"Mountaintop Mining Consequences,” Science, January 2010
One of the most popular mining techniques in Appalachia has been cutting down the trees on top of mountains and blasting the peaks off to get to the buried coal. It doesn’t take a doctorate to see that mountaintop mining (MTM) is bad for the environment, but until Margaret Palmer of the University of Maryland and her colleagues collected the data, no one knew just how bad it was. Their analysis shows that the technique has led to downstream flooding and toxic levels of selenium in West Virginia streams, that the blast dust can cause respiratory problems, and that reclaiming the mined areas by planting grass doesn’t appear to work.
Last summer, the Obama administration inked a plan that adds more regulation but allows the practice to keep expanding. Palmer hopes her paper gives policymakers a clear rundown of the potential consequences. “MTM permits should not be granted unless new methods can be subjected to rigorous peer review and shown to remedy these problems,” she writes. “Regulators should no longer ignore rigorous science.”