Year of Publication



Martin School of Public Policy and Administration

Date Available


Degree Name

Master of Public Administration

Committee Chair

Dr. Jeongyoon Lee

Executive Summary

Coal mining has been a major industry in Central Appalachia for over a century, and in the 1970s, it went through a major transition. In an effort to access coal seams previously inaccessible to traditional underground mining methods, coal companies began to adopt a new extraction method known as mountaintop removal (MTR). This new approach to surface mining involved deforesting a mountaintop and then removing the remaining rock and vegetation that is sitting atop a coal seam via explosives and heaving machinery. Compared to underground mining, MTR released more air pollution than underground mining in the form of particulate matter from the explosives and diesel fumes from the machinery and transport trucks. The Clean Air Act (CAA) of 1970 sets air quality guidelines that states must meet to ensure the welfare of the nation, but states can develop their own strategy in order to meet those guidelines. Despite this policy, literature has consistently supported the correlation with MTR and various illness correlated with air pollution such as birth defects, dementia, cardiovascular disease, COPD, and depression in Central Appalachia. This research looks at counties in Kentucky with MTR and counties without in order to compare how MTR has impacted mortality rates from respiratory disease and lung cancer. The goal is to understand the impact MTR has on the respiratory health of communities in Kentucky. The conclusion will help in evaluating Kentucky’s implementation of federal air policies and the ability of those air policies to protect MTR communities. The results of the data analysis showed that between the years 1990 to 2019, mortality rates for respiratory disease and lung cancer are higher in MTR communities than communities without. There was also evidence that the disparity in mortality rates for both diseases has increased since more from 1990 to 2019 than between 1968 and 1989. This indicates that not only does MTR impact the respiratory health or nearby communities, but that it has gotten worse since 1968. Therefore, my research can be used to inform the theory that federal air policy is not protecting Central Appalachian communities from MTR pollution.



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