at the rally in D.C. today sported Gibson's trademark fluorescent yellow T-shirt, which reads: "We are the keepers of the mountains. Love them or leave them, just don't destroy them. If you dare to be one,  too (Gibson's phone number)."

Mountaintop removal coal mining has buried more than 2,400 miles of streams and impacted more than 500 mountains. Recent health studies have shown that people living near mountaintop removal sites are 50 percent more likely to die of cancer and 42 percent more likely to have children born with birth defects as compared to the population of Appalachia at large.

Currently, two bills aimed to curb if not end the practice, the Clean Water Protection Act and the Appalachian Communities Health Emergency Act, are idling in the House of Representatives.

More on the environment and the 2012 elections:

Red, White, and Poison: 20 Worst U.S. States for Toxic Air Pollution

Al Gore on a Romney Presidency: ‘I Would Fear for the Future of Our Environmental Policy’

Mitt Romney Will End Tax Credit for Clean Wind Energy

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