Coal Mining Study Paused by DOI

On August 18, 2017, the Department of the Interior (DOI)’s Office of Surface Mining (OSM) directed the National Academy of Sciences to stop work on a study of potential health effects from mountaintop removal coal mining. The study, which was commissioned by OSM in 2016, was to examine possible connections between health risks and living near current or former surface mining sites in Appalachia. OSM had committed $1 million for the study, but is now reconsidering its funding decision. A DOI spokesperson indicated that the reconsideration was needed to ensure responsible use of taxpayer money, stating:

 “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.”


In June 2018, a spokesperson for DOI indicated that the study had been “paused for several months, but was closed out in April,” after a review concluded that it was redundant.

Documents obtained by the Pacific Standard suggest the study was cancelled for political, not financial, reasons. The documents indicate that Katherine MacGregor, DOI’s principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management, pushed for cancellation of the study. According to a report in the Pacific Standard:

“In the months leading up to the cancellation, [Ms. MacGregor’s] calendar shows that she had no fewer than six meetings with the most powerful mining players in the country. In both April and May of 2017, she met with the National Mining Association. In March and June, meanwhile, she met with Arch Coal, a long-time practitioner of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia.”

On May 10, 2019, the Washington Post reported that an official in DOI’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, Landon “Tucker” Davis, said the study was cancelled because “Science was a Democratic thing.”