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Taylor Johnston and Ellen Wagner make important decisions about the Post in the editors' office on the evening of Wednesday, February 5, 2020.

Editorial: House Bill 349 threatens public health

Reps. Don Jones of Freeport and Tim Barhorst of Fort Laramie have introduced House Bill 349, a plan in the Ohio House of Representatives that would use $20 million in state funds to create a loan program that would charge no interest for five years to governments that purchase easements for natural gas pipelines. 

In introducing this bill, Jones said he did not consider the environmental ramifications that this bill could have in Ohio and that he does not believe he should, describing a pivot away from fossil fuels as “drinking the Kool-Aid.” 

Jones argues that he is attempting to preserve the viability of vulnerable jobs within the fossil fuel industry, specifically in coal, which have long created livelihoods for those in Appalachia. Essentially, Jones believes he is doing everyone a favor.

What Jones forgets in evoking the Appalachian economy’s reliance on coal to garner support for his bill is the immense harm that the coal industry has done to those who work in the industry and the areas where mining has occurred. 

As mines close throughout Appalachia, it is important beyond all else that Appalachians who have relied for so long on mining as a source of income are not left behind. The Appalachian region has a long history of coal mining, one that many Appalachians are rightfully proud of. However, this strong familiarity with mining also means a familiarity with the less productive aspects of coal mining, such as black lung disease. 

Various pieces of legislation have been introduced and passed over the years concerning miners who have been afflicted with black lung disease, which develops as a result of inhaling coal dust and severely impairs lung function. One in every five miners will develop black lung disease, which will take 12 years off of one in every five miners’ life expectancy.

Perhaps phasing out jobs in coal in exchange for those less damaging to both the environment and the people would not be the worst thing in the world. Perhaps Jones has forgotten that “drinking the Kool-Aid” on this issue is not only for the sake of the environment, which conservative sects have widely voiced their disdain for, but also for the people he represents and their well-being outside of the context of the economy.

Fracking for natural gas also has serious implications for the health of those who live near the drilling. Although the mere belief in climate change is shaky at best for many Ohio politicians, the direct human impacts that fracking has on public health is less deniable and a stickier issue to get out of as it directly affects constituents.

Fracking has been linked to preterm births, high-risk pregnancies, asthma, migraines, fatigue, nasal and sinus symptoms and skin disorders, according to a decade-long study published in 2019. The evidence found in this study suggests that women who live closer to fracking are more likely to give birth to babies with lower-than-average birth weights, of having a high-risk pregnancy or a baby with a low infant health index. There is also a greater risk of congenital heart defects and higher odds of respiratory symptoms. 

None of this is to mention the environmental impacts, such as water and air pollution and soil contamination, prime examples of how environmental issues are also public health issues. 

It is commendable that Jones and Barhorst are concerned about jobs in Ohio and want to preserve the livelihoods of those working in various sects of the natural gas industry. However, they are going about it in a way that does not consider the aspects of public health and the long-term well-being of their constituency.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of The Post's executive editors: Editor-in-Chief Katie Millard, Managing Editor Emma Erion and Equity Director Alesha Davis. Post editorials are independent of the publication's news coverage.

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