Mountaintop Removal and National Security

Those who profit from mountaintop removal often justify the practice by claiming it is good for the United States. Take Don Blankenship, the CEO of Massey Energy, who at his pro-mountaintop removal labor day extravaganza–called the “Friends of America Rally”–literally dressed in the American flag and proclaimed that the EPA’s increasing concern about strip-mining put “America itself” at risk.  According to Blankenship and others, because coal companies can cheaply extract coal by simply blowing up the mountains that shelter it rather than paying a large workforce to mine it, they can keep the price of energy low enough so that Americans can afford to power their great cities, factories, and homes. 

Yet this argument, like other excuses profferred for mountaintop removal, is a fraud.

  • Even if this argument held up (which it does not ), it implies that Appalachia should be the sacrifice zone for the nation’s cheap energy.  Appalachians have already sacrificed more than their fair share. A greater proportion of them fought (and died) in WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq. Mountaintop removal has displaced thousands from their ancestral homelands. It has permanently destroyed over a million acres of bountiful forest and burried over 1000 miles of freshwater streams. Much more land is inhabitable thanks to blasting, flooding, and poisoning.  Those who are fighting to stay are done sacrificing.


  • But to call the destruction of Appalachia for cheap coal a sacrifice is wrong. Mountaintop removal is not necessary for cheap energy. Mountaintop removal IS necessary for companies to maximize their profits. Rather than a sacrifice, it is a pillage. Greed, not patriotism, is the reason coal companies prefer it.



  • Even now, America does not totally depend on coal. In fact, the percentage of power generated by coal has dropped over the years to a current low of 43%. No new coal fired power plants were built in 2009 while 26 were permanently shelved.


  • Coal is not the cheapest source of energy in the United States. It is now even cheaper to generate the same amount of electricity from solar panels, the most expensive renewable source. Importantly, this does not account for externalized costs of coal (health risks, environmental degradation–acid mine drainage, acid rain, reclamation, and so on). Coal plants continue to be profitable only because they are subsidized with billions of public dollars. Take a peak at this study:


  • It does not follow that obtaining coal responsibly (deep mining) with a well paid, unionized, work force means less coal. No matter how you mine it, the volume of coal does not change. No matter how close seams of coal are to the surface (most coal is NOT even near the surface), it can be extracted without blowing up the overlying soil and forest. Granted, mining coal responsibly may not be economical. But if coal is indeed so valuable to the nation, why should Americans leave its extraction to the “for profit” sector? Our energy sector should be under democratic control. Put coal mining in the hands of the people–“nationalize” it–and it doesn’t matter how expensive it is to extract. Take the billions and billions and billions that goes to advertising and profit and use it to deep mine responsibly and lower per capita costs–people who live in countries with nationalized energy sectors pay less for their energy.


  • Most damning to the patriotic argument is the fact that much of the coal taken from the destruction of Appalachia does NOT even stay in the United States. Here is a little tid-bit about Don Blankenship’s company, Massey Energy (compiled by Matt Noerpel).

Page 22 of their 2008 annual report (page number 14) says that in 2008 Massey produced 41.0 million tons of coal for a produced coal revenue of $2.6 Billion.  Approximately 30% of their revenue came from exporting coal.  IF all coal were priced equally (which is isn’t) or they exported the various grades of coal in the same proportion they sold in the US (I have no idea how that works out), that would mean they exported approximately 12.3 million tons of coal, which is probably a fairly reasonable estimate.  It doesn’t break it down by which countries they export to.  Greenpeace used to have access to the databases that had the per country breakdown I don’t know if they do anymore.

The annual report can be found here:

  • Here are some more tid-bits (compiled by Rory  Mcllmoil)

A total of 55.4 million tons of coal was exported to foreign countries from the US in 2007.

45.2 million tons from Appalachia.

19 million tons from WV.

13.3 million tons from southern WV.

5.9 million tons from eastern KY.

So a total of 19.2 million tons from Massey territory.

Thought this would be helpful.  Link is here:

Even more interesting, the EIA discontinued their reporting of foreign destinations by exporting state.  The last report was in 2003:

Here’s the data.  Numbers are in this order [metallurgical coal exports — steam coal exports — total coal exports], and then given by country.  The top four countries are Canada, Italy, France, and the Netherlands.  Or at least they were in 2003.  Perhaps there should be a field trip??:

West Virginia     12,590     1,187     13,777     
Algeria     506     –    506     
Belgium     304     –    304     
Brazil     967     –    967     
Bulgaria     470     –    470     
Canada     2,307     501     2,808     
Denmark     –    97     97     
Dominican Republic     –    57     57     
Egypt     604     –    604     
Finland     273     –    273     
France     1,608     –    1,608     
India     11     –    11     
Italy     2,095     –    2,095     
Morocco     –    430     430     
Netherlands     1,061     –    1,061     
Spain     846     –    846     
Sweden     373     –    373     
Turkey     532     –    532     
United Kingdom     632     103     735   

  • And here is a qoute from Blankenship that he did not spout in his “Friends of America” speech:

 “As China and India consume more coal, we believe our opportunitymay be greater to sell our coal directly into these markets…”

  • More:

Penny Messinger had a comment on John McQuaid’s story in the Smithsonian that:
“A lot of the metallurgical coal from WV’s mines is exported, which belies the coal industry’s claims to be promoting “energy independence” for the U.S. and its current PR campaign for so-called “clean coal technology,” which doesn’t really exhist. Also, WV’s blind support of the coal industry and whatever techniques it chooses to use precludes other types of economic activity, meaning that since mountaintop removal employs relatively few people, WV’s biggest export continues to be its children.”

Today, coal minions are increasingly on the defensive about mountaintop removal (thanks largely to the efforts of Appalachian citizens who have had enough). As a result, they have devoted millions to various PR campaigns (Friends of Coal being the largest) and are careful to pontificate well crafted talking points.  Yet just a couple of decades ago, mountaintop removal profiteers were much more candid about their true feelings. There is no better way to end this blog than with the words of E. Morgan Massey, the predecessor of Don Blankenship.

In a letter to the Charleston Gazette,

June, 1985

“Multinational corporations do not have a great deal of national

loyalty and even less loyalty to Southern West Virginia.”


5 Responses to “Mountaintop Removal and National Security”

  1. While wer’e at , why not ” nationalize ” the auto, steel, textile,(or whats left of them) and every other facet of free enterprise, and go back to the old ways of the old Soviet Union. Didn’t work there, won’t work here.

  2. That isn’t why the Soviet Union fell. In fact, that was the ONLY good thing going for it.

    Maybe if the US would have nationalized its textile factories, they wouldn’t all be in China now.

  3. Tha only “good” thing ” going for it? Have you ever saw any Soviet products of that era? At the very least 20 to 30 years behind the U. S. Once heard a soviet worker interviewed say they play at paying us and we play at working. Good ole socialism. I think the reason for the job exodus can be spelled NAFTA . Rember Ross warned us of the great sucking sound.

  4. NAFTA is free trade. Would you prefer tariffs, aka government interference? Seems awful socialistic to me.

    I believe you meant to say “pretend” instead of “play”.

    At least that is the way I’ve heard 500 people say it.

    Soviet technology was far behind for several reasons, including corruption, not nationalization.

  5. Gosh, a whole 500 say it’s pretend. I stand corrected forgive me. Oh and yes on free trade and a resounding NO on the nationalization of American industry. Take a good look at Amtrak as a good example of gov’t nationalization. I think tariffs represent protectionism, not socialism.

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