When theatergoers view the premiere of the stunning film documentary Coal Rush at the Atlanta Film Fest next week, the judgment on one of the best kept secrets in our nation's energy policy will be "revealed as water, and justice as a mighty torrent."
Never will theatergoers view a glass of clean water in the same way; never will coal be called "clean" again.
Sitting aside one of the beautiful headwaters in the great Appalachian mountain range, framed by the deciduous forests of life, a former coal operator hauntingly confesses to the enormity of an intentional "spill" that makes the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill look like a garden leak: "We pumped an ocean into the mountains."
Translation—Over a decade-long period, 1.4 billion gallons of toxic coal slurry (or the waste from poisonous chemicals and water used to wash the coal before it's ship to market) were injected into honey-combed underground mines and leached into underground aquifers, waterways, wells and drinking water sources that poisoned the very coal miners and their families serving the out-of-state Massey Energy coal company.
Transcending the political quagmire of "environmental vs. coal" banter in a powerful and chilling chronicle of a coal slurry tragedy foretold, Coal Rush's poignant work by acclaimed Italian filmmakers Lorena Luciano and Filippo Piscopo reveals the extraordinary health and human costs from the largely ignored effects of post-mining processing, and the heroic efforts of a small legal team and coalfield residents in Mingo County, West Virginia to hold the abominable Massey Energy coal company and its regulatory sycophants account for their polluting actions.
"Don't let them convince you that they didn't understand what was in that slurry," attorney Kevin Thompson says to a 4th generation coal miner and his wife. "They knew."
Here's the trailer:
Allowing residents and Massey operators to tell their side of the slurry story, Coal Rush provides one of the most devastating film portraits of regulatory disregard and ruthless corporate operations in memory. Brilliantly filmed, with a perfect spare banjo soundtrack, Coal Rush follows the 7-year crusade by Thompson and his determined band of attorneys, advocates and hundreds of affected residents to halt the injection of slurry and get Massey Energy and state officials to recognize the looming health crisis and unrelenting cancer corridors in their very mist.
"I was walking around dead," says area resident Donetta Blankenship, one of the Thompson's plaintiffs, who is stricken with liver disease among other elements.
The sheer numbers of health maladies—and deaths—along the coal slurry corridor of disease should be enough to trigger a bit of government action. Neighbors after neighbors with the same diseases mount like casualties in a never-ending war. A nurse tells one resident that she has picked up the bacteria associated with untreated drinking water in a Third World country.
"We had some faith that if your water was contaminated, that your government would step in and do something," says former miner Brenda McCoy. "But they didn't."
In keeping with Big Coal's legacy of denial—from black lung, to health care impacts on strip mining and mountaintop removal to carbon emissions—Massey Energy simply dismissed concerns as implausible. A Massey official boldly tells the interviewer his notoriously violation-ridden company is in compliance with regulatory requirements—Besides, "there is no credible scientific data that shows relationship between slurry injection and disposal and any adverse heath effects with humans."
When a coalfield resident challenges a state official to drink a jar of his tap water, he receives the same denial—and the same refusal to drink the water, or make any attempt to "understand what the average person has to put up with."
One of the most important film documentaries in years, turning the light on the dark side of all mining, Coal Rush faithfully documents the long-running legal proceedings until the final settlement in the summer of 2011. According to internal documents obtained by the AP, residents in the Mingo County area received an estimated $35 million in damages.
When the coal-fired lights turn back on in the Atlanta theater next week, viewers will be reminded that in the nearly 25 states that mine coal across the country, 17 still allow for underground injections of toxic coal slurry; farmers in central Illinois, for example, were devastated by similar coal slurry leaks in their watersheds over the last decade. There is a temporary ban in West Virginia.
"Water is the most precious resource on earth," the retired coal operator appeals, in his attempt to make amends with his actions, if only to "right a wrong for future generations."
By Governor Jay Inslee
Climate Week this year coincides with clear skies in Washington state for the first time in almost two weeks.
In just a few days in early September, Washington state saw enough acres burned – more than 600,000 – to reach our second-worst fire season on record. Our worst fire season came only five years ago. Wildfires aren't new to the west, but their scope and danger today is unlike anything firefighters have seen. People up and down the West Coast – young and old, in rural areas and in cities – were choking on smoke for days on end, trapped in their homes.
Fires like these are becoming the norm, not the exception.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Bill McKibben
To understand the planetary importance of this autumn's presidential election, check the calendar. Voting ends on November 3—and by a fluke of timing, on the morning of November 4 the United States is scheduled to pull out of the Paris Agreement.
President Trump announced that we would abrogate our Paris commitments during a Rose Garden speech in 2017. But under the terms of the accords, it takes three years to formalize the withdrawal. So on Election Day it won't be just Americans watching: The people of the world will see whether the country that has poured more carbon into the atmosphere than any other over the course of history will become the only country that refuses to cooperate in the one international effort to do something about the climate crisis.
By Oliver Milman
The climate crisis is set to be a significant factor in a U.S. presidential election for the first time, with new polling showing a clear majority of American voters want decisive action to deal with the threats posed by global heating.
Do you support or oppose each of the following policies as part of the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic?<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzODcyMC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNjg4MzY4OX0.B-bt9mltOhK0MHFbzK8G3_8sBkDAeUsAWm-AhNZYoxQ/img.png?width=980" id="acd43" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8724178274b9f96e27055f74a1bafe20" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
America's largest national forest, Tongass National Forest in Alaska, will be opened up to logging and road construction after the Trump administration finalizes its plans to open up the forest on Friday, according to The New York Times.
Aerial view of the Tongass National Forest. Alan Wu / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
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By Ruby Russell and Ajit Niranjan
Hamstrung by coronavirus lockdowns, frustrated school strikers have spent months staging digital protests against world leaders failing to act urgently on climate change.
Pandemic Stalls Protests<p>Last November, the head of the UN Environment Program was among the public and scientific figures to warn that 2020 offered a last chance to cut emissions. Then, few could have suspected this deadline would coincide with an unprecedented public health emergency.</p><p>The pandemic has <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/tough-times-ahead-for-climate-protesters-during-corona-pandemic/a-52978469" target="_blank">dealt climate activism a blow</a>. Niedeggen says that as a movement demanding that the world act on scientific advice, the school strikers took lockdown restrictions extremely seriously, halted public protests immediately and took their activism online.</p><p>On April 24, Fridays for Future organized a "digital strike," with Niedeggen hosting a that racked up close to a quarter of a million views. "We were not physically standing together, but we were all fighting together," she says.</p><p><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/climate-strikers-get-inventive-during-the-covid-19-crisis-fridays-for-future/a-53229262" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Activists also gathered thousands of placards</a> from across Germany to lay out in front of the German Bundestag around the central slogan: "Fight every crisis."</p>
Opportunity for a New Normal<p>Last September's Global Climate Strike drew young and old protestors around the world, with organizers estimating a global turnout of 7.6 million, including an estimated 270,000 people in Berlin. Activists have adjusted this year's event to account for social distancing and different levels of coronavirus restrictions in cities taking part.</p><p>They say COVID-19 also presents opportunities.</p><p>"The pandemic shows that we can change our normal daily life, and we are very able to adjust to a situation of crisis," she says. The key question is how economies get back on their feet: "We have the possibility to build a new normal, to build a renewable world order, and an environmentally just, climate-just normal for everybody."</p><p>In July, Jeng was among 20 female Fridays for Future activists from the Global South to sign an open letter to G20 finance ministers warning that their decisions in "exclusive backrooms" over stimulus packages and corporate bailouts would "lock in development pathways for decades."</p><p>"The system is not broken, it was built to be unjust. We don't need recovery, we need a reboot," the letter reads, stressing that "black people, indigenous peoples and people of color," have been disproportionately hit by the economic, climate and coronavirus crises. </p>
Policy 'Not Quite There Yet'<p>Figures on stimulus spending do not suggest their words had much impact. The ministers were criticized for failing to relieve the debt of poorer countries, and according to <a href="https://www.energypolicytracker.org/region/g20/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Policy Tracker</a>, G20 countries by August had pledged $169 billion (142 billion euros) to fossil fuels since the beginning of the pandemic.</p><p>Katrin Uba, associate professor of political science at Uppsala University in Sweden, is researching Fridays for Future. She says that despite the movement raising awareness and gaining access to policymakers, real policy change "is not there yet."</p><p>Still, she stresses that social movements go through waves of mobilization as public attention on their core issues ebbs and flows. And perhaps one of Fridays for Future's biggest achievements is birthing a politically active generation that will keep the fight up long after corona becomes a memory. </p><p>"We know clearly from our research that many of the people who came to the streets hadn't done any protesting before in their lives," she told DW. "And we also know that if you do one protest, you are likely to do more."</p>
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