Photographic book

Nature protection


Lake of West Virginia
W. Gaston Caperton

By the late 20th century, many West Virginians realized that over the years their state’s natural heritage had been badly damaged. Great piles of worked-out drift-mine wastes, known as “gob dumps,” marred the landscape and, by spontaneous combustion, ignited forest fires and polluted the air. Far worse were the leavings after World War II, when surface mining technologies, including stripping and longwall techniques, changed the face of many mining regions. Mountains were leveled, valleys were filled in, streams were laden with silt and deadly acids, luxuriant hillsides were turned into barren knolls, and animal life was devastated. The small fees charged for licenses and the inadequate provisions for reclamation of damaged land left irresponsible mining operators with inadequate restraints. Environmentalists repeatedly called for stronger laws to regulate strip mining, and some insisted that it be abolished.

Flooding is the most frequent natural disaster in West Virginia. One of the worst floods in the state’s history, a disaster long predicted, occurred on Buffalo Creek, Logan County, in 1972. Without warning, 114 million liters (30 million gallons) of water and the mine-waste dam that had held it back rushed in a wave, 9 m (30 ft) high, through the valley with speeds up to 48 km/h (30 mph). The deluge wiped out 16 small communities and took the lives of at least 125 people. In response, the legislature passed a Dam Control Act, but, because of the state’s continuing economic problems, it was not as strong as it might have been.

Air quality


Air quality is another matter of concern. Amendments to the federal Clean Air Act have required electric power plants to reduce their emissions of sulfur and other pollutants.

The requirement to use low-sulfur coal was a blow to the high-sulfur coal producers in northern West Virginia but a boost for low-sulfur coal producers in southern counties.

Community waste has been another threat to the environment. During Moore’s tenure as governor, steps were taken to allow rural areas to set up public service districts for water and sewage services. After out-of-state waste disposal companies began to transport garbage to landfills in West Virginia, the legislature tightened the law regarding garbage disposal. The new law limited the amount of wastes that might be deposited at individual locations and set higher standards for environmental protection. Much remained to be done, however, by both industry and the citizens to preserve the resources of the state and to capitalize on its natural beauty, which remains one of its greatest assets. "West Virginia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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