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New Bill Puts People's Health before Mountaintop Removal Permits

Melissa Waage

Posted June 20, 2012

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There is good news today in the fight to to protect Appalachian communities from the health effects of mountaintop removal mining. Yesterday Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) , Louise Slaughter (D-NY), and eleven other House members introduced The Appalachian Communities Health Emergency ("ACHE") Act (H.R.5959). This bill rightly focuses on answering the serious questions about mountaintop removal’s health impacts, placing a moratorium on new Clean Water Act permits for mountaintop removal until further health studies are conducted.

The ACHE Act is a prudent response to the growing body of research suggesting that the destruction of mountaintops and valley streams across Appalachia is a physical as well as visual insult to those who live in its shadow. The evidence linking mountaintop removal mining with serious health impacts has been accumulating for years. Studies published in the last several years have linked mountaintop removal mining to higher rates of cancer, birth defects, and chronic heart, lung, and kidney disease in nearby communities.

As my colleague Allen Hershkowitz has argued, the existing indications of environmental and human harm warrant an immediate moratorium on new mountaintop removal permits, and they absolutely warrant further scientific investigation supported by the federal government.

It’s important to get this right the first time. The environmental consequences of mountaintop removal are proving to be long-lasting, resistant to mitigation, or even irreversible. Last year, Duke University researchers found that in addition to contamination from MTR mines being cumulative, mine sites abandoned decades ago still continue to contaminate waterways. In 2010, an interdisciplinary team of researchers reviewed science on the impacts of mountaintop removal across several fields in a study published in Science magazine. They concluded that “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.”

Peer-reviewed science has raised clear and serious questions about how mountaintop removal affects public health in nearby communities. The sponsors of the ACHE Act are to be applauded for their work to defend people from “strip mining on steroids.”

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LHJun 20 2012 03:54 PM

I put on my tinfoil hat to read the actual Act, and this is what I came away with:

"blah blah blah...job killing regulation...blah blah...fringe environmental extremists..blah...out-of-state interests....blah blah....TAX...big government bureaucrats....communism"

I'm 100% in favor of this, but it has 0% chance of becoming law.

Bo WebbJun 21 2012 04:39 PM

LH, I think I understand your intent to predict reaction to the bill, and you may be correct, but understand one thing totally different about this bill. This bill was inspired by, and written in draft with people most affected by and witness to the reality of living in mtr communities. The Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) campaign was founded by those same people, who were fed up with watching neighbors, friends and relatives die all too young and decided they were going to do something about it. We are not "outsiders" or "treehuggers", or extreme enviro's. We are the victims. And no longer will we wait for someone to come along and save us. We are going to save ourselves. Not to say we don't need help, because we do, we need all the help we can get. But, we understand all too well what we need to do to end this nightmare and we are committed to see this bill pass. It is the only bill that will end MTR. Every caring organization and caring person should get behind this bill and embrace it. It does the job.

Bo WebbJun 21 2012 04:46 PM

In my haste to respond to LH I neglected to thank Melissa Waage and our friends at NRDC who have always been supportive of our work.
We are very grateful for all the work they do on mountaintop removal and other unjust issues as well.

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