By Erin Savage
On Aug. 18, the U.S. Department of the Interior sent a letter to the National Academy of Sciences ordering it to halt its review of the links between mountaintop removal coal mining and human health impacts.
In 2016, the department’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement had commissioned the academy to complete the two-year review, providing a budget of $1 million. The review came at the request of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, which was under pressure from West Virginia citizens concerned with the growing body of research pointing to negative health impacts strongly linked to living near surface coal mines.
According to a statement by the academy, the letter from the Interior Department indicated that “the Department has begun an agency-wide review of its grants and cooperative agreements in excess of $100,000, largely as a result of the Department’s changing budget situation.” The letter ordered the National Academy of Sciences to cease all work on the study, with the exception of the August 21-23 meetings in Kentucky, which were already underway.
The order for the review came in an April 2017 memorandum from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. In May, the ranking Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee, Raul Grijalva and Donald McEachin, sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke questioning the rationale and legality of the funding review.
The former head of OSMRE, Joseph Pizarchik, expressed his displeasure after the NAS review was abruptly put on hold. “The American people need to know whether living close to a coal mine is killing them,” Pizarchik told S&P Global. “The economic viability of the coal industry is dependent upon whether or not the industry is incurring liability for the health and lives of the American people.”
The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported that of the eight National Academies studies being funded by the Dept. of the Interior, the mountaintop removal health review is the only one that has been put on hold. The review is nearly halfway into its 24-month timeframe and its $1 million budget represents less than 1 percent of the department’s current spending on grants.
It is not possible to say what the outcome of the review would be should it be allowed to continue, though a large amount of research points to strong connections between mountaintop removal and a multitude of health issues.
According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, various coal companies have funded efforts to discredit this research.