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A new GOP bill (PDF) that has been favorably referred from the House Natural Resources Committee would protect mountaintop removal until at least 2021. Right before he left office, President Bush tried to slip through rules protecting mountaintop removal. This process was scuttled by President Obama when he took office and the process has been tied up ever since in litigation and GOP Congressional subpoenas.

The bill, HR 2824, would amend the Surface Mining Control & Reclamation Act of 1977. It would revert to the Bush rules regarding Mountaintop Removal and would require the states to do the same. This would take about two years. Then, the bill requires the Secretary of the Interior to study the impact of the Bush rule for five years. In the meantime, he could not make any new rules regarding stream buffer zones or stream protection. That means that Mountaintop Removal would continue until at least 2021. It was recommended favorably on a near-party line vote for passage by the House. The bill could be considered this week.


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The rationale given by the House Republicans is that the rules need to be predictable in order to create jobs. However, coal is a finite resource, as are our mountains. And mountaintop removal drastically affects the quality of life, something that the majority report doesn't even consider. There are no scientific studies of any kind that they present to justify this bill. And the fact that both coal and mountains are both a finite resources undermines the claim made by House Republicans that jobs will be protected. Even if this bill passes the Senate (unlikely) and is signed by the President (never in a million years), it will only a matter of time before these jobs go away due to exhaustion of resources.

The environmental devastation of Mountaintop Removal along with the fact that it is a finite resource means that some banks are thinking twice about doing business with these operations. It makes perfect sense -- investing in something that is a finite resource is not good for the bottom line. If the operation closes due to exhaustion of resources, then the banks won't be repaid.

And there is economic devastation as well. A 2009 report (PDF) released by the Natural Resources Defense Council found:

Of the 410 reclaimed MTR sites surveyed, 366 (89.3%) had no form of verifiable postmining economic reclamation excluding forestry and pasture. Only twenty-six locations (6.3% of the total) host some form of verifiable post-mining economic development. These development projects included one federal prison, three
oil/gas fields, two airports, one hospital, which was located within an industrial park, one ATV training center, three golf courses, four industrial/business parks, two
county/municipal parks, and one county fairground. Commercial agriculture or farming
was identified on nine sites, sometimes in conjunction with other land uses such as
residential development.
So far from creating jobs, Mountaintop Removal destroys jobs. When land is used for that purpose, nobody ever wants to use it again. And that drives down property values, meaning that it will be that much tougher for people to sell their homes and move out. Nobody wants to live next to an operation of that nature wondering whether their water is safe enough to drink.

And even for the people who do have jobs, all I can say is, don't get sick. Catastrophic medical conditions are much more common in mountaintop removal areas. Even if they do have jobs, they will have a hard time paying the medical bills. This study found that mountaintop removal is responsible for many more deaths due to heart disease when all other factors are considered.

The authors only focused on chronic heart diseases, and they did not include cardiovascular problems that clearly result from something other than coal mining exposure.  They also accounted for the effects of other environmental factors on heart health, including smoking rates, adult obesity rates, and poverty levels.  Their results show that in mining areas poor socioeconomic and behavioral conditions lead to poor health and higher rates of death.  Even when controlling for these other risk factors, Esch and Hendryx found that cardiovascular related death rates remained high in MTR areas.  The study also shows that the rate of death goes up with the amount of surface mining being done in the area.

These results translate to an additional 703 deaths per year in the mountaintop removal areas and an additional 369 deaths per year in the other mining areas—a total of 1,072 extra deaths in mining areas.

Mountaintop removal is a gross violation of property rights. You have a right to conduct whatever form of free enterprise you wish. But you do not have the right to interfere with my quality of life in the privacy of my own home. You do not have the right to put my drinking water or my long-term health or my finances at risk. That's the catch.
Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to Stop the Police State! on Sun Mar 23, 2014 at 09:27 PM PDT.

Also republished by Climate Change SOS.

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