Battle for the Mountains

Produced in 2009 for PoweringANation.org,  a student-led news team in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina. Their mission is to investigate the political, economic and scientific tensions behind U.S. energy through advanced reporting  and to engage citizens and inspire informed decision-making. In past years, the team has been honored with several prestigious awards including World Press Photo, Grantham Prize for Environmental Journalism and South by Southwest Interactive Awards.

Between 1985 and 2001, more than 700 miles of Appalachian streams were buried by the mining practice known as mountaintop removal, in which the tops of mountains are blasted off to expose coal seams. Organizers in West Virginia have mounted a vigorous fight against the practice, which they say creates air and water pollution as well as increased flooding. This summer, waves of protesters risked arrest by engaging in civil disobedience, even going as far as to chain themselves to enormous earth-moving machines. But miners, too, are growing aggressive in defense of the livelihood. The debate has been fueled by mixed messages from Congress and President Obama, who has called for scrutiny of mountaintop mining but has yet to declare a moratorium on the practice.