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Mountains sacrificed to burn coal in Georgia

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY -- A slideshow by an environmental activist dramatically showed the mossy-green mountains of West Virginia blasted into moonscapes by mining companies that the activist said is supplying coal to power plants in Georgia.

"It is all connected," said Dave Cooper, who gave his Mountaintop Removal Roadshow at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Albany Welcome Center on North Front Street.

"Using electricity here in Georgia increases the destruction in the mountains," Cooper said. "The coal from the mountains is burned here and affects the environment."

About 15 people sat silently watching the slides and listening to Cooper describe the pictures in his slide show.

The simple way to explain this type of mining, Cooper said, is to think of a mountain as a layer cake with the coal as the icing between the layers. To get to the icing between the layers, coal miners blast the away top of a verdant mountain so they can scoop the coal from the surface.

"It takes about a year to turn a forested mountain and its surrounding trout streams into barren gray dessert," Cooper said. "Rock and dirt left after the coal is extracted is dumped over the edge of the flattened mountaintop and left to bury streams and contaminate drinking water."

The debasement of the environment doesn't stop at the West Virginia border, Cooper said. The coal is shipped to Georgia and burned to generate electricity.

Burning coal also generates mercury, a toxic metal that pollutes the air and drifts down into rivers and streams.

"The majority of mercury falls within 50 miles of coal plants," stated a handout by the Flint Riverkeeper group that hosted Cooper's presentation.

There are four new coal-fired power plants in planning stages for south Georgia, said Gordon Rogers, executive director of the Flint Riverkeeper group.

Plans call for power plants in Ben Hill, Worth and Early counties. He didn't say where the fourth could be located.

"We don't need to build these plants. The answer is conservation," Rogers said. "The way to vote against building power plants is with the power bill. Just use less."

If Georgians cut their power use by 10 percent, the state could have enough power from existing sources until 2015, Rogers said.

Future energy generation could come from solar panels, wind turbines and even the burning of less toxic materials, such as wood chips and sawdust, Rogers said.

That sat well with at least one man in the audience.

"This country needs to depend on other sources like wind, solar and nuclear power," said T. Gray Fountain of Albany. "It seems like other countries are doing it. We've got to get on the ball."