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Emails Suggest Political Interference in Feds Ending Mining-Health Study

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Initial research found higher levels of cancer and birth defects in residents around surface mines, but a broad federal study to follow up on those problems was canceled. (Vivian Stockman/Southwings)
Initial research found higher levels of cancer and birth defects in residents around surface mines, but a broad federal study to follow up on those problems was canceled. (Vivian Stockman/Southwings)
 By Dan HeymanContact
June 15, 2018

CHARLESTON, W. Va. – New evidence suggests political pressure had a role in the U.S. Department of the Interior's sudden cancellation of a major study on the health impacts of mountaintop-removal mining.

According to a newly released Inspector General's letter to Congress, the Interior Department had no clear reason for ending the research a year ago.

But email messages obtained by writer Jimmy Tobias at the magazine Pacific Standard show a political appointee pushed for the cancellation after meeting with industry lobbyists.

At the time, the agency cited the cost of the study. To Tobias, that's starting to look like an excuse.

"At least not yet, there's no smoking gun," he said. "But I think the evidence is mounting that this was a political decision and that potentially, it was made to benefit the mining industry."

The official has not responded to questions from Tobias or other reporters. The study began after a West Virginia University researcher found higher rates of cancer, birth defects and other illnesses in people living near the large strip mines.

Tobias also gained access to records that showed who met with the Trump appointee who pushed to end the study. He counted more than ten times as many visits with industry representatives as with citizens or conservation groups.

"There was a pretty massive discrepancy, I would say," Tobias said. "More than 120 meetings with industry groups, oil and gas industry, the mining industry, lobbyists; whereas I counted fewer than ten meetings with conservation groups."

About $1 million had been budgeted for the study. According to the Inspector General, nearly half of that went to waste when the Interior Department canceled the research before it was finished.

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