Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Ronald L. Lewis.


While surface mining began in West Virginia during WWI, the practice did not expand until WWII. Used to fuel the war effort, surface mining would become the industry-preferred means of mining coal and gained a permanent place in West Virginia's coal mining industry. Mountaintop removal surface coal mining began on Fayette County, West Virginia's, Bullpush Mountain in 1970. An extreme version of strip mining, during mountaintop removal the tops of mountains are removed via blasting in order to reveal the coal seams below. The last thirty-four years has seen an escalation in this mining method from forty-four permits covering 9,800 acres throughout the 1980s to the granting of permits covering 12,540 acres in a nine-month period in 2002 alone. This increase in mountaintop removal has impacted southern West Virginia not only environmentally, but socially and culturally as well.;The introduction of 20-story draglines in the 1980s allowed for the swifter removal of coal by mountaintop removal. The process enjoyed a great expansion during the 1990s after the Federal Clean Air Act was amended to include a more stringent emissions standard. This increased the demand for southern West Virginia's low sulfur, high volatility coal. Since that time, the process has entered many southern West Virginia coal communities. The UMWA, once staunchly aligned with coal community citizens, continually found itself torn between its Union members working on these sites and the coal community residents opposed to this mining technique. Many coal community residents directly affected by this process created "free spaces" where they could band together in opposition. Many citizens have been plaintiffs in lawsuits against the coal companies operating in their communities, but West Virginia politicians' have vacillated between silence and protectionism. As a direct result of mountaintop removal, the environment of southern West Virginia has suffered as the conversion of continuous hardwood forests have been turned into a fragmented landscape interspersed with grasslands more characteristic of the mid-western United States than Appalachia.;This study focuses on the various impacts this newest form of coal mining has had on coal communities in the nine southernmost West Virginia counties where it takes place, and on the UMWA's declining influence as a traditional counterweight in southern West Virginia. The social, economic, political and environmental consequences are also explored.