By Jamie Goodman
On Sept. 26, a Congressional hearing took place in Charleston, W.Va. to discuss proposed revisions to the controversial stream buffer zone rule designed to further protect waterways in Appalachia.
Conducted by Representatives Doug Lamborn (R-CO) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) from the Subcommitte on Energy and Mineral Resources in Charleston, W.Va., the hearing featured testimony from eight panelists with ties to the coal industry on the economic impacts of a buffer zone rule change. Only two panelists were invited to stand up for human health and communities affected by surface mining.
The original rule — created by the Office of Surface Mining in 1983 to outlaw the dumping of mining waste within 100 feet of streams — was changed during the Bush administration to lift restrictions and make dumping easier for mining operations.
But at the hearing, dubbed “Jobs at Risk: Community Impacts of the Obama Administration’s Effort to Rewrite the Stream Buffer Zone Rule,” the mostly pro-coal committee and panel made the case that the proposed revisions constitute a direct attack on the coal industry and mining jobs.
A press release circulated by the Committee about the hearing failed to include mention of Webb’s testimony or their appearance on the panel.
By J.W. Randolph
Last year, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) reported that around 44 percent of United States coal production came from one place — the Powder River Basin (PRB). Spread underneath Wyoming and Montana, PRB coal has significantly increased its share of our national coal production in the last decade. The expansion of western coal has coincided with a steep decline in the production of coal in the region known as Central Appalachia, an area that includes southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee.
According to MSHA, Central Appalachian coal (CAPP) production is down 20 percent since 2008, and the federal Energy Information Administration expects another 50 percent drop in production by 2015.
The decline in CAPP production is partially due to the increasing competitiveness of western coal and natural gas. But many experts in the region attribute the drop to the simple fact that Appalachia has been mining coal for more than a century, and that many of the resources are economically unfeasible to recover.
Bill Raney, a prominent coal backer, and the president of the West Virginia Coal Association, recently addressed the forecast, saying “What’s happening is that the easier, thicker, cleaner, higher-recovery seams were mined over the years, and what we’re dealing with now is coal that has to be prepared to a greater extent than it used to … The recovery percentages are down.”
CAPP production is expected to continue falling — and prices per ton rising — as the cost of mining increases and coal seams become thinner and harder to access.
The associate director of the University of West Virginia’s Institute for Health Policy Research, Dr. Michael Hendryx has documented a direct link between the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining and 60,000 cases of cancer among a population of 1.2 million people living in areas of Central Appalachia where the mining occurs. The study, “Relations Between Health Indicators and Residential Proximity to Coal Mining in West Virginia,” published in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Public Health, noted the connection even after accounting for instances of cancer resulting from age, gender, smoking, on-the-job exposure and family cancer history. Residents living in the region where the mining is practiced are twice as likely to develop cancer than community members living in the region in areas without surface mining.