Chapter 4: Environmental & Social Impact

Environmental Impact

Mountaintop removal can involve the displacement of up to 800 vertical feet of mountain with explosives. Each American state that employs this process uses approximately 1,000 tons of explosives per day. The total mined area of Appalachia since 1976 is 445,792 acres, the largest single mined area covering 10,410 acres. The U.S. EPA estimates that over an additional million acres will be mined by the year 2012. Appalachia has been recognized as one of the world's greatest centers of natural biodiversity.

Water supplies in MTR regions are subject to twofold contamination—first, the streams are filled with MTR waste, which has been shown to contain heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium and nickel (Chhotray, p. 5), and secondly, impoundments of “coal slurry” (wastewater left over from the coal cleaning process) can seep into the groundwater. And as the streams toxify, organic material deteriorates, leaving the land vulnerable to flash flooding: “A June 2002 Flood Advisory study concluded that MTR contributes to flooding in the southern West Virginia coalfields by increasing runoff in the study watersheds”

Social Impact

The last few decades have witnessed industry-wide consolidation: Since 1970, about two thirds of West Virginia mining jobs have disappeared, despite the fact that coal production has actually increased. Because MTR mining requires significant capital investment—the giant draglines involved in MTR mining cost $50-100 million apiece—increases in productivity from this method have disproportionately benefited larger, richer coal mining companies. Despite an overall increase in production, the number of U.S. coal mines in total has steadily decreased, from 4,744 in 1973 to 1,406 in 2009.

Regions where MTR mining takes place have an extremely high rate of people living on government benefits. Despite repeated industry claims that MTR mining brings jobs to a given region, few miners employed in this practice actually live in the towns surrounding MTR sites.

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  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.