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.

Photo by Giles Ashford
A valley fill in West Virginia produced by mountaintop removal mining.

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.

Devastating Impacts


Photo by Giles Ashford

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.

Our Work

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.