Federal Health Study Shenanigans

Jun 21, 2018

A US Dept. of Interior (DOI) official met frequently with coal industry lobbyists before canceling a health study on mountaintop removal in Appalachia, according to an article in Pacific Standard. Freedom of Information Act requests revealed Katharine MacGregor, principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management, met at least six times with industry representatives shortly before canceling the study. Meetings included the National Mining Association in April and May, 2017, and Arch Coal in March and June. On Aug. 18, 2017, the DOI’s Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) told the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to cease all work on the review.  Furthermore, an investigation by the DOI Inspector General revealed that no clear reason was given in the decision to cancel the study and that nearly half a million dollars were wasted because there was no final product. The IG stated that DOI officials were unable to provide specific criteria used for their determination, and that they halted the study "because they did not believe that it would produce any new information and felt costs would exceed the benefits."

“This is the very essence of what we mean when we describe Appalachia as a sacrifice zone,” said Bob Kincaid, Coal River Mountain Watch board president. “The coal industry persists in poisonous conduct even though they know they are killing innocents in the process. It is well past time for Americans to demand an end to mountaintop removal; either that or be complicit in this ongoing crime against humanity.”

The $1-million study, announced by OSMRE on Aug. 3, 2016, was to take two years and came at the request of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP). WVDEP made the request in 2015 after mounting pressure from the Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) campaign and allied groups to halt new mountaintop removal coal mining permits. Over 30 peer-reviewed scientific studies demonstrate public health impacts from the process, including 1,200 “excess deaths” per year, as well as elevated rates of cancer, heart disease, birth defects, and other illnesses, after accounting for other factors.

"It’s clear now that canceling this study was a gift to the coal industry,” said Bo Webb, ACHE campaign coordinator. “Citizens worked for years just to get the existing health studies acknowledged. We were hopeful that finally our efforts to save innocent lives and family heartache were paying off.  This new information shows that canceling the study had nothing to do with budget priorities or a finding that the study was ‘redundant.’ Why put this much effort into killing a study that had already held citizen forums and public hearings unless they were afraid of the results? The Department of Interior is effectively saying that Appalachian residents not only don’t deserve to live, they don’t deserve to know why they’re dying. We urge everyone to contact their congressional representatives to support the ACHE Act, H.R. 786."

The Pacific Standard article also revealed emails just prior to the decision, only days before the final public hearing:

“On August 17th, 2017, MacGregor sent a prodding email to Glenda Owens, then the acting director of the OSMRE, concerning the study.

‘Hey Glenda -- I thought you told me on the phone that this was postponed?’ she wrote.

Owens responded a few minutes later, apologetically: ‘Hey Kate, No, sorry if I was not clear. We are contacting [the National Academies] tomorrow both by phone and sending letter to memorialize conversation.’"


Pacific Standard article “A Top DOI Official Had at Least Six Meetings with the Mining Industry. She Then Helped Cancel a Study on the Public-Health Effects of Mining,” by Jimmy Tobias:  https://psmag.com/environment/a-top-doi-official-had-at-least-six-meetings-with-the-mining-industry-she-then-helped-cancel-a-study-on-the-public-health-effects-of-mining

Dept. of Interior Inspector General etter to congressional representatives: http://democrats-naturalresources.house.gov/imo/media/doc/DOI%20IG%20Letter%20on%20Cancellation%20of%20NAS%20Mountaintop%20Removal%20Mining%20Study%20June%207%202018.pdf

TEDMED Talk by Dr. Michael Hendryx “The shocking danger of mountaintop removal – and why it must end” https://www.tedmed.com/talks/show?id=689121