Scientific Study Confirms Mountaintop Coal Removal Causes Birth Defects By Polluting Water, Congress Passes Bill to Deauthorize EPA from Enforcing Clean Water Act

One connection between “scientific study confirms mountaintop coal removal causes birth defects” and “Congress passes bill to deauthorize EPA from enforcing Clean Water Act” is that both happened yesterday.  The timing is a coincidence, but the other connection is definitely not:  Massey Energy.

Robert Kennedy, Jr. has been fighting alongside residents of West Virgina in a battle against Massey Coal’s practice of mountaintop coal removal.  The environmental impact of blowing the tops off so many mountains is dramatic, and one of the many effects of this pernicious practice is directly linked to a bill passed yesterday by the House of Representatives: water pollution. The connection is that H.R. 2018 deauthorizes the EPA from enforcing the Clean Water Act.

Appalachians (that is, people who live in the Mecca of coal mining) have been claiming for some time that mountaintop coal removal causes brain tumors,  birth defects, and other serious health issues. And coal miners are not exactly whiney wusses about their occupational health issues.  Birth defects in particular have been thought to be caused by what is dumped into the water supply by mountaintop coal removal. This week, a new study seems to confirm the claims about birth defects.  Read it here, or a look at a quick summary issued by the Natural Resources Defense Council here.


RFK, Jr. is featured prominently in a powerful new documentary, The Last Mountain, about the battle over mountaintop removal. The official trailer for the film:


Here is  review of the film from someone who lives there and was, like me, initially a little put off by the tone of the trailer.

The Natural Resources Defense Council has said of yesterday’s vote in the House that the bill “would demolish the very foundation for safeguarding our rivers, wetlands, lakes and streams.”  According to Steve Fleischli, a senior attorney in NRDC’s water program, “The House has unleashed the single-worst assault on clean water protections in a generation—part of a broader, ill-conceived attack on our air, lands, water and wildlife.”

The good news is that even if the bill ever makes it through the Senate, President Obama will undoubtedly veto it.  That it passed in the House would be astonishing if it were not part and parcel of the ongoing campaign to cater to oil and coal lobbies by attempting to eliminate virtually all the environmental legislation passed during and since the Nixon administration. That is actually an understatement; the Energy and Commerce committee is managing to make a very conservative Supreme Court look like a bunch of tree-huggers.

What can be said in favor of mountaintop removal of coal? Not much. It cuts the cost of a ton of coal a tiny bit, and that might lower your electricity bill by a few pennies. Far fewer people are needed to extract coal by blowing the tops off mountains than by mining it underground.  But even the economic arguments fall apart when one looks at the costs that are ignored, the economic externalities.  Local ones, not just those associated with continuing to rely on coal to generate electricity.  (On that issue, see today’s ClimateProgress post about Five Economic Reasons We Need to Move Beyond Coal.)

Look here later for an update on information about Massey Energy’s campaign and lobbying influence.




About Scott Brophy
Scott Brophy is a philosophy professor whose work is focused on the intersection of philosophy and public policy, especially on environmental issues, law, and education. He has also taught philosophy of science, logic, and the history of philosophy. He has served as a consultant for educational programs and schools throughout the U.S. and abroad, and as an adviser to several philanthropic foundations.

One Response to Scientific Study Confirms Mountaintop Coal Removal Causes Birth Defects By Polluting Water, Congress Passes Bill to Deauthorize EPA from Enforcing Clean Water Act

  1. Pingback: Water, Water, Everywhere | The Conflicted Doomer

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