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Lost Mountain by Erik Reece

Lost Mountain

by Erik Reece

Other authors: Wendell Berry (Introduction)

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A great book-such a shame this has happened to so many people and mountain regions. ( )
  RhondasReading | Jun 2, 2016 |
"Coal is cheap because it is extracted with the least concern for the land that offers it up." (p. 178)

I live in the Appalachian foothills of Ohio. My great-grandfather mined coal on and off for much of his teens and twenties, often on his hands and knees in an underground shaft (he was usually too tall to stand at 6'6"). His family, including my grandmother, lived in company towns that conspired to keep their people poor and dependent. To this day, if you live in my home county, you must have mine insurance, because if your house is built over a mining shaft, sinkholes can develop unexpectedly (this happened to one of my professors in college). In 1995, a twelve foot section of Interstate 70, a major interstate, collapsed in the county next to mine because of mine subsidence (google "Interstate 70 collapse Ohio 1995"), which took months and millions of dollars to repair.

But that kind of mining is a whole different beast, something that many people don't seem to understand (or don't care to). As bad as it could be, underground mining did supply jobs - often poorly paid and dangerous - and wreaked less environmental damage than strip mining.

Strip mining, unfortunately, I've seen as well. I've seen the Big Muskie (now no longer in operation). I've helped "reclaim" old strip mining swaths by planting trees provided by AEP, who did most of the strip mining in my area. AEP, I must say, treated us better than those in Kentucky and West Virginia are often treated (by companies other than AEP). One large strip mined area was turned into an African wildlife preserve (no, seriously - The Wilds in Muskingum County, Ohio) that generates tourist dollars. But I can show you creeks that run orange and wells that went bad (including some on relatives' properties) because strip mining allowed chemicals to leach into the water. And we are the "lucky" ones because, as I said, AEP treated us fair in the clean up.

Strip mining is reckless, dangerous, and stupid. It takes entire mountains and levels them to the ground. It puts fill in hollows. It poisons rivers, streams, and wells. It kills wildlife. It destroys topsoil. It ruins houses and communities. It creates potential disasters just waiting to be unleashed on the people downstream. And all in the name of cheap energy.

Strip mining isn't cheap. Oh, sure, the operation itself is. The companies come in, take all the coal, usually claim bankruptcy in the end so they don't have to reclaim the land, and leave giant swathes of dirt in their paths where mountains once stood. Even if they do "reclaim" the land, it's usually just a "pasture" where not much will grow because the soil is so poor and rocky.

People say - but what about the jobs? Yeah, what about the jobs? Strip mining requires few employees, and almost none of them are local. If you think strip mining is employing hundreds of local people who wouldn't have jobs otherwise, you have no idea what is going on in the mountains.

"[T]he poverty rate in eastern Kentucky is exactly the same as when [Robert] Kennedy came [in 1968], jobs are almost as scarce, and the environmental destruction from strip mining is exponentially worse." (p. 181)

And if you think that EPA protects anything or anyone besides the coal companies, you also have no idea what is going on in the mountains. The EPA and the coal companies go hand in hand; the EPA is often run by people who were formerly in the coal business. Think about that one for a while.

"[I]n the end, the natural world does not need conserving. The planet has survived five extinctions; it can survive another one. No, it is we who need conserving." (p. 95)

It's true, and honestly, that thought gives me some comfort. Humanity will likely kill itself with pollution and environmental damage, but we did it to ourselves. Mammals may not survive; most of the species we see now may not survive, and for that I am sad. But the earth itself will survive our carnage; it's got billions of years left before the sun swallows us whole.

"Who is destroying the mountains of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia?...It isn't the coal companies. It's us...You did this. Okay, forget the guilt. How can we change that?" (p. 154)

Well, reading this book would be a good start. ( )
  schatzi | Jul 27, 2015 |
Erik Reece’s Lost Mountain is a no-holds-barred vilification of current mountaintop removal coal mining practices. He follows the course of several businesses who purchase and re-sell the permit to strip mine Lost Mountain in Eastern Kentucky from September 2003 to September 2004. Along the way, he reports on past court cases involving mining companies, how the law is bent to accommodate mining practices, and whether there are real, useful, sustainable ways to extract coal from mountains.

His clandestine tracking of coal mining operations gives the reader a different perspective on the industry and while his rhetoric is decidedly anti-business, he is not totally against the idea of collecting coal for power. The problem is that the book is overwhelmingly sad. From a month-by-month discussion of how Lost Mountain is basically removed from the map to vignette after vignette of families and communities that do not have the money or the methods to fight back while groundwater is poisoned and homes are flooded by mining runoff, this will get your invective juices flowing.

The book itself reads fast (I blew through it in an afternoon at the bookstore) but it lingers with you for much longer. It has echoes of Carson’s Silent Spring and many of the eco-conservation books that followed. Even if they support current practices, anybody who cares about how businesses interact with their surrounding environment and communities should read this one. ( )
2 vote NielsenGW | May 28, 2013 |
A revealing look at the horrors of mountain top removal mining. ( )
  Sullywriter | Apr 3, 2013 |
This might be an interesting read. I used to have a parishoner who made his millions doing strip mining.
  GEPPSTER53 | Jul 16, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Erik Reeceprimary authorall editionscalculated
Berry, WendellIntroductionsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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"Erik Reece issues a stinging account and an inspiring call to arms to defend one of America's most threatened natural treasures." "The mountains of Appalachia are home to one of the great forests of the world - scientists refer to it as the "rainforest" of North America because it predates the Ice Age and continues to host a remarkable density of diverse species. These mountains also hold the mother lode of American coal, and the coal-mining industry has long been the economic backbone for families in a region hard-pressed for other job opportunities. But now, with the advent of radical strip mining, aka "mountaintop removal, " it takes no more than ten men and some heavy machinery to blast off the top of a mountain, dump it in the valley below, and scoop out the coal. The economic and environmental consequences are devastating on an unprecedented scale." "Erik Reece chronicles the year he spent witnessing the systematic decimation of a single mountain, aptly named Lost Mountain. He makes evident that strip mining is not just a local concern or a radical issue, but a mainstream crisis that involves everything from corporate hubris and government neglect to species extinction and poisoned groundwater to class conflict and landscape destruction."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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