Searching West Virginia for a Democratic Response to Mountaintop Removal

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Virginia Tech


Mountaintop removal is an aggressive form of strip mining practiced almost exclusively in Central Appalachia, and since 1977 has been regulated by state and federal laws. Beginning in the late 1990s, considerable controversy erupted in coal mining states like West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee over the adverse social and environmental impacts of the practice. The analysis of mountaintop removal presented here is restricted to its effects in West Virginia during roughly the last decade. Relying on theories of democratic practice developed by pragmatic philosophers like John Dewey and G.H. Mead, this work studies the standard practices of state and federal regulatory agencies and elected officials in an effort to determine what, if any, social goods they work to defend. Pragmatic theories of democracy suggest that a government can be considered representative only when it acts on behalf of the public good.

Chapter 1 of this thesis introduces the reader to the practice of mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia. Chapter 2 lays the theoretical groundwork for determining an individual's or institution's values through an analysis of its habitual actions. In chapter 3, I examine the consequences of mountaintop removal for the state of West Virginia, its citizens, and the coal interests that operate within its borders. Chapter 4 is dedicated to an analysis of regulatory responses to the conflicting interests of the various groups affected by the practice. Finally, in Chapter 5, some conclusions are drawn about the extent to which the regulation of mountaintop removal in West Virginia can be considered democratic.



ideology, pragmatism, surface coal mining, West Virginia, mountaintop removal, democratic theory