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Groups Take Legal Action against Alpha Natural Resources to Protect Waterways from Coal Pollution

Energy
Groups Take Legal Action against Alpha Natural Resources to Protect Waterways from Coal Pollution

Sierra Club

Twilight Surface Mine, Independence Coal Co., in Boone County. W.Va. Photo

by Vivian Stockman, www.ohvec.org. Flyover courtesy SouthWings.org.

Today, a coalition of citizen and environmental groups took action to stop pollution coming from nine different West Virginia coal mining facilities owned by subsidiaries of Alpha Natural Resources. The mines, located in Logan, McDowell, Boone and Kanawha counties, all violate key protections in the Clean Water Act and Surface Mining laws regarding selenium pollution from mountaintop removal or traditional mines and associated facilities.

The groups bringing the action, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and Sierra Club, seek to ensure Alpha installs the appropriate protections at these sites, which would improve the quality of West Virginia waterways for the residents and natural life that depend on them.

Twilight Surface Mine, Independence Coal Co., in Boone County. W.Va. Photo

by Vivian Stockman, www.ohvec.org. Flyover courtesy SouthWings.org.

Mountaintop removal coal mines often cause serious selenium pollution in waterways, and treating that pollution is extremely expensive and labor-intensive. Today's legal action reinforces the message to coal executives that mountaintop removal mining is not in their economic interest.

"Is widespread and ongoing toxic pollution of our streams what Alpha means by 'Running Right?,'" said  Jim Sconyers, chair of the West Virginia Sierra Club. "Alpha needs to stop this, and to stop making the people and streams pay the price for Alpha's toxic coal mining."

Alpha Natural Resources is the nation’s third largest coal producer and, after its recent acquisition of Massey Energy, is now the largest mountaintop removal mining company in the country, responsible for about 25 percent of coal production from mountaintop removal mines. In December 2011, the groups reached a settlement with Alpha regarding selenium pollution at three facilities. That settlement required Alpha to treat the selenium pollution at an estimated construction cost of over $50 million, and to pay additional penalties of $4.5 million. Since entering into that settlement, the groups discovered selenium pollution at the facilities named in today’s legal challenge.

Twilight Surface Mine, Independence Coal Co., in Boone County, W.Va. Photo by Vivian Stockman, www.ohvec.org. Flyover courtesy SouthWings.org.

"Growing scientific evidence points to a human health crisis in mountaintop removal communities," said Dianne Bady with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. "The voices of the residents who have been telling of this health crisis for over a decade now have been drowned out by coal propaganda and by the politicians who do coal's bidding."

Selenium, a toxic element that causes reproductive failure and deformities in fish and other forms of aquatic life, is discharged from many surface coal mining operations across Appalachia. Selenium accumulates in the tissues of aquatic organisms over time, and experts predict that waterways across Appalachia could be on the brink of collapse due to increasing levels of the pollutant.

"The evidence continues to mount that the long term legacy of streams polluted by harmful levels of selenium from these and other mines has become as costly and devastating as the thousands of miles of streams already destroyed by acid mine drainage," said Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. "Permits must not be granted where mining will only further damage the health of our water and those residents now and in the future who depend on that water."

The groups are represented in this matter by Derek Teaney and Joe Lovett of Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

The mining facilities at issue and their subsidiary owners are:
Whitman No. 2 Surface Mine, Logan County, Alex Energy
Camp Branch facility, Logan County, Aracoma Coal Co.
Tower Mountain Surface Mine, Bandmill Coal Corp.
Freeze Fork Surface Mine, Highland Mining Co.
Twilight Surface Mine, Independence Coal Co.
Lady Dunn Preparation Plant, Kanawha County, Jacks Branch
Hughes Creek Surface mine, Kanawha County, Jacks Branch
Stockton Mine, Kanawha County, Jacks Branch
Fourmile Fork Surface Mine, Kanawha Energy

Visit EcoWatch’s COAL and MOUNTAINTOP REMOVAL page for more related news on this topic.

 

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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