Wading into mountaintop removal

Hi folks. Today, I hope you’ll take some time to read the feature I’ve written for C-VILLE about the power company Dominion. Basically, it looks at a contradiction between Dominion’s public image—which is getting greener through high-profile programs like Smartgrid—and the company’s practices, which include a new coal-burning power plant that will support the mining industry in southwest Virginia. That, of course, means mountaintop removal.

There was so much that interested me about working on this story (including the pro-coal comments that I’m sure to get, as I do every time I mention mountaintop removal or coal). One interview I didn’t get to include in the final draft was with a man named Bob Mullins, who worked in underground mines for more than 30 years. After he retired, he rather suddenly changed his view of the coal industry. "As a coal miner, I just went to work and came home," he said. "It wasn’t in plain view until I was retired."

Bob Mullins in the office of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS), an anti-mining group of which he’s now a member.

It came into "plain view" partly because, two years ago, the land around Mullins’ home was stripped of its trees in preparation for mountaintop removal mining. Though activists are fighting the permit for this mine, called Ison Rock Ridge, the trees are already gone. And Mullins has noticed a number of effects. For one thing, displaced bears now raid his garbage, which they never used to do.

And the wind has changed. With the forest gone, it blows more strongly, and Mullins worries about a strip of large pines left near his house (but not on his property). "There’s seven or eight behind the house, and any one of them would cut my house in two," he says. Mullins has lived in his house since 1973 and raised his children there.

Though he’s gone door-to-door gathering signatures against the Ison Rock mine, Mullins still has lots of friends who are in the business; he rides motorcycles with them regularly. "I put my point across, but we don’t ponder on it a whole lot. Most of them know it’s wrong. [They say] ‘If there’s something else I can do, I’d do it. This is all I got to do.’"

Mullins and a lot of other folks went to Richmond last week to weigh in on the so-called "Streamsaver Act," which would keep mining companies from dumping waste into streams. Because that’s a key component of surface mining techniques, the bill is seen as potentially halting those practices.

Let me know what you think of the story, and let your state reps know what you think of this bill.

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