A subsidiary of Massey Energy (NYSE: MEE) has begun mountaintop-removal coal-mining operations on Coal River Mountain in West Virginia, the only peak in Coal River Valley that hasn't been blasted away for mining. Blasting for the mine is taking place 200 yards from the Brushy Fork coal slurry impoundment, which holds 8 billion gallons of toxic coal sludge above the Coal River community.
Local and national conservation organizations including the Center for Biological Diversity are asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the White House to halt the mining operation.
"It is just plain wrong to blow up the last mountain in Coal River Valley and to jeopardize the lives of the people living below the slurry dam. The federal government should intervene and protect this community," said Tierra Curry, a biologist at the Center.
Citizens are concerned that blasting could weaken or breach the slurry dam. A coal slurry impoundment owned by a Massey subsidiary failed in 2000, spilling more than 300 million gallons of toxic slurry into the Big Sandy River in Martin County, Kentucky. In 1972, 125 people were killed by a 132-million-gallon slurry spill in Logan County, West Virginia.
At 3,300 feet, Coal River Mountain is the tallest mountain ever to undergo mountaintop-removal mining. Massey Energy plans to blast away 6,600 acres of the mountain and fill in 18 streams with toxic mining waste, the Center for Biological Diversity said.
Mountaintop-removal coal mining has already destroyed 500 mountains, more than 1 million acres of hardwood forest, and more than 1,200 miles of streams in Appalachia.
Last year, local activists attempted to protect the mountain by proposing the installation of a wind farm that they said could provide 50 well-paying jobs and a permanent supply of energy for 150,000 homes.
Blasting of the mountain will lower its ridgeline by about 500 feet, eliminating its potential as a site for wind power, according to Coal River Mountain Watch.
In September, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that it has concerns about the environmental harm that would be caused by the issuance of dozens of mountaintop removal permits that the agency had been reviewing since June.