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May 08, 2012

From India to Appalachia: Who is Protecting Us From Destructive Coal Mining?

This is a guest post from Debi Goenka, Executive Director of India's Conservation Action Trust, about this week's trip from India to Appalachia to see the parallels of how the coal industry has decimated both places. (See the first post here).

Flyover India
Thanks to the Sierra Club and SouthWings, I was able to do a flyover of the Appalachian Mountains yesterday. During our last visit in September 2011, bad weather prevented this from happening. In fact, even our site visit to the Kayford Mountain mining site was a wash out – the blanket of fog ensured that visibility was about 10 metres, and we could not see the mining site at all.

However, yesterday was a revelation. Flying over the mountains at a height of 4,500 feet, the whole vista of destruction unfolded before our eyes. What we had seen as lush green mountains from the ground turned to be a cancerous spread of brown eating into the green verdant landscape.

Wv mtr site 2
The flight with SouthWings was awesome – what we saw was awful.

WV mtr site
As far as we could see, there were patches of brown and black for hundreds of square miles. We could see patches where trees were being cleared in anticipation of new mining. We could see operational mines where I felt that the earth itself had been violated by a handful of companies in their quest for the black gold.

Coal slurry
We could see the coffer dams put up near the mines where millions of gallons of toxic slurry – which is known as witches brew – were stored in unlined reservoirs. We could see the miles of pipes that cut through the forests – pipes that were used to transport the coal to the coal yards. And we could see the coal yards next to the river banks where coal was shipped in open barges.

Thanks to the decrease of coal usage in the US, and because of the increased demand for coal in China and India, I was told that about 50% of this coal was being exported from these mines, to be burnt for “development” abroad.

The rehabilitated mine sites seemed to be superficially green –there were no forests, and obviously, there never would be forests on these areas that had been ravaged.

MTR meeting
Our day ended with a visit to the Blair Mountain, West Virginia, where we once again touched base with the local activists who are fighting very similar battles to protect their natural and national heritage from the powerful mining lobby.

At the end of the day, just like in India, where we often ask, “What is the Ministry of Environment & Forests doing?” – I was left with the question, “Where is the Environmental Protection Agency?”

First two photos by Justin Guay. Other photos by Nicole Ghio.

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