Jun 19, 2012
Lawmakers concerned about the health effects on humans from mountaintop removal coal mining set forth legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives today. Representatives Dennis Kucinich (OH), Louise Slaughter (NY), Maurice Hinchey (NY), Earl Blumenauer (OR), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA), John Yarmuth (KY), Lynn Woolsey (CA), Judy Chu (CA), Raúl Grijalva (AZ), James Moran (VA), Michael Honda (CA), John Conyers (MI), and Keith Ellison (MN) introduced the Appalachian Communities Health Emergency (ACHE) Act [H.R. 5959] which would place a moratorium on permitting for mountaintop removal coal mining until health studies are conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services.
With more than 20 peer-reviewed research studies published about the human health impact of mountaintop removal on the lives of those living within close proximity to an active mine site, legislation to protect communities is critical and long overdue.
Author Wendell Berry agreed, "As certain people of the Eastern Kentucky coalfields helped me to understand nearly 50 years ago, the fate of the land and the fate of the people are inseparable. Whatever affects the health of the land must affect the health of the people.
"From that understanding, it is clear that the measures called for in the ACHE Act should have been enacted many years ago," said Berry. "Granted even a minimal concern for the health of the land and people, and even minimal respect for the findings of science, the need for this bill now is obvious."
News of this bill brought reaction from a number of people with various backgrounds. Said longtime community activist Bo Webb, "The Appalachian Communities Health Emergency (ACHE) Act offers an opportunity to all House members to put differences aside and swiftly pass a bill that will protect the health and lives of the unborn."
Ginger Danz, resident of Fayetteville, WV, reacted, "As a mother, this is the best news I've heard in a while. My daughter's health is the reason I got interested in learning more about mountaintop removal in West Virginia, and the research I have done scares me. A 42 percent higher risk of birth defects in mountaintop removal communities is beyond unacceptable; not to mention elevated rates of cancer and heart disease related to this particular type of mining. I am very relieved that someone is finally listening to the people of Appalachia and getting the word out about the dangers to our health."
Father John Rausch, a Glenmary priest, commented: "I've heard direct testimony from a woman who unknowingly bathed her 3-year old daughter in arsenic laced water from mountaintop removal. I've also heard numerous stories about children developing asthma living near mountaintop removal sites and teens getting tumors and gallstones from mountaintop removal-tainted water. Is it a coincidence that people close to mountaintop removal suffer these sicknesses more frequently? Prudence, a cardinal virtue, tells us to stop and check the process. The Appalachian Communities Health Emergency Act puts health and safety first. Ultimately, it is immoral to sacrifice the health of our children for cheap electricity!"
In his essay, Coal Must Embrace the Future, the late West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd wrote: "Most members of Congress, like most Americans, oppose the practice, and we may not yet fully understand the effects of mountaintop removal mining on the health of our citizens." In 2010 he added, "If blasting and digging and relocating streams unearths harmful elements and releases them into the environment causing illness and death, that process should be halted and the resulting hazards to the community abated."
The Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) organization, a vocal proponent of protecting human health from the effects of mountaintop removal, applauds Representatives Kucinich, Slaughter and the many other co-sponsors for introducing this bill and making the choice to heed those cautionary words spoken by Senator Byrd. Also to be commended are the many other environmental and community groups and countless individuals across Appalachia for their tireless work to stop mountaintop removal coal mining.
The Appalachian Communities Health Emergency Act is supported by the national environmental groups Earthjustice and the Sierra Club, as well as West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. The Appalachian Community Health Emergency campaign is a collaborative grassroots effort established by Christians for The Mountains, Coal River Mountain Watch, and Mountain Health & Heritage Association.