They participated in congressional office sit-ins to protest their congressional representatives’ refusal to protect their communities from what they say are the extreme impacts of mountaintop removal.
Protesters occupied the offices of
Democratic Congressmen Nick Rahall from West Virginia, and Republicans Hal Rogers from Kentucky, Morgan Griffith from Virginia and Jimmy Duncan from Tennessee. Activists were forced by Capitol Police to leave the offices
of each of the representatives. Dana Kuhnline,
a volunteer with Appalachia Rising, says 22 protesters were arrested and led
away in handcuffs.
Kuhnline is among the organizers
who have been in Washington DC for the last several days. She and about 150 others have
been lobbying congress and staging sit-ins.
“The main group is the Alliance for Appalachia and there are twelve organizations in that group from all
across central Appalachia and North
says. “And then we have folks from about 30 states who have come on their own
to support this work.”
This is the 7th year
volunteers have gone to Washington. This year they brought 21 recent peer-reviewed studies
highlighting the extreme health impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining.
Members of the group are hoping that Congress will act to protect their
“I was working in Mingo County in 2005,” Kuhnline says, “and we were finding all these
health impacts, but there wasn’t anything to really back it up and so this year
we have the scientific studies to prove what we’ve known all along: that people
are really sick near these sites.”
According to the Gallup Poll’s physical
well-being index, Congressional districts where mountaintop removal mining
takes place have the highest rates of sickness in the United States. In addition, these districts face some of the highest
poverty rates in the country, with nearly 40 percent of the children in Hal
Roger’s Kentucky district living below the poverty line.
Among the findings of other studies being presented to
lawmakers are statistics that say that citizens near mountaintop removal sites are
50 percent more likely to die of cancer and 42 percent more likely to be born
with birth defects compared with other people in Appalachia.
In a news release the group claims mountaintop removal is
responsible for public health costs of $75 billion a year; and a study released
by the New York Academy of Sciences in 2011 estimates hidden costs on society
raises the cost of electricity produced by coal by 17 cents per kilowatt hour.
Maria Gunnoe is an outspoken anti-mountaintop removal
activist who recently testified in a oversight hearing of the House Committee
on Natural Resources about a heavily debated Spruce No. 1 mountaintop removal
“This process of blowing up mountains over our homes is
killing us. I’ve lived here 44 years of my life so I’ve watched this happen,”
“U.S. politicians and the Obama administration continue to look
over, look around, or look under these health studies looking for balance,
thinking that there's some sort of balance to be had where we can have both
mountaintop removal and everybody will be happy. That cannot happen. You cannot
have mountaintop removal AND community. You can have one, or the other.”
The groups are pushing passage of The
Clean Water Protection Act—a bill introduced a year ago that would redefine
fill material from mining operations effectively making mountaintop removal
illegal. Despite being armed with studies, Kuhnline isn’t optimistic that the
bill will pass.
“We have 121 co-sponsors right
now,” Kuhnline says. “And it’s a tough Congress. It’s an uphill slog. We would
love to see it pass, but as much as that we need to make sure that nothing bad
is getting past us. So we have to two goals and I’m certain that we will stop
any bad bills from getting passed that would further damage people’s health in Appalachia.”
Alliance for Appalachia reports that mountaintop
removal has impacted more than 500 mountains in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee; and according to the US Environmental Protection Agency the
practice has buried more than 2,000 miles of streams.