Coal Tattoo

The Gazette’s Dr. Paul Nyden did a piece the other day about a hearing that was being held by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation about growing concerns regarding concussions being suffered by young athletes, and about the safety of the equipment those kids use. Paul explained:

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, W.Va., held a hearing Wednesday about the growing number of brain concussions suffered by athletes, particularly in high school, and the questionable marketing of “anti-concussion” or “concussion-reducing” sports equipment.

Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said, “Every afternoon at the end of the school day, millions of our children head to playing fields, gymnasiums or hockey rinks to participate in team sports.

Now, this is clearly and important issue, and West Virginians can be proud that our now-senior senator is taking a role in trying to dig into and deal with the issue.  But frankly, it reminded me of the fact that my good friend Sen. Rockefeller doesn’t want to talk about the growing body of peer-reviewed studies about a potential link between mountaintop removal and increased rates of cancer, birth defects and other illnesses among his constituents who live near these giant mining operations. You remember the studies, like the one that found:

The odds for reporting cancer were twice as high in the mountaintop mining environment compared to the non-mining environment in ways not explained by age, sex, smoking, occupational exposure, or family cancer history.

There are 1.2 million people who live in mountaintop coal mining counties in central Appalachia based on 2010 US Census data. If the rates found in this study represent the region, a 5% higher cancer rate (14.4% vs. 9.4%) translates to an additional 60,000 people with cancer in central Appalachian mountaintop mining counties.

Remember that not so long ago I asked to interview Sen. Rockefeller about the West Virginia University studies on this issue, and was told by his staff:

I doubt we can make it happen, Ken. Another time.

Well, how about another time?

You see, the committee that Sen. Rockefeller chairs, while perhaps not having direct oversight over EPA or OSMRE or other mining regulatory agencies, does indeed have broad jurisdiction over “science, engineering, and technology research and development and policy.”

Wouldn’t it be a public service for Sen. Rockefeller to have WVU’s Dr. Michael Hendryx and other experts — perhaps including the University of Maryland’s Dr. Margaret Palmer — come and testify about their work looking into the science of mountaintop removal impacts? Officials from EPA and OSMRE could come, too. And folks from the coal-mining industry could provide a witness who could explain exactly what the industry thinks is wrong with the data or methodology of these studies.