BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) -- Middle school students aren't usually known to be too concerned about environmental issues.
That's not the case for a group of 8th graders at Indian Springs School located near Oak Mountain in Birmingham.
The group gathered to listen to representatives from two sides of the story they are concerned and learning about – clean water initiatives and coal industry jobs.
"We've got to have a policy that says drinking water is number one," said Mitch Reid of the Program Director of the Alabama Rivers Alliance.
The students listened to the Shepherd Bend Strip Mine issue – a proposal near Tuscaloosa made by Drummond Company, a Birmingham-based coal mining company.
"Putting a massive, nearly 2,000-acre strip mine right next to the largest city and state's drinking water supply for 200,000 people is a great issue for you all to highlight," Drummond Company's Manager of Environmental Control told the students.
The debate is a timeless one; it's a matter of industry and jobs versus environment and health.
Drummond Company says everyone can agree that the environment is important.
However, Dwight Hicks, an employee with the company says the coal industry is "the most scrutinized and most highly regulated industry in the state."
But some people who are concerned with the safety of the area's drinking water think the scrutiny is well deserved.
"Some of the biggest problems we've been seeing over the past ten years are coming from coal mines – both underground mines and surface mines," said Nelson Brooke of the Black Warrior Riverkeeper.
The students took notes, listened intently and gained knowledge to help them formulate their own opinions about the issue.
"Our class has been doing some research that these sediment retaining ponds break enough for it to be a concern," Max Klapow said.
Perhaps a group of 8th graders are going to keep Drummond Company honest.
Copyright 2013 WIAT-TV CBS 42
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