Coal Tattoo

How many mountains can we mine?

Photo by Vivian Stockman, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

There’s a new study about mountaintop removal’s damage to Appalachian water quality out in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Technology. Sara Peach has a story about it in Chemical and Engineering news, reporting:

Decades of mountaintop-removal mining may have harmed aquatic life along more than 1,700 miles of streams in southern West Virginia, according to new research. Mining companies have converted 5% of the region to mountaintop mines. The resulting water pollution has caused so many sensitive species to vanish that 22% of streams may qualify as impaired under state criteria, the researchers report.

The paper is called How Many Mountains Can We Mine? Assessing the Regional Degradation of Central Appalachian Rivers by Surface Coal Mining. The researchers, lead by Duke University’s Emily Bernhardt, concluded:

These analyses suggest that the many individual mines in the region are having additive effects and that more attention must be paid to the cumulative impacts of surface coal mining in this region.

Folks who are following these issues closely may recall that Dr. Bernhardt testified about this work in one case pending in federal court and in one appeal before the state Environmental Quality Board. In those cases, she was an expert witness for environmental groups challenging mining permits.