Willie Nelson Against Mountaintop Removal Mining

By Allen Hershkowitz, NRDC Senior Scientist, New York. Originally published on the NRDC Switchboard blog.

Willie Nelson opposes mountaintop removal coal mining, and this week NRDC released a video of his iconic song America the Beautiful that was donated by Willie to help draw attention to this extreme form of coal mining. Despite the shift by 130 U.S. power plants away from coal, mountaintop removal mining continues to ravish Appalachian communities. Willie, whom Emmylou Harris called “The Voice of America,” turned 80 this year and this video underscores Willie’s life-long commitment to so many important community preservation causes. With the release of this video, Willie joins many other music artists speaking out against MTR, including Emmylou Harris, Dave Mathews, Sheryl Crow, Ashley Judd, Kathy Matea, Kenny Alpin and others. [See video upper right]

Willie Nelson is arguably the single most visible advocate for bio-based transportation fuels. He’s the nation’s fiercest advocate for local family farms, an animal rights advocate and a passionate spokesperson for sustainable communities more generally. Willie Nelson is widely recognized as an American icon. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993, and he received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1998. In 2011 he was inducted to the National Agricultural Hall of Fame, for his labor in Farm Aid and other fund raisers to benefit farmers. In 2003 Texas Governor Rick Perry established the Texas Music Project, the state's official music charity, and Willie was named Honorary Chairman of the Advisory Board of the project.

And Willie Nelson is a passionate advocate against mountaintop removal coal mining. Previously he lent his rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin in the Wind” to the soundtrack of the movie Coal Country. The release this week by NRDC of his rendition of America the Beautiful is Willie’s first video to focus on mountaintop removal coal mining.

Scientists, environmental groups, the country music industry, the Southern Baptist Church, the Catholic Church, the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church have all taken official positions against mountaintop removal coal mining, and for good reason: it is the most destructive form of coal mining. And it is taking place in some of the most biologically diverse temperate forestland on Earth, threatening the rarest of god’s creations, and some of our most vulnerable citizens and children.

And mountaintop removal coal mining is also adversely affecting human health. According to a peer reviewed scientific study published in Science Magazine by a distinguished group of researchers from diverse fields, including several members of the National Academy of Sciences:

“The scientific evidence of the severe environmental and human impacts from mountaintop mining is strong and irrefutable. Its impacts are pervasive and long lasting and there is no evidence that any mitigation practices successfully reverse the damage it causes.”

And yet, mountaintop removal goes on, day after day, destroying forests, polluting water, destroying jobs, and worsening public health.

Willie Nelson’s America the Beautiful video against mountaintop removal coal mining will not by itself stop the practice, but it does lend another powerful, honorable and notable voice to the struggle against it, urging regulators and coal companies to stop destroying what is most beautiful and sacred about our country in order to acquire the dirtiest fossil fuel.