Rahall agreed that the papers are important, but said he's not sure that they provide enough proof for any regulatory action by the government.
"Certainly, any information that is proven that shows a high incidence of illness or birth defects is of serious concern, and it ought to be given serious study," Rahall said. "And before we rush headlong into new regulations, we need to find out if the current ones are working, if they're being enforced, and if not, why not."
Rahall complained that the birth defects study did not provide policymakers any recommendations for what should be done about mountaintop removal.
But the study did say, "Existing regulations to protect air and water quality in mountaintop mining areas may be inadequate, and enforcement of those regulations has been lax, although recent efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency may be moving in the direction of stricter regulations."
Last week, the House passed a Rahall-sponsored bill that he has described as a reaction to the Obama administration's crackdown on mountaintop removal through tougher permit reviews and more stringent water quality guidelines.
The bill would stop EPA from rejecting Clean Water Act "dredge-and-fill" permits approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as EPA did earlier this year with the largest mountaintop removal permit in West Virginia history.
But the bill goes much farther than that. It would block EPA from stepping in if states write water quality standards federal scientists believe are too weak. EPA would no longer be able to withdraw federal approval of state water pollution regulatory programs, and would be stripped of authority to object to water pollution discharge permits issued by state agencies.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.