Federal Court Ruling Demonstrates Need for National Mountaintop Removal Legislation

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Citizen Groups Call on Congress to Pass “Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act”
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Adam Beitman, Sierra Club, (202) 675-2385 or adam.beitman@sierraclub.org
Jim Sconyers, Sierra Club, (304) 698-9628, jimscon@gmail.com
Vivian Stockman, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, (304) 360-1979, vivian@ohvec.org
Cindy Rank, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, (304) 924-5802, clrank2@gmail.com
Vernon Haltom, Coal River Mountain Watch, 304-952-4610, vernon@crmw.net

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a ruling this week, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia rejected a challenge by community groups for a permit to start up a new mountaintop removal coal mine in Boone County, West Virginia, near the communities of Peytona and Racine. The court ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers is free to ignore human health risks in making its permitting decision. This is the second case in which a federal court has ruled that the Corps has discretion to ignore peer-reviewed studies which reveal the danger faced by communities located near surface coal mines in Appalachia. In March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld a similar ruling from a U.S. District Court in Kentucky regarding a permit for a Kentucky mine. The West Virginia permit is for Raven Crest Contracting’s Boone #5 mine.

This new ruling in West Virginia demonstrates the need for immediate passage of the Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) Act, HR 526, which would stop all new Mountaintop Removal mining until and unless our government determines it is safe,” said Jim Sconyers, Sierra Club West Virginia Chapter Chair. “Although the evidence of major health impacts continues to grow, Congress is abdicating its responsibility to protect our communities.”

Since 2007, researchers have published more than two dozen peer reviewed studies showing significant negative health consequences to residents of coal-mining communities in Appalachia. These studies show a correlation between mountaintop removal mining and dangerous medical issues including higher rates of birth defects, certain forms of cancer, higher heart, lung and kidney disease rates and a lower life expectancy than the average American. All of the studies account for other socio-economic variables that might be present in rural Appalachia. Notably, the District Court’s decision did not question the validity of these studies.

“It’s outrageous that our own government claims it doesn’t have to consider the health of its citizens,” said Vivian Stockman of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. “The policy that was upheld by the District Court lets the Obama administration ignore the evidence of increased risks of cancer, heart disease, and other serious, even deadly, health problems from mountaintop removal coal mines. This policy puts Appalachian people at risk. The system is clearly broken and needs to be fixed.”

“It’s high time that the Congress starts taking these studies seriously. Continued approval of these destructive mines is harmful to the health of anyone living near them, and should be stopped immediately through legislation” said Cynthia Ellis, President of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

"Again, we're told that no agency has to consider the health of people living near mountaintop removal. Again, we're told that our lives don't matter.” said Debbie Jarrell Co-Director of Coal River Mountain Watch. “This is why we need the Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) Act, HR 526. The ACHE Act would halt new or expanded mountaintop removal until the federal government can prove that this abominable practice does not harm our health." 



About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.4 million members and supporters nationwide. In addition to creating opportunities for people of all ages, levels and locations to have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and litigation. For more information, visit http://www.sierraclub.org.

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