A competent and even-handed look at yet another frontier where corporate interests are wreaking havoc on U.S. natural resources, “Razing Appalachia” chronicles still-ongoing struggles between the coal industry and citizens in ore-rich West Virginia. Public broadcast is the feature’s logical destination.
When Arch Coal Inc. requests a permit to expand its West Virginia Dal-Tex mine by five miles — meaning 3,200 more acres of the Mountain State’s peaks will be subject to literal “mountaintop removal” — outraged environmental groups and area residents band together, filing a lawsuit against the state government. They say this surface mining not only destroys indigenous plants and wildlife, but also creates insupportable levels of noise and air pollution while providing far too little local economic payback. Although this form of mining employs drastically fewer miners than the old underground mines did, the 350 current workers nonetheless aren’t giving up their livelihood without a fight. Resulting bitter legal, political and public battle is still unresolved. Helmer Sasha Waters takes care to let all sides be heard, though inevitably most viewers will react strongest to the appalling sight of once-beautiful, now permanently “decapitated” Appalachian hills.