• Mountaintop
  • Longwall Mining
  • Acid Mine
  • Bonding
  • Surface
    Mine Act 
  • Buffer Zone Rule
Mountaintop Removal

Mining Matters: 

Focus on Mountaintop Removal Mining

Formed in 1967, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (WVHC) is the state's oldest environmental advocacy organization. Borne out of the need for battle to preserve scenic Seneca Rocks, WVHC continues today in response to a variety of ongoing challenges that threaten not only similar more widely known “special places” (e.g. Monongahela National Forest, George Washington National Forest, Canaan Valley Wildlife Refuge, and Wilderness areas like Otter Creek, Laurel Fork, Dolly Sods and Cranberry ), but also those that threaten the “special-ness of place”- the health and well-being of the air, water, forests and human communities of West Virginia.

For nearly four decades the Conservancy has been a leader in citizen efforts on a variety of mining issues critical to protecting the environment and life in WV.  The organization’s monthly publication, the HIGHLANDS VOICE, documents many of these efforts – from administrative and legal attempts to defend the original intent of the Surface Mine Act and Clean Water Act, to preventing acid mine drainage and insisting on adequate financial guarantees to cover the cost of reclamation at mined sites.  A key aspect of our work on mountaintop removal is our longtime effort to prohibit the dumping of mine waste into headwater streams, a critical factor in minimizing the size and impact of large-scale mining.   A brief overview of our involvement follows.


In 1986 WVHC successfully organized local opposition to the expansion of a 2,000 acre acid producing strip mine in Upshur county in central WV.  The expansion would have included a 1-mile long valley fill in the headwatsers of a native brook trout stream and a 90 foot high dam across a farm field in the watershed below.  A settlement agreement in a separate 1988 litigation against the state of WV resulted in significant, though short-lived, improvements in reclamation and the stability of fills at huge strip mines. 


In the early 1990’s requirements of the Clean Air Act as well as costly water treatment liabilities in the northern, higher sulfur, acid prone coalfields of WV, caused mining to shift to the southern coalfields.  At the same time, tax credits enabled industry to invest in new technology and bigger machinery.  Other financial incentives encouraged mining the thinner seams of coal that are layered in the southern mountains and are more difficult to mine.  Mountaintop removal expanded beyond all expectations.  During the ‘90’s WVHC played a key role in laying the groundwork for the growing opposition to mountaintop removal mining and in convincing regulatory agencies of the significance and overall impact of the ever-increasing number and size of fills being permitted.  WVHC members participated in and reported on state sponsored mine tours, were appointed to legislative committees established to review state policies of mitigating for streams buried under valley fills, and wrote articles describing the practice and the convoluted permitting process. Members also participated in many public and media forums and debates with government and industry representatives. Appointed to the governor’s task force on mountaintop removal mining in 1998, WVHC offered a minority report that pointed to the illegality of filling streams and to the environmental and economic harm caused by mountaintop removal mining.  In 1997 we compiled the first map visually documenting the extent of stream loss from mountaintop removal and valley fills in the three county area of Boone, Logan and Mingo in southern West Virginia .

A major plaintiff in the 1998 Bragg v Robertson litigation, WVHC was instrumental in convincing EPA to conduct the first ever Environmental Impact Study (EIS) on the effects of mountaintop removal mining and valley fills with the intent of finding ways to reduce the impact of those activities.  Although the politically tainted recommendations of the final 2005 EIS called instead for streamlining the permitting process, the scientific studies contained in the report are invaluable as official documentation of the deleterious impacts of mountaintop removal mining and valley fills.  Few permits were issued while the EIS was being prepared.


The Conservancy continues its vigorous opposition to this environmentally destructive method of mining by engaging with others in litigation, education, actions, publicity and research. WVHC joined OVEC, CRMW and the Appalachian Center in comments objecting to over 40 inadequate industry applications to the Army Corps of Engineers for 404 fill permits and is currently a co-plaintiff in legal action opposing the Corps’ illegal permitting of large-scale mines without the required scientific study and review. We are also working with groups to oppose weakening amendments to environmental law, and are supporting local and regional community efforts to inform the nation and world of the travesty of justice called mountaintop removal.

Take A Look


September 17, 1984

June 2, 2009

Below the densely forested slopes of southern West Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains is a layer cake of thin coal seams. To uncover this coal profitably, mining companies engineer large—sometimes very large—surface mines. This pair of images shows the growth of one of the largest surface mines in West Virginia during the past 25 years. The images are from the NASA Earth Observatory’s latest World of Change feature, Mountaintop Mining, West Virginia


Kayford Mountain 

Kayford Mountain
Photo by Julian Martin

Visit Kayford Mountain south of Charleston to see mountain top removal (MTR) up close and hear Larry Gibson's story about how he saved his mountain, now almost totally surrounded by MTR. Bring lunch for a picnic on Larry's mountain. Call in advance to schedule. Julian Martin (304) 342-8989; martinjul@aol.com or Larry Gibson (304) 542-1134; (304) 549-3287.

Spring Review 06
Photo by Cindy Rank

West Virginia Highlands Conservancy members on a visit to Kayford Mt. during the Spring Review, April 2006.

Spring Review 06-1
Photo by Cindy Rank

Marie Gunnoe from Van WV talks to WVHC members about mountaintop removal


View the video "Bringing Down the Mountains" made by three high school students from Greensburg PA.

Videos from iLoveMountains.org


On March 12, 2006 a group of students from Xavier University had a field trip to Kayford Mt. Click here to see the pictures they took.

The page background photo and the photos in the header banner are from the photos they took

MTR Fact Sheet (pdf 13 KBs)

Maps of Surface Mining in the Southern Counties of WV


Recommended Reading
How One Woman and Her Community Won Justice from Big Coal

The Clash over Coal in the Mountain State

Moving MountainsLexington, KY—A hotbed of contemporary criticism and conflict, mountaintop removal is both praised by coal companies as the most effective mining technique and lambasted by environmentalists for the irreversible destruction it wreaks upon the land. The process involves the use of explosives and heavy machinery to slice off several hundred feet from the tops of mountains in order to expose the rich seams of coal that lie beneath. Just as significant as the harm done to the land, however, is the effect on the surrounding communities when the promise of profits leads big coal companies to increasingly disregard the neighborhoods affected by their mining techniques.

Author Penny Loeb first became interested in the mountaintop removal conflict in 1997, when she authored an award-winning article on the matter for U.S. News and World Report. In Moving Mountains: How One Woman and Her Community Won Justice from Big Coal, she recounts the story of Patricia Bragg, a Pie, West Virginia, native whose community was upended when coal companies chiseled into the nearby mountains in 1994. After longwall machines used in deep mining sapped her neighbors’ wells, Bragg rallied her community to demand rights for the neighborhoods devastated by the mining. With Bragg at the helm, eighty-eight homeowners sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for their failure to comply with the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. Lead by lawyer Joe Lovett, their dispute culminated in Bragg v. Robertson, a historic case that temporarily halted mountaintop dumping in the nearby valleys and forced the implementation of proper resurfacing techniques.

Though Loeb heralds the victory of the Pie community, Moving Mountains is not strictly an antimountaintop removal treatise. Loeb approaches the controversial issue from all angles, including perspectives from the miners, citizens, politicians, and coal companies involved. She offers detailed profiles of how Bragg v. Robertson affected individuals such as Lovett, miner Bob Schultz, African- American legislator Arley Johnson, and housewife Vicky Moore. Loeb notes that the efforts of Bragg are part of a wider movement taking place over the past fifty years as activism in Appalachia has broadened from isolated debates over individual issues into widespread community action and empowerment. Education and legislation on mountaintop removal and other harmful mining practices are beginning to bring miners and citizens together in order to determine the best solutions for all involved. Moving Mountains documents a bold step taken towards seeking a common solution that will benefit both the environment and regional economies sustained through coal mining.

Penny Loeb, a freelance writer who lives outside of Washington D.C., is a former senior editor at U.S. News and World Report and a former investigative reporter for Newsday. She has received numerous awards for journalism and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1988

July 27, 2008

Book on mountaintop removal wins award

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- ForeWord Magazine, which promotes books released by university and independent publishers, gave a Bronze Award in its 2007 environmental category to Penny Loeb's "Moving Mountains" about mountaintop removal coal mining in West Virginia
"Moving Mountains" focused on Patricia Bragg, a Boone County woman from the town of Pie, who fought against the huge mountaintop removal mines in her area.

Bragg soon became involved in a broad lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, called Bragg v. Robertson, which temporarily halted mountaintop removal after a ruling by the late U.S. District Judge Charles Haden II.

Loeb, who lives with her husband in Loudoun County, Va., was previously a senior editor at "U.S. News & World Report" and investigative reporter for "Newsday."

The University Press of Kentucky in Louisville published "Moving Mountains."


Big Coal-The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future
Big Coal

by: Jeff Goodell

ISBN-13/EAN: 9780618319404; $25.95
ISBN-10: 0618319409
Hardcover; 352 pages
Publication Date: 06/08/2006
Trim Size: 6.00 x 9.00
Carton Quantity: 12


A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness by Erik Reece
Lost Mt Interview with Erik Reece

Bringing Down the Mountains  by Shirley Stewart Burns

The Impact of Mountaintop Removal on Southern West Virginia Communities

Bringing Down the Mountains not only tells the story

of coalfield residents’ fight against mountaintop removal, but it puts this tale into the important historical context of the continuing fight between West Virginians and outside coal interests over the use—and sometimes abuse—of the state’s natural resources. Shirley Stewart Burns reminds readers that West Virginia’s history is a long series of fights over who benefits and who is damaged by coal extraction, how the riches created by the coal-based economy are divided, and who decides the outcome these vital issues.” —Ken Ward Jr., The Charleston Gazette

Author / Editor: Shirley Stewart Burns
Number of Pages: 248
Format: softcover
ISBN: ISBN-13: 978-1-933202-17-4; ISBN-10: 1-933202-17-3


Miners, Millhands, and Mountaineers by Ronald D. Eller
Industrialization of the Appalachian South, 1880–1930

As a benchmark book should, this one will stimulate

the imagination and industry of future researchers as well as wrapping up the results of the last two decades of research. . . . Eller's greatest achievement results from his successful fusion of scholarly virtues with literary ones. The book is comprehensive, but not overlong. It is readable but not superficial. The reader who reads only one book in a lifetime on Appalachia cannot do better than to choose this one. . . . No one will be able to ignore it except those who refuse to confront the uncomfortable truths about American society and culture that Appalachia's history conveys.
--John A. Williams, Appalachian Journal.


Transforming the Appalachian Countryside by Ronald L. Lewis
Railroads, Deforestation, and Social Change in West Virginia, 1880-1920

An important contribution to the growing body

of scholarly writing that has been revising the idea of Appalachian exceptionalism for the past decade. . . . Will help banish forever the persistent social construct of a people and region somehow set apart from the major developmental currents of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century industrial capitalism. . . . Meticulously researched, well written, and enhanced by dozens of poignant photographs. It is a welcome addition to the growing body of literature on the dynamism of a rural-industrial society historically dismissed as static.--Journal of Southern History



Coal River by Michael Shnayerson

How a few brave Americans took on a powerful company---and the federal government ---to save the land they love

One of America’s most dramatic environmental battles

is unfolding in southern West Virginia. Coal companies are blasting the mountains, decapitating them for coal. The forested ridge tops and valley streams of Appalachia—one of the country’s natural treasures—are being destroyed, along with towns and communities. An entire culture is disappearing, and to this day, most Americans have no idea it’s happening.

Michael Shnayerson first traveled to the coal fields four years ago, on assignment for Vanity Fair. There he met an inspiring young lawyer named Joe Lovett, who was fighting mountaintop removal in court with a series of brilliant and daring lawsuits. He also met Judy Bonds, whose grassroots group, the Coal River Mountain Watch, was speaking out in a region where talking truth to power was both brave and dangerous. The two had joined forces to take on Massey Energy, the largest and most aggressive of the coal companies, and its swaggering, notorious chairman, Don Blankenship.


Strange as This Weather Has Beenby Ann Pancake

Set in present day West Virginia, Ann Pancake’s

debut novel, Strange As This Weather Has Been, tells the story of a coal mining family—a couple and their four children—living through the latest mining boom and dealing with the mountaintop removal and strip mining that is ruining what is left of their mountain life. As the mine turns the mountains to slag and wastewater, workers struggle with layoffs and children find adventure in the blasted moonscape craters.


Mining Matters: 

Longwall Mining

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Mining Matters: 

Acid Mine Drainage

Coming Soon
Page Under Construction







Mining Matters: 


Coming Soon
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Mining Matters: 

Surface Mine Act

Coming Soon
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Mining Matters: 

Buffer Zone Rule

Coming Soon
Page Under Construction