Besieged residents living amid the fallout of the mountaintop removal crisis in the central Appalachian coalfields are descending on Washington, DC today, as part of a new emergency health campaign calling for an immediate moratorium on "the toxic coal acquisition process that has been shown to be associated with heart-breaking birth defects, cardiac problems, lung problems and systemic failures in other human organs."
Carting along reams of shocking peer-reviewed scientific studies that have been ignored by their own elected officials, the Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) marks the launch of a weekly frontline citizens initiative in Washington, DC with national human rights and health organizations to prod the Obama administration to enact a moratorium on mountaintop removal operations until a federal study and long-awaited Congressional hearings are carried out on the spiraling mountaintop removal mining health care crisis.
One of the most unnecessary environmental and human rights violations in the nation, mountaintop removal mining provides less than 5-7 percent of national coal production, while detonating millions of pounds of daily explosives that have ruined historic communities and watersheds in West Virginia, Kentucky, southwest Virginia and eastern Tennessee.
On the heels of a major new study by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy on the "stalled out" environmental movement, which urged major funders and foundations to support similar community-based groups most impacted by environmental injustice, the ACHE campaign is also a breakthrough effort of frontline coalfield groups to "kick start" environmental and civil rights groups and ramp up the movement to abolish devastating mountaintop removal mining operations.
"My generation deserves a healthy life," said Ferg Kincaid, a 16-year-old from Fayette County, West Virginia who was joined by former coal mining families and afflicted community members with the Christians for the Mountains, Coal River Mountain Watch, and Mountain Health & Heritage Association, among other groups. "As long as Mountaintop Removal is going on, we don't even have a chance."
The Appalachian Community Health Emergency is a timely new national initiative, as other state and local campaigns to outlaw mountaintop removal move through committees in state legislatures in Tennessee and Kentucky, and West Virginia activists block mining on historic Blair Mountain, among other areas.
In a press release, the ACHE campaign declared "that all Americans should be able to live in healthy communities":
The mission of the Appalachian Community Health Emergency (A.C.H.E.) campaign is nothing short of the abolition of Mountaintop Removal, beginning with an immediate moratorium on the toxic coal acquisition process that has been shown to be associated with heart-breaking birth defects, cardiac problems, lung problems and systemic failures in other human organs.
We will reach our vision by employing the findings of scientific, peer‐reviewed research to educate government, public and private sectors and engage in a dialogue with agencies such as, but not limited to, the Environmental Protection Agency, the United States Department of Justice, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the American Cancer Society, the America Lung Association, and the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The key health effects that we will be sharing information about are as follows:
1. Babies born to mothers who smoke during pregnancy HAVE AN 18% HIGHER RISK OF BIRTH DEFECTS; however, babies born to mothers who live in areas with mountain top removal mining HAVE A 26 PERCENT HIGHER RATE OF BIRTH DEFECTS. Additionally, it was found that this risk is 42 PERCENT HIGHER OVER THE COURSE OF THE STUDY PERIOD FROM YEARS 2000‐2003 and 181 PERCENT HIGHER DURING MORE RECENT YEARS, SPECIFICALLY FOR A HEART OR LUNG DEFECT.* (Ahern, MM, et al, Environ. Res., (2011), DOI: 10.1016/j.envres.2011.05.19)
2. Babies born to mothers who live in areas with high levels of coalmining HAVE A 16 PERCENT HIGHER CHANCE OF BEING BORN UNDER WEIGHT.* (Ahern, et al, Maternal and Child Health J, DOI: 10.1007/s10995‐009‐0555‐1)
3. People who live in areas with mountaintop removal mining HAVE HIGHER DEATH RATES compared to people who do not live near MTR mining.* (Hendryx, Journal of Health Disparities Research and Practice Volume 4, Number 3, Spring 2011, pp. 44‐53)
4. People who live in areas where there is mountaintop removal mining HAVE HIGHER RATES OF DEATH FROM CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE, (HEART DISEASE).* (Esch & Hendryx; The Journal of Rural Health; 00; 2011; 1‐8)
5. People who live in areas with high rates of coal production HAVE HIGHER RATES OF DEATH FROM CERTAIN CANCERS, (BREAST, LUNG, DIGESTIVE, URINARY).* (Hendryx & Hitt; Ecohealth; 2011, DOI: 10.1007/s10393‐101‐0297‐y)
6. People who live in counties with mountaintop removal mining report significantly MORE DAYS OF POOR PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH AND LIMITATIONS OF THEIR ACTIVITY.* (Am J Public Health. 2011;101:848-853. DOI: 10. 2105/AJPH.2010.300073)
"Appalachian people must have relief," said Naoma resident Bo Webb. "The evidence is clear that mountaintop removal is more dangerous for an expectant mother even than smoking. No government concerned with the health of its citizens can let this go on in the face of such disturbing science."
More information on the new campaign is at the Appalachian Community Health Emergency website.
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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>
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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.