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Heroes and Hyperbole: U.S. House Passes Pro-Mountaintop Removal Bill

Speaking in opposition of H.R. 2824, Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) holds a bottle of water from beneath a mountaintop removal mine, and says that ignoring the threats of mountaintop removal to clean water means "risking the health of families in mining communities in Kentucky and throughout Appalachia"

Speaking in opposition of H.R. 2824, Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) holds a bottle of water polluted by mining waste, saying that ignoring the threats of mountaintop removal to clean water means “risking the health of families in mining communities in Kentucky and throughout Appalachia”

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to roll back stream protections in an effort to make it easier to dump waste from mountaintop removal mines into Appalachian streams. Given the makeup of the House right now, this comes as no surprise. But there is a silver lining.

We fought hard against this bill, because the key to preventing it from moving in the Senate and eventually becoming law was to show significant pushback from our anti-mountaintop removal allies in the House.

The bill may have passed, but the 229-192 margin is much narrower than most votes to roll back regulation in the House in recent years. We lost only nine Democrats and were happy to have seven Republicans on our side. And nine members took to the floor (including one during a previous hearing) to oppose the bill, making it clear that a vote for H.R. 2824 was a vote for mountaintop removal coal mining and against the health and well-being of Appalachian communities.

Together with our allies and the pressure from people across the country, we believe we can stop the bill from moving any further. We haven’t won yet, but the significant opposition shown on Capitol Hill last week was a step in the right direction.

The floor debate lasted for well over an hour. Below is a compilation of key quotes from Republicans and Democrats from the hour-long floor debate.

Doc Hastings (R-WA): If we do not stop the administration from implementing its new coal regulation, thousands of Americans will be out of work, and home heating costs for working middle class families will rise.

Let’s pass this legislation to protect American taxpayer dollars, to protect American jobs, and to end this administration’s reckless, wasteful rewrite by putting in place a responsible process that will allow a proper new rule to be written.

Rush Holt (D-NJ): Hospitalizations, hypertension, lung cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, increased flooding. Water with dangerous concentrations of toxic metals? Yes. That is what the science says. And the destruction of forests and streams.

These are the impacts of mountaintop removal mining that Congress should be addressing today. This is what we should be holding hearings on and writing legislation about. We should be making the protection of people and the environment of the Appalachian region our top priority and making the mining companies act responsibly, not just cheaply.

Doug Lamborn (R-CO): The legislation before us today is very simple. It would cripple the Obama administration’s war on coal by ending their unnecessary rewrite and it would require the Office of Surface Mining to implement the 2008 Stream Buffer Zone Rule.

John Yarmuth (D-KY):
It is bad enough that children who live in mining communities color their streams orange when they draw their environment, but it is tragic that the water they drink is denying them the healthy future they deserve.

We are risking the health of families in mining communities in Kentucky and throughout Appalachia by continuing to ignore the toxic orange water that pollutes their drinking supply.

Nick Rahall (D-WV):
It is clear, at least to me, that the effort by the current administration to revise the 2008 rule is aimed at halting a mining practice that is specifically condoned by SMCRA.

Fundamentally, there is no question; this debate is about jobs. It is about good-paying jobs in West Virginia and other areas of the Appalachian region.

Mike Kelly (R-PA):
Listen, what we are doing today just makes sense. We have already run the traps on it. We have already run the tests. We have done all the metrics. Coal is good for America. Coal has always been good for America. Coal has cleaned itself up incredibly and will continue to do so. These are the most responsible people.

Jim Moran (D-VA):
The goal of this bill is to require all States to incorporate a now vacated 2008 rule that was issued in the very last days of the Bush administration and was then struck down by a U.S. Federal court. It was an eleventh-hour regulation that was designed to repeal Reagan-era protections for streams and waterways from the impacts of mountaintop mining by providing a buffer zone for waste disposal. Its vague and permissive language sets an alarmingly low bar when it comes to protecting communities and wildlife habitats near mountaintop mining operations.

Steve Scalise (R-LA):
The President continues to pursue this global warming agenda. It is snowing outside of the Capitol right now as we speak in support of this bill, and they are still talking about global warming and imposing more regulations that are killing–killing–American jobs.

Earl Blumenauer (D-OR):
People can see for themselves the devastation from mountaintop removal and the fact that we have been negligent as a country for years providing adequate protections.

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