by Ron Gregory
Logan — Three citizens’ groups that for decades have called for an end to mountaintop removal coal mining are urging their members and concerned citizens to speak up on the human health impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining during a May 23 town hall meeting hosted by a study committee of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The meeting will be held Tuesday, May 23, at Chief Logan Lodge.
The committee is charged with examining “a ‘growing amount of academic research’ that suggests ‘possible correlations’ between increased public health risks for Appalachian residents and living near mountaintop removal coal mining.”
The meeting is the committee’s second in which public input is requested. Speakers, who signed up in advance, will be limited to a three-minute presentation during the meeting’s evening session. It is not a question-and-answer period.
The meeting will consist of two parts, beginning at 12:35 p.m. with an “open session” where panelists will make presentations to the committee. The public will be able to attend, but not ask questions during the open session, which ends at 4 p.m.
Panels include one with representatives of state agencies and one with coal industry representatives. Also on a panel are representatives of the three groups urging their members to speak up—Coal River Mountain Watch, OVEC (the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition), and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.
The second part of the meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. with a “town hall forum,” held, according to NAS, to “gain insights and information from people living in the surrounding communities. The National Academies study committee invites community members to attend and share their perspectives on this topic. The focus of the study is people living near coal-mining areas rather than on occupational health of coal mine workers.”
Later in the summer, meetings will be held in other states. People may also comment online. Speakers will be given three minutes during the evening session at Logan on a first-come, first served basis.
“Mountaintop removal has ravaged the health of our communities for far too long,” said Coal River Mountain Watch executive director Vernon Haltom. “Enough solid science now tells us what common sense has told us for years: that breathing the fine, glassy silica dust from mountaintop removal sites is hazardous to our health. This ongoing practice needs to end now, and we hope the NAS committee comes to that conclusion for the sake of public health.”
“A serious review of the dozens of health studies that have been conducted this past decade is long overdue and much appreciated,” said Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. “We encourage the National Academies team to listen carefully to the community voices whose stories and fears will impress upon you the importance and urgency of your review and recommendations.”
Haltom and Rank are two of the environmental group panelists. They will be joined by Natalie Thompson, OVEC’s executive director.
“The blasting, the worry about the next flood, the loss of your homeplace and community, these and more take a heavy toll on health,” said Vivian Stockman, OVEC’s vice director. “The NAS committee is asking to hear from the public—unlike so many politicians—so please come tell them what you know about what mountaintop removal does to your health and well being.”