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5 Amazing Places in the US in Danger of Being Destroyed by Dirty Energy

We've won a temporary reprieve from the Keystone XL Pipeline, but there are still places greatly at risk in the country.

The Obama administration's rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline was a major victory for environmentalists. For far too long, the fossil fuel industry has decimated ecosystems and destroyed human lives. Local opposition, grassroots organizing and Republican grandstanding doomed the pipeline as presently conceived to failure.

TransCanada, the company behind Keystone XL, showed the petroleum industry's usual indifference to people and nature. It planned on running the pipeline through Nebraska's ecologically sensitive Sandhills. Just beneath the Sandhills lays the Ogallala Aquifer, the major source of irrigation on the Great Plains. If the oil leaks into the aquifer, the prime source of water for America's breadbasket would be contaminated.

Even some Republican politicians in blood-red Nebraska lobbied against the pipeline, helping convince President Obama to kill it in its present form. To be sure, most Nebraskans do support the building of the pipeline, but they demand a say in the route. Their desires are straightforward: the protection of their ecosystem and small farm communities from erosion and groundwater pollution.

This victory should remind us of the other beautiful places in the United States permanently destroyed by dirty energy's drive to maximize profit at the expense of ecological and human health. Here are five American places under grave threat from the fossil fuel industry.

1. West Virginia

Nowhere in the United States has suffered more damage from the energy industry than West Virginia. The early-20th-century coal industry ran the isolated valleys of West Virginia as a medieval fiefdom until the United Mine Workers brought the industry to heel. Today, the coal industry has turned to mountaintop removal to pull the coal from the mountains. This process blows up mountains, allowing the companies to shovel out the coal at low cost. The pulverized land is dumped into the valleys below, choking streambeds and exposing local residents to hazardous chemicals. It leads to the erosion and deforestation that has contributed to widespread local flooding over the past decade.

While profitable for industry, mountaintop removal is a disaster for humans and ecology. Recent studies have shown abnormally high birth defect rates in counties afflicted by mountaintop removal. The coal industry's insulting  response to this study was to suggest incest was the real culprit. 

Even though impoverished West Virginians are desperate for coal jobs, local residents have organized to fight mountaintop removal. Groups like Mountain Justice draw attention to mountaintop removal's horrors, but while environmentalists are aware of the problem, halting the practice has never been at the top of progressives' national agenda. It should be. This is the greatest environmental and human health disaster happening in the United States today.

2. Wyoming

As the coal industry blasts the last bits of usable rock out of West Virginia, it is investing heavily in America's new coal center -- Wyoming's Powder River Basin. In March 2011, the Department of Interior opened 758 million tons of coal for drilling on federal lands in Wyoming. The Powder River Basin already provides 40 percent of the material burned in U.S. coal-fired power plants, a number rising yearly.

Although national environmental groups have fought the expansion of Wyoming coal mining, little organized local opposition has developed. A state long dependent on extractive industries and hostile to environmentalists, its empty spaces and sparse population keep it off Americans' radar screens. But the coal companies are permanently changing the face of this beautiful region as much as they are West Virginia. The solution is to wean ourselves off coal, not to continue scarring the planet with polluting mines.

3. Louisiana Marshlands

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