Mountaintop removal coal mining site in Kentucky
This week, we got some disappointing news – a judge ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers isn’t responsible for considering the health effects of coal pollution when it issues permits to fill valleys with rubble from mountaintop-removal coal mines. As Appalachian residents continue to suffer every year from well-documented health problems linked to mountaintop removal, this decision highlights a deadly loophole that requires long-overdue action from the White House and Congress.

Responsibility is a tricky thing. In our daily lives we work to be conscientious of our bills, our taxes, our family lives and a myriad of other duties that come up every day. But what happens when say, no one in the house takes responsibility for the dirty dishes? They keep piling up and things get pretty nasty.

Now, instead of dishes, think about what happens when no one chooses to take responsibility for the terrible effects coal pollution has on public health. From soot and smog to asthma, cancer and heart attacks, things go from nasty to life-threatening.

That’s exactly what’s happening right now in Kentucky where a court ruled (PDF) in essence that the Army Corps doesn’t need to consider the health problems caused by mountaintop-removal coal mining because the Corps is only responsible for issuing permits that allow stream destruction associated with the mining, not the mining operation itself, even though the Corps admits that the mining operation could not go forward without the permit it issued. The crux of this ruling is that no one is currently taking responsibility for mining pollution that poses a serious threat to our health, waterways and communities.

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Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps and the Kentucky Division of Mining Permits all have the ability to protect our health, but they’re currently all saying “it’s not my problem.”

This Appalachian health crisis isn’t one that can be solved by pointing fingers. The statistics are staggering: the health care costs associated with mountaintop-removal coal mining in Appalachia is estimated to be $80 billion per year. Further, roughly 60,000 additional cases of cancer can be attributed to the process and significantly higher rates of birth defects are just two of the many additional health issues facing residents in mining communities.

Simply put, we’re having the wrong conversation. Solutions to the Appalachian health crisis, and who’s responsible for ensuring safe, healthy communities, shouldn’t be a game of hot potato. We’re deeply disappointed in the Army Corps for again arguing against the best interests of the communities it serves.

It’s up to the Environmental Protection Agency to create and enforce strong clean water and mining health protections. The Army Corps has a responsibility to take into consideration dangers to human health in its work. Congress should ensure that mountaintop-removal mining ceases to be a cause of human pain and suffering in Appalachia by passing the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act, which would halt new permits for mountaintop removal while requiring  the federal government to complete a comprehensive health study of its effects. And every state where coal mining occurs should work to ensure that coal companies aren’t writing or ignoring rules meant to protect our communities’ health.

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With hundreds of thousands reeling in the aftermath of coal pollution spills in West Virginia and North Carolina, its more clear than ever that we need to close these loopholes, and protect our health, our families, and our communities.

Image courtesy of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.