Recognizing the mounting humanitarian crisis from mountaintop removal mining in the Appalachian coalfields, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) joined Congressional representatives from across the nation today and introduced H.R. 5959, The Appalachian Communities Health Emergency (ACHE) Act. The historic bill places "a moratorium on permitting for mountaintop removal coal mining until health studies are conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services."
"The ACHE Act will stop new mountaintop removal coal mines until the science clearly demonstrates the mines will not cost these hard working communities their health or their lives. It will also fund some of the best researchers in the world to carry out that science," Kucinich said.
Over the past few years, as impacted coal mining residents have pleaded for basic civil rights and environmental protection, more than 20 peer-reviewed studies have suggested higher risks and links between reckless strip mining and devastating health impacts, including birth defects, cancer and chronic heart, lung, and kidney disease. (A report released last week noted that strip miners are even subjected to unacceptable levels of black lung disease.)
"Today marks a new, but long overdue journey in the pursuit of justice for the victims of mountaintop removal mining," said Bo Webb, the 2010 Purpose Prize recipient with the Appalachian Community Health Emergency group, who lives under a mountaintop removal operation in West Virginia and has often testified to the toxic fallout of silica dust and heavy metals.
But this long overdue pursuit of justice for the victims of mountaintop removal did not come from the notoriously Big Coal-bankrolled representatives in the Congressional districts impacted most by mountaintop removal; just last month, in fact, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) and Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), among others, had retired coal miners and affected citizens arrested in their offices for attempting to simply discuss the health crisis.
Nearly four decades ago, eastern Kentucky author Harry Caudill pleaded with outside members of Congress to intervene on massive strip mining operations in his central Appalachian. "West Virginia, for example, has its own congressmen and its own senators who do nothing, say nothing, advocate nothing, see nothing wrong," Caudill told an interviewer. "It always takes someone like a man named Ken Hechler from New York or a man named John Kennedy from Massachusetts to notice that West Virginia is dying on the vine."
Thanks to Rep. Kucinich, Rep. Slaughter and Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth, among others, Congress--and the Obama administration--must now finally take notice of one of the most egregious humanitarian and environmental crises in the nation. "As certain people of the Eastern Kentucky coalfields helped me to understand nearly 50 years ago, the fate of the land and the fate of the people are inseparable," renowned Kentucky author Wendell Berry wrote in support of the congressional Act. "Whatever affects the health of the land must affect the health of the people. From that understanding, it is clear that the measures called for in the ACHE Act should have been enacted many years ago. Granted even a minimal concern for the health of the land and people, and even minimal respect for the findings of science, the need for this bill now is obvious."
Led by a movement of affected Appalachian coalfield organizations, the ACHE Act has the backing of the major environmental groups in Washington, DC, including Earthjustice and the Sierra Club, as well as West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards.
"The A.C.H.E. Act is a clear demand on behalf of people being poisoned by mountaintop removal that the poisoning cease and that we be afforded all the protections available to the rest of America," said Bob Kincaid, board president of the Coal River Mountain Watch. "We refuse to be the coal industry's sacrificial victims for even another instant."
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.