Today's New York Times has a good editorial about the status of mountaintop removal mining in the current administration. It calls on Obama to put an end to the practice (which both Obama and McCain pledged to do during the campaign). As for what it is:
Mountaintop mining is just what the name suggests. Enormous machines — bulldozers and draglines — scrape away mountain ridges to expose the coal seams below. The coal is then trucked away, and the leftover rock and dirt are dumped into adjacent valleys and streams.As bad as the flattening of mountains is, the real legal problem is the filling in of valleys and streams, which could violate the Clean Water Act.
Mountaintop removal mining is controversial in West Virginia and the rest of Appalachia because it's been pitched as the cheapest way (and therefore the only profitable way) to mine coal. Regulations shutting down or restricting it are seen as taking jobs away from locals, with long term environmental damage being glossed over.
That attitude seems to be changing, if a recent conversation I had with my oldest brother is any indication. Our main autocross venue is located across the highway from a flattened mountain, now being "reclaimed." We were talking about it as a potential future venue (acres and acres of flat land is hard to find) and he told me about the last time he flew home from Charlotte. It was a sunny and cloudless day, so he was able to see the terrain clearly. As he flew over the southern part of the state, around Beckley, he could get a good view of what mountaintop removal mining has done to the landscape. He was appalled and thinks, maybe, it's not such a good thing.
Given that he's much more conservative and pro-business than I am, I take that as a hopeful sign. Maybe public pressure will shift Obama and crew into doing something.