Will Obama Keep His Promise and Announce a Moratorium on Mountaintop Removal?
As the ravages of mountaintop removal coal mining—including the re-emerging scandal of reckless black lung policies on strip miners—continue to mount despite the shift of coal production to the heartland and western Power River Basin—President Obama has an election-year opportunity to declare an armistice in the polarized Appalachian coalfields, mend a 30-year mining policy of betrayal, and call an end to the most divisive and egregious human rights and environmental violation sanctioned by our federal government.
There is no two without three, as the saying goes: On the heels of recognizing the civil rights of gay marriage and deferring prosecution of undocumented DREAM Act youth, Obama should keep his 2008 campaign promise, travel to Appalachia and publicly announce a timeline to enact a mountaintop removal moratorium and launch a green jobs coalfield regeneration fund.
Let's be real: With faux West Virginia Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin jumping ship, and a prison inmate giving the president a run for his money in the Democratic primaries, Obama has nothing to lose and everything to gain by bringing the Appalachian coalfields of West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia and eastern Tennessee into a new era of clean energy and sustainable economic development.
Fresh from his recent road to Damascus awakening on the stranglehold of Big Coal, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (WV-D) might even host the President's announcement.
The venerable West Virginia statesman Ken Hechler once called it a "Truman moment" for Obama.
And it should happen on August 3, the anniversary of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, President Jimmy Carter's disastrous compromise that has led to a 40-year regulatory nightmare of federally sanctioned mountaintop removal. As I noted a few years ago:
August 3 is not simply the anniversary of a benign Act; it is a sobering cautionary tale for today's Obama administration and young environmentalists of the catastrophic effects of well-meaning liberal Democrats who engage in compromises with an untenable and ruthless coal industry.
On August 3, 1977, surrounded in the White House Rose Garden by beleaguered coalfield residents and environmentalists who had waged a ten-year campaign to abolish strip-mining, President Jimmy Carter signed the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act with great fanfare. President Carter may have attempted to put on a good face, but he admitted to the 300 guests, according to the New York Times, "in many ways, this has been a disappointing effort." Calling it a "watered down" bill, Carter added, "I'm not completely satisfied with the legislation. I would prefer to have a stricter strip mining bill."
"The President's other main objection to the bill," wrote the New York Times, "is that it allows the mining companies to cut off the tops of Appalachian mountains to reach entire seams of coal."
Outraged by this duplicitous compromise to grant federal sanctioning of mountaintop removal mining, an "Appalachian Coalition" of coalfield residents and environmental groups called the SMCRA a "blatant travesty."
In the meantime, the Appalachian Communities Health Emergency Act citizens movement by Appalachian coal mining communities to pass a law in Congress for a mountaintop removal mortatorium continues to gain ground. Check out their new PSA by On Coal River filmmaker Adams Wood:
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed a sweeping climate bill on Thursday that would have put the commonwealth on a path to eliminating carbon emissions by 2050.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Ajit Niranjan
World leaders and businesses are not putting enough money into adapting to dangerous changes in the climate and must "urgently step up action," according to a report published Thursday by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
Adaptation Has a Long Way to Go<p>The Adaptation Gap Report, now in its 5th year, finds "huge gaps" between what world leaders agreed to do under the 2015 <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/5-years-paris-climate-agreement/a-55901139" target="_blank">Paris Agreement</a> and what they need to do to keep their citizens safe from climate change.</p><p>A review by the Global Adaptation Mapping Initiative of almost 1,700 examples of climate adaptation found that a third were in the early stages of implementation — and only 3% had reached the point of reducing risks.</p><p>Disasters like storms and droughts have grown stronger than they should be because people have warmed the planet by burning fossil fuels and chopping down rainforests. The world has heated by more than 1.1 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution and is on track to warm by about 3°C by the end of the century.</p><p>If world leaders <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/climate-change-performance-index-how-far-have-we-come/a-55846406" target="_blank">deliver on recent pledges</a> to bring emissions to <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/joe-bidens-climate-pledges-are-they-realistic/a-56173821" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">net-zero</a> by the middle of the century, they could almost limit warming to 2°C. The target of the Paris Agreement, however, is to reach a target well below that — ideally 1.5°C. </p><p>There are two ways, scientists say, to lessen the pain that warming will bring: mitigating climate change by cutting carbon pollution and adapting to the hotter, less stable world it brings.</p>
The Cost of Climate Adaptation<p>About three-quarters of the world's countries have national plans to adapt to climate change, according to the report, but most lack the regulations, incentives and funding to make them work.</p><p>More than a decade ago, rich countries most responsible for climate change pledged to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 in climate finance for poorer countries. UNEP says it is "impossible to answer" whether that goal has been met, while an OECD study published in November found that between 2013 and 2018, the target sum had not once been achieved. Even in 2018, which recorded the highest level of contributions, rich countries were still $20 billion short.</p><p>The yearly adaptation costs for developing countries alone are estimated at $70 billion. This figure is expected to at least double by the end of the decade as temperatures rise, and will hit $280-500 billion by 2050, according to the report.</p><p>But failing to adapt is even more expensive.</p><p>When powerful storms like cyclones Fani and Bulbul struck South Asia, early-warning systems allowed governments to move millions of people out of danger at short notice. Storms of similar strength that have hit East Africa, like <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/zimbabwe-after-cyclone-idai-building-climate-friendly-practices/a-54251885" target="_blank">cyclones Idai</a> and Kenneth, have proved more deadly because fewer people were evacuated before disaster struck.</p><p>The Global Commission on Adaptation estimated in 2019 that a $1.8 trillion investment in early warning systems, buildings, agriculture, mangroves and water resources could reap $7.1 trillion in benefits from economic activity and avoided costs when disasters strike.</p>
Exploring Nature-Based Solutions<p>The report also highlights how restoring nature can protect people from climate change while benefiting local communities and ecology.</p><p><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/climate-fires-risk-climate-change-bushfires-australia-california-extreme-weather-firefighters/a-54817927" target="_blank">Wildfires</a>, for instance, could be made less punishing by restoring grasslands and regularly burning the land in controlled settings. Indigenous communities from Australia to Canada have done this for millennia in a way that encourages plant growth while reducing the risk of uncontrolled wildfires. Reforestation, meanwhile, can stop soil erosion and flooding during heavy rainfall while trapping carbon and protecting wildlife.</p><p>In countries like Brazil and Malaysia, governments could better protect coastal homes from floods and storms by restoring <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/mudflats-mangroves-and-marshes-the-great-coastal-protectors/a-50628747" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mangroves</a> — tangled trees that grow in tropical swamps. As well as anchoring sediments and absorbing the crash of waves, mangroves can store carbon, help fish populations grow and boost local economies through tourism. </p><p>While nature-based solutions are often cheaper than building hard infrastructure, their funding makes up a "tiny fraction" of adaptation finance, the report authors wrote. An analysis of four global climate funds that spent $94 billion on adaptation projects found that just $12 billion went to nature-based solutions and little of this was spent implementing projects on the ground.</p><p>But little is known about their long-term effectiveness. At higher temperatures, the effects of climate change may be so great that they overwhelm natural defenses like mangroves.</p><p>By 2050, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/rising-sea-levels-should-we-let-the-ocean-in-a-50704953/a-50704953" target="_blank">coastal floods</a> that used to hit once a century will strike many cities every year, according to a 2019 report on oceans by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the gold standard on climate science. This could force dense cities on low-lying coasts to build higher sea walls, like in Indonesia and South Korea, or evacuate entire communities from sinking islands, like in Fiji.</p><p>It's not a case of replacing infrastructure, said Matthias Garschagen, a geographer at Ludwig Maximilian University in Germany and IPCC author, who was not involved in the UNEP report. "The case for nature-based solutions is often misinterpreted as a battle... but they're part of a toolkit that we've ignored for too long."</p>
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