Award-winning country singer-songwriter Willie Nelson is joining the fight against mountaintop removal -- a surface mining practice that involves clearing, blasting and processing mountaintops or ridge lines for coal.
This rendition of "America the Beautiful" from Nelson and the Natural Resources Defense Council begins like any other patriotic tribute to the American landscape, but soon takes a dramatic turn. Images of cleared forests, blasting mountains and creeping coal sludge provide a sharp contrast to the song's lyrics, and highlight how devastating this practice is to the Appalachian communities and ecosystems.
The new video was released just before the House of Representatives passed the "Preventing Government Waste and Protecting Coal Mining Jobs in America Act," a bill that would codify a 2008 stream buffer zone rule from the Bush administration that allowed mountaintop mining companies to dump debris into streams and other waterways. The Obama administration pledged closer scrutiny of mountaintop removal waste disposal permits shortly after taking office, and last month a federal court struck down the Bush-era rule for violating the Endangered Species Act. The recent bill, which likely won't pass the Senate, would almost certainly be vetoed by President Obama.
Mountaintop removal mining has serious health and environmental consequences. Over 2,000 miles of streams in Appalachia have been contaminated from this practice, and 240 species of plants and animals are threatened by it, according to the Sierra Club. Additionally, the Center for Health, Environment and Justice reports that rates of cancer, birth defects and chronic cardiovascular mortality are elevated in areas where mountaintop removal occurs.