Undermining Mother Earth

<i>Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness</i> By Erik Reece.<I> Riverhead Books. $23.95</i>

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

Unless you happen to live near one, coal mines seem like a problem from another age. But mining coal in Appalachia, as Erik Reece documents in Lost Mountain, remains at least as destructive as clearcuts in Oregon or oil spills in Alaska. Reece makes a good case that, despite new methods of extracting black rock, modern coal mines are not much better than those of old Merle Travis songs, back when coal was as controversial as oil is today.

Reece, a Kentucky native, spent much of 2003 and 2004 watching a mining company “top” a mountain—dynamiting the peak off so the coal could be scooped out. Much of his state’s coal-rich east has been mined with this method, “blasted away with the same mixture of ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel that Timothy McVeigh used to level the Murrah Building.” A “topped” mountain does not cause the black lung pandemics and mine shaft collapses that killed thousands in the 20th century, but the new technology has brought a slew of new environmental problems.

Yet saving what’s left of the long-suffering coal belt lacks the political appeal of saving an untouched wilderness. A toxic spill at a Kentucky mine in 2000 was 30 times the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster but received virtually no national attention. “We’re just not quite as cute as those otters,” one resident put it. “The Prince William Sound was a pristine waterway,” Reece writes. “But the Appalachian mountains and its people were already considered damaged goods.”


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend