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Bo Webb’s written testimony to the US Senate Sub Committee on Public Lands, Forest,and Mining

I appreciate this opportunity to submit my written testimony to the Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining at its hearing to examine the current state of coal-generated electricity in U.S. power markets, and the challenges and opportunities the coal industry faces in the future.

I believe there needs to be an honest and transparent examination of the problems the coal industry faces in this 21st century.  It is my hope that this hearing will provide our public with factual and truthful information we need in order to better understand the serious problems we face as a planet of people that have relied on a finite carbon-based fuel for electricity.   However, because this panel consists mostly of coal-related industry representatives, I doubt that this hearing will conduct a comprehensive examination of the many problems coal poses to our country’s future, and especially to our communities where coal is mined. Indeed, I doubt that anyone on the panels will even acknowledge that coal extraction or burning have any negative effects whatsoever. 

As coal has become more expensive to extract in Appalachia, the coal industry, in order to compete in the market place has resorted to blasting entire mountains to ashes as a way to expose thin seams of coal previously thought untouchable.  Unfortunately for we the people living near this type of mining activity (mountaintop removal) the pervasiveness of this endeavor has had dangerous negative effects on our health.  Cancer rates in MTR communities are nearly double those in non-MTR communities.   Birth defects are highly elevated in MTR communities while research clearly indicates increasing defect rates as MTR becomes more widespread.  There are over 20 health studies now that should be raising red flags for anyone interested in the wellbeing of people living near MTR sites.  However, rather than acknowledge the health science, our leaders have been deaf and mute, and the coal industry has embarked on a $15 million campaign to deny the scientific realities.  As we are ignored and our pleas denied, our people suffer and die.

It is obvious that coal must remain in the mix of America’s energy supply for a number of years while we transition to cleaner and renewable sources, but mountaintop removal mining is not necessary.   MTR provides very little of our nation’s electricity, it provides very few jobs; approximately 7000 jobs in West Virginia, the largest producer of MTR coal.  Recent research shows excess death rates of 4000 people per year in counties that produce coal by the MTR method.  Although at this time we cannot say MTR is the reason for these excess deaths, we can clearly say MTR is the most suspected cause of a myriad of human health disparities based upon ever growing scientific peer reviewed research that shows highly elevated levels of PAH toxins in our air and our garden soils.  The United States Geological Survey has gone as far as to state that these toxins are not coming from an upwind coal fired power plant, they are not coming from someone burning wood or coal in their homes. They have the same exact signature as the blasted “overburden” on the MTR sites above our homes.  We are breathing these toxins, they are in our garden soils.  Much of these airborne toxins are ultra-fines of silica and aluminum.  These are virus-sized particulates that enter the body and travel through the bloodstream to vital organs.  In short, we are contaminated.  I have been advised by USGS scientists to not eat vegetables from my garden nor apples from my apple trees.   We cannot allow this abuse of our citizen’s health nor our children’s health to continue for one more day.  Yes, we need coal in the foreseeable future but we do not need mountaintop removal coal, we cannot trade innocent lives for a few short term jobs, not in my America and hopefully not in the US Senate’s America.

There is a bill that has been drafted by those of us that live with this constant threat to our lives.  We who witness the sickness and death of our friends, neighbors, and family members have created an elegant bill that advocates a balanced and common sense approach to examining and resolving the health threat of mountaintop removal.  The bill is House of Representatives bill 526, The Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act (ACHE Act).    The ACHE Act does not call for an immediate end to MTR, no one loses their job, and everyone goes to work tomorrow.  Please take time to read the science, then read the ACHE Act and introduce this bill in the Senate.  Let’s work together to accomplish a resolution to the innocent suffering of so many and put this dark moment in American history behind us.

Today, as we stand ready to launch missile strikes against Syria a most ironic thought came to my mind.   We are poised to launch missile strikes against Syria for using chemical weapons against their civilians killing at least 1300 of them.  Yet here in our own country we are allowing innocent people to continue to be exposed to the dangerous fallout of mountaintop removal blasting toxins; ironic indeed.  In discussing this with a few colleagues we further considered the question of how does the TNT force of MTR blasting compare to the TNT force of a cruise missile strike.  According to the last available records I have from the Institute of the Makers of Explosives there is approximately 5 million pounds of ammonium nitrate/diesel fuel mix detonated per day on the average in WV and KY where MTR is most popular.  This type of fuel mix explosive provides about 80 percent of the explosive force of TNT.  With a cruise missile carrying a warhead of approximately 1,000 pounds of TNT, coal companies are detonating the equivalent of more than 4000 cruise missile strikes per day in WV and KY combined.  That may sound preposterous, but that is the math.  

Any transparent and honest examination of the coal industry’s problems needs to include the negative impacts, the market realities, and depleting reserves, and not merely rehash the worn-out “war on coal” rhetoric. If, as Senator Manchin has so often stated, he wishes to see “balance,” then let’s balance the discussion with factual information needed to make informed policy decisions.  Otherwise, this will become simply another political feeding frenzy where the EPA and the citizens working to protect their health and homes are the bait.  

Bo Webb

PO Box 274

Naoma, WV, 25140


2 Responses to “Bo Webb’s written testimony to the US Senate Sub Committee on Public Lands, Forest,and Mining”

  1. I learned of Bo Webb and other powerful WV people fighting to stop MTR through the films On Coal River and The Last Mountain earlier this year. I have been following your unrelenting efforts since then. Ironically last night I read a New Yorker profile about outgoing NY mayor Bloomberg’s legacy, which pointed out that he has given 50 million to the Sierra Club’s drive to reduce the nation’s reliance on coal plants, yet hosted fundraising for Manchin’s reelection. Strange calculus.

    This is such an eloquent, compelling testimony and plea for justice. How can it be ignored? Keep raining these blows.

    Posted by | August 31, 2013, 11:02 pm

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