The Trump administration has suspended a study of health risks to residents who live near mountaintop removal coal mine sites in the Appalachian Mountains. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine was asked by the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement in an August 18 letter to “cease all activities” involved in the two-year, $1 million research project while the department undertakes a review of projects costing more than $100,000. The review was prompted by “the department’s changing budget situation,” the letter said.
The academies undertook the study last year at the request of West Virginia’s state government, after researchers at the University of West Virginia and other institutions found increased risks of birth defects, cancer, and premature death, according to reporting by Ken Ward, Jr. of the Charleston, West Virginia Gazette-Mail.
President Trump proposed cutting $1.6 billion—or 12 percent—from the Interior budget in 2018. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told a Senate committee in June that he supports the budget cuts, which includes cutting 4,000 jobs. “This is what a balanced budget looks like,” he said.
The academies went ahead with previously planned meetings in Hazard and Lexington, Kentucky communities to hear from coal country residents.
“The National Academies believes this is an important study and we stand ready to resume it as soon as the Department of Interior review is completed,” William Kearney, the academies executive director said in a statement. The academies are private, nonprofit institutions that conduct independent analysis and provide advice on complex public policy issues related to science, technology, and medicine, the statement says. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter signed by President Lincoln.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration also disbanded a federal advisory panel for the National Climate Assessment. The 15-member group was created in 2015 to help businesses and state and local governments understand and prepare for the government’s next National Climate Assessment. That report, required by law to be issued every four years, is due in 2018. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spokeswoman said the disbanding of the advisory panel, whose charter expired August 20, will not affect completion of the National Climate Assessment.