Researchers have published two new studies linking water contamination caused by mountaintop removal mining to adverse health effects, further proof that the practice is not only destroying the environment but is also destroying human lives in the communities around it. The first study, published in June, linked MTR to higher rates of birth defects in surrounding communities. The second, released this week, found that multiple forms of cancer were twice as prevalent in MTR communities than they were elsewhere.
Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), meanwhile, continues to ignore the implications of these studies, paying them lip service while sponsoring legislation that will further undermine the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate coal companies and other polluters. Despite calling the incest claims “disgusting” and “uncalled for,” Rahall refused to say what action he would take on the studies multiple times in a recent interview with the Charleston Gazette, saying the studies made no recommendation for what action should be taken:
Well, first of all, I don’t find in these studies, certainly not the latest one that is, where they make any recommendation as to what we should do about mountaintop mining.
In reality, the studies called for specific actions, including strengthening existing EPA regulations. From the birth defects study:
Existing regulations to protect air and water quality in mountain-top mining areas may be inadequate, and enforcement of those regulations has been lax, though recent efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency may be moving in the direction of stricter regulations. The findings documented in this study con tribute to the growing evidence that mountaintop mining is done at substantial expense to the environment, to local economies and to human health.
Unfortunately, Rahall and Congressional Republicans are taking the exact opposite approach. Rahall co-sponsored legislation, passed by the House last week, that would gut the EPA’s ability to enforce the Clean Water Act. Instead of strengthening the EPA, which Rahall has accused of “strong-arming the states,” it would end its ability to restrict “dredge-and-fill” mining permits issued by the Corps of Engineers. The EPA would no longer be able to step in if it deemed state water quality standards to weak or withdraw its approval for of state water pollution regulatory policies.
Rahall claims he is taking the studies seriously. But his actions in Congress continue to tell a different story. In response to a guidance document on water quality standards and surface mining released by the EPA last week, Rahall again took the chance to criticize the agency, saying it had “appointed itself judge, jury and executioner” and “deemed itself Almighty God.”