Drummond lives a world away from his strip mines, in woods that fringe Drummond Lake, east of Birmingham, according to property records. Satellite pictures show a large house with a swimming pool, a tennis court and a putting green. A short walk away is a heliport that’s owned by Drummond Co., according to government records.

Environmentalists are Drummond’s most vocal critics in Alabama. One is John Wathen, who was named by the New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance as the creek keeper, or protector, of Hurricane Creek, a watershed southwest of Birmingham where Drummond once mined coal. Wathen, 61, says Drummond Co. is a major threat to the fish, turtles, mussels and snails that live in the state’s 77,000 miles of rivers and streams. Birmingham native E.O. Wilson, the Harvard University biologist who won the Pulitzer Prize twice for books on science and nature, did his graduate work on Hurricane Creek in the 1950s.

Streams ‘Are Gone’

Standing in a graveyard in the hamlet of Adger -- a spot that affords the best view of Drummond’s Shannon mine -- Wathen watches dump trucks unload waste rock onto a ridge-like pile.

“The streams that are out there are not polluted,” Wathen says in his Alabama drawl. “They’re gone.”

Drummond Co. says on its website that it has reclaimed more than 60 sites after mining them, restoring soil and replanting trees. On the land from one restored mine, Drummond built a residential development with a golf course.

Alabama is no coal powerhouse. It ranks 15th in the U.S. in production. Yet much of its coal is metallurgical, the high- quality coal from which coke is made for use in steel production. Heman Drummond worked in the mines as a young man before starting his own company in 1935. He took out a $300 loan, backed by three mules, from Walker County Bank, according to Drummond Co.’s website. When Heman died in 1956 at the age of 50, leaving the company to his children, Drummond had about $1 million in annual sales, according to Alabama’s Engineering Hall of Fame.

30 Countries

It was Garry Neil who vaulted the regional miner into international markets. After earning a civil engineering degree from the University of Alabama in 1961, he went to work full time in the family business. In 1969, he negotiated a five-year, $100 million export deal with Japanese trading company Ataka & Co., now part of Itochu, Drummond’s partner in Colombia. He became CEO four years later, leapfrogging his older brothers. Drummond Co. now sells its coal in more than 30 countries.

In 1976, Drummond signed a 15-year contract with Alabama Power, a unit of Southern Co., to deliver 2 million tons of coal a year to the utility, according to Drummond’s website. It filled it by stripping coal from the Alabama hills with machines like Mr. Tom.

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