Huffpost Green
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Jeff Biggers Headshot

Appeal to Action: Appalachian Leaders Launch Mountaintop Removal Moratorium Now Campaign

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

"Living in a mountaintop mining area was a bigger risk for birth defects than smoking." -- Dr. Michael Hendryx, West Virginia University

Hailing a shocking new study on birth defects related to mountaintop removal mining in central Appalachia as a historic shift and emergency clarion call in the long-time campaign to abolish the devastating strip-mining practice, internationally acclaimed coalfield leaders Maria Gunnoe, Bo Webb and Mickey McCoy, among others who live directly below the lethal fallout of mining operations, have issued a new appeal to all Appalachian and national civil rights and environmental organizations engaged in or fundraising for efforts in coalfield advocacy to join together and demand an immediate moratorium on all mountaintop removal mining operations until the federal government can effectively mitigate a spiraling humanitarian crisis.

A national petition campaign, Stand With Appalachia, has also been launched by Change.org to join forces with the Appalachian activists' "MTR Moratorium Now" campaign.

"Appalachian communities beneath and near mountaintop operations are facing an unacceptable health crisis," 2010 Purpose Prize-winner Bo Webb declared. "In spite of the growing scientific evidence connecting mountaintop removal to the demise of human health, the US Congress refuses to acknowledge the seriousness of this problem. That has to change. People all around us of all ages are dying of cancer. This health study proves that we do not have time to waste debating this issue in Congress any longer."

According to Dr. Michael Hendryx of West Virginia University, one of the authors of last month's breakthrough health care study in mountaintop removal mining areas:

For the years 2000-2003, mothers who smoked during pregnancy had a 17% higher risk of a baby born with a birth defect (compared to mothers who didn't smoke). For mothers living in mountaintop mining areas, the risk was 42% higher (compared to mothers who lived in non-mining areas). For babies born specifically with defects of the circulatory or respiratory system, smoking increased risk by 17%, and living in a mountaintop mining area increased risk by 181%. Living in a mountaintop mining area was a bigger risk for birth defects than smoking.

"People are dying because of mountaintop removal mining and it MUST END NOW," said Maria Gunnoe, the 2009 North American Goldman Prize winner. "Anyone who supports mountaintop removal coal mining is actively supporting the multi-generational murder of the Appalachian people. As the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection prepares to permit Jupiter Coal Company another site behind my home in Bob White, WV, I beg of everyone who has a voice to use it to call on the Obama Administration and demand an immediate moratorium on all mountaintop removal operations. We, as US Citizen,s are being murdered to flip on the lights: Where is the outrage? We must end mountaintop removal now--for some, it's already too late."

Mountaintop removal mining provides less than 5-8 percent of all national coal production.

As they prepare for an emergency press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Wednesday, July 13th, to counter an extremist bill being fast-tracked in the House of Representatives by Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) to strip the EPA of regulatory powers of mountaintop removal, the coalfield leaders called on other Appalachian, anti-mountaintop removal and clean energy groups, national environmental and civil rights organization, religious and faith communities, and health and human service organizations, to sign on to their Appeal to Action for an immediate moratorium and investigation into health and human rights abuses. According to an internal EPA legal analysis of HB 2018, Rahall's bill would overturn 40 years of federal legislation on health and water quality.

The coalfield leaders specifically called on all non-profit organizations and environmental and citizens groups working and fundraising around mountaintop removal mining to join them "on the frontlines of this deadly fallout and share our sense of urgency and our determination to end this outrageous injustice once and for all."

"The time has come for an emergency intervention by the Obama administration, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice," said Webb, a decorated Vietnam war veteran.

Specifically, the activists' Appeal states:

As central Appalachian coalfield residents living under the lethal fallout of mountaintop removal mining operations, we call on President Obama, Department of Health and Human Services chief Kathleen Sebelius and Attorney General Eric Holder to enact an immediate moratorium on all mountaintop removal mining operations in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia until the Center for Disease Control and/or other federal regulatory agencies make a complete assessment of the spiraling health and human rights crisis related to mountaintop removal mining, especially as it pertains to birth defects and cancer corridors, and the Department of Justice makes a thorough investigation into any related criminal negligence or child abuse connected to mountaintop removal mining.

"Given the fact that millions of pounds of ammonium nitrate fuel oil explosives are detonated daily in our communities," said Mickey McCoy, former mayor of Inez, Kentucky, whose community survived the disastrous 2000 Martin County coal slurry disaster, which released 300 million gallons of toxic coal slurry in the area's watersheds, "we must recognize an inconvenient truth for the rest of America: King Coal is bombing us. Our people are dying from the poisonous waters and air. Cancer death rates soar in my homeland making it one of the highest of any area in the nation. I thought I lived in the land of the free, but the only thing free in central Appalachia is the free hand that the coal corporations are given by our state and national representatives to bomb and kill our land and its people. It's murder, damn it! And any state or national elected representatives who supports this Mountain Bombing for coal should be charged as an accessory to Murder!"


An Appeal to Action: MTR Moratorium Now

We appeal to the nation on behalf of our children and grandchildren.

We appeal to our fellow Appalachians and central coalfield communities; we appeal to all civil rights and environmental organizations across the nation; we appeal to all religious and faith communities, and all those who believe in the sanctity of life; we appeal to those who believe in the rule of law and democracy.

After a decade of endless education and media campaigns, conferences and workshops, lobbying, and appealing to our elected officials, we have reached a moment of no return.

The spiraling health crisis in the central Appalachian coalfields has reached a breaking point.

We appeal to the nation to intervene and bring an end to the staggering human costs and mounting death toll from one of the most egregious health and civil rights violations in our times.

As central Appalachian coalfield residents living under the lethal fallout of mountaintop removal mining operations, we call on President Obama, Department of Health and Human Services chief Kathleen Sebelius and Attorney General Eric Holder to enact an immediate moratorium on all mountaintop removal mining operations in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia until the Center for Disease Control and/or other federal regulatory agencies make a complete assessment of the spiraling health and human rights crisis related to mountaintop removal mining, especially as it pertains to birth defects and cancer corridors, and the Department of Justice makes a thorough investigation into any related criminal negligence or child abuse connected to mountaintop removal mining.

We can no longer endure this reckless abuse of our rights, and our lives. No American should.

August 3rd will mark the 34th anniversary of the federal sanctioning of mountaintop removal mining, when President Jimmy Carter signed the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. Calling it a "watered down" bill, President Carter admitted at the Rose Garden signing that the Act was "in many ways, a disappointing effort" and "allows the mining companies to cut off the tops of Appalachian mountains to reach entire seams of coal."

After organizing a rigorous 10-year campaign to abolish strip-mining, outraged by this duplicitous compromise to grant federal sanctioning of mountaintop removal mining, the Appalachian Coalition of coalfield residents and environmental groups called the SMCRA a "blatant travesty" and a "betrayal."

Three decades later, that betrayal has had devastating and deadly consequences.

Yet, while EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has openly admitted the unacceptable health consequences of mountaintop removal, the Obama administration has chosen to follow an admittedly failed compliance policy and 40-year record of criminally neglectful regulatory practices that have left central Appalachian communities in desperate ruin. Numerous scientific studies have confirmed that "mining permits are being issued despite the preponderance of scientific evidence that impacts are pervasive and irreversible and that mitigation cannot compensate for the losses."

While providing less than 5-8 percent of our national coal production, the millions of pounds of daily explosives detonated for mountaintop removal operations in West Virginia, Kentucky, southwest Virginia and eastern Tennessee have resulted in nothing less than the unrecognized reality of regulated child abuse and manslaughter. A recent study, "The association between mountaintop mining and birth defects among live births in central Appalachia, 1996-2003," has provided irrefutable evidence that six out of seven types of birth defects -- circulatory/ respiratory, central nervous system, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, urogenital and "other" -- related to contaminants released into nearby environments from mountaintop removal operations are too high a price to pay for an unnecessary way of mining. Permitting for this type of mining has exacerbated since the studied years of 1996-2003 and so have the impacts on the health of all our people.

As we make this appeal, we brace ourselves for another round of nerve-wracking explosives being detonated above our homes in the mountains of West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. Outside our doors, pulverized silica and coal dust laden with diesel fuel and ammonium nitrate explosives hovers in the air, along with the residual of heavy metals that once lay dormant underground. The mountains just above our homes, once a thriving forest, have been blasted into piles of toxic dust and poison water run off. All is gone now. It is all dead.

Who do you think will be next?

We appeal to everyone in the nation to join us in demanding an immediate moratorium on all mountaintop removal mining operations in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia until the Center for Disease Control and/or other federal regulatory agencies make a complete assessment of the spiraling health and human rights crisis related to mountaintop removal mining, especially as it pertains to birth defects and cancer corridors, and the Department of Justice makes a thorough investigation into any related criminal negligence or child abuse connected to mountaintop removal mining.

Once again, the stakes are too high for our movement to continue to delay, to debate, to engage in endless lobbying of a US Congress intent on dismantling the EPA.

Mountaintop removal is a crime and it must be dealt with like any criminal enterprise in our country.

We must take this unprecedented health and human rights crisis directly to the President of the United States.

We appeal to all of our fellow Appalachians, coalfield residents across the nation, and all non-profit organizations and environmental and citizens groups working and fundraising on mountaintop removal mining to join us on the frontlines of this nightmare fallout and share our sense of urgency and our determination to end this outrageous injustice once and for all.

We appeal to everyone in the nation to join us in demanding that the Obama Administration issue an immediate moratorium on all mountaintop removal mining operations in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia until the Center for Disease Control and/or other federal regulatory agencies make a complete assessment of the spiraling health and human rights crisis related to mountaintop removal mining, especially as it pertains to birth defects and cancer corridors, and the Department of Justice makes a thorough investigation into any related criminal negligence or child abuse connected to mountaintop removal mining.

Maria Gunnoe, 2009 North American Goldman Prize Winner, West Virginia

Bo Webb, 2010 Purpose Prize Winner, West Virginia

Mickey McCoy, former mayor of Inez, Kentucky

Chuck Nelson, retired coal miner, West Virginia

Bob Kincaid, Coal River Mountain Watch, West Virginia

Vernon Haltom, Coal River Mountain Watch, West Virginia

Around the Web

Lethal Fallout from Mining Spurs a Mountaintop Removal Moratorium Campaign to ...

Clara Bingham | A Call to Arms: Citizens need to Save Appalachia

Documentary Film Review - Bill Haney's 'The Last Mountain'

Study: Mountaintop coal mining raises birth defect risks

From Our Partners