Does the Electricity You Use Demolish Mountains?

Mountaintop Mining
Mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia.
Photo by Daniel Shea via Flickr

A new Web-based tool allows U.S. residents to learn how their local electricity consumption may be linked to the destruction of landscapes in the Appalachia region of the eastern United States. With “My Connection,” a feature from North Carolina-based Appalachian Voices, users can enter their ZIP codes and use Google Earth to view the decimated mountains from which their power provider obtains coal. “When you can show people they have a direct connection to it, it makes it that much more relevant to their day-to-day life,” Mary Anne Hitt, the executive director of Appalachian Voices, told the Wall Street Journal.

The online tool uses mapping and aerial imagery to allow users to do a “fly over” of power production and coal mining locations around the country. It also helps Appalachian Voices campaign director Lenny Kohm answer the frequently asked question: “what’s [mountaintop removal mining] got to do with me?” The relatively new form of strip mining, which involves blowing up all or part of a mountain to reach the coal seams below, is particularly harmful to the environment, miners, and local communities, the group says.

With the new tool, electricity users from as far away as California can be linked to mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia. “When you look at a light switch on the wall, you think of it as a light switch, but this gives you a chance to look behind it,” says Kohm. “Everyone who uses electricity is complicit in blowing up mountains.”

The feedback Appalachian Voices has received on the new Web feature has been largely positive, according to Kohm. Many people’s response is, “I never realized I had anything to do with this,” he explains. The site also provides links for viewers to contact their legislators and power companies to protest mountaintop removal. “I would encourage everybody to use it as a resource, because we all have a responsibility,” says Kohm. Mary Anne Hitt notes that using Google Earth to show the damaged landscapes of Appalachia has made her presentations to legislators, business people, and citizens much more powerful.

“My Connection” complements a similar Web-based tool released earlier this month by the Center for Global Development (CGD) in Washington, D.C. CGD’s new online database, Carbon Monitoring for Action (CARMA), documents the carbon emissions of thousands of individual power plants worldwide, giving people access to information they can then use in efforts to reduce fossil fuel pollution in their regions. Coal supplied an estimated 32 percent of fossil fuel energy in 2006, but was responsible for approximately 40 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, according to the Worldwatch Institute’s Vital Signs 2007–2008 report.

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.

A new Web-based tool allows U.S. residents to learn how their local electricity consumption may be linked to the destruction of landscapes in the Appalachia region of the eastern United States.