Appalachian Mountain Advocates was founded to address the devastation association with coal mining. Over the last 15 years, we have led the legal battle against mountaintop removal mining and have worked hard to prevent the coal industry from externalizing environmental and economic costs onto the public. Our settlements and court victories have led to hundreds of millions of dollars spent on cleaning up dirty streams and protecting public health, and more than $15 million devoted to land trusts.
Our litigation continues to raise the costs of coal mining, making less destructive forms of energy production more competitive. The legal theories that we have developed and implemented have fundamentally changed coal mining and environmental regulation in the region. No other litigation organization has been remotely as effective as we have.
Read below about some of the ways we are working to protect our region.
Mountaintop Removal Mining
For over 15 years, Appalmad has been dedicated to ending mountaintop removal — the process by which coal companies literally blow up and destroy entire mountains to access the coal seams beneath, then dump the waste in nearby valleys and streams.
Since our founding, we have led the fight against mountaintop removal mining in Central Appalachia. And we have been very successful. Our actions have prevented several proposed mines, including the largest mountaintop removal project ever proposed for West Virginia. Even more, our lawsuits have resulted in systemic regulatory changes that require coal companies to dispose of waste more carefully, such as by stacking valley fills more deeply, burying fewer miles of streams.
The Destructive MTR Process
Mountaintop removal mining requires that once-lush mountaintops be stripped bare. Bulldozers tear trees out by their roots. Mining companies then blast mountains into rubble using high-powered explosives. Huge machines scoop up the “overburden” — the mass of dirt and rock that had formed the now-destroyed mountain — to expose the coal seams beneath. They then dump the overburden, filling nearby valleys and burying streams.
Mountaintop removal mining lays waste to nearby communities and the environment. Entire towns have been forced to move. For those who stay, the noise and vibrations from constant blasting shakes houses, cracking foundations. Communities are blanketed with dust. Rock can fly from mine sites and land without warning in yards or crash through houses.
Once a mountain has been stripped to bare rock, communities below are at far greater risk of flash flooding. The natural environment — forests, streams and hillsides — is destroyed, entirely. The waste left behind destroys streams and wells.
Appalmad Executive Director Joe Lovett brought the first-ever case challenging mountaintop removal mining to court in 1998. Our organization has done much in the years since to curtail the practice and ensure that the coal industry pays for the tremendous damage it has caused.
We have forced the coal industry to spend more than $2 billion in clean-up and reclamation costs that it would have tried to dump on the public. Our work, and the science we have commissioned, continues to strengthen regulations and enforcement surrounding coal mining. We scrutinize seeps from large land-holding companies that profited from coal leases, ensuring they are held responsible for the pollution still flowing from old mines long after the coal is gone. Read more about our work to clean up polluted water.
And we are forcing MTR out of Appalachia entirely. We have caused major mining companies like Patriot Coal and National Coal to agree to stop mountaintop removal mining.
And we’re not done yet.
Clean Water Enforcement: Improving Water Quality
Appalachian Mountain Advocates has worked with expert scientists for more than a decade to help the courts, the public and government agencies understand how mining severely degrades water quality. Our work in and out of the courtroom has laid the groundwork and provided the funds necessary for major water quality restoration projects on countless streams across central Appalachia.
The coal mining process churns up massive quantities of rock, exposing it to air and water for the first time in hundreds of thousands of years. Over time, naturally occurring elements leech out of the rock and run off into our water.
This leeching becomes particularly dangerous when certain elements are present. Selenium, for example, is a toxin that can severely disrupt aquatic life and harm human health. It also accumulates in the food chain, meaning that even tiny amounts can cause significant damage.
We’ve likewise found that ionic pollution, another regular byproduct of mining, is highly correlated with biological impairment, making the affected water harmful or even toxic to the wildlife it once hosted.
Appalmad attorneys spend countless hours monitoring water quality data to ensure that polluters are held accountable for unpermitted discharges of dangerous water pollutants. We fight in and out of the courtroom to put the cost of cleaning up our water onto the polluters who created the problem.
Our work has won hundreds of millions of dollars in clean-up costs from coal companies. We have driven the scientific research necessary to show the connection between certain pollutants and stream health. Our work has also sparked innovations in clean-up technology, making it cheaper than ever before to address pollutants like selenium.
The coal companies try to promote coal as cheap energy, ignoring the real costs associated with the mess mining leaves behind. We make sure those clean-up costs are paid by the polluters, not the public.
Bankrupt Coal Companies
Appalachian Mountain Advocates has fought coal hard over the years. And we’ve been successful: We’ve won countless court judgments and negotiated consent decrees that require the coal companies to pay millions of dollars toward cleaning up the environmental damage wrecked on our land and water.
Now that the coal industry is in decline, some companies are trying to offload their obligations to clean up the land and water they have polluted. Without our careful involvement, the financial deals hatched in bankruptcy proceedings could undo all our hard work to secure cleaner streams and forests.
Appalmad attorneys are working to ensure that this wave of bankruptcies does not let the coal companies off the hook for cleaning up their mess. We have intervened in the bankruptcy proceedings for several coal companies specifically to protect these clean-up agreements. We’ll continue to make sure that the coal companies cannot dump the costs of doing business onto the public.