John M. Laforge
Liberals & Dictators
Health Care Bargaining
2010 & Beyond
CFR & Obama
Laurence h. Shoup
Nicolas J.S. Davies
Robinson's Latin America
Zaps - 01-10
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Producing Annihilation: Effects of Mountaintop Removal in Appalachia
Along the backbone of the eastern United States, better known as Appalachia, a relatively new trend in coal mining is underway. Mountaintop removal (MTR), a process in which the coal industry blows the tops of mountains into an environmental and socio-economic ruin, has been plaguing Appalachia for decades. More recently, such industry giants as Peabody Coal Co., Horizon Resources LLC, and Arch Coal Inc. have taken advantage of coal mining legislation to advance the scope of coal extraction through MTR.
Blowing the Cover
Fifty percent of U.S. electricity comes from coal. The U.S. is responsible for burning over a billion tons of coal per year, resulting in 2.3 billion tons—and climbing—of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere annually. The burning of coal is also the leading source of mercury and sulfur dioxide that is tainting the planet's freshwaters.
Precipitated by the petroleum crises in the 1970s, coal mining became the solution to an impending energy shortage. In 1977, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act was enabled to ensure regulation over the environmental effects of coal mining. Section 515(c)(1) allowed for coal mining operations to practice mountaintop removal. It purported to show MTR as more efficient than other methods of removal due to coal's horizontal position located within the lifted terrain. This piece of legislature is shameful. MTR may be more efficient for the transformation of mountains into subsidized energy, but it is also extraordinarily efficient at exacerbating drought conditions in a region that is already affected by the desiccation of local watersheds, among other problems.
When the Bush administration proposed lowering emissions standards, they embraced the coal industry as the model. With central Appalachia the top coal supplier in the country, next to Wyoming's Powder Basin, the floodgates opened. Central Appalachia has been inundated with excavation expansion. The practice of strip mining (removing a strip of earth along the contour of a mountainside) is being replaced at an escalating rate by MTR. For example, Arch Coal digs up 100 million tons of coal per year, approximately half of which is obtained through MTR in the Appalachian region.
Despite the recent presidential transition, nothing much has changed. While on the campaign trail, the Obama team received $240,000 from the "clean coal" lobby—chump change indeed, but dirty money is dirty money. Moreover, President Obama appears supportive of the industry, speaking to a rally in Virginia: "We figured out how to put a man on the moon in ten years; you can't tell me we can't figure out how to burn coal that we mine...in the United States of America and make it work."
Most importantly, last May, Obama quietly gave thumbs up to two dozen more mountaintop removals and permits are still being handed out.
An Assault on Life
Despite legislative rhetoric, MTR is by no means quick and clean. The first step in the procedure is to prime for excavation, denuding the land of what is dubbed as "overburden." To do so, the allotted area is logged—clearcut (in most cases the lumber is sold to timber companies)—and the topsoil is removed and set aside. For the many beings that abound on, around, and in Appalachia's mountains, the leonine roar of dragline excavators is an ominous portent of the ensuing blasting and widespread loss of life. The next step entails the application of an ammonium nitrate mixture to blast away the subsoil, exposing the dormant seams of coal. Because coal is found in lateral layers of subsoil, the debris is pushed aside and the coal excavated.
After the coal is brought to the plant for processing, the remaining toxic sludge, known as coal slurry, is deposited into designated slurry pools and left to stagnate, creating infecund, fetid pools that pose serious health threats to the surrounding communities of people, trees, animals, and watersheds.
West Virginia school 400 feet below a dam leaking toxic sludge—photo by Benji Burrell
With all of the noxious substances tainting the region's land, children are often victims of nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and shortness of breath—symptoms pertinent to blue baby syndrome. The long-term effects can be terminal and include cancers of the digestive tract, bone damage, and liver failure. To paraphrase author and professor at the University of Kentucky Erik Reese, the above symptoms are common ailments attributed to the exposure of heavy metals found in leachate. In 2000 in Martin County, Kentucky, such symptoms could be related to an event in which 300 million gallons of coal-slurry spilt when a holding pool collapsed. Today, there is another slurry pool containing billions of gallons of noxious sludge nestled less than a mile from the March Fork Elementary School.
Judy Bonds, a West Virginian coal activist and co-director of Coal River Mountain Watch (CRMW), lamented the fact that her grandson could only play in streams littered with the corpses of fish and that he suffered from asthma from the coal dust that accumulated in their home. Ultimately, Bonds became active because she was tired of witnessing the abuses that the coal industry inflicts on children in the area and watching the land become toxic with coal slurry.
Bonds explained that many of the nonhuman animals of the area are being threatened. Leaf shredders and mayflies, both vital in maintaining the health of the riparian ecology, are vanishing quickly. Forests containing more than 50 plant and animal species, are being driven to the point of extinction. Currently, two-thirds of the songbirds endemic to Kentucky's Cumberland Plateau are in decline—a direct result of big boys playing with big explosives. The EPA estimates that 7 percent (320,000 acres) of the forests and watersheds have been lost so far and, if continued at its current rate, 1.4 million acres (larger than the state of Delaware) will be vanquished within a few years.
When the top of a mountain is defoliated of its "cover" and then blown into smithereens, most of the debris is scattered into the valleys below and into headwaters and streams. Since the onslaught of MTR mining throughout the region, 750 miles of streams have been completely buried beneath debris, suffocating nearly all macroinvertebrates (insects, mollusks, snails, worms) in the headwaters, deeply scarring the web of life.
Between 1985 and 2001, there have been 6,700 valley fills. That equates to 84,000 acres of forest and watershed destroyed and/or defiled from the dumping of sedimentation. Valley-fills create floodplains, leading to flooding in an area that wasn't naturally subjected to flooding in the past. Combined with heavy metal leachate from the mine sites, this all conduces to a dying ecology and a toxic landbase.
Every time there is a spill or flood, cleanup comes out of the taxpayers' pockets. In late 2008, there was the Kingston spill that dumped 1.6 billion gallons of heavy-metal-laden coal ash over 400 acres, which the EPA called the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. Around the same time there was also an intentional release of pernicious substances and heavy metals into the Ocoee River in Tennessee.
As Bonds describes the situation: "We're seeing the destruction of entire watersheds and it all runs downhill. Close to where I lived, the Little March Fork was poisoned and that flowed into the larger March Fork stream and then into the Coal River. The Coal River empties into the Kanawha River and into the Ohio River; then into the Mississippi River, which empties into the ocean. The poisons that flow into the ocean get into the atmosphere and fall back on the region through rainfall. So far 1,200 miles of streams and headwaters have been destroyed. The watershed and stream systems are extremely sensitive. If nothing is done to stop this, we're looking at least double that damage in the near future."
The coal industry is not just culpable for poor environmental policy, but their policies and exploits are wreaking havoc on the people of the region as well. Eighty percent of the harvested coal is shipped outside of the area, mainly to Texas—the largest coal-consuming state in the U.S. One might suppose that the export would generate wealth for Appalachia. But it doesn't. Big Coal collects all the remuneration. As profits go into the shareholders' pockets, over 50 percent of the central Appalachian region live in poverty.
According to the article "Moving Mountains" by Reese in the February 2006 issue of the environmental magazine Orion, in the year 2000 seven floods affected the town of Bob White, West Virginia after mountaintop removal began in the surrounding mountains of the Cherry Pond Range. The recurring floods have been antecedent to evacuations and displacement.
Meanwhile, when not inundated, drought continues to plague the surrounding regions of Appalachia even as the bottled-water industry persists in extracting copious amounts of groundwater faster than can be replaced by the hydrologic cycle. Bottled water is then sold to exploited miners.
Production as Annihilation
Throughout Appalachia, entire mountain communities proliferate with soils, rocks, lichens, and moss that foster the streams along their maturity into specific waterways, ultimately into the Atlantic and then into the atmosphere to be precipitated down to recommence the latter cycle. All of this is silenced in this culture. How could we tolerate the loss of mountains and their forest chains and watersheds?
Coal mining, especially mountaintop removal, is unethical and inhumane. It displays stark irresponsibility in land stewardship as well as depraved practices within a diverse region. It is time to shake off the flawed belief that we are reliant upon coal and other fossil fuels—or better yet, that we are reliant upon industrial-scale production and contemporary market economics in order to live. Renewable energy, in tandem with fundamental lifestyle changes and communion with our natural environments, are the promising candidates to swap out the archaic coal and its laggard environmental-socioeconomic industry. Let's put a stop to the systematic dismantling of Appalachia's ecological infrastructure. And continue from there.
Frank Joseph Smecker's work has appeared in the Ecologist, Counterpunch, TruthOut, Order of the Earth, Toward Freedom, Dissident Voice, and other publications. He is also a blogger for the Vermont Commons Journal.
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AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; email@example.com; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: email@example.com; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; email@example.com.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.