Maine has connection to mining practice that is leveling oldest mountains on the continent
Natural Resources Council of Maine and Appalachian Voices
Maine does not have clean hands when it comes to the dirty business of coal operations, according to residents of Appalachia who traveled to Maine to describe the destruction being caused by mountaintop coal removal. This devastating form of surface mining has already destroyed over 500 mountains and buried and polluted 2,000 miles of streams in the Central Appalachian region. More than one million acres have been leveled by mountaintop mining.
At news conferences and public talks in Maine during their two-day visit, the delegation is explaining that a significant amount of electricity used in Maine comes from coal-fired power plants, including plants that burn coal ripped out of Appalachia’s mountaintops. The delegation is pressing for support of federal legislation that would end mountaintop coal mining, and they are in Maine to support a transition to clean energy. As part of their schedule, the group will visit the Stetson Wind Power Project in Danforth, Maine, which is New England’s largest wind power generating facility. The group hopes their stories will help Maine people put their energy choices in context.
“People are shocked to learn that an egregious practice like mountaintop removal coal mining is still happening in the United States. But it is, and it is a daily threat to people, communities, and the environment of Appalachia. Maine people should understand their connection to the harm being done in our mountains,” said Dustin White, from West Virginia.
White was raised in the coalfields, is the son of a retired coal miner, and has been fighting to stop mountaintop coal mining on Cook Mountain, named for his ancestors. A family cemetery on Cook Mountain is at risk of being destroyed by mountaintop coal removal by Horizon Resources coal company.
While little coal is burned by Maine’s power plants, about 11 percent of the electricity used in Maine comes from coal-fired plants in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. Nine New England power plants burned more than 5.2 million tons of coal from Appalachia, Colombia, Venezuela, and Indonesia in 2008, the most current year for which there is data.
Coal is widely considered to be the dirtiest form of fossil fuel used for electricity generation, in terms of impacts on landscapes and ecosystems, climate changing pollution, air pollution, mercury pollution, toxic sludge settling ponds, public health risks, and harm to communities. More than 13,000 Americans this year will die prematurely – including more than 40 in Maine – due specifically to pollution from coal-fired power plants, according to a report released last week by the Clean Air Task Force and the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
Kentucky resident Mary Love traveled to Maine to urge people to consider the harm being done 900 miles away in coal country. “We are here because Maine people have the power to help protect the oldest mountains on the continent by convincing Maine Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to do the right thing by cosponsoring the Appalachia Restoration Act.”
The Appalachia Restoration Act was introduced by Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN). The bill would sharply curb mountaintop coal mining by banning the dumping of “fill material” from mountaintop coal operations into Appalachia’s rivers and streams. The bill has 12 cosponsors and is not yet cosponsored by either of Maine’s senators. At the same time, the coal industry is lobbying Congress and the EPA to roll back or block Clean Air Act protections that help to curb air pollution flowing into Maine.
“Appalachia is being treated like a sacrifice zone to satisfy the electricity demands of America, including ours in Maine,” said NRCM Advocacy Director Pete Didisheim. “We may think that our energy is clean, but it’s not. Maine people should add their voices to those of Appalachia who are calling for an end to this destruction and for increased use of clean energy,” added Didisheim.
“This summer’s colossal failure by the U.S. Senate to pass climate and clean energy legislation means that our fossil fuel addiction will continue, including our binge-like consumption of coal. It is more essential than ever that the Senate not undermine the Clean Air Act or block EPA’s efforts to reduce pollution to our air and water, from coal and other sources.”
“Coalfield citizens are forced to endure massive explosions, extensive air and water pollution, and witness the destruction of their ancestral home places,” says Austin Hall, field organizer for Appalachian Voices.
NRCM supports strong action to reduce harm to our environment and health caused by energy use. These effects are felt here in Maine, in communities around the world that provide energy to satisfy Maine’s energy needs, and will be felt by future generations as a result of global warming caused by pollution from fossil fuels. Energy efficiency, development of cleaner sources of power, laws that account for the real costs of fossil fuels, and federal and international approaches to reducing climate changing pollution all will be necessary.