A few days after hundreds of protestors marched on the state capitol and camped out at Gov. Steve Beshear’s capitol office in a demonstration against mountaintop removal, members of Congress passed a spending bill that significantly weakens the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate the mining practice.
The legislation cuts $61 billion from the federal budget and was approved by the Republican controlled House of Representative over the weekend. It makes substantial slashes to education, human services, medical research and transportation projects, but heads toward an uncertain future in the Senate and a possible veto from the president.
Before the vote, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., who participated in the march last week, made a speech on the House floor in opposition to the bill, saying it would weaken environmental regulations that protect people against pollution.
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And in a stinging editorial that appeared in The New York Times, author Silas House, who participated in the sit-in, says the mining practice puts the state’s environment and people at-risk.
Since it was first used in 1970, mountaintop removal has destroyed some 500 mountains and poisoned at least 1,200 miles of rivers and streams across the Appalachian coal-mining region. Yet Governor Beshear is so committed to the practice that he recently allied with the Kentucky Coal Association in a suit against the Environmental Protection Agency to block more stringent regulations of it. In court his administration’s lawyers referred to public opposition as simply “an unwarranted burden.”
The news media and the rest of the country typically think of mountaintop removal as an environmental problem. But it’s a human crisis as well, scraping away not just coal but also the freedoms of Appalachian residents, people who have always been told they are of less value than the resources they live above.
Over the past six years I’ve visited dozens of people who live at the edge of mountaintop removal sites. They bathe their children in water that has arsenic levels as high as 130 times what the E.P.A. deems safe to drink.