A reinvigorated "People's Foot" movement to end mountaintop removal is ramping up its efforts next week, as the last vestiges of outside support begin to abandon the nation's most egregious strip mining operations in central Appalachia.
"Mountaintop removal is on the ropes," said Bob Kincaid, with the Appalachian Community Health Emergency campaign and board president of Coal River Mountain Watch in West Virginia, "but we need 1,000 people to join us in the streets and in our campaign as subscribing members, contribute $5, $10, $100 and open the door to Appalachia's future."
In the last days, in fact, support for mountaintop removal has appeared to collapse—the last banks are closing their doors and refusing to lend money to finance the devastating practice, former MTR coal companies like Patriot have thrown in the towel, the most notorious MTR coal baron Don Blankenship is in federal court for conspiracy charges, and for the first time ever state agencies officials are acknowledging the 25 peer-reviewed scientific studies on the links to high cancer rates, birth defects and serious health problems.
But as new applications and permits for mountaintop removal in West Virginia and the region continue to be issued, the "dying" Appalachian coal companies, as one Illinois coal industry CEO crowed recently, are not going to quit any time soon without a fight—and government intervention.
"We're asking Congress to do what it should have done a generation ago," said Kincaid, referring to the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act, which was reintroduced last month by Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth and eastern Kentucky-native Rep. Louise Slaughter, calling for a moratorium on mountaintop removal operations until a federal health study is conducted. "It should have never begun, but now we have the science to know that it must end immediately."
In effect, the ACHE Act corrects the disastrous loopholes of current strip mining regulations, which have allowed over 500 mountains and adjacent communities to be destroyed and polluted, and forced central Appalachian residents to endure a health disaster and mounting death toll from reckless strip mining over the past half century.
In 1977, after a decades-long battle to abolish strip mining operations, President Jimmy Carter reluctantly signed the "watered-down" Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, calling it a "disappointing effort," which effectively granted federal sanctioning of mountaintop removal mining. "The President's other main objection to the bill," wrote the New York Times, "is that it allows the mining companies to cut off the tops of Appalachian mountains to reach entire seams of coal."
"The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection continues to ignore the studies that show mountaintop removal is drastically harming our health and cutting our lives short," representatives with the ACHE Act said in a press release. "The most recent study, "Appalachian mountaintop mining particulate matter induces neoplastic transformation of human bronchial epithelial cells and promotes tumor formation," found a direct link between mountaintop removal dust and lung cancer. WV DEP Secretary Randy Huffman has finally admitted that the health studies should be considered, but has no plan for doing so. The DEP continues to issue mountaintop removal permits that allow the coal industry to blast West Virginia mountains with high explosives, unleashing fine particulates of silica, aluminum, and molybdenum dust. These dust particulates are proven to promote lung tumors. Time to put your foot down! No more mountaintop removal permits."
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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Green groups applauded Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday for introducing a pioneering pair of bills that aim to "protect the long-term health and well-being of the American people and their economy from the catastrophic effects of climate chaos" by preventing banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels.