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Yarmuth Reintroduces Legislation to Halt Mountaintop Removal Mining Permits Until Health Consequences Studied

WASHINGTON– Today, Congressman John Yarmuth (KY-3) reintroduced H.R. 2050, the Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) Act, legislation that would halt all new mountaintop coal removal mining permits until federal officials examine health consequences in 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.

“While there is already strong evidence that mountaintop removal mining destroys our mountains, pollutes our air and water, and impacts the lives of all who reside in nearby communities, there has never been a federal study of the health risks associated with this reckless method,” said Yarmuth. “The Federal government should not be approving mining permits until it can truthfully say to local residents that their health will not be jeopardized and their lives will not be put at risk.”

The Obama administration had previously ordered a health study to be conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, in August of 2016, but that study was halted by the Trump administration in August of 2017. Yarmuth, along with House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva, has formally demanded 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.

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

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.

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.

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