CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Obama administration officials on Wednesday defended their crackdown on mountaintop removal coal mining, saying they aren't against coal and want to work with companies to reduce the industry's pollution.
A top U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official said, though, that her agency's tougher permit reviews and new water quality guidance are supported by scientific studies that detail adverse impacts on streams and on human health.
"Healthier watersheds mean healthier people," said Nancy Stoner, acting assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Water. "It's been a high priority of this administration to reduce the substantial human health and environmental consequences of surface coal mining."
Stoner said that more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers support EPA's actions, including a new West Virginia University study that found adverse health effects linked to coal mining are especially concentrated near mountaintop removal operations.
"Appalachian families should not have to choose between healthy watersheds and a healthy economy -- they deserve both," Stoner told a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee.
The WVU study, by researchers Keith Zullig and Michael Hendryx, used Centers for Disease Control data that showed residents near mountaintop removal mines were more likely to report physical and emotional ailments than residents near other types of mining or no mining at all.
"These disparities partly reflect the chronic socioeconomic weaknesses inherent in coal-dependent economies and highlight the need for efforts at economic diversification in these areas," said the study, published in the current issue of the American Journal of Public Health. "However, significant disparities persist after control for these risks and suggest that the environmental impacts of [mountaintop removal] may also play a role in the health problems of the area's population."
Stoner discussed the WVU study as she testified in the second day of a two-day Republican-orchestrated hearing called, "EPA Mining Policies: Assault on Appalachian Jobs." The Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environmental has jurisdiction because the federal Army Corps of Engineers issued permits for mining operations to bury streams with waste rock and dirt.