Mountaintop Removal Mining: Background

The Impacts of Mountaintop Removal Mining

  • More than 1,200 stream miles in four Appalachian states--Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky--were damaged or destroyed by mountaintop removal and other mining activities between 1992 and 2002, according to the federal government.  The practice of mountaintop removal mining has only escalated since then.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that mountaintop removal could affect more than 1.4 million acres by 2010--an area larger than Delaware.
  • Aquatic species throughout the region are imperiled by the ongoing loss of habitat and water pollution from the valley fills, as well as from other aspects of coal mining operations.
  • Mined sites are heavily compacted and often replanted with fast-growing, non-native grasses that compete with tree seedlings, preventing native plants and the wildlife that depend on them from returning.

Troubled Waters in the Coalfields

The Clinch and Powell Rivers in the Tennessee River basin flow from the coalfields of southwest Virginia into eastern Tennessee. The Big South Fork of the Cumberland River is fed by the New River, which begins in the coal mining region of northeast Tennessee, and flows through the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, which is managed by the National Park Service.

These are among the most diverse temperate rivers in North America, globally important for their biological bounty and locally important for their recreational and life-sustaining values.

Clinch River

  • The Clinch River is home to at least 126 native fish species and at least 44 species of mussels.
  • The Clinch has the highest number of globally imperiled and vulnerable freshwater species in the U.S. The river is home to 18 fish and mussel species federally listed as threatened or endangered.

Powell River

  • The Powell River was once home to at least 41 species of mussels and 90 species of fish.
  • Of those that remain, two fish species and seven mussel species are federally listed.

Big South Fork River

  • Recent surveys in the Big South Fork of the Cumberland found 68 fish species and 23 mussel species.
  • Of these, 22 species are classified as at risk of extinction, and two fish species and seven mussel species are federally listed.