Quantcast
Energy

Gunnoe Appeals to President ... Judge Dismisses Health Studies on Mountaintop Removal

In a breathtaking but largely overlooked ruling this week, a federal judge agreed that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may disregard studies on the health impacts of mountaintop removal mining in its permitting process, only two weeks after Goldman Prize Award-winning activist Maria Gunnoe wrote an impassioned plea to President Obama to renew withdrawn funding for U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) research on strip mining operations and redouble federal action to address the decades-old humanitarian disaster.

(Gunnoe's full letter is below.)

"We all must recognize and resolve these mountaintop-removal-caused health problems and end the onslaught of pollution on people. Ending mountaintop removal could be as simple as passing HR 526," said Maria Gunnoe (right).

The prophetic call for immediate federal action by Gunnoe, a community organizer for the West Virginia-based Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and a long-time witness to the tragedy of mountaintop removal, has never been so timely."Appalachian citizens are the casualties of a silent “war on people” who live where coal is extracted," Gunnoe wrote the President. "Citizens of all ages are dying for the coal industry’s bottom line."

Gunnoe concluded:

We all must recognize and resolve these mountaintop-removal-caused health problems and end the onslaught of pollution on people. Ending mountaintop removal could be as simple as passing HR 526: the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act, or possibly even an Executive Order. The ACHE Act will place a moratorium on all new mountaintop removal permits. This bill, when passed, will immediately improve the lives and health of the people who live with these impacts daily.

Two years ago, in fact, the USGS published preliminary findings on "unusually high" toxic compounds in the soil and water near strip mining operations. That USGS research team is no longer funded.

"Our state politicians display a willful ignorance of some 24 peer-reviewed scientific reports about mountaintop removal’s human health effects," Gunnoe wrote. "Studies show a correlation between living near a mountaintop removal site and significantly increased rates of cancer, birth defects and premature deaths. We believe they’d have a much harder time ignoring studies put out by the USGS."

Besieged residents in strip mining areas of Illinois, including Rocky Branch, and Kentucky, where a similar ruling over ignored human health risks, have long called for federal enforcement and action of flawed mining regulations.

Read page 1

Last night in Charleston, West Virginia, the premiere screening of a new feature film, Moving Mountains, based on the award-winning book by journalist Penny Loeb, was a reminder of the decades-long struggle by citizens for civil rights and health protection in coal mining communities in the courts and political corridors. Here's a trailer of the film, which stars actress Theresa Russell:

Moving Mountains, tragically enough, dates back to 1994. In fact, Aug. 3 marked the 37th anniversary of the flawed Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, which granted federal sanctioning for mountaintop removal, which President Jimmy Carter called a "disappointing effort" and a "watered down bill."

"Very little has changed," Gunnoe said, referring to the film's true life heroine, Patricia Bragg, a coal miner's wife who defends her community from water contamination. "There are only more Patricia Braggs now."

Even while central Appalachia's coal industry falters to exploding markets in the Illinois Basin and western coalfields, permits for new mountaintop removal operations continue to be filed.

"Judge Copenhaver confirmed what we already know: there is no law in the United States that says a permitting agency must consider Mountaintop Removal's toxic effects on people's health," said Bob Kincaid, with the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act Movement. "At present, as a matter of law, people in Appalachia simply do not matter at all. If we had the A.C.H.E. Act, these ill-considered rulings wouldn't happen. They couldn't happen. The A.C.H.E. Act's moratorium on new permits would stop them."

Gunnoe's letter to President Obama is below:

July 29, 2014

President Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama,

My name is Maria Gunnoe. I live in Boone County, West Virginia, at the base of a mountaintop removal coal mining operation. My family has been here for generations, before the mine moved in above us.

Since the mine moved in, my family has experienced problems we trace directly back to that mine. (Details on some of that are below.) My outspokenness on what has happened to us, to my neighbors and to others living near these mines has led to my current employment as an organizer with the Huntington, W.Va.-based Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC). It also led to my receiving the 2009 Goldman Prize for North America and the 2012 Wallenberg Medal. I am also an active member of the Appalachian Community Health Emergency campaign.

I write on behalf of OVEC, because something I read in the July 26 edition of the Charleston Gazette shocked me. An article titled, “USGS halts research on mountaintop removal’s public-health effects,” reports that, “Last year, the Obama administration quietly put the brakes on any new field work to gather data on the potential public-health threats posed by mountaintop removal.” (http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140726/GZ01/140729409/1419)

I write to ask you restore the funding for Dr. Bill Orem’s team at USGS to gather data on the human health impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining. I believe any data gathered so far that is ready for publication should be released at once. In order to re-fund these studies, any USGS research on the health and environmental effects of unconventional oil and gas extraction should not be halted.

I think Dr. Orem’s work will show that the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining is not good for anyone, including the men and women who work on mountaintop removal operations.

Our state politicians display a willful ignorance of some 24 peer-reviewed scientific reports (http://ohvec.org/issues/mountaintop_removal/articles/health/) about mountaintop removal’s human health effects. Studies show a correlation between living near a mountaintop removal site and significantly increased rates of cancer, birth defects and premature deaths. We believe they’d have a much harder time ignoring studies put out by the USGS.

Living with the impacts of mountaintop removal daily, while others get the pleasure of pretending it is not really happening, takes fortitude. When you see community members dying because of toxic air, it is truly devastating to take your next breath. We have watched so many people living near mountaintop removal sites become sick. I think the USGS studies will give scientific support to what we know, to what we live.

OVEC volunteers and staff members have worked in the communities that are heavily affected by mountaintop removal pollution. We have members, staffers and friends living in toxic air because of the practice of blowing up mountains for coal. The communities that are most affected by mountaintop removal are those in which we live, work and recreate, and OVEC demands better for everyone. We work to improve lives in these communities with community leadership. The communities tell us what is important to them and, right now, they need an end to mountaintop removal coal mining. They need healthy air, healthy water and medical follow-up on the health problems caused by the pollution from mountaintop removal operations.

The toxic dust from mountaintop removal operations has invaded our homes and our bodies. It overcomes everything. Our state politicians ignore these facts, thus allowing people to become ill and even die prematurely!

In some cases, mountaintop removal is happening just hundreds of feet from occupied structures such as schools, churches and homes. It’s taking place directly above parks in communities such as Twilight, Madison, Artie, Peach Tree, Blair, Marsh Fork, Ashford, Williams Mountain, Prenter, Kayford, Whitesville, Mud, Sylvester and so many more. Even historic family cemeteries are surrounded by exploding mountains.

OVEC has witnessed an overall demise in the mental and physical well-being of people living in these communities. We worry that this is the worst of the effects of mountaintop removal. What this practice is doing to people is inhumane and cruel; they are living in hell on earth in the communities where mountaintop removal is happening, and they are not being heard by the politicians and regulators who should be listening.

Again, we believe they’d have a much harder time not listening when it is the USGS telling us about the human health impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining.

We hope that our politicians see what a massive mistake they have made in fighting hard for more mountaintop removal coal mining. We all should recognize the risk to human lives and immediately end all mountaintop removal operations in order to protect human lives. This is the coal industry’s and the politicians’ chance to show that they truly do care about the people of Appalachia and not only the production of Appalachian coal.

Coal miners and their families deserve better living conditions in their homes and communities than they have on their job sites, but not even their children have safe air to breathe. It must be terrible to have to pollute your children’s air for a paycheck. The enforcement of regulations protects lives on the job and the lives of people in our communities. The companies’ rights to mine coal ends when it infringes on citizens’ rights to live healthy lives in our homes.

There should never be another mention of the “war on coal” by our state leaders. The truth is that Appalachian citizens are the casualties of a silent “war on people” who live where coal is extracted. Citizens of all ages are dying for the coal industry’s bottom line.

We all must recognize and resolve these mountaintop-removal-caused health problems and end the onslaught of pollution on people.

Ending mountaintop removal could be as simple as passing HR 526: the Appalachian Community Health Emergency ACT (http://acheact.org/the-legislation/), or possibly even an Executive Order. The ACHE Act will place a moratorium on all new mountaintop removal permits. This bill, when passed, will immediately improve the lives and health of the people who live with these impacts daily.

As you can tell, I want an end to mountaintop removal today. I’m tired of watching the people in our community get sick and die too early. I believe the science is already in showing this type of coal mining is dangerous and deadly. I believe that the passage of the ACHE Act would end mountaintop removal. But, still I ask that you restore the funding for Dr. Orem’s team, because their findings would arm us with the scientific evidence we need to finally convince Congress and you that we are saying is indeed true.

The health of those of us here in central Appalachia does matter. Please restore the funding and help us end mountaintop removal!

With deepest respect and sincerity,

Maria Gunnoe
OVEC
P.O. Box 6753 
Huntington, WV 25773


YOU ALSO MIGHT LIKE

The True Costs of Cleaning Up Toxic Coal Ash

11 Arrested at Peabody Coal’s Annual Shareholder Meeting in Missouri

Students Demand Clean Energy

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Shutterstock

September 2017: Earth's 4th Warmest September on Record

By Dr. Jeff Masters

September 2017 was the planet's fourth warmest September since record keeping began in 1880, said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) and NASA this week. The only warmer Septembers came during 2015, 2016 and 2014. Minor differences can occur between the NASA and NOAA rankings because of their different techniques for analyzing data-sparse regions such as the Arctic.

Keep reading... Show less

Shocking Photo of Dehorned Black Rhino Wins Top Award

Africa loses an average of three rhinos a day to the ongoing poaching crisis and the illegal rhino horn trade. In 2016 alone, 1,054 rhinos were reported killed in South Africa, representing a loss in rhinos of approximately six percent. That's close to the birth rate, meaning the population remains perilously close to the tipping point.

This year, the Natural History Museum in London awarded photographer Brent Stirton the 2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year grand title for his grisly image of a black rhino with its two horns hacked off in South Africa's Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Smallholder agriculture in southern Ethiopia. Smallholder farmers are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity. Leah Samberg

How Climate Change and Wars Are Increasing World Hunger

By Leah Samberg

Around the globe, about 815 million people—11 percent of the world's population—went hungry in 2016, according to the latest data from the United Nations. This was the first increase in more than 15 years.

Between 1990 and 2015, due largely to a set of sweeping initiatives by the global community, the proportion of undernourished people in the world was cut in half. In 2015, UN member countries adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, which doubled down on this success by setting out to end hunger entirely by 2030. But a recent UN report shows that, after years of decline, hunger is on the rise again.

Keep reading... Show less
Pixabay

Two Graphs Explain Why California’s Wildfires Will Only Get Worse

By Molly Taft

The deadly wildfires ripping through Northern California are just the latest in a season of record-defying natural disasters in the U.S. As the death toll passes 40, reports of Californians hiding in pools as their houses burn and scenes of devastated homes and vineyards add to 2017's apocalyptic picture of how climate change is impacting America today.

As the Trump administration guts environmental protections and undermines science, California is one of the states leading the way on climate action. Ironically, experts agree the state can expect devastating fires like the ones in Napa to become the new normal. Drier and drier conditions and creeping temperatures in the American Southwest, definitively linked to climate change, serve to create tinderbox conditions for massive, catastrophic fires to explode.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Leonardo DiCaprio / Facebook

Leonardo DiCaprio Invests in Plant-Based Food Company

Animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector, but eating a burger doesn't have to come with a side of guilt.

Actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio has invested in Beyond Meat, the makers of the world's first vegan burger that's famously known to look, smell and even taste a lot like the real deal.

Keep reading... Show less
www.facebook.com

Guard Dog Wouldn’t Leave Goat Flock During California Fires—And Lived to Tell the Story

By Andrew Amelinckx

The fire the Hendels barely escaped was part of the Northern California firestorm that has so far claimed 40 lives—including one of their neighbors, Lynne Powell—destroyed countless homes, and caused billions of dollars in damage.

"Later that morning when we had outrun the fires I cried, sure that I had sentenced Odie to death, along with our precious family of bottle-raised goats," Roland Hendel wrote in a recent Facebook post.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate activists Emily Johnston and Annette Klapstein shut down Enbridge's tar sands pipelines 4 and 67 in Minnesota on Oct. 11, 2016. Shutitdown.today

Judge Allows Vital 'Necessity Defense' for Climate Activists

By Jessica Corbett

In a decision that is being called "groundbreaking" and "precedent-setting," a district court judge in Minnesota has ruled that he will allow oil pipeline protesters to present a "necessity defense" for charges related to a multi-state action by climate activists last October.

In his decision last week, Judge Robert Tiffany ruled that four activists who participated in the #ShutItDown action—in which pipelines across five states were temporarily disabled, halting the flow of tar sands oil from Canada into the U.S.—may present scientists and other expert witnesses to explain the immediate threat of climate change to justify their action.

Keep reading... Show less
www.youtube.com

Why Are Incarcerated Women Battling California Wildfires for as Little as $1 a Day?

As raging wildfires in California scorch more than 200,000 acres—roughly the size of New York City—more than 11,000 firefighters are battling the blazes, and a number of them are prisoners, including many women inmates.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox