Coal Tattoo

Earlier this week, a collection of House Democrats in Washington re-introduced legislation aimed at requiring the federal government to more fully examine the growing science that links living near a mountaintop removal mine with increased risks of series illnesses and premature death. We’ve written about this legislation before here and here.

Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky. and one of the bill’s lead sponsors, said:

Mountaintop removal coal mining destroys entire ecosystems and contaminates the water supplies in mining communities, making people sick and jeopardizing their safety. This legislation will provide families in these communities the answers they need and the protection they deserve. If it can’t be proven that mountaintop removal mining is safe, we shouldn’t allow it to continue.

Yarmuth’s press release correctly explained:

Evidence is mounting that people living in communities near mountaintop removal coal mining sites are at an elevated risk for a range of major health problems. While there has long been anecdotal evidence to support this conclusion, recent peer-reviewed research has examined the question more systematically and revealed compelling results.

One alert Coal Tattoo reader wondered what Rep. Nick Rahall — whose district is home to more mountaintop removal than any other — made of this renewed legislative effort. Of course, we had a long interview with Rep. Rahall about this a while back (nearly two years ago now) here on this blog.  A couple of key points made at the time by Rep. Rahall:

As the study says, additional investigation is necessary, and if these threats are proven, we need to be informed, we need to do whatever we can to reduce these threats. We ought to know more. We ought to be open to exploring solutions.

That blog post continued:

Fine … so what exactly is Rep. Rahall doing to try to encourage or even require such additional studies and investigations? Remember — most of the mountaintop removal is occurring in his district, his home, the Southern West Virginia coalfields he’s represented in Washington since 1977. Has he contacted any agencies or requested a review by anyone of the findings?

I have not yet, because I’m ascertaining as to which are those relevant agencies, and which could do the best job.

Exactly how are you trying to ascertain that?

Just getting professional opinions, which we’re in the very exploratory stages of doing now, as to who can be the … who knows the issues, who has the background. That’s something I can’t say off the top of my head.

Well, that was back in July 2011. Surely Rep. Rahall has had some time to get some professional opinions and find out what agency should be dealing with this, and take some action, right?

So this week, when the legislation was reintroduced, I asked Rep. Rahall’s office some questions along these lines: Why isn’t Rep. Rahall a co-sponsor of the bill?  Why are members of Congress from outside of the district where most MTR occurs the forces behind this effort to protect the health of area residents? What steps — if any — has Rep. Rahall taken to either evaluate the health impacts of MTR or take action to reduce those impacts?

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I’ve always found Rep. Rahall very open with the media, and very gracious with his time in answering my questions. But this time, it took repeated emails and phone calls to get even this from spokesman John Noble:

Don’t have any comment for you on this and sorry for the delay in responding.