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Coal And West Virginia: Where Do I Stand?

1229 words - 5 pages

West Virginia is a land of natural beauty. Often described as “wild and wonderful,” the state’s fall foliage, scenic rivers, and abundant wildlife inspired the composition of a ballad. The song, “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” portrays West Virginia as “almost Heaven,” and the phrase is difficult to refute (Danoff, Denver, & Nivert, 1971). According to the West Virginia Department of Commerce (2009), the state ranks among the lowest in the nation for the cost of living, the employee turnover rate, average home prices, and instances of violent crime. Nestled among the rolling hills and winding rivers, one could certainly be convinced that West Virginia is simply a modern day Garden of Eden. However, the mountain state is not without its share of problems. Just as the deceitful serpent perpetuated Adam and Eve’s banishment from paradise, mountaintop removal poses a serious threat to the ecosystem and economy of West Virginia.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (2005) defines mountaintop removal as “a mining practice where the tops of mountains are removed, exposing the seams of coal.” Coal companies throughout Appalachia adopted this process as a means of acquiring coal faster. People in support of mountaintop removal concentrate, not only on the cheap, plentiful energy which is produced, but also the supposed increase in safer occupation opportunities for miners. Such individuals also argue that flattened land provides space for airports, prisons, and shopping centers. However, mountaintop removal has serious consequences, which need to be revealed.
The myths must be dispelled. First of all, coal is not a bountiful. It is a nonrenewable resource and, according to a United States Geologic Survey, it is only expected to “last for the next one to two decades at current production” (2000). Simply put, coal takes millions of years to create. Considering that “more than half of the nation's electricity is generated from coal,” when the supply weakens in a decade, other forms of energy will be urgently required (Kessler, 2009).
Secondly, mountaintop removal does not increase employment. In actuality, the drastic mining technique was designed to reduce labor. Although coal production has increased rapidly, the number of employees for the coal industry has dropped dramatically: from 145,000 in 1950 to a mere 16,000 in 2004. Thus, the employment rate has dropped over 89% in the last fifty years (Levi, 2010). This leaves the third and final myth: fields are needed for developmental purposes.
Despite the fact that West Virginia’s largest airport and largest prison were built on old mountaintop removal sites, these expanses of land were not necessities. In his speech at The Coal Summit in June 2002, hydrogeologist Rick Eades motioned to his graph, which revealed enough current flat land to build “5 5,000-acre Recreational Parks, 10 1,000-acre Prison Sites, 50 500-acre Shopping Malls, 100 100-acre Trailer Parks, and 400 50-acre School...

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