|A surface coal mine (Herald-Leader photo by Charles Bertram)|
Interior said it halted the study because it is reviewing all its grants and cooperative agreements of more than $100,000, Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. OSM had commissioned the study in August 2016, charging a panel of experts to review what it said was a "growing amount" of academic research on the topic.
Opponents of surface mining say they fear the study will be scrapped completely, citing the Trump administration's recent efforts to turn back some environmental regulations. "This was something that we had considered and feared given the change in administrations," Erin Savage, a program manager for Appalachian Voices, told Estep.
Studies have shown that mountaintop mining is associated with higher rates of cancer, heart disease, and other health issues. "However, the coal industry has fiercely disputed the studies, and a 2012 industry-funded study by a Yale University researcher and others concluded that 'coal mining is not per se the cause of increased mortality in rural Appalachia,'" Estep notes.
William Kearney, executive director of the National Academies, said in a press release that the agency believes the study is important and is "ready to resume it as soon as the Department of the Interior review is completed." At the Hazard meeting, residents told National Academies researchers that they hope OSM will allow the study to continue, Estep reports in an update. "Science isn't going to hurt us. What we don't know very well could," said Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies in Whitesburg.