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Mountaintop Mining Removal in West Virginia, USA


Across the Appalachian region of the United States companies are engaged in a mining practice known as mountain top removal that causes major irreversable damage to the ecosystem as well as the health and culture of the region's communities. Studies have found that those living near mountain top removal sights are 50% more likely to develop life threatening cancers and 42% more likely to develop birth defects.

In 2010, an article published in Science, said that mountaintop mining should be banned for causing vast and permanent destruction to US environment and exposing its people to serious health consequences such as birth defects. [2] As the Guardian reported, Margaret Palmer, an ecologist at the University of Maryland Centre for Environmental Science, who led the study, said the science left no excuse for the Obama administration not to ban the highly destructive practice. "Scientists are not usually that comfortable coming out with policy recommendations," she said, "but this time the results were overwhelming."[3] By most recent estimates this practice has leveled more than 500 mountains and buried more than 2,000 streams [1]. In recent years the Obama administration has made attempts to curb mountain top mining removal through limiting permits granted under the authority of the Clean Water Act. There have been numerous legal challenges to these limitations. In April of 2013 the U.S Circut Court of Appeals ruled that the EPA did have the authority to regulate mountain top mining removal under the Clear Water Act.

Mountaintop removal has been challenged also in Spain, where it encountered a ban in Laciana in 2014 [4].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Mountaintop Mining Removal in West Virginia, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:West Virginia
Location of conflict:Boone County
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Deforestation
Mineral ore exploration
Tailings from mines
Coal extraction and processing
Specific commodities:Coal

Project Details and Actors

Project details

In 2012 Boone county mines produced 15,751,702 tons of coal. Production through the 1990s up until 2008 averaged around 30,000,000 tons per year.

Project area:130276 (county area)
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:123316 (population of Boone County)
Start of the conflict:1960
Company names or state enterprises:Coal River Mining LLC from United States of America - Coal River Mining LLC, Colony Bay Coal Co, Covington Coal Co, Eagle Mining LLC, Eastern Association Coal LLC, Elk Run Coal , Fasure Creek mining LLC, Hobet Mining LLC, Independence Coal Co Inc, Legacy Resources LLC, Long Flame Coal Company, Raven Crest Contracting LLC, Thuderhill Coal Inc (
Eastern Association Coal LLC from United States of America
Relevant government actors:EPA, West Virginia Office of Miners Health Safety and Training.
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Ohio River Valley Environmental Coaltion, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, Keeper of the Mountains Foundation, Earthjustice, Earth Justices Mountain Heroes Campaign, Sierra Club, Rainforest Action Network, GreenPeace, West Virginia Environmental Council, West Virginia Citizen Action Group, West Virginia Council of Churches, West Virginia Highlands, The Alliance for Appalachia (and the associated I Love Mountains), Appalachian Voices, Ohio

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Mine tailing spills
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Moratoria
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
New legislation
Project cancelled
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Project temporarily suspended
Criminalization of activists
Violent targeting of activists
Development of alternatives:Ban on mountain-top mining, more strict regulation on permiting
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Major attention from the public to this issue. One of the most recognizable environmental justice issues in the U.S. On November 14, 2012 Patriot Coal aggreed to stop all mountaintop removal in Central Appalachia as part of an agreement with Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. Mining has decreased in the county since 2008 and increasingly national attention and international attention is focused on the damages caused by mountain top mining practices. Still, the ban has not been put on the activity yet.

Sources & Materials

Related laws and legislationsĀ - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA)

Clean Water Act (CWA)

Clean Air Act

Endangered Species Act (ESA)

Federal Mine Safety and Health Act

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[2] Palmer et al, "Mountaintop Mining Consequences", Science

LinksĀ to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites


Earth Observatory

In West Virginia, a Battle Over Mountaintop Mining,8599,1971709,00.html

[1] Howard, Jason. 'Appalachia Turns on Itself.' New York Times 8 July 2013: n. pag. New York Times. Web. 6 Feb. 2014.

[3] The Guardian, US scientists demand government ban on mountaintop mining

Source Watch

[4] Ejolt blog, Victory: no more Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining in Laciana Valley (Spain)

Coal Country - the movie

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Burning the Future

Leveling Appalachia: The Legacy of Mountaintop Removal Mining

Informational Video about Mountain Top Mining removal process

"The Last Mountain" Documentary on Coal River Mountain

Other comments:Companies holding surface mining permits at of 10/1/2013: Coal River Mining LLC, Colony Bay Coal Co, Covington Coal Co, Eagle Mining LLC, Eastern Association Coal LLC, Elk Run Coal , Fasure Creek mining LLC, Hobet Mining LLC, Independence Coal Co Inc, Legacy Resources LLC, Long Flame Coal Company, Raven Crest Contracting LLC, Thuderhill Coal Inc ('Mine Permits.' West Virginia Mine Permits Listings. West Virginia Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training, n.d. Web. 6 Feb. 2014. .)
This is one of the top 40 influential environmental justice cases in the United States identified from a national survey of environmental activists, scholars and other leaders by graduate students at the University of Michigan

Meta information

Contributor:Katy Hintzen, [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update07/05/2015



View on the mined top of the mountain