Residents of the Appalachian coalfields share a history and heritage, deep connections to the land, and pride in their own resilience. These same residents are also profoundly divided over the practice of mountaintop mining – that is, the removal and disposal in nearby valleys of soil and rock in order to reach underlying coal seams. Companies and some miners claim that the practice has reduced energy prices, earned income for shareholders, and provided needed jobs. Opponents of mountaintop mining argue that it poisons Appalachia's waters and devastates entire communities for the sake of short-term gains.
This conflict is emblematic of many other environmental disputes in the United States and around the world, disputes whose intensity derives not only from economic and environmental stakes but from competing claims to individual and community identity. Looking beyond the slogans and seemingly irreconcilable differences, however, can reveal deeper causes of conflict, such as flawed institutions, politics, and inequality or the strongly held values of parties who find it difficult to compromise in their positions.
Mountaintop Mining in Appalachia focuses on the people of the region, the people who have the most at stake and have been the most active in trying to shift views and practices. By examining the experiences of these stakeholders and their efforts to effect change, Susan F. Hirsch and E. Franklin Dukes introduce key concepts and theories from the field of conflict analysis and resolution. It provides a compelling case study of how stakeholders challenge governance-as-usual, while offering insight into the causes of conflict over other environmental issues.
"Even-handed in its treatment, Mountaintop Mining in Appalachia presents a significant contribution to the literature. I know of no other book that casts the MTM issue in this light."
– Geoffrey L. Buckley, coeditor of Mountains of Injustice: Social and Environmental Justice in Appalachia
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Susan F. Hirsch is a cultural anthropologist in the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University who has written widely on law and conflict. She is the author of In the Moment of Greatest Calamity: Terrorism, Grief, and a Victim’s Quest for Justice; Pronouncing and Persevering: Gender and the Discourses of Disputing in an African Islamic Court; and the coeditor of Contested States: Law, Hegemony and Resistance, as well as many articles and book chapters.
E. Franklin Dukes is a mediator, teacher, and researcher who directs the Institute for Environmental Negotiation at the University of Virginia. He is the author of Resolving Public Conflict: Transforming Community and Governance and coauthor of Reaching for Higher Ground: Creating Purpose-Driven, Principled, and Powerful Groups, among many other publications.