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Scrapbook: Ohio Tour Shows Effects of Coal Mining

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Sierra Club Scrapbook

December 03, 2008

Ohio Tour Shows Effects of Coal Mining

This is a guest post by Nachy Kanfer, a coal team organizer for the Ohio Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Twenty Sierra Club members and activists hit the high points of the coal life-cycle on a November 'Coal Tour' of southeast Ohio, from generation and sequestration to mining and remediation. Organized by long-time Club member Mary Beth Lohse, the tour's purpose was to help educate activists and further empower them to fight new coal-fired power plants in Ohio and the harmful effects of mining.

Plant tour

First off, the group toured AEP's Mountaineer coal-fired power plant just over the Ohio River in West Virginia. Mountaineer is one of the largest power plants in the region and the site of a much-touted AEP experiment in carbon capture and sequestration. The Sierra Club group surprised plant personnel with detailed questions about the plant's efficiency (better than most), operation of the scrubbers (full-time, with waste disposed off-site), and status of the carbon capture experiment (non-operational).

White mine drainage

The following day, everyone got up early to hit the road and inspect various sites suffering from acid mine drainage. This phenomenon occurs when water reacts with exposed coal in old coal mines and then flows into streams and rivers, killing aquatic life and severely damaging the ecosystem. The first picture, which looks like a stream frozen solid, actually depicts running water that is so contaminated with aluminum as it exits the mouth of the mine that it has turned milky white. This next picture shows a small pool loaded with iron and sulfur compounds, which form a rusty reddish metallic film on the surface.

Mine drainage

Neither waterway contains a speck of life. Southeastern Ohio is full of examples like these, the legacy of over a century of coal mining.

Finally, the group visited a strip-mining site, abandoned long ago as unprofitable, now proposed for a re-mining operation. Like many strip mines, the company left behind an enormous 'highwall', or a cliff of earth marking the spot where the mine ended. Dangerous as well as unsightly, these highwalls dominate the southeast Ohio landscape, depressing land values and disrupting flora and fauna.

Highwall

The Sierra Club activists who attended the coal tour departed with a renewed sense of determination that we must do everything we can to not only defeat the coal rush in Ohio and block all new plants, but drastically reduce our current reliance on coal, as well. While many of us started thinking about coal as a key contributor to global warming, its impacts are local as well as global.

The people of southeast Ohio and other coal regions around the country deserve healthy streams and clean air, freedom from blasting and mine subsidence, and the economic opportunities that clean energy can bring. Sierra Club's coal activists in Ohio intend to fight for as long as it takes to bring about that future.

You can also read more about our coal tour in this blog post from another Sierra Club member.

Photos courtesy of John Lohse and Nachy Kanfer.

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