A year ago this week, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) and Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) hosted four leading scientists for Senate and House briefings on the environmental and health impacts of mountain top removal (MTR) mining in Appalachia.

The scientists’ peer reviewed research was damning: mountain top removal, the practice of clearing mountaintops of trees and topsoil and then blasting them with explosives to reveal the coal seams underneath, is polluting the Appalachian watershed decreasing organism diversity, increasing flooding and contaminating ground water. The air’s in trouble too, leading to high rates of cancer, heart and respiratory disease:

Preliminary laboratory tests, using air samples from areas where people are living in Appalachia, show mountain top removal mining dust kills heart cells and impairs vascular function.

Mortality rates in the affected areas of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia are rising:

From 1999 to 2005, there were 4,432 “excess deaths” in Appalachia. It has also been found that babies born to mothers who live in areas with mountain top removal mining have a 26% higher rate of birth defects. That compares to babies born to mothers who smoke during pregnancy who only have an 18% higher risk of birth defects.

Right now, members of the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Campaign are back on Capitol Hill preparing to brief House staffers on the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act (ACHE Act, H.R. 526), which an impressive group of Democrats has introduced to protect Appalachian families and communities from mountain top removal, what many call “extreme mining.”

The Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act’s leading sponsors are Representatives John Yarmuth (D-KY) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY). They’re joined by original cosponsors Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Rush Holt (D-NJ), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), John Sarbanes (D-MD), Jim Moran (D-VA), Donna Edwards (D-MD), Judy Chu (D-CA), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Charles Rangel (D-NY), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Michael Honda (D-CA), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Janice Schakowksy (D-IL), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Jared Polis (D-CO).

This Earth Day why not give your Representative a call and urge them to support the bill. For more information, here’s a compilation of the health studies, with summaries, much of it from the University of West Virginia. And here’s a documentary on the topic by Francine Cavanaugh and Adams Wood, On Coal River:

ON COAL RIVER trailer (runtime: 2:36) from Cavanaugh / Wood Films on Vimeo.

What is climate debt? Watch Aura Bogado’s speech from this spring’s Power Up! student convergence.