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February 15, 2013
Bill would hit mountaintop mining with moratorium

Two Democratic lawmakers–one from Kentucky, the other from New York–have introduced legislation that would prohibit issuance of federal permits to begin or expand mountaintop mining in Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Virginia until federal agencies complete a comprehensive study on the impact pollution from such projects has on the health of individuals in surrounding communities. 

The Appalachian Communities Health Emergency Act (HR 526) is the collaboration of Reps. John Yarmuth (KY-3D) and Louise Slaughter (NY-25D).  Slaughter, a 14-term Representative, was born in Lynch, Kentucky, a coal-mining town, and is the only microbiologist in Congress.

Scientific evidence

In a joint statement, Yarmuth and Slaughter state that anecdotal evidence that has long linked mountaintop mining to diseases found in neighboring communities is now being supported by scientific studies.  Diseases cited by the lawmakers include birth defects, lung cancer, and chronic heart, lung, and kidney disease.  “These health problems strike both women and men in mountaintop removal coal mining communities,” states the legislation.  “These elevated levels of disease, defects, and mortality persist even after controlling for other variables.”

Under the bill, the health studies would be led by the director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences with support from the EPA and other agencies the director deems appropriate.  Following receipt of the final report, the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) would publish a determination on the health risks mountaintop mining poses to individuals in the surrounding communities.

Continuous monitoring

Until the HHS determination is published, HR 526 would prohibit the Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA, and the Department of Interior from issuing permits to authorize mountaintop mining. 
Also until the determination is published, the bill would require that any person conducting mountaintop mining conduct continuous air, water, and soil monitoring and specifically identify how affected communities might be exposed to pollution.   The data and analyses would need to be submitted to HHS monthly. 

Furthermore, persons conducting mountaintop removal projects anywhere in the United States would be required to pay onetime fees sufficient to recover the federal costs of conducting the health study as well as the cost of an enforcement program.  

Click here for HR 526.

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