Dem bill would halt new mountaintop coal mines pending health study

House Democrats introduced legislation Tuesday to combat illnesses associated with coal pollution.

Sponsored by Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), the legislation would require a comprehensive study of the health dangers related to mountaintop removal coal mining – the practice of blowing the tops off mountains to access the coal inside.

More controversially, the bill would also halt all new mountaintop coal projects until the health study is complete.

Supporters of the measure maintain it will protect neighboring communities from the heavy metals and other toxins that are exposed during the mining process.

“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 said Tuesday in a statement.

The Democrats’ bill, he added, “will stop new mountaintop removal coal mines until the science clearly demonstrates the mines will not cost these hard working communities their health or their lives.”

Popular in the Appalachian states, mountaintop removal refers to the technique in which miners use dynamite to blast away mountain peaks in order to access the coal seams within. In the process, the trees, soil, rock and other debris are often pushed into adjacent valleys, burying tiny streams that form the headwaters of larger bodies of water below.

The process has been attractive to coal companies because it eliminates labor and trucking costs. But it’s also ravaged local communities by poisoning wells and waterways, contaminating air, killing off wildlife and flooding nearby homes. Researchers have linked the process to cancer and other serious health conditions.

Roughly 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams have been buried already by mountaintop projects, according to government estimates.

The Democrats’ bill would provide funding for researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences — a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) — to study the public health effects of mountaintop mining projects. The funding would come from fees levied on the mining companies themselves.

The Democrats’ bill has no chance of being considered in the GOP-controlled House. But it is indication that some high-profile Democrats remain dedicated to their environmentalist and public-health base even in the face of warnings from the coal industry that tougher monitoring of mountaintop removal projects will kill jobs in an already depressed corner of the country.

“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.

Aside from Slaughter and Kucinich, 11 Democrats have endorsed the bill, including Rep. Lynn Woolsey (Calif.), Judy Chu (Calif.), John Yarmuth (Ky.), Michael Honda (Calif.), Jim Moran (Va.), Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), Lucille Roybal-Allard (Calif.), Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), Maurice Hinchey (N.Y.) and Keith Ellison (Minn.).



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