Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

 

Press Release

June 6, 2012

Contact: Dana Kuhnline at 304-825-3262 or Dana@AppalachiaRising.org
Andrew Munn at 304-731-1740 to speak directly with people involved in the action

Constituents Sit In Representatives’ Offices for an End to Mountaintop Removal

Residents say Appalachia Deserves Better: Congressmen Must Take Action to Prevent Increases in Cancer, Birth Defects and Other Severe Health Impacts Linked to MTR

WASHINGTON, D.C. — This morning residents from West Virginia joined residents from three other states severely impacted by mountaintop removal coal mining in congressional office sit-ins in protest of their congressional representatives’ refusal to protect their communities from the extreme impacts of mountaintop removal. Constituents are currently occupying the offices of Congressmen Nick Rahall (D-WV), Hal Rogers (R-KY), Morgan Griffith (R-VA) and Jimmy Duncan (R-TN).

“We came here to let people know, in this nation and around the world, that the people of Appalachia count,” said Larry Gibson of Kayford Mountain, W. Va. “We count. We aren’t going to be dismissed. We aren’t going to be ignored any longer.” 

The asks of the protesters include an end to mountaintop removal, requests for Rahall to tour a mountaintop removal site and visit with citizens who have been negatively impacted by mountaintop removal, and to stop obstructing legislation, such as include the Clean Water Protection Act (HR 1375), that would curtail the worst impacts of mountaintop removal.

With 21 recent peer-reviewed studies highlighting the extreme health impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining, citizens from Appalachia are demanding that Congress protect their communities. According to Gallup’s physical well-being index, these districts have the highest rates of sickness in the United States. In addition, districts with mountaintop removal face some of the highest poverty rates in the United States, with 37.3 percent of the children in Hal Roger’s district (KY-05) living below the poverty line.

The studies have confirmed devastating health impacts; citizens near mountaintop removal are 50 percent more likely to die of cancer and 42 percent more likely to be born with birth defects compared with other people in Appalachia. Mountaintop removal is responsible for public health costs of a staggering $75 billion a year. An additional 60,000 cases of cancer have been linked to the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining.

“Representative Rahall is not taking these studies or our health seriously. If they could actually see these waters, see what’s been done to our homes, see the children that are sick and the people that are dying, then maybe they’d be willing to do something about it,” said Donna Branham of Mingo County, West Virginia.

This is one of many incidents in the last month that signal an increase in the urgency of the campaign to end mountaintop removal. In addition to citizens traveling to Washington, D.C. to address the issue, concerned citizens from Appalachia have blocked train tracks, stopped coal trucks, stopped a coal barge, and walked across Pennsylvania and Virginia to bring attention to the devastating health impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining. Nearly 20 Appalachian women recently shaved their heads as an act of mourning and protest of mountaintop removal.

“I never thought I would be cutting my hair off on the West Virginia Capitol steps. I never thought I would be in D.C. talking to Congress, and I never thought I would be risking arrest. But as a mother, I would cut off my foot for my children. As a mother, whatever it takes, I will do it for my children,” said Paula Swearingen of West Virginia, “And I will not allow mountaintop removal to continue to poison my children.”

Mountaintop removal coal mining relies on heavy explosives to blast off several hundred feet of mountain to expose coal seams, and has impacted over 500 mountains in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee to date. According to the EPA, the practice has also buried or destroyed more than 2,000 miles of streams in those states.

Appalachian coal-mining regions have traditionally had high rates of unemployment, even prior to the current economic downturn, and the Central Appalachian region contends with some of the highest poverty rates in the country. According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration, because the mechanized nature of mountaintop removal replaces men with explosives and large equipment, underground mines produce more jobs than mountaintop removal mines for the same amount of coal produced. Ending mountaintop removal could create more jobs in coal in the short term, and open up the possibility for a better economic future.

Photos and interviews available by contacting Dana Kuhnline at 304-825-3262 or Dana@AppalachiaRising.org

For more information on health studies visit ilovemountains.org/the-human-cost

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