On his blog, Al Gore wrote recently about legislation being advanced by US Senators Lamar Alexander and Ben Cardin to reclassify mining waste as a pollutant, and making it illegal to dump the waste from mountaintop removal mining in the valleys nearby. Just by requiring companies to cart off these wastes and dispose of them in a more responsible way, the senators expect that the legislation would make mountaintop removal mining no longer commercially viable.
If so, this reveals just how illusory the economic benefits from the practice are. It only makes sense when you ignore all of the harmful secondary effects and focus exclusively on the revenue arising from the coal. If operators of mountaintop removal mines had to pay for the damage they are causing to air, water, habitat, and climate, the industry would almost certainly cease to exist.
The situation is akin to the scene in The Simpsons where Homer cooks a large amount of bacon so that he can sell the grease. To him, the revenue from selling the grease seems like a profit, because he ignores the cost of buying the bacon. The situation with the negative effects of mountaintop removal mining is a bit more insidious, however, since the revenues from selling the coal go to one group of people, while the damage arising from the mining largely harms others. It is like when thieves steal copper wiring from buildings: they get a small amount of cash, but it costs the building owner much more to repair the damage that was done.
The US Environmental Protection Agency is also planning regulatory changes that will restrict this destructive practice.