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Dear Sen. Rockefeller: Citizens Appeal for "Time Out" on Mountaintop Removal in 2014

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Four years after the late Sen. Robert Byrd's frank admission that "most members of Congress, like most Americans, oppose the practice" of mountaintop removal mining, "and we may not yet fully understand the effects of mountaintop removal mining on the health of our citizens," West Virginia residents traveled to Washington, D.C. this week to make a special appeal to retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) to complete Byrd's legacy, take the lead in introducing the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act for a "time out" on mountaintop removal mining and finally carry out a proper health assessment.

In Byrd's own words: It's time to fully understand the effects of mountaintop removal mining on the health of our citizens.

"Dear Sen. Rockefeller, please introduce the ACHE Act in 2014," said West Virginia veteran Bo Webb in a recent appeal, citing numerous studies on birth defects, cancer and depression in the coalfields. "Nothing in the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) of 1977 protects human health from the effects of constant blasting and its toxic fallout of fine particulates of silica, aluminum, and other toxins."

According to Webb, recipient of the Purpose Prize and a resident under a mountaintop removal operation, the ACHE Act is the only bill ever introduced in Congress that addresses "the myriad of health issues in mountaintop removal mining communities specific. He added: "The ACHE Act calls for an immediate freeze on new MTM permits only, thereby protecting current workers jobs. In conjunction with the freeze on new permitting the ACHE Act calls for a health study in MTM communities to be conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences."

Never has Sen. Rockefeller's leadership on health and safety issues been more needed in the coal mining areas of central Appalachia.

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter begrudgingly signed SMCRA, calling it a "watered down" bill and "disappointing effort." "The President's other main objection to the bill," wrote the New York Times, "is that it allows the mining companies to cut off the tops of Appalachian mountains to reach entire seams of coal."

Six months after his clarion call for "coal to embrace the future," Byrd reminded our nation in 2010 that West Virginia's most valuable resource was its people, and set out the terms of unacceptable mining practices:

The industry of coal must also respect the land that yields the coal, as well as the people who live on the land. If the process of mining destroys nearby wells and foundations, if blasting and digging and relocating streams unearths harmful elements and releases them into the environment causing illness and death, that process should be halted and the resulting hazards to the community abated.

According to an ACHE Act fact sheet, "residents face accelerated rates of cancer, respiratory diseases and birth defects within their communities near this destructive form of mining."

Rockefeller is no stranger to "time outs"--he called for one a few years ago during the debates on EPA carbon rules, in order to pursue legislative options. In 2012, in explaining his vote against the Inhofe resolution of disapproval of the Environmental Protection Agency's rules on mercury and air toxics, Rockefeller added:

I oppose this resolution because I care so much about West Virginians.

Without good health it's difficult to hold down a job or live the American dream. Chronic illness is debilitating and impacts a family's income, prosperity and ultimately its happiness.

The annual health benefits of the rule are enormous. EPA has relied on thousands of studies that established the serious and long term impact of these pollutants on premature deaths, heart attacks, hospitalizations, pregnant women, babies and children.

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