Government suspends health-related, mountaintop removal study in coal country

The Trump administration ordered a halt to a study examining health risks associated with proximity to mountaintop removal coal-mining sites, according to the federal agency tasked with conducting the research.

Officials with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine issued a statement Monday revealing the Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining (OSM) had ordered the panel to stop its research.

The study was originally commissioned to determine if cancer rates were higher among residents inhabiting areas near mountaintop coal mining in the Appalachian regions of four states: Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee.

Previous research supports the theory, but the coal industry has bitterly rejected earlier conclusions and has relied on a Yale University study which disputes other investigations.

According to the OSM, the order to halt work occurred as a result of an internal review of grants and cooperative reviews in excess of $100,000, “to ensure the department is using tax dollars in a way that advances the department’s mission and fulfills the roles mandated by Congress,” an Interior spokesperson said.

Initiated on a $1 million grant, the OSM panel’s work began in August 2016.

Although the move to bring the study to a halt was unexpected among supporters of the research, the National Academies stated the pause in the inquiry was procedural and is not to be interpreted as abandoning the project altogether.

“The National Academies believes this is an important study and we stand ready to resume it as soon as the Department of the Interior review is completed,” read an Academies press release.

Subsequent reports issued late Wednesday and Thursday highlight the bad timing of Interior’s decision to halt studying the effects of mountaintop removal.

First, a study of America’s electricity grid commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy calls for incentivizing coal and nuclear power plant production, including permits for new facilities, in order to lower energy costs and decrease the chance of power outages.

Second, a new collaborative study by three public and private organizations found that Central Appalachia in particular, which encompasses West Virginia, Kentucky and southwestern Virginia, have the worst health outcomes in the entire country.

The report found the three-state subregion leads the U.S. in cancer, heart and lung disease, diabetes and injury-related deaths, while Appalachia overall trails the rest of the country in 33 health categories, including 37 percent more poison deaths than any other region.


[Charleston Gazette-Mail] [Lexington Herald Leader] [Reuters] [AP] [Photo courtesy Mountaintop Removal Road Show]