Reps. Yarmuth, Slaughter Introduce Legislation to Halt New Mountaintop Removal Permits Until Health Consequences Studied
WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman John Yarmuth (KY-3) and Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (NY-25) reintroduced the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act, legislation that would place a moratorium on all new mountaintop coal removal mining permits while federal officials examine health consequences to surrounding communities. The bill would authorize the first comprehensive federal study of the health dangers of the practice.
“Mountaintop removal poses a dangerous threat to clean air, clean water, and the health and safety of the residents of coal communities throughout our nation,” said Rep. Yarmuth. “As this administration is sure to expand the use of this reckless practice, it’s imperative that our government conduct a comprehensive federal study of the health risks of this harmful mining method and provide coal community families with the information and answers they are rightfully owed. I believe mountaintop removal should be banned, but at a minimum we should halt all new permits until the safety of the residents in the surrounding communities is assured.”
“Every American has a right to live and raise their family in a safe and healthy environment,” said Rep. Slaughter, a native of Harlan County, KY whose father was the blacksmith for a coal mine. “Reckless, profit-driven mining practices that contaminate the air and water all too often infringe on that right and put the health of entire communities at risk. The scientific evidence is clear, and we should place a moratorium on further mountaintop coal removal until we can ensure that families in these communities are safe.”
The ACHE Act would require the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a comprehensive study to determine the health effects of mountaintop removal mining. In October 2014, a team of scientists from West Virginia University’s Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center, released the first-ever study showing a direct connection between mountaintop removal coal mining dust and increased lung cancer rates. While there has long been anecdotal evidence to support this conclusion, we now have clear scientific evidence this process jeopardizes the health of coalfield residents.
In mountaintop removal mining operations, coal companies use heavy machinery and explosives to remove the upper levels of mountains to more easily access the coal seams beneath. Mine operators dispose of the waste in adjacent valleys. Mine waste pollution—including dangerous heavy metals such as selenium and sulfate—often contaminates or buries waterways in the valleys.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, mountaintop removal mining operations have buried or polluted nearly 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams. These are primary water sources for hundreds of families and entire communities.
Mountaintop removal mining is largely mechanized and requires far fewer miners than traditional underground mining. In Kentucky, the increase in mountaintop removal mining operations has coincided with a steep decline in the number of active miners since the practice became legal 40 years ago, according to the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet.