Release Date: 
Wednesday, April 10, 2019
Press Contact: 
Carl Shoupe
KFTC leader
606-909-0130

Address the Health Impacts of Mining, Help Us Plan a Bright Future, Kentuckian Carl Shoupe Tells Congress


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As part of additional written testimony, Shoupe submitted into the Congressional Record statements by Jeff and Sharman Chapman-Crane from Letcher County, Nina McCoy from Martin County and a KFTC report about health problems experienced by Rick Handshoe in Floyd County.

A Congressional subcommittee on Tuesday heard testimony on ways to help Appalachian communities recover from more than a century of coal mining as they build a new and more diverse economy.

“We can build a bright future,” Carl Shoupe told committee members.

Shoupe, a third generation coal miner from Harlan County, described how residents in the small towns of Benham and Lynch planned and built for their future by creating the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum, the School House Inn and an underground mine tour.

“Our mountains are mostly intact and covered by some of the most diverse hardwood forests in North America. Our communities have developed some excellent tourist attractions,” Shoupe said. “But all of that is now at risk. Destruction is knocking on our door.”

Above Shoupe’s home a coal company is clear-cutting in anticipation of getting a permit to strip mine the steep valley that supplies the towns’ drinking water and helps attract tourists.

“We have to stop the destruction now,” Shoupe testified. “Congress must act now to end strip mining in our Appalachian mountains. Then invest in the important work of restoring and repairing our land, water and people. Help us protect our health, water and forests.

He and his neighbors in Benham and Lynch have filed a Lands Unsuitable for Mining petition with state officials to permanently protect their watershed and viewshed. The public commend period for that petition is open until April 30.

“I’ve traveled a long way to this meeting because our communities deserve and need your support. We need Congress to partner with us to shape a Just Transition for our coal workers and communities,” he concluded.

Shoupe mentioned the RECLAIM Act, which would accelerate the release of $1 billion for mine reclamation tied to local economic development effort, as one important action Congress could take.

The U.S. House Energy and Mineral Resources Committee also heard from Donna Branham, a nurse in Mingo County, West Virginia. She described many health impacts that she and family members have experienced as a result of the dust, well water contamination, blasting damage to homes and other consequences of strip mining.

She said when her parents were forced to leave her childhood home because of the hardships caused by nearby mining they did not get fair market value for their house because of damage to it and the surrounding area caused by mining.

“The coal companies do not care that it is home to our people,” Branham said.

The hearing focused on the immediate and long-term health impacts caused by mountaintop removal mining. Rep. John Yarmuth explained that he introduced the Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) Act “to correct the grave injustice happening in so many of our nation’s coal communities.”

He held up a bottle a reddish-orange liquid that came from a family’s water well in Pike County. It was their third well, the other two having been sunk by mining.

The third well was highly contaminated, with “arsenic levels more than 130 times the level deemed safe by the EPA,” Yarmuth explained.

The ACHE Act (H.R. 2050) would place a moratorium on permitting for mountaintop removal coal mining until health studies conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services conclude “that mountaintop removal coal mining does not present any health risk to individuals in the surrounding communities.”

Those health impacts are very real and need further research, explained Dr. Michael McCawley, a professor in the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health Sciences at West Virginia University School of Public Health.

“My findings clearly show that there is evidence to believe that air pollution levels in this region are sufficient to account for an increased prevalence of disease. I believe there is also ample evidence in the scientific literature that the relationship is not simple correlative but causal,” McCawley explained.

His and other studies show there is significantly higher levels and exposure to ultra-fine particles in mountaintop mining areas. These particles are “highly inflammable when living cells are exposed to them.”

“The inflammation that these ultra-fine particles can cause are known to be association with virtually all known chronic diseases,” McCawley further explained. “Thus the finding of epidemic-scale health effects in mountaintop removal areas is, unfortunately, unsurprising.”

A $1 million study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that got underway in 2016 was ended last year by the Trump administration. That study was initiated after more than 20 scientific papers concluded that people living near strip mining in Central Appalachia experienced higher levels of birth defects, heart and lung diseases and a lower life expectancy than in on-mining areas.

A recording of the hearing is available at: https://bit.ly/2GdlRjP.

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PHOTO #1: Harlan County resident Carl Shoupe (left) and Donna Branham of Mingo County, West Virginia with U.S. Rep. Alan Lowenthal, chair of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.

PHOTO #2: Harlan County resident Carl Shoupe (second from left)at the witness table before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.