Trump Slices Off Funds for Study of Moun­tain­top Re­moval Coal Min­ing’s Health Ef­fects

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In mid-au­gust, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion very qui­etly shut off fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the long-term health im­pli­ca­tions of one of the most de­struc­tive forms of coal min­ing in use to­day.

The project was funded and started af­ter the West Vir­ginia Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion and the state’s Bu­reau for Pub­lic Health had re­quested help in light of a ris­ing tide of sci­en­tific re­search that con­nected “moun­tain­top re­moval to in­creased risks of birth de­fects, cancer and pre­ma­ture death among res­i­dents liv­ing near large-scale sur­face coal mines in Ap­palachia.” The state had ap­proached the Depart­ment of the In­te­rior for fund­ing, which it made avail­able last year in the amount of more than $1 mil­lion pro­vided by the depart­ment’s Of­fice of Sur­face Min­ing Recla­ma­tion and En­force­ment (OSMRE). The fund­ing was to be for a two-year study, with rec­om­men­da­tions on pos­si­ble ma­jor changes in the coal-min­ing in­dus­try.

No­ti­fi­ca­tion that the project would be shut down was de­liv­ered from the OSMRE on Au­gust 21 by let­ter to The Na­tional Academies of Sciences, En­gi­neer­ing, and Medicine. The let­ter or­dered the project to be stopped, cit­ing that the ac­tion was “largely as a re­sult of the depart­ment’s chang­ing bud­get sit­u­a­tion.”

Talk­ing about the de­ci­sion to stop the study, Bill Price, se­nior Ap­palachia or­ga­niz­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tive for The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal cam­paign, said that “peo­ple in Ap­palachia have been de­mand­ing [this study] for years” and “to take that away with­out warn­ing or ad­e­quate rea­son is beyond heart­less. It ap­pears that the only peo­ple Trump cares about in Ap­palachia are coal ex­ec­u­tives, not the peo­ple who’ve lived and worked here for gen­er­a­tions. Peo­ple here trusted him, but he is prov­ing he didn’t de­serve that trust.” Price sum­ma­rized the sit­u­a­tion by say­ing that “Trump has once again shown the peo­ple of Ap­palachia that we mean noth­ing to him. From his pro­posed bud­get cuts to the Ap­palachian Re­gional Com­mis­sion to push­ing to take away health care from thou­sands of Ap­palachian peo­ple to now strip­ping doc­tors and sci­en­tists of the abil­ity to warn us about the health ef­fects of moun­tain­top coal re­moval, Trump is show­ing that he’s only been pre­tend­ing to care about our com­mu­ni­ties.”

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Raul M. Gri­jalva (D-ari­zona), the rank­ing mem­ber of the House Com­mit­tee on Nat­u­ral Re­sources, de­scribed this as yet an­other ex­am­ple of the cal­lous­ness of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. In com­ments he made shortly af­ter the an­nounce­ment of the study can­cel­la­tion, Gri­jalva made it even clearer when he said: “Moun­tain­top re­moval min­ing has been shown to cause lung cancer, heart dis­ease and other med­i­cal prob­lems. Clearly this ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Repub­li­can Party are try­ing to stop the Na­tional Academies of Sciences from un­cov­er­ing ex­actly how harm­ful this prac­tice is. Stop­ping this study is a ploy to stop sci­ence in its tracks and keep the pub­lic in the dark about health risks as a fa­vor to the min­ing in­dus­try, pure and sim­ple.”

Like the elim­i­na­tion of fed­eral bud­gets to help un­der­stand cli­mate change and what to do about it, this ap­pears to be yet an­other ex­am­ple of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ver­sion of “what they don’t know can’t hurt them.” Ap­par­ently, if only a few of his West Vir­ginia sup­port­ers die from coal-re­lated ill­nesses be­fore the next elec­tion cy­cle is over, Trump and his col­leagues in Con­gress may be more than happy enough.

Photo by Kanawha For­est Coali­tion, CC

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