Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Scientists say reclamation does not eliminate the impacts of mountaintop-removal coal mining

A group of scientists presenting research at last week's Ecological Society of America conference said mountaintop-removal coal mining has done irreversible damage to Appalachian ecosystems no matter what steps companies and the government take to restore mined lands. "The scientists, visiting from several universities, spoke about myriad effects of mountaintop mining on ecosystems, from changes in the flow of streams to reductions in bird populations," Vivian Nereim of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. By compacting soil and clearing forests, mountaintop removal increases flooding risks and the process reduces water quality in streams and wells, the scientists said.

Coal industry officials were quick to discredit the findings. "We have a number of studies ... that have indicated post-mining impacts are minimized," Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, told Nereim. "They're clearly different in many cases, but certainly they're not terminal, nor are they negative. You've got to give this some time." Luke Popovich, spokesman for the National Mining Association, said the research ignored the economic benefits. "The law does not seek to ban mountaintop mining because Congress understood the importance to the economy," he told Nereim.

Dr. Margaret Palmer, director of the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory at the University of Maryland, told Nereim reclamation efforts don't address some of the most serious effects of mountaintop removal, pointing to "stream creation," an allowable mitigation practice. "They shape drainage ditches into the shape of streams," Palmer told Nereim. "There is no such thing as stream creation in any sort of science." (Read more)

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