Mountain tops

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(HOST) Commentator Ruth Page talks about mountaintop mining in West Virginia and the several kinds of damage it can inflict on both Nature and human beings.

(PAGE) Picture for a moment what our ancient and inspiring mountains, here in the Northeast, mean to us. Just seeing them from the interstate is a delight. For those who love to climb – and gasp at the panoramas that open as they climb higher – there’s a delicious feeling of accomplishment – and a special appreciation of the beauty of our state – when you reach the top.

(In my own case, this pleasure always reminds me of why, every time I get back from a visit to Florida, I say to myself, “Thank goodness, Mountains!”) Our Green Mountains in Vermont have ruled their landscape for four hundred and forty million years; New York’s Adirondacks for fifty-five million. Mountains reflect earth-history, are inspiring to look at, fun to climb, and home to thousands of creatures on the ground and in the air and water. They offer beautiful, varied, healthy habitats that we all enjoy.

As a mountain-lover, my concern now is for the aging Appalachians in southern West Virginia. Many of them are being attacked: coal-mining companies are cutting away the mountain-tops — the cheapest and easiest way to get out the coal. Imagine how that looks. Picture our Northeastern mountains without their handsome peaks, the peaks we try not to exploit by construction; the mountain tops many are trying to protect even from wind-towers, which might spoil their beauty.

If you go to West Virginia you can see mining companies slicing off the mountain-tops, then dumping all the detritus, including chemicals, right on the spot. As that garbage slides down the mountain, it finds its way into streams that wash the pollutants all the way to the bottom. That’s thrifty for the mining companies but costly in every other way. The mess affects the soil, the living organisms in the streams, and people living at the base who get their household water from those streams.

Mining companies always hunt for ways to ease the cost of what little reclamation the law requires: they plant non-native grass – and some fast-growing trees here and there along the flattened peaks. The effects on ground water can be serious.

We’re doing a number of bad things to our earth, but this seems to me especially nasty. Such mining companies are polluting mountains and their rivers in order to produce cheap power that pollutes the air as the coal burns. Why should the people in southern West Virginia have to sacrifice the beauty and cleanliness of their mountains so mining companies can produce one of the dirtiest sources of power available? It may be cheap in dollars, but it’s incredibly costly in damage to the local population and to the environment.

This is Ruth Page.

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