BREAKING: Judge Ruling Could Expedite Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining
In an alarming rebuke to fledgling U.S. EPA efforts to regulate devastating mountaintop removal mining operations today, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that the Obama administration overstepped its authority in revoking a permit last year for the largest proposed strip-mining operation in central Appalachia.
Despite a growing health and human rights crisis, the troubling judicial move comes on the heels of the coal mining industry's spring ritual of EPA bashing, including a recent pillory of EPA administration chief Lisa Jackson by big coal-booster U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), and the insidiously untrue mantra that mountaintop removal permits "have slowed to a trickle."
Far from a trickle, according to the EPA, "110 individual and general mining permits have been issued by the Corps of Engineers since the Obama administration began under section 404 of the Clean Water Act." In a follow up email, EPA spokesperson Betsaida Alcantara noted, "All of the permits are for surface coal mining activities impacting streams, wetlands, and other waterbodies. The activities include valley fills, roads, coal waste impoundments, and other discharges associated with surface coal mining."
Less than two months ago, watchdog group Earthjustice released an action alert, in fact, on more than 100 pending mountaintop removal permits now in play:
President Obama and his administration have shown a strong commitment to the law and science by vetoing one of the largest mountaintop removal mines ever proposed, Spruce No. 1 Mine in West Virginia. But coal companies and their lobbyists are pushing for more than 100 new mountaintop removal mining permits, seeking permission to blow more mountains up and destroy more mountain streams in even more communities. When so many local communities are facing the same level of devastation, one permit denied is just not enough.
If the Obama administration issues more unlawful and harmful permits, violating the very purpose of the Clean Water Act to protect the integrity of our nation's waters, coal companies could fill more than 300 more valleys, level more than 30,000 more mountain acres, destroy more than 100 miles of streams and pollute many more local waterways. The stakes could not be higher.
Last month, besieged and frustrated Appalachian residents launched a new health care campaign—Appalachian Community Health Emergency—in Washington, DC, calling on the Obama administration and the U.S. Congress to enact an immediate moratorium on reckless mountaintop removal operations and hold long-awaited hearings on the mounting deathtoll and humanitarian crisis.
"Our mountains are still being destroyed at an alarming rate, the coal is continuing to flow out of our hollers," said Teri Blanton with the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. "Unfortunately the pollution from the mining sites with valley fills from decades back is still polluting the waterways. Heavy metals at toxic levels fill the streams that make up our rivers, where we draw our drinking water."
In a joint statement, several Appalachian citizens groups, including Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch, and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Sierra Club, represented by attorneys at Earthjustice and Appalachian Mountain Advocates noted:
“It is a sad day not only for the people who live near mountains and streams threatened by mountaintop removal coal mining, but for all Americans who understand the need to protect our waterways, and the health of communities that depend on them. We are deeply disappointed and concerned about the effect of today’s court ruling because mountaintop removal mining has already caused widespread and extreme destruction to the mountains, waters, and communities of Appalachia. The Spruce No. 1 Mine permit, in particular, was one of the largest mountaintop removal permits ever proposed in Appalachia, and it is located in an area of West Virginia that has already been devastated by several large mountaintop removal mines.
We urge the EPA to appeal today’s ruling and continue to exercise its full authority under the Clean Water Act to protect waterways and communities. The Army Corps should also exercise its authority to recognize the clear science and revoke or suspend the permit. Severe harm would occur if the company is allowed to dump mining waste. Our groups are committed to fighting for clean water and justice in Appalachia until the people in Appalachia get the protections we so deserve.”
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Tiffany Means
Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.
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It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.
Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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