When I was in high school, my church youth group got involved with the Appalachian Service Project (ASP). Every year, we would assemble a group of teens to travel down to the Appalachian region and repair houses during our summer vacation. It’s an experience that has stuck with me for over ten years.
The first time I went, I met a poor black family with five children living together in a small three-room house. We worked on building an extension onto their house, to serve as a bedroom for their children. Another year, we worked installing insulation and improving the wiring for a family of four. They lived on top of a tall hill, where they were paid to watch a large pile of coal to make sure no one was stealing from it. They drove a broken down car. My last summer, we helped a family whose house was being pushed off the side of a mountain by a mudslide, caused by mountaintop mining. Our job was to build a retaining wall to stop the flow of mud from pushing their house off the foundation.
Every time I went, I met some of the nicest people – people who were exceptionally appreciative of our help. I loved playing with the kids and talking about how they were going to decorate their rooms; I loved taking time off from construction to help with daily chores or make a run to the store; I loved bringing lunch and just speaking with the families. These were amazing, sweet people, and the environment in which they are made to live is horrible. Explosive mining throws debris into people’s houses, and the transportation of coal spreads the dust, making the roads dangerous for drivers. I saw roads damaged by mining and transportation of coal. The explosives can fracture water tables and cause toxic metals to leach into drinking water – I saw people living with filthy water. After it is harvested, coal is washed with a toxic chemical and produces coal slurry, a mix of coal dust and the chemical agents. The slurry is stored in abandoned mines, further contaminating the water supply. Coal mining also produces particles of ash and dust that causes chronic bronchitis and irritating asthma symptoms – I met children with respiratory problems who would cough frequently. Their families couldn’t always afford medicine, and many of the children I saw either went without inhalers or had very limited use of them.
When I hear about the Stream Protection Rule and the Clean Air Act being either weakened or repealed for the sake of “jobs” – especially in an industry that produces a decreasing portion of US energy – I don’t think of economic policy or political strategy. I think of the families with sick kids who will have to choose between an inhaler and food. I think of the family at the top of the tall hill with diabetic children, because they rely on sodas to replace their dirty drinking water. I think of the house being pushed off a mountain, leaving four kids with nowhere to go.
Looking at the upcoming votes in the House, I expect more of these life-saving regulations to be rolled back for the sake of business. People around the country will have to deal with dirty water, polluted air, and damage to the environment around them – not just from coal, but from deregulation of oil and gas as well.
Maybe we can reverse some of the environmental damage, but the damage to the people will last a lifetime.
Ask your reps to oppose:
- H.J.Res. 38: Disapproving the rule submitted by the Department of the Interior known as the Stream Protection Rule.
- H.R. 637: Stopping EPA Overreach Act of 2017
- H.R. 958: Wasteful EPA Programs Elimination Act of 2017
- H.R. 806: Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2017
- Hendryx M, Ahern MM, Nurkiewicz TR. Hospitalization patterns associated with Appalachian coal mining. J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2007 Dec;70(24):2064-70. PubMed PMID: 18049995.
- Elizabeth Walker, Deborah Paine, Health Impact Assessment of Coal and Clean Energy Options in Kentucky, Kentucky Environmental Foundation, 2012