Have you ever ventured to the Appalachian Mountain range? It is hard to believe it has been almost 10 years since my husband and I traveled there. These hills and mountains hold a special aura; I can see why the Native Americans consider this sacred ground.

Have you ever ventured to the Appalachian Mountain range? It is hard to believe it has been almost 10 years since my husband and I traveled there. These hills and mountains hold a special aura; I can see why the Native Americans consider this sacred ground.

The unbelievably sad thing that occurs in these mountains is what is called mountaintop removal, a form of coal mining. These incredible, beautiful, mystic mountains literally have their tops blasted off! Then all of the rubble, silt, and remains are pushed over the side by dozers, or loaded into huge trucks and dumped over the side. The valleys are choked with the debris and silt.

 When it rains, instead of the water gently traveling on the forest floor through leaf litter, mosses, and wildflowers on its way to the streambed, it instead filters through broken shale, sandstone, and other debris before reaching the final destination. As the water travels through the blasted materials it picks up heavy metals such as selenium and magnesium; these fine metals get dumped into larger rivers polluting the waterways and corrupting ecosystems beyond repair.

A few years ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did numerous research studies on how this fouls the waterways. According to an article written by Pulitzer Prize winner John McQuaid from Yale Environment 360, “biologist, A. Dennis Lemly found that heavy concentrations of selenium in West Virginia’s Mud River, downstream from the huge Hobet 21 mountaintop mine, were causing deformed fish.” In addition, a 2008 Environmental Protection Agency study showed that “…immediately downstream from valley fills was wiping out entire populations of mayflies, a ubiquitous species whose disappearance indicates broader ecological effects.” In other words, the mayflies are the proverbial canary in the coal mines, and if anyone was paying attention to the enormity of their population deaths, we would realize we were screwing things up pretty badly!

To be honest, I try not to think about it because it keeps me awake at night and makes me sick to my stomach. I just do not get how people can continue to do this.

The good news is that last September, the EPA stated it was reviewing the mountaintop removal permits of 79 sites in four Appalachian states. Finally, someone is thinking of the mountains, the ecosystems within them, and these sacred places.

One big step for mankind: Late last week, the EPA announced it was going to overrule the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and revoke the permit for one of Appalachia’s largest mountaintop removal sites! Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is taking away the permit from Arch Coal Inc, to continue to blow the top off what they call Spruce No. 1 in West Virginia.

Shawn Garvin, the EPA’s mid-Atlantic regional administrator, stated, “Coal, and coal mining, is part of our nation’s energy future, and for that reason EPA has made repeated efforts to foster dialogue and find a responsible path forward. But we must prevent the significant and irreversible damage that comes from mining pollution – and the damage from this project would be irreversible.”

I applaud the courage of the EPA for going against another governmental agency to do the right thing. I know it cannot be easy!

However, we will all sleep better at night!