A bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives aims to put a moratorium on mountaintop removal coal mining until further health study can be conducted.
The bill was introduced by 13 members of Congress led by Reps. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and Louise Slaughter, D-New York. All sponsors are Democrats in the Republican-controlled House, plus it was introduced late in the session. Both facts work against the bill being enacted into law.
The bill calls for a moratorium on new mountaintop removal coal mines until science "demonstrates the mines will not cost local families their lives and health."
"The Appalachian Communities Health Emergency Act will provide the families in these communities the answers and the protection they deserve," Kucinich said. "Mountaintop mining is a practice in which entire mountaintops are blown up in order to access a seam of coal sitting deep inside the mountain. The evidence is growing that toxic chemicals that are safely sequestered in rock inside the mountain, get released when the mountains are turned inside out."
Kucinich cites two studies on the potential ill health effects of mountaintop removal. In a news release regarding the bill, the representative points out elevated levels of birth defects, groundwater contamination and air pollution.
The bill itself cites concern about coal mining-related circulatory, respiratory, musculoskeletal and gastrointestinal problems.
"These small communities deserve better than to wonder whether their corporate neighbors are poisoning the soil that provides some of their food; the air they breathe; and the water they drink, cook, and bathe with," Kucinich said.
The bill's findings conclude that initial scientific evidence and level of public concern warrant "immediate action to stop new mountaintop removal coal mining permits" and increase monitoring of citizens living near mountaintop removal sites.
The bill, if passed in current form, would prevent new permits until the Secretary of Health and Human Services published a determination that mountaintop removal presents no human health risks.
The bill's short title is the "Appalachian Communities Health Emergency Act'' or the ACHE Act, named for the Stop the ACHE group who advocated for the bill.
Wendell Berry of Stop the ACHE said that "the fate of the land and the fate of the people are inseparable" and that the effects of mountaintop removal surely affect the people as well.
"From that understanding, it is clear that the measures called for in the ACHE Act should have been enacted many years ago," Berry said in a Stop the ACHE news release. "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."
Ginger Danz, a Fayetteville resident, also reacted to news of the bill in the same news release.
"As a mother, this is the best news I've heard in a while," Danz said. "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."