Mountaintop Removal Must End

Marsh Fork Elementary-and the rest of Appalachia-are still being threatened by mountaintop-removal coal mining. Can new legislation finally stop this devastating practice?

I'm haunted by this photo. It's of a school-Marsh Fork Elementary in Sundial, West Virginia-precariously set about 400 feet downhill from a massive 2.8-billion-gallon pool of toxic coal sludge. The image, annotated and uploaded by the advocacy group Appalachian Voices, has been boiling my blood since I first saw it a couple years back. About 200 students spend their schooldays there. It's a disaster waiting to happen.Massey Energy's slurry pond is held in place in the hollow above the school by a leaky dam. These dams don't have the best track record. One Massey dam failed in 2000, dumping 300 million gallons of sludge into streams in Martin County, Kentucky. More harrowing was the 1972 Buffalo Creek disaster, where a dam gave way and, according to the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, "in a matter of minutes, 118 were dead and over 4,000 people were left homeless. Seven were never found."If the Marsh Fork dam were to break, students would have about 17 seconds before the sludge reached their school.But it's not just the threat from above that's troubling. Note the coal loading silo a mere 150 feet from the school. The air inside the building is laden with coal dust, notorious for containing known carcinogens and causing a batch of respiratory ailments. Both of these dangers, the lake of toxic coal sludge and the silos that contaminate the air, are byproducts of nearby mountaintop-removal coal mining. Local parents have fought to shut down Massey's operation there to allow for their children a basic right-a safe and healthy place to learn. But in Appalachia, Big Coal tends to get its way.Of all the stubborn, sorry ways we keep ourselves tethered to a fossil fuel-based economy, nothing is as bang-my-head-on-the-desk outrageously bullheaded and dangerous as mountaintop-removal. The practice-essentially blowing the tops off of mountains to get at the coal seams beneath-is so catastrophically destructive that it seems like something that we'd be frowning upon from afar, an archaic system used in China or South America or some former Soviet state. But it's happening here in America-in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, on a scale that's virtually unimaginable, laying waste to our national land heritage and ruining communities. Our hands are all dirty (most Americans rely on coal-fired electricity), but many aren't even aware of this great ongoing sin that plagues the Appalachian region and its people.Dave Roberts at Grist has long called coala March op-ed for the Washington Post, Robert Kennedy Jr. called M.T.R. "the greatest environmental tragedy ever to befall our nation," explaining that it "has already flattened the tops of 500 mountains, buried 2,000 miles of streams, devastated our country's oldest and most diverse temperate forests, and blighted landscapes famous for their history and beauty."As with the very visible threat to the students of Sundial, the vast scale of mountaintop removal's devastation really must be seen to be believed. Appalachian Voices' I Love Mountains site is a good place to give yourself a virtual "tour" of this great tragedy. (Start with this eye-popping Flickr set.)There is, thank goodness, hope for a legal fix. Back in 2002, the Bush administration enacted a "fill rule" that essentially (and illegally, many argue) allowed for coal companies to dump mine debris into streams by expanding the definition of "fill" in the Clean Water Act. (Streams had been afforded a 100-foot buffer from mine waste, an important protection, though one that already was rarely enforced.)President Obama could overturn this rule with a stroke of the pen, and his EPA could be empowered to enforce it. At the moment, there are also bills in the House (the Clean Water Protection Act) and Senate (the Appalachia Restoration Act) that would dramatically restrict mountaintop-removal coal mining, while protecting the clean drinking water for many cities and the quality of life for scores of Appalachian residents. Last Thursday, a Senate subcommittee held a hearing on their version of the bill, and it looks likely the votes will be there to pass up for a full Senate vote. (Check out this liveblog of the hearing by NRDC's Rob Perks and the Appalachian Voices response.)We must demand an end to mountaintop-removal coal mining. For the sake of our world's oldest mountains, for our country's most historic and diverse forests, for the rivers and streams and ecosystems that depend on them, for our atmosphere and our air. But, most importantly, for the sake of the Appalachian people whose livelihoods, health, and, yes, lives are at risk.NOW WHAT:Contact your representatives and President Obama about mountaintop-removal.
via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

At the age of 15, he was given to Thomas Auld, a cruel man who beat and starved his slaves and thwarted any opportunity for them to practice their faith or to learn to read or write.

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via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

RELATED: He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

RELATED: 'High Castle' producers destroyed every swastika used on the show and the video is oh-so satisfying

In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

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via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

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In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?


Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

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