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Congressman John Yarmuth

Representing the 3rd Congressional District of Kentucky

Yarmuth Again Moves to Halt Mountaintop Removal Mining Permits Until Health Effects Studied

March 19, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman John Yarmuth (KY-3) reintroduced H.R. 2073, the Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) Act, legislation to halt all new mountaintop removal coal mining permits until federal officials can examine the practice’s health effects on surrounding communities. Yarmuth’s legislation would task the Department of Health and Human Services with conducting the first-ever comprehensive federal study of the health dangers of the practice.

“For far too long, reckless mountaintop removal mining practices have wreaked havoc on the air, water, and land throughout coal communities,” said Yarmuth. “We also see some of the worst health outcomes in areas surrounding these mining operations, yet to this day there still has not been a single federal health study completed on the risks associated with the practice. Our government should be ensuring the health and safety of its citizens before it considers a single new permit to allow this destruction to continue. We owe it to coal country, to those families, and to our nation’s future.”

In mountaintop removal mining operations, coal companies use heavy machinery and explosives to blast the upper levels of mountains to more easily and cheaply access the coal seams beneath. Mine operators then dispose of the waste in adjacent valleys, leaving mine waste pollution—including dangerous heavy metals like selenium and sulfate—behind in nearby waterways or buried within.

In August of 2016, the Obama administration ordered the first-ever federal health study to be conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, but that study was abruptly halted by the Trump administration in August of 2017. The National Academies panel then formally disbanded in March of 2018.  Yarmuth, along with House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva, led efforts demanding an explanation from the Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) on what led to the cancellation of the study, prompting the Inspector General of the agency to issue a report determining that Interior officials provided no specific evidence or reasoning to halt the study, wasting some $455,000 of taxpayer dollars along the way.

In October of 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 that conclusion, this was the first incident of clear scientific evidence that the process jeopardizes the health of coalfield residents.

“The suffering of those who reside in mountaintop removal communities of Appalachia is not a mystery. The elevated rates of cancer, birth defects and other negative health consequences in these communities is due to silica dust and other toxins generated from blasting mountains into ashes to extract small seams of coal,” said Bo Webb, Chairman of the ACHE Campaign, a grassroots effort to pass the legislation. “This may be an inconvenient truth to the profiteers of mountaintop removal, but it is a plain sad truth to the human suffering that comes with blowing up a mountain directly above the homes of the vulnerable. It is time to finally begin caring for the health of the people in these communities."

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.

A copy of Rep. Yarmuth’s Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act can be found here.