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The Biggest No-Brainer Bill of the Year—Moratorium on Mountaintop Removal
With the daily silica-laced blizzard from five million pounds of toxic explosives in the background, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth and Rep. Louise Slaughter reintroduced the biggest no-brainer bill of the year for Congress—the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act (ACHE).
Given its 40-year rap sheet, and 20 peer-reviewed academic studies on the devastating health impacts of mountaintop removal, the job-killing mechanized form of strip mining that only provides 5-7 percent of all U.S. coal production, the ACHE Act simply asks Congress to do what it should have done back in 1971: Place a moratorium on new mountaintop removal mining operations while the first comprehensive federal study of the health dangers is conducted.
Yes, a no-brainer: Especially when Big Coal, like the Patriot Coal Company, now recognizes the health crisis from mountaintop removal and agrees to phase out large-scale operations, and support for the bill comes from big green groups like the Sierra Club and Earthjustice and religious groups like Christians for the Mountains.
Kentucky Rep. Yarmuth kept it simple: "If it can't be proven that mountaintop removal mining is safe, we shouldn't allow it to continue."
If President Obama and the U.S. Congress are committed to keeping the children in the hills of Appalachia—or the coal country on the Navajo Nation, the heartland and West, for that matter—"always safe from harm," as the President noted in his inaugural address last month, they need to wake up and deal with the daily reality of terrifying birth defect rates, cancer risks, chronic cardiovascular diseases and even fly rock on our nation's most vulnerable citizens—kids.
"The U.S. Geological Survey has advised us not to eat the vegetables or fruits from our gardens because toxic fallout from mountaintop removal blasting has contaminated our soil," said Laura Antrim Caskey, founder of Appalachia Watch, Rock Creek, West Virginia. "We need swift passage of the ACHE Act."
"I have fought the impacts of mountaintop removal (MTR) on my home and health for 18 years," added Maria Gunnoe, a West Virginia-based organizer with Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and the 2009 North American Goldman Prize recipient. "Now science is showing that it's killing me and my community, and Congress needs to listen. Cancer here is as common as the cold. The fact is this is not about who is winning; it is about who is dying from the violent impacts of mountaintop removal."
Rep. Slaughter, a New Yorker raised in Harlan County, Kentucky and the nation's only microbiologist serving in the US Congress, spelled it out:
"Every American has a right to live and work in a community free from environmental health risks. And it is our duty to ensure that this right is not infringed upon by industries that consider community health and environmental protection to be less important than their profit margins. Given the growing field of evidence that people living near mountaintop removal coal mining sites are at an elevated risk for a range of major health problems, we should place a moratorium on further mountaintop coal removal activity until we can ensure the health and safety of families in these communities."
Appalachia has not cornered the marketing on coal mining misery; industrial strip mining got its birth in my Illinois woods in the 1850s, and after 150 years of non-stop plunder of our farms, forests and communities the heartland is now facing an unabashed coal rush. Last month, Dine (Navajo) residents traveled to Peabody Energy headquarters to remind the nation of a half-century of destruction and corruption on Black Mesa. The largest strip mine in the East is now expanding unfettered by regulations across Indiana. The colossal Powder River Basin in the West is ramping up efforts to export to the Asian markets.
In the 20-odd states beholden to strip mining, Congress would be wise to create a Coalfields Regeneration Fund like Great Britain to jump start clean energy manufacturing and transition coal mining communities into a sustainable economy.
In the meantime, the ACHE Act is the first step in addressing the long-overdue health costs in Appalachia, and hopefully beyond.
Visit EcoWatch’s MOUNTAINTOP REMOVAL page for more related news on this topic.
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Former Monsanto Chairman and CEO Hugh Grant will have to testify in person at a St. Louis-area trial set for January in litigation brought by a cancer-stricken woman who claims her disease was caused by exposure to the company's Roundup herbicide and that Monsanto covered up the risks instead of warning consumers.
A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.
"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."
The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Michael Schade / Twitter
At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.
The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.
Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.
"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."
Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.
Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.
"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.
"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."
The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.
Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.
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