Daily Yonder: House Democrats question halt to study of strip-mining impact on Appalachian health

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By Heather Chapman
Special to KyForward

When a federal study on the public-health impacts of large-scale surface mining in Central Appalachia was cancelled in August, the Interior Department said it wasn’t because of the subject matter. All projects costing more than $100,000 were being reviewed because of budget cuts Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement said in a statement.

But that may not be the case. Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, the highest-ranking Democrat of the House Committee on Natural Resources, wrote Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in October demanding an explanation of the fate of the remaining $400,000 in funds for the study, which had a $1 million budget. “According to Rep. Grijalva’s letter, no other studies have been halted as a result of budget review by the Department of Interior of grants over $100,000. Arizona’s representative expressed concern that the reasons behind the research’s cancellation might be driven by ideology and not fiscal responsibility,” Jan Pytalski reports for 100 Days in Appalachia.

Appalachian Voices graphic; not all coal mines show in red may
be “mountaintop removal” as such; click on the image to enlarge it.

“It increasingly appears as if DOI ended the study because of fears that it would conclusively show that mountaintop removal coal mining is a serious threat to the health of people living in Appalachia,” Grijalva wrote in the letter. “Cutting off funding for a scientific study because it will likely produce uncomfortable results for powerful administration allies is unconscionable, especially when these political games are affecting public health. Sadly, as we have seen so far this year, this Administration routinely suppresses science that doesn’t agree with its ideology.”

“In his letter, Rep. Grijalva recalls a joint call for the re-institution of the study with Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), ranking member of the Committee on Budget, Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Donald McEachin (D-Va.).” The representatives sent the letter one week after the Aug. 18 order to halt the study. “As of press time it remains unanswered,” Pytalski reports.

This story originally appeared in the The Daily Yonder. It is reprinted with permission.

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