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