Survey: Most voters in four regional states dislike mountaintop mining
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A majority of voters in four Appalachian states disapprove of mountaintop mining.
The results of the survey conducted late last month were released Tuesday by a group of environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club.
The poll, which interviewed 1,315 people in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee and Virginia showed that 57 percent were opposed to mountaintop mining. Forty-two percent of those said they "strongly oppose" the process.
Only 20 percent of the registered voters polled said they support mountaintop mining. Ten percent of those said they "strongly support" it.
"I hope it will wake up a few politicians," said Janet Keating, the executive director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. "People are sick and tired of seeing their mountains blown up."
But Jason Hayes, the communications director for the American Coal Council, said this survey is one in a long line of recent polls being released to try to frighten the public.
"They're doing a numbers job. They need to frighten people. They need more membership dollars," he said. "It's all very frightening if you don't understand what's going on."
As part of the survey, the voters being polled were given this description of the process: "Coal companies in [STATE] mine coal from mountains through a process called mountaintop removal mining where the top of a mountain is removed to extract the coal and waste is disposed in nearby valleys and streams."
According to the results, voters in both political parties oppose mountaintop mining.
Sixty-four percent of the Democrats polled, 60 percent of the independents and 51 percent of Republicans oppose the practice.
Opponents of mountaintop mining say their legislators aren't responsive to their cause because of the pressure exerted on them by the coal industry.
"Our politicians are in their pocket, and they have had a stranglehold," Ms. Keating said. "It was the only job in town, so you don't dare open your mouth."
Junior Walk, the coordinator for outreach for Coal River Mountain Watch, agreed.
"It doesn't matter if you have a 'D' or an 'R' next to your name, you're beholden to the coal industry."
But Mr. Hayes said coal mining provides good-paying jobs to the region.
"They're actually helping the areas," he said.
According to a report by Downstream Strategies - an environmental consulting firm in Morgantown, W.Va.- the coal industry employed 37,000 people in central Appalachia in 2008. The study said coal production in the region peaked in 1997 with 290 million tons and has been decreasing since and that it dropped to 235 million tons in 2008.
Opponents of mountaintop mining blame the practice - which involves clearing mountaintops of trees, blasting the tops off, removing the coal near the surface and disposing of the waste in nearby valleys - for polluting streams and water supplies.
"How crazy is it to be blasting entire mountain ranges and burying water?" Ms. Keating asked. "There's nothing sacred here in any of these mountains."
But Mr. Hayes said a perfect example of the good work being done by mining companies is in Logan County, W.Va., where Coal-Mac Inc.'s Phoenix Surface Mine No. 2 recently won an award from the Department of the Interior's Office of Surface Mining.
"They're reforesting, reseeding with native species and putting it back," Mr. Hayes said. "It's as close to natural as you can get.
"[The miners] live in the same area. They drink the same water. They're all part of the same community."
First Published August 17, 2011 12:00 am