One of the most environmentally devastating types of mining, mountaintop removal, has declined by an amazing 62%. The report suggests that a lower demand for coal as a reason, citing cheap natural gas and renewables as competitors, as well as flat electricity demand and environmental regulations.
Since 2008, coal production in the United States declined a total of 15%. Surface mining declined by 21%, with mountaintop removal being a type of surface mining process. Total coal production also includes underground mining operations.
The percentages were calculated using the number of mountaintop removal mining (MTR) permits issued. However, since the permits do not always directly reflect MTR operations, the numbers are an estimate. It is impossible for researchers to tell if the permits were used for other mining techniques that can be performed on a mountaintop. These methods can also be used together, making the data that much more of a quagmire.
Mountaintop removal mining is used because it is cheaper and requires fewer employees; explosives are used to remove the earth and rock above the coal seams, exposing them to the surface where they can be easily removed.
The exploded rock is sometimes then moved into an existing stream bed, but extra permits are needed for this. An environmental impact statement, performed in tandem by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, EPA and US Army Corps of Engineers will examine the effects of surface coal mining in the Appalachian states where these methods are primarily used.
West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia still use this type of mining. Tennessee has previously proposed legislation to ban mountaintop removal mining, and while it has not been passed, there has not been any MTR activity since 2007.
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