Coal Strip Mining Threatens Public Health Safety

Location: Alabama

Flowing for roughly 300 miles, Alabama’s Black Warrior River is a major drinking water source supporting over one million people. Two of Alabama’s largest cities, Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, obtain drinking water from the Black Warrior and its tributaries

The river is also home to many fish, mussel, turtle, crayfish, amphibian, and snail species, including nine threatened or endangered species. The headwaters of the Black Warrior River include the Wild and Scenic Sipsey Fork, which, along with the Mulberry and Locust Forks, is rated among the top 2 percent of United States streams by the National Park Service for its outstanding recreational values.

And all of this is at risk from poor management of surface coal mining.

The Threat

black warrior riverThe Black Warrior River overlaps with the Warrior Coal Field, which is home to approximately 95 active coal mines – the majority of Alabama’s mines.

Every year, the US Army Corps of Engineers issues special permits that allow numerous mines in Alabama to operate in the same watershed with no consideration of how they impact water quality, public health, and the environment. This type of permit for coal mining is a legal loophole, allowing mines to destroy entire stretches of streams and untold acres of wetlands in the Black Warrior watershed each year.

The US Army Corps of Engineers wisely suspended the use of these permits across most of the Appalachian mining region but continues to allow them in Alabama. And now these permits have become a rubber stamp for nearly all coal mines in the region.

Despite a legal duty to protect Alabama’s waters from the impacts of coal mining, Alabama Department of Environmental Management and Alabama Surface Mining Commission have routinely failed to control pollution. These agencies often issue permits with very weak standards, allowing companies to pollute without any accountability.

What Must Be Done

Coal mining in the region is polluting the river, destroying wetlands and tributary streams, and threatening public health by polluting the clean water with heavy metals.

Stronger protections from the impacts of surface coal mining are needed to hold polluters accountable and enforce the law. If the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, and the Alabama Surface Mining Commission do not close this dangerous mining loophole and tighten clean water protections, coal mining will continue to damage the Black Warrior and its communities.