Some Congressmen Want to Halt Appalachian Mountaintop Coal Mining
WASHINGTON – Residents of Appalachian states warned about severe health and environmental consequences from renewed mountaintop coal mining during a congressional hearing Tuesday.
Lawmakers called the hearing to address concerns raised by Trump administration policies to loosen environmental restrictions on coal mining.
An occupational health expert at the hearing of the House Natural Resources subcommittee on energy and mineral resources said mountaintop mining stirs up dangerous microparticles that pollute the air.
A Kentucky mining official denied coal mining is a health hazard.
Michael McCawley, a professor from West Virginia University’s department of occupational and environmental health sciences, described a study he completed of air pollution near mountaintop mines in southern West Virginia.
“My findings clearly show that there is causal evidence to believe the air pollution levels in this region are sufficient to account for an increased prevalence of disease,” McCawley said in his testimony.
The mining produces “ultrafine particulate matter” that is largely undetectable but can lodge in people’s lungs and other tissues, he said.
“These ultramicroscopic sized particles have been found to be highly inflammatory when living cells are exposed to them,” McCawley said.
Some health officials say the particles contribute to lung disease, cancer, birth defects and early death of residents and workers.
McCawley spoke in favor of the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act. It is a bill in Congress that would require a moratorium on new permits for mountaintop mineral removal in central Appalachia.
The moratorium would continue until the federal government completes a study of health effects from mountaintop mining.
The bill was introduced by Representative John Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat, first in 2013 but again this year. He testified at the subcommittee hearing Tuesday.
He held up a bottle of a colored “liquid” that he said was supposed to be tap water taken from the well of a family home in Pike County, Kentucky.
The water was contaminated when arsenic seeped into the family’s well from blasting at nearby mines. The arsenic was 130 times higher than the level the Environmental Protection Agency classifies as safe, he said.
Mining companies sometimes use mountaintop explosions for blasting apart slopes to expose seams of coal.
“To this day, no federal health study has ever been conducted to examine the role mountaintop removal mining has on the health and wellness of nearby communities,” Yarmuth said.
The National Academy of Sciences started a study during the Obama administration but it was halted shortly after President Donald Trump took office.
Tyler White, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, said the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act could create economic hardship for miners. It could “set a staggering precedent that could affect mining nationwide,” he said.
He denied assertions that mining is a health hazard. The mining industry tests workers and communities near the mines to ensure they are safe, White said.
Residents of mining communities described dilemmas created for them by the mining.
Carl Shoupe, a disabled miner representing the advocacy group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, urged Congress to halt strip mining because of its environmental devastation.
He lives in the small town of Benham, where mines have altered the landscape.
“It’s something like a half-million acres of trees and beautiful mountaintops that they’ve destroyed,” he said. “That has to be put back.”
Donna Branham, a Lenore, W. Va., resident, discussed the limited opportunities mining offers people in her community. When mines close, “Many people lose their jobs,” she said. “It is hard and economically impossible sometimes to move your family to a different area and make a living.”
However, many residents have relied on mining for generations, making them believe the hardships are part of their lifestyles.
“They think that’s the only way of life we can have,” she said.
In The News
ATLANTA — The federal government’s top infectious disease official attempted to reassure the public Thursday that he’ll support safety standards set by federal officials for any COVID-19 vaccines and their work won’t be swayed by politics. “If (U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials) come and say... Read More
WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi has directed House committee leaders to put together a more slender coronavirus relief package than the one that previously passed the chamber, in their latest offer in talks with the White House. The House could vote on that as-yet-unreleased $2.4 trillion... Read More
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — More than three-and-a-half years into his presidency and 40 days from an election, President Donald Trump on Thursday launched what aides termed a “vision” for health care heavy on unfulfilled aspirations. “This is affirmed, signed, and done, so we can put that... Read More
WASHINGTON – In its second report ranking members of the U.S. House of Representatives for their votes on legislation related to toxic chemicals, the Environmental Working Group Action Fund presented Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-N.Y., with a perfect score. Much of Delgado’s environmental initiatives concern man-made substances... Read More
WASHINGTON -- A congressional panel sought assurances Wednesday that veterans’ claims of illnesses from exposure to toxins in the Middle East will be addressed promptly. A House Veterans Affairs subcommittee was responding to a National Academy of Sciences report this month describing alarming health problems for... Read More
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the typically reserved infectious disease expert, put Sen. Rand Paul on blast during a testy congressional hearing Wednesday after the Kentucky Republican trash-talked New York’s coronavirus response. Paul, who remains skeptical of face masks and social distancing despite contracting COVID-19 in March, posited... Read More