by Matt Saldaña
Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, has introduced a bill that would make it illegal for electric public utilities in North Carolina to purchase, or use, coal derived from dynamiting mountaintops in southern Appalachia. Half of the coal used to produce electricity in North Carolina is derived from the process, known as mountaintop removal, resulting in radically altered ecosystems, polluted streams and rivers, and billions of tons gallons of toxic "coal slurry," collected in artificial pools, or injected into ground soil. Other than Georgia, no other state in the U.S. uses more mountaintop removal-derived coal.
"Because North Carolina burns a significant amount of coal extracted by mountaintop removal coal mining, we have an obligation to eliminate or reduce the devastating social and environmental impacts of this mining in the Appalachian Mountains," the bill states.
Harrison introduced a similar bill last year, saying she was motivated in part by 2008 Indies Arts Award winner Michael O'Connell's documentary, Mountaintop Removal, which focuses on the devastating effect on Appalachian families.
"The fact that we're the second-largest consumers of that coal will make the legislation an uphill battle," Harrison said in a July 2008 interview, referring to last year's bill. "But I think having Mike's documentary, and other media attention on the issue, might get people a little more sensitive to the issue of where their energy comes from. Right now you feel kind of removed from it. But once you see the documentary, you realize, wow, I'm running my air-conditioning at 68 and ... these communities are being destroyed in West Virginia."
Titled the Appalachian Mountains Preservation Act, the 2009 bill arrives after former president George W. Bush signed a controversial rule making it easier for mining companies to dump mountaintop removal debris directly into valleys and streams. This month, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals eased restrictions on obtaining mountaintop removal permits. During his campaign, President Barack Obama spoke out against mountaintop removal, saying, "We have to find more environmentally sound ways of mining coal than simply blowing the tops off mountains."
H/t Sue Sturgis, who has covered the issue extensively at Facing South.