BELFAST, Maine — As Mainers hotly debate what role wind power should play here, the Natural Resources Council of Maine has brought some folks from Appalachia to discuss an environmental issue that is crucial to them: mountaintop removal for coal mining.
Dustin White of West Virginia and Mary Love of Kentucky will participate in a press conference Friday afternoon at the Stetson Mountain wind power farm in Danforth and make a public presentation on mining practices Friday evening at Waterfall Arts in Belfast. They also were speaking Thursday evening at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland.
Mountaintop removal is the practice of blowing the top off mountains, removing the coal and then dumping the blown-off mountaintop into rivers and streams, said Pete Didisheim of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the group working with White and Love. More than 500 mountains have been “obliterated,” he said.
“It’s one of the most destructive environmental practices currently happening anywhere on the planet,” he said.
The Appalachian speakers and the council would like Mainers to know more about this kind of mining because New England’s nine coal-burning power plants provide about 10 percent of Maine’s electricity, and some of the coal comes from Appalachia, Didisheim said.
“People are shocked to learn that an egregious practice like mountaintop removal coal mining is still happening in the United States. But it is, and it is a daily threat to people, communities, and the environment of Appalachia,” White said in a press release. “Maine people should understand their connection to the harm being done in our mountains.”
The delegation is speaking at the 55-turbine Stetson Mountain wind farm, the largest in New England, to support the transition to clean energy, according to the council.
“We need to move toward clean energy,” Didisheim said. “There are many of these advocates in West Virginia who are supportive of wind power in their mountains instead of mountaintop removal.”
One goal of the council is to encourage Mainers to keep energy issues “in perspective,” according to Didisheim.
“We are causing enormous harm in other communities that may be out of sight and out of mind,” he said. “But the level of impact that is happening so that we can turn our lights on is really irresponsible. It’s at a scale that is so far beyond what is going on with wind farms.”
But longtime environmental activist Ron Huber of Rockland said land-based wind farms aren’t a sustainable solution to the nation’s energy needs either.
“What it boils down to is what do you value in your state,” he said Thursday. “The mountaintops of West Virginia and Maine are both irreplaceable natural resource assets. Destroying them for power generation for either purpose is a terrible idea.”
Though mountaintop removal is destructive, Didisheim said, the practice is legal, thanks to a loophole in the Clean Water Act that allows the companies mining coal in this way to dump the fill into the rivers and streams. Coal has been mined this way for decades, but the practice has accelerated in the last 10 years, he said.
Dustin White is the son of a retired coal miner and has been fighting to stop mountaintop mining on Cook Mountain in West Virginia, where his family cemetery is located. Mary Love is a retiree who has devoted much time to educating the world about what is happening in Appalachia. Both are working to get the U.S. Congress to close that loophole and have brought slides and video footage to show Mainers, according to Didisheim.
“The landscape in some cases looks almost like a moonscape,” he said. “They also will be describing the impact on their communities, public health and the environment around them. They’re pretty compelling stories of harm caused by coal operations.”
A presentation titled “The Fight to Save Appalachia from Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining: The Connection to Maine” will be held at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 17, at Waterfall Arts at 256 High St. in Belfast.
The press conference will be held at 1 p.m. Friday at Turbine 42 north of Route 69 in Danforth.