Mining coal has created both immediate and long-lasting destruction to our environment and our communities.
From the room and pillar mines of the 1700s to today's mechanized longwall mining, removing coal comes at a high cost — for the workers, the environment, and the people and the local economies left behind.
Coal is often touted as one of the least expensive sources of energy, but when external costs and government subsidies are factored in, it's not such a bargain.
Read a Feb. 2011 report on the true costs of coal and a PennFuture Energy Center report, released in Dec. 2011, on subsidies.
Deep mining and acid mine drainage
Along 3,200 miles of streams and rivers, aquatic life has been killed by sulfuric acid draining from abandoned coal mines. Acid mine drainage (AMD), or pollution, is the principal cause of water pollution in Pennsylvania. It damages watersheds in 45 of 67 counties. It also seeps into the water table and turns wells into sinkholes unfit for wash water, much less for drinking.
Acid mine pollution is the result of chemical reactions far below ground. When deep mines are abandoned and the pumps that kept water out are turned off, the water table slowly rises. When water hits oxidized pyrites in the surrounding rock, it forms sulfuric acid, eventually works its way to the surface and flows into watersheds.
In 1994, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed Act 54, which amended state mining laws to make it easier for coal-mining companies to use a method called longwall mining and to address the damage that it inevitably causes on the surface. Act 54 requires coal companies to replace lost water supplies and to compensate property owners for damage done to homes and other structures.
After more than a decade of experience, however, it is apparent that Act 54 is not adequately protecting homeowners and the environment. Farmers have lost their springs and pastures, making the operation of a family farm nearly impossible. Businesses have had crucial property undermined and destroyed. Families have been forced to live with constant construction while the mining industry attempts to make “good enough” repairs that never return homes to what they were before being undermined. And communities are being destroyed as family after family decides to leave and sell its home to the mining industry, which then lets the property deteriorate.
Strip mining and mountaintop removal
While not used extensively in Pennsylvania, strip mining and mountaintop removal are mining methods that destroy mountains, trees and all vegetation -- to dig out coal. Often the material removed is simply thrown into valleys and streams and destroys the water.
The Department of Environmental Protection estimated the cost of abandoned mine reclamation and remediation at a staggering $15 billion. Experts say it would take at least a century to complete. When mining operations shut down, companies are supposed to post bonds that will cover the costs of clean up. But many close up shop and never pay that last bill. A 1993 study determined that the clean-up funds are short by more than $1 billion.
PennFuture, working in coalition with environmental and sporting organizations, seeks to prevent more unreclaimed strip pits, subsidence-prone lands and untreated discharges from being added to the long list of abandoned mines that remain one of Pennsylvania's worst environmental problems and to bring justice to the citizens in Pennsylvania's coal communities.
Please join us.
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