A firsthand look at surface mining


I’m just back from a trip to Wise County in Southwest Virginia, where I took a tour of some strip mining and mountaintop removal sites for a bigger story I’m working on. It was a rainy day and hard for taking photos, but I hope these communicate some of what’s going on down there.

This is a strip mine site that has been "reclaimed," which is supposed to mean "put back more or less to the way it was," for some years:


And this is a current mine site where waste material is being built up into something vaguely resembling a mountain (in the spot where there used to be a mountain):

About 25 percent of Wise County has been altered in this way, and permits are on the books or in the works for coal companies to mine much more of the area. I kept trying to imagine something comparable happening in tony, well-protected Albemarle, and found it impossible.

Between the blasting, dust, and visual devastation, a resident told me, "It’s like living in a war zone."