Despite Health Concerns, Trump Administration Halts Mountaintop Removal Study

Mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia has long been a concern for scientists who claim its health risks have not been properly recognized. Now, the Trump administration is turning its back on an ongoing safety review, supposedly due to budget concerns.

“The Trump administration is dedicated to responsibly using taxpayer dollars and that includes the billions of dollars in grants that are doled out every year by the Department of the Interior,” Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift explained.

“In order to ensure the department is using tax dollars in a way that advances the department’s mission and fulfills the roles mandated by Congress, in April the department began reviewing grants and cooperative partnerships that exceed $100,000,” she added.

In light of the supposedly excessive research funds, the Department of the Interior has now halted the program while the review continues.

The group leading the study, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, issued a statement on August 21 confirming the Interior’s order:

The National Academies will go forward with previously scheduled meetings for this project in Kentucky on August 21-23 — which are allowed to proceed according to the letter — and encourages the public to attend open meetings in Hazard and Lexington on August 21 and 22. The National Academies believes this is an important study and we stand ready to resume it as soon as the Department of the Interior review is completed.  We are grateful to our committee members for their dedication to carrying forward with this study.

What is mountaintop removal mining?

Mountaintop removal mining, or mountaintop mining, relies on explosives to remove surface land in order to expose coal seams beneath. This form of mining is less expensive than traditional methods and requires fewer staff, but it has serious drawbacks.

The surface rock removed in this process has to go somewhere, and it is often dumped in nearby valleys, damaging local wildlife habitats and contaminating water sources. While the industry has taken steps to ensure it complies with — and even exceeds – regulatory frameworks, the practice still carries significant risks.

Hidden dangers

Chiefly, critics have insisted that mountaintop removal mining simply allows mining companies to maximize profits at the expense of local communities and the environment. Even the EPA’s own reviews have shown that surface water contamination as a result of valley fills has negatively impacted wildlife.

And that’s in addition to the environmental impacts of the operations themselves. Mining permits are granted with a focus on stabilizing the geology of the mountaintop, but no clear emphasis has been put on reforestation after the operation is complete.

Loss of forest cover on mountaintops can present serious challenges for wildlife and alter natural water flow. While reseeding of non-native trees has had some success, many saplings have been eaten by reintroduced elk. It appears that ecosystem restoration in affected areas is patchy at best.

Furthermore, mountaintop removal introduces significant health risks for communities in those regions. Research has suggested that the particulate matter expelled into the air and waterways from explosives, may increase cardio-pulmonary disease and certain cancersStatistics also suggest a far higher rate of birth defects in communities neighboring these sites.

None of these studies have established a direct causal link, and the industry has defended itself by claiming that, because Appalachian communities are impoverished, researchers have not accounted for other lifestyle factors.

But critics charge that the shear breadth of the issues reported indicates that — at the very least — closer attention must be paid to how this practice may harm mountain communities.

And that’s precisely why the Obama administration, prompted by West Virginia officials, ordered a review of mountaintop removal impacts to identify gaps in current research and gain a wider appraisal of baseline data.

But now the Trump administration has paused this study. Officials cite supposed financial concerns and reviews as reason to pause or end other environmental initiatives — and critics are particularly skeptical of the motives at play. President Trump has made no secret of his desire to revive the coal industry, and he has shown a blatant disregard for environmental science where it conflicts with industry profits.

Democratic lawmakers are particularly angry about this latest move, contending that mountaintop removal mining is not a partisan issue, but simply one about public health.

“Mountaintop removal mining has been shown to cause lung cancer, heart disease and other medical problems,” Representative Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona told the New York Times. “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.”

Take Action!

The government must immediately reinstate funding for this vital study so that we know the true public health risks of mountaintop removal mining. Sign our Care2 petition now, and urge the Department of the Interior to allow the National Academies study to continue.

Photo Credit: Doc Searls/Flickr


Marie W
Marie Wabout a year ago

Thanks for sharing

Margie F
Margie FOURIE1 years ago


Margie F
Margie FOURIE1 years ago


Regus Slantei
Regus Slantei1 years ago

OH, and Brian F., go f**k yourself, with your mindless tourettes-like, tirelessly repetitive, highly inaccurate nonsense......nonsense that has already been refuted in detail, multiple times here on Care2 by many of us posters.

You are every bit as stupid as your Russian-backed, Trump-supporting [R] brethren who also fervently believe that if you say something that is clearly not based on facts, if you repeat it enough, it WILL magically become true.

That's explains you and your [R] snuggle-buddies to a "tee": (1) belief in fairytales and magic; and (2) not even a hint of a clue as to what the concept of "hypocrisy" is. MORON.

Shirley Plowman
Shirley Plowman1 years ago

More anti-environment thinking by this jack-ass president now in office and helped there by an enemy.

Carl R
Carl R1 years ago


Janis K
Janis K1 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

earthism info
earthism info1 years ago

Some decisions might be worthy at present but not in future

Jen S
Jen S1 years ago

Trump has reached yet another new low, but one of his few skills is pandering. Big Coal must be gleeful.

Darlene Buckingham

Another thought. Logic alone tells us that blowing off mountain tops is harmful. We don’t need a study to tell us this. This is a big game that politicians are playing to stall and keep on with harmful policies and playing the blame game. Obama was wonderful for agreeing to a study!? How about this should not be happening and STOP immediately.