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Willie Nelson Joins Fight to Stop Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

Energy

Country music legend Willie Nelson is joining the fight in Congress to protect Appalachian communities from the impacts of the devastating mining practice of mountaintop removal.

In a new music video that depicts dynamiting operations in Appalachia and their ruinous consequences, the American icon sings “America the Beautiful” to highlight opposition to giving coal companies free rein to blast the tops off mountains and dump dangerous pollution into surrounding streams and creeks.

Willie Nelson lends his voice to campaign to end mountaintop coal removal mining. Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

The House of Representatives will vote on a bill today that would make it easier to dump the tons of toxic waste and debris from these mountaintop mining operations into Appalachian streams. 

“Willie Nelson is a strong voice for everyday Americans, as shown by his solidarity with the people of Appalachia,” said Jon Devine, senior attorney in Natural Resources Defense Council’s Water Program. “This legislation would clear the way for more destruction and more pollution. It must be stopped.”

Nelson, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors, and first winner of the Country Music Association Lifetime Achievement Award, has long championed the people and communities of rural America with his Farm Aid concerts.

The video, produced by the Natural Resources Defense Council, features Nelson’s song playing over scenes of wooded Appalachian mountains being dynamited by coal companies and the resulting boulders, ash and sludge cascading down on to communities below. 

The bill scheduled for today’s House of Representatives vote, HR 2824, would lock in place a George W. Bush-era rule change that opened up local streams to the pollution caused by the ravages of mountaintop mining. Under this practice, companies are blasting off entire mountaintops to get at the thin coal seams below. They're filling local rivers and streams with blasted debris, and sacrificing the safety and sanctity of countless communities in the region.

Mountaintop removal mining has already leveled more than 500 mountaintops, poisoned or buried more than 2,000 miles of streams, and destroyed communities across Appalachia. Top scientists agree that the ecological damage of mountaintop removal is largely irreversible.

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

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

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.

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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