Gainesville’s lack of mountains isn’t stopping it from trying to save them.
Last Thursday, the city commission approved a ban on Gainesville Regional Utilities purchasing coal removed from mountaintops, a traditional practice for the energy company.
City Commissioner Lauren Poe and organization Gainesville Loves Mountains collaborated to pass two motions throughout the meeting, both banning the previously used practice and also leading GRU in the direction of more efficient ways for deep-mined coal.
Mountaintop removal (MTR) is surface-mined coal by removing the tops of ridges by use of explosives and heavy machinery.
This practice is used because of its cost efficiency and high output of coal.
Although the ban hasn’t been implemented yet, it might increase residents’ utility rates by as much as five percent, according to Poe.
But Jason Fults, co-founder of Gainesville Loves Mountains, said his organization won’t let the rates climb drastically.
“The goal is to move away from these destructive practices without significantly impacting anyone’s utility rates,” he said.
Commissioner Poe has promised an escape clause, which would allow the policy to be temporarily suspended if it has a significant impact on rates of five percent or more, Fults said.
“There’s a high likelihood that most, if not all, purchased coal will come in at the same price,” Poe said. “We want the impact on the customer to be zero dollars.”
But some argue that cost isn’t the only factor to consider.
“It’s not a simple question of price,” said Gainesville activist Jeremiah Tattersall. “We need to think about the destruction of the environment and the neighboring communities and so much more.”
While the price to use heavy explosives in this area is cheaper than other coal removal processes, the detrimental effect on human health is huge.
A 2009 study showed significantly higher mortality rates due to kidney, respiratory and heart disease in Appalachian counties that engage in high levels of coal mining.
Exposure to toxins associated with MTR has made these areas a vulnerable community.
“This practice has had tremendous impacts on people’s lives, most importantly depriving them of clean drinking water,”Fults said.
The delivery infrastructure for deep-mined coal is already in place, and it will to have no additional costs for residents.