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Mountaintop Mining: Background on Current Controversies

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Publication Date: February 2005

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RS21421

Topic: Environment (Mining and mineral resources)

Abstract:

Mountaintop removal mining involves removing the top of a mountain in order to recover the coal seams contained there. This practice occurs in several Appalachian states. It creates an immense quantity of excess spoil (dirt and rock that previously composed the mountaintop), which is typically placed in valley fills on the sides of the former mountains, burying streams that flow through the valleys.

Critics say that, as a result of valley fills, stream water quality and the aquatic and wildlife habitat that streams support are destroyed by tons of rocks and dirt. The mining industry argues that mountaintop mining is essential to conducting surface coal mining in the Appalachian region and that surface coal mining would not be economic or feasible there if producers were restricted from using valleys for the disposal of mining overburden. Mountaintop mining is regulated under several laws, including the Clean Water Act. This report provides background on current controversies, regulatory requirements, and legal challenges to Clean Water Act regulation of mountaintop mining. Congressional attention to these issues also is discussed. It will be updated as warranted by events.