MUD, W.Va. — This is a place where “moving mountains” is no longer a figure of speech. Here, among the steep green Appalachians, mining companies are moving mountains off their pedestals to get the kind of coal that Washington needs.
It happened here, on a ridgeline called Sugar Tree Mountain, where locals once hunted for squirrels and puckery-sour grapes. Then the top was scraped off to expose the black seams in its innards, leaving a rock-strewn plateau.
“It used to be West Virginia,” said Vivian Stockman, an environmental activist. “And now it’s Mars.”
Though this isolated mine is more than 400 miles from Washington, the two places share a powerful connection: coal. The D.C. region, with its need for electricity skyrocketing, has been burning steadily more coal, buying almost a third of its supply from this part of Appalachia. And that, analysts and environmentalists said, means that Washington’s air conditioners and iPods have helped drive the region’s “mountaintop” mining.
The coal industry and the Bush administration say the benefits of these mines, measured in jobs and energy, outweigh the damage.
But in West Virginia, where mining opponents can face back-roads intimidation, some neighbors say that Washington area residents might not know the true cost of their power.