A friend of mine had brought me to Kentucky to show me what he called "an atrocity of industry." It's amazing, and quite disturbing. Imagine flying in a helicopter through the verdant valleys of the tightly-rippled Appalachian mountains. The variety of hardwood trees and rich undergrowth is unparalleled anywhere outside of the tropical rainforest. With the window open, the smells of earth permeate the air and you can understand why the "hillbillies" of yore, who were planning to travel beyond the mountains, chose to stay.
The copter flies up through the valley and, as the valley becomes thinner, has to climb. But as the propellered bird swoops above the highest trees, what unfolds before your eyes is a vast lunar landscape as far as the eyes can see. This is a mountaintop-removal coal mining site, where 600 acres of pristine forest have been not only denuded, but leveled. It is going on throughout the coal mining regions of Appalachia, to the tune of at least 600 THOUSAND ACRES so far, and accelerating. These sites can be seen from outer space. Go to GoogleEarth, look at southern West Virginia and South East Kentucky and you will easily find them - and who knows how old those images are.
More later on what mountain-top removal is, why we need so much coal, and the host of environmental and human impacts of this and all forms of coal mining and combustion.
Monday, May 15, 2006
This is the first entry tracking the making of the documentary film, American Coal. I, the filmaker, will record my evolving impressions here, with an opportunity for readers to post responses. As the film nears completion, I hope you all will be a part of carving the point of view of the film. I can't do this alone.
Monday, May 01, 2006
As my Russian friend always says... "can you believe it?" In this day and age, over HALF of all electricity consumed in the United States comes from Coal-fired power plants. It's like a dirty secret. Coal is not of the Victorian era. It is not a relic from the industrial revolution. Coal is here, and it is now, and it is as part of American society today as it has ever been. The difference today is that we have moved the "dirty" aspects of coal to where they are either far away or invisible:
- Extraction - the mountains of Appalachia are simply being obliterated.
- Heavy Metals - the dangerous metals that exist both in the coal and in the surrounding rock that has been blasted works its way into ground water, poisoning streams, rivers, and folks who have no choice but to drink contaminated well water.
- Sulfur/Nitrogen - at the power plant, sulfur and nitrogen are released into the upper atmosphere where they combine with other gases and moisture to produce acid rain. Coal-fired power plants in the Midwest are the source of all the acid rain that plagues the northeastern US.
- Mercury - at the power plant, mercury is released into the atmosphere and ends up in lakes and fish. Most states have banned the eating of lake fish due to mercury content. Bigger fish eat these fish and the mercury works its way up the food chain and out to the oceans. We are now warned that pregnant women should not eat large game fish, which all have high levels of mercury...all from coal-fired power plants.
- Fine Particulate Matter - there is soot in the atmosphere from these power plants. It is too small to see, but we know that 50,000 people a year die from respiratory and heart conditions caused by fine particulate matter. Though coal-fired plants are not the only source for this, they are a very significant one.
- Anyone want to add?