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Interior Department halts study on coal mining health risks

Does mountaintop coal mining pose health hazards for surrounding areas? The Trump administration doesn't seem eager to learn the answer.
A coal train waits to leave a coal yard in rural West Virginia.
A coal train waits to leave a coal yard in rural West Virginia.

One of the more alarming habits of the Bush/Cheney administration was its tendency to get rid of reports that offered information the White House didn't like. As long time readers may recall, it was a trick the Republican administration pulled off a few too many times.

In 2005, for example, after a government report showed an increase in terrorism around the world, the administration stopped publishing annual data on international terrorism. When the Bush administration was discouraged by data about factory closings, the administration announced (on Christmas Eve) it would stop publishing information about factory closings. When Bush's Department of Education found that charter schools were underperforming, the administration sharply cut back on the information it collected about charter schools.

It's an approach the Trump administration is starting to duplicate. The New York Times reported overnight:

The Interior Department has ordered a halt to a scientific study begun under President Obama of the public health risks of mountaintop-removal coal mining.The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, which was conducting the study, said in a statement Monday that they were ordered to stop work because the Interior Department is conducting an agencywide budgetary review.

The Times' report explained that when mining companies do mountaintop coal mining, they "dump the rubble into the surrounding valleys and streams, in many cases leading to extensive pollution." Under the Obama administration and at the request of state officials in West Virginia, the National Academies of Sciences put together a panel of 12 experts to assess "new approaches to safeguard the health of residents" living near the mines.

That assessment has now been halted before its completion. The underlying problem hasn't gone away, of course, but Trump administration officials have reportedly decided there's no real urgency in obtaining information on how to address that problem.

In theory, the work can begin anew after the budget "review," but as the Washington Post added, the National Academies of Sciences "said it has no idea about the review's expected start date and completion."