Trump administration halts coal mining health study

A miner walks outside the entrance of the Gateway Eagle Mine, an United Mine Workers mine in Pond Fork, Boone County, in southern West Virginia on March 13, 2016. This month, the Trump administration stopped a study into the health affects of surface coal mining, pending a review of Interior Department grants. File Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI

Aug. 22 (UPI) — The Trump administration has asked the National Academy of Sciences to stop a study into the environmental effects of a controversial mining technique in Appalachia, pending a review of grant money distributed by the Interior Department.

The NAS study, set to begin this month and funded through a grant awarded by the Interior Department, is to examine the potential health risks for people living near surface coal mining sites in Appalachia, including the effects on air, soil and water quality.

But in a letter to the NAS, a non-governmental organization, the Interior Department said it “has begun an agency-wide review of its grants and cooperative agreements in excess of $100,000, largely as a result of our changing budget situation.”

According to a separate statement from the Interior Department, the agency had given the NAS a $1 million grant for the study, which is to take place over two years.

“The Trump administration is dedicated to responsibly using taxpayer dollars and that includes the billions of dollars in grants that are doled out every year by the Department of the Interior,” the statement said.

Despite the Interior Department’s request to halt the study, the NAS plans to go ahead with preliminary public meetings in the Appalachia area, which is allowed under the agreement, in hopes it will move forward.

“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,” the NAS said.

Erin Savage, a program manager with advocacy group Appalachian Voices, an organization against surface coal mining, also known as mountaintop removal, told Courthouse News Service that there is a great deal of evidence showing the mining practice is damaging to people’s health.

“Basically there’s a lot of research that indicates some really troubling ties between mountaintop removal and any number of health problems, including cancer, birth defects, lower life expectancy — things like that,” Savage said.

In March, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to roll back several environmental regulations put forth by the Obama administration.

“That’s what this is all about — bringing back our jobs, bringing back our dreams and making America wealthy again,” Trump said at the time.

With fewer job opportunities, in part due to the decline in coal, some areas in the Appalachia region have experienced rising rates of poverty. But the area also has a 14 percent higher cancer rate than the rest of the United States, according to the University of Virginia.

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