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Originally published August 23 2014

Federal judge says government can ignore scientific studies showing health risks of mining

by Julie Wilson

(NaturalNews) The relationship between Big Coal and government continues to trump the safety of both people and the environment. What some call "strip mining on steroids," is arguably one of the most environmentally destructive processes in operation.

Using explosives to blow the tops off of mountains is extremely catastrophic to native plants and wildlife, robbing the environment of its wealth and leaving behind the area and people living near it impoverished.

More than 1.5 million acres in southern Appalachia is proposed, permitted or active for mountaintop removal, according to Maria Gunnoe, an environmental activist who lives behind a large chain link fence, two guard dogs and a security system due to her activism.

In a blatant example of the relationship between the coal industry and government, a federal judge in Charleston turned down an effort by environmental groups to force corporations to consider the adverse health and environmental effects as part of the review process for granting miners "dredge-and-fill" permits, according to a report by The Charleston Gazette.

Dredge-and-fill permits are granted to companies for disposal of material waste into U.S. waters under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA), according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Individual permits are reviewed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is supposed to evaluate applications in the public interest, as well as under environmental criteria set by the CWA Section 404 guidelines.

The recent ruling stated that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers "does not have to consider scientific studies linking mountaintop removal to public health problems when the agency approves new Clean Water Act permits for mining operations."

The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, a grassroots organization dedicated to preserving the environment, has put their heart and soul into educating coal companies about four specific studies that have examined the risk of adverse health effects experienced by people living near mountaintop removal sites.

Dozens of peer-reviewed studies have found air quality to be significantly lower near mountaintop removal sites. Particulate matter and high concentrations of certain contaminants have caused increased rates of respiratory diseases, including lung cancer. Birth defects, an increase in certain illnesses, cancer and premature death plague the residents of southern Appalachia.

Mountaintop removal annihilates entire mountains

Mountaintop mining requires the clearing of forests and brush before using explosives to bring down 500+ feet of mountain in order to expose coal seams.

Draglines scoop up to 100 tons of rock in a single load, resulting in the disturbance of heavy metals, which, when left in the earth, weren't problematic, but, once exposed to the air, pollute streams and rivers.

The process moves 20 tons of rocks to seize one ton of coal, all the while impacting groundwater, surface water and air. Since 1986, more than 7,500 acres of forested mountains have been completely destroyed.

Thanks to one man, whose family values and love for the environment has conquered greed, 50 tracts of land on Kayford Mountain remain preserved. Larry Gibson's family has had ties to the mountain since the 1700s, but their ownership has shrunk from 500 to just 50 acres.

The coal industry offered Gibson $1 million per acre for his land (that's $50 million), but he refused, instead preserving the land and protecting a family cemetery in which more than 300 of his relatives are buried.

The law allows mines to operate within 100 ft. of a cemetery, and 300 ft. of a home. Small family graveyards have been bulldozed by the coal industry.

Kayford Mountain is surrounded by one of the largest mountaintop removal coal mines in Appalachia, serving as a tourist site for those wishing to grasp the true destruction of the coal industry. Gibson's family used to live on the lowest-lying part of the mountain and looked up at the surrounding peaks; however, Kayford is now the highest peak around.

Although the coal industry has won its latest battle, activists won't stop fighting until the federal government recognizes the suffering of the Appalachian land and its people.

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