Only once since we began traveling through the eastern mountains on our family vacations have we driven through the eastern Kentucky mountains . The main thing I remember about the trip was how long it took to travel just a short ways on the map. It seemed the roads were more crooked than anything we traveled in North Carolina or Tennessee. And the constant problem of getting sandwiched between trucks hauling either logs or coal only made the road trip seem to take longer. One other thing that really stood out was the way the coal dust covered everything we passed by. It was not the Kentucky I remembered from my childhood trip with my family ion the early ’60’s.
When you fly over the Appalachians of Eastern Kentucky, you can see the gray scars on the mountains, pockmarks reaching far to the north and east that are the results of a kind of strip-mining called mountaintop removal.
Most Kentuckians never see that part of the state because it is so isolated, and most people across the United States (which burns the premium coal from these mountains) don’t know how costly their cheap electricity really is. It could break your heart to know.
If Google Earth does nothing else, it has allowed people who never would have the opportunity to fly over this part of the country actually see the effects of coal mining on the mountains. These low mountains are (or once were) beautiful. Just a quick glance shows the scars that were once pristine mountain forests.
Appalachians love the mountains fiercely, yet mining is a way of life. Many don’t want to protest the destruction of their mountains for fear the region will lose jobs. But nearly two-thirds of the mining jobs in Kentucky have been lost in the past 25 years because mountaintop mining is more efficient than deep mining.
The United States gets half its electricity from coal, and about a seventh of that comes from Kentucky. But coal money has not lifted Eastern Kentucky out of poverty. In fact, the strip-mined counties have the highest poverty rates in the state. Eighty percent of the coal, more than $2 billion worth, leaves the state, much of the profit going to distant corporations.
In the three plus years since this article appeared int the New York Times the world has changed if only a little bit. Coal is no longer the player it once was. The easy permitting of strip mines has slowed. The outrage of citizens around the country has begun to rise. The continued destruction of great swaths of mountain habitats is no longer overlooked in the agencies mandated with their protection.
As attacks on mountaintop-removal mining in Appalachia have grown increasingly sharp, the coal industry and its supporters have defended the practice by saying that reclaimed mine areas provide flat land for development in a place where level sites are scarce.
However, development was planned for less than 3 percent of the roughly half-million acres of land covered by surface-mining permits in Kentucky over the last decade, according to state data.
That amounts to less than 14,000 acres scheduled to be reclaimed for commercial, residential, industrial or recreational development, data from the Kentucky Division of Mine Permits shows.
You really have to give the state some credit for these great statistics…
When Congress approved sweeping changes in surface mining and reclamation law in the late 1970s, part of its intent was that sites have a greater use after mining than before, Stumbo said.
Appalachian coal states have skirted that concept a bit by deciding that pasture land is a greater use than timber land, which was the pre-mining use in most cases, he said.
So, if I read this right…The mining companies were required by law to return the land to it’s pre-mining use but the states decided that pasture land was a better economic return. This must have saved the mining companies a ton of money…
 Kentucky’slost mountains – The New York Times.
 Mountains of potential? – Reclaiming mountains – Kentucky.com.