The cost of being number one in mountaintop removal

Week in Washington

The annual Week in Washington is coordinated by the Alliance for Appalachia and involves hundreds of residents of Appalachia and supporters from around the country. The week includes dozens of meetings with members of Congress to ask for support for the Clean Water Protection Act, and meetings with federal officials responsible for the enforcement of clean water and mining laws.

During the 2012 week, Stanley Sturgill and 21 others were arrested during a Day of Action as they occupied the offices of four House members who are particularly indifferent to the severe consequences of mountaintop removal mining. You can read more about that here [ADD BLOG POST LINK].

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A rank of 436th – last!

Stanley is correct in writing that Kentucky's Fifth Congressional District is last in many quality of life indicators.

The 2011 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index ranked the 5th district last in the nation among all congressional district on a variety of physical and emotional health parameters – representing a steady decline for the district as mountaintop removal has increased and since Hal Rogers has represented the area.

Learn more about what Lynch residents are doing to protect their future here and here.

by Stanley Sturgill

As a retired underground coal miner from southeastern Kentucky, I have watched as many of my old retired coal mining friends have had to move away to places like Florida for their health.  Instead of relocating to Florida, I have traveled to Washington D.C. this week to try to protect the health of my grandchildren.

stanley sturgill weeik in washington 2012I live in Harlan County, Kentucky, which is represented by the chair of the Appropriations Committee; Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky). During his time in office, he has helped us get a number one rating. The Kentucky 5th Congressional District ranks first for mountaintop removal – more than 60% of mountaintop removal is here. But we remain last in nearly everything else.

Mr. Rogers has claimed that blowing up our mountains for coal will make us rich, but nearly 40% of our children live below the poverty line. Gallup polls have shown that we are the sickest district in the United States. Peer reviewed scientific studies have shown that people of Appalachia that live near mountaintop removal surface mining have cancer rates 14.4% higher than the national average, nearly twice as high as other areas in Appalachia.

I’m sorry to say that the other districts where mountaintop removal occurs have a similar story. I’ve traveled here with 150 people from across Appalachia and across the United States to ask for basic protections for our mountains and our communities, and to tell our Representatives that Appalachia deserves better.

I’ve tried to secure a meeting with Hal Rogers since 2009 to discuss the problems troubling Eastern Kentucky. I’m coming to Washington because I’m tired of having a so-called representative for my home district that ignores our people to represent King Coal. I’m sick of seeing the people I love suffer every day from mountaintop removal.

Mr. Rogers has told us again and again that he supports King Coal and mountaintop removal, but what about the rest of us in his neighborhood? Does he care about our health? Does he care about the public health costs of coal pollution in Appalachia – which amount to $75 billion a year? Does he care that we are losing years off our lives?

KFTC Hosts Governor Steve Beshear in eastern KY, April 2011I have no idea of Congressman Rogers’ family situation; I don’t know about his children or grandchildren, since we are definitely not what one would call “mountain friends.” I do know that I’m very concerned with the health of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and I am concerned about all the children born near mountaintop removal facing birth defects 42% higher than children of other areas across Appalachia.

Maybe Mr. Rogers isn’t worried about our health, but he insists he is worried about jobs in the coal industry. He insists jobs are being lost and the economy is under the basement level, and blames our economy on people like me and on the EPA. Common sense says that it only takes a minimum number of equipment operators to destroy a mountain in a minimum amount of time. Mountaintop removal destroys our jobs and our community, but it saves King Coal a tremendous amount of money - money that the coal industry has used to pay our Congressmen hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years. 

Underground coal mining could create thousands of additional jobs if mountaintop removal were stopped today. But we also need more than coal to power our economy. This past month, coal made up 36% of our nation’s energy portfolio – 19% less than last year. How are we going to survive as a community if we don’t wake up to the changing world and begin to transition our economy?

Even if Representative Rogers will not meet with me or the other members of his district that have traveled to DC, I am asking him to support the Clean Water Protection Act, H.R. 1375. This bill would amend the Clean Water Act to stop the dumping of millions of tons of coal mining waste into our streams. It would prevent the worst forms of mountaintop removal from poisoning our waters.

The people of our district are really hurting.  Hurting, not only health wise, but underground coalminers are hurting for jobs, and children are hurting for a better future in Eastern Kentucky. Mr. Rogers, could you please, one time, help someone other than King Coal.

Stanley Sturgill lives in the community of Lynch.