If the print dialog box does not automatically appear, open the file menu and choose Print.
Article published May 8, 2013
Michael Paff Erie
According to U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly’s website, he “strongly believes in protecting the lives of the unborn.” That is an interesting and unexpected position for a man who supports the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining (MTR). Allow me to explain: MTR is practiced in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. It is very different from traditional, underground coal mining. Rather than burrowing underground to reach coal seams, companies practicing MTR use a daily average of 5.5 million pounds of ammonium nitrate diesel fuel explosives to blow up mountains to expose the coal. That is a terribly destructive process because it destroys the entire mountain, destroys the valleys and streams surrounding the mountain (which are used as dumping grounds for leftover dirt, rocks and mining waste), and it sends toxic dust into the air that settles on homes, schools and businesses. This dust includes silica, sulfur, carbon, aluminum, iron and other trace elements. As a result, residents of MTR communities experience far more chronic, negative health effects than residents of areas in which MTR is not practiced. These health effects include higher rates of cancer and diseases of the heart, lungs and kidneys. In recent years, at least 20 studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals have reached the conclusion that MTR is a serious threat to public health. My family and I live in Erie. However, my wife grew up in West Virginia. As a result of seeing, firsthand, mountains, valleys and towns devastated by MTR, I began advocating for a bill called the Appalachian Communities Health Emergency Act (ACHE). If passed, it would require examination of all the scientific evidence regarding the public health consequences of MTR, and would prohibit the issuance of MTR permits until it could be determined that MTR would not pose any health risks to individuals in the surrounding communities. ACHE would not end all coal mining, nor would it even prohibit MTR in areas in which MTR would not pose a threat to public health. I contacted Kelly’s office regarding ACHE and met with his district director, to discuss the issue. I wanted Kelly to sign on as a cosponsor of the legislation. A few weeks later, I received a letter signed by Kelly in which he indicated that he would not support ACHE, that he feels we need to “balance” environmental concerns with economic ones, and that ending MTR would devastate the economy of Appalachia. So, why is Kelly’s position on abortion surprising to me? According to a study, pregnant women living in Appalachian counties in which MTR is practiced, and who don’t smoke, are 181 times more likely to give birth to an infant with severe respiratory problems than pregnant women who do not live in MTR counties and who do smoke during pregnancy. Another study established links between MTR areas and low birth weight. Apparently, Kelly wants to protect the lives of the unborn, unless we need to balance the Appalachian economy on their backs and create more profits for unscrupulous coal companies.