National Geographic : 1973 Jun
Serpents of destruction, strip mines coil across the Cumberlands-a price Americans pay for more and more electricity. Stripping yields almost two-thirds of the coal burned by TVA plants. Abandoned a decade ago, these "orphan" mines in eastern Tennessee continue to erode, slide, and pollute valley streams. One healing operation called cut-and-fill could end the worst abuses of mountain stripping. Con tractors blast and bulldoze a bench, hauling over burden to a storage area rather than dumping it downslope. Front-end loaders work the exposed coal seam (1). Then earthmovers restore over burden in the worked-out pit (2), even as augers drill like corkscrews to extract more coal (3). Grass and seedling trees, planted on recontoured slopes, control erosion and bring back the forest (4). Across the nation coal strippers rip out an esti mated 1,200 acres a week. Most have yet to launch effective but costly restoration projects, despite rising public concern for the ravaged land. Forest in the making, pine seedlings take hold on a reclaimed bench west of Oak Ridge. The nation's largest coal buyer, TVA has since 1965 written in creasingly stringent reclamation re quirements into its contracts with strip miners. One company covered this worked-out seam with earth and planted 1,000 pines to the acre two years ago; costs ran $250 to $500 an acre. In a demonstration project in Campbell County, the cut-and-fill method shown in the diagram is being tested. While encouraging improved mining practices, TVA also tests a variety of fertilizers and vegetation. Whatever Happened to TVA?