The Social and Cultural Context of Mountaintop Removal Mining as Seen Through the Lenses of Law and Documentaries

Note from the Digital Editor: In order to highlight the high-level of research and scholarship from the authors who have published in the William & Mary Policy Review’s peer-reviewed print journal, we have reproduced the abstracts from Volume 4, Issue 1 along with a link to an electronic copy of the full form of the piece.

Mountaintop removal is a form of mining that has major effects on the ecology and people of central Appalachia. The practice has gained increased attention from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and popular cultural sources as an environmental justice issue. Recent decisions by the EPA incorporate an environmental justice analysis as contextualization, but the agency’s perspective is problematic. This article compares the way that the social and cultural context of mountaintop removal has been framed in judicial opinions and EPA documents to understand how legal documents address and perpetuate the conflicts related to mountaintop removal. To further widen the lens, seven documentary films on mountaintop removal are surveyed to understand how these films portray the conflict and the role of law. Juxtaposing these popular cultural sources with the legal documents provides for a more informed environmental justice perspective. The article concludes by suggesting that goals of environmental justice in Appalachia could most appropriately be advanced by supporting communities’ efforts to access and build the type of expertise that is necessary to effectively participate in the regulatory process.

Find the full version of this article in PDF form here.

Evan Barret Smith is a Law Clerk for the Honorable John M. Rogers, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.