This is something serious that could impact on Donald Trump’s popularity in general and his reputation among Scientists, Engineers, and Medicine Experts in the world. Firstly, the logic of abruptly stopping US Coal Study is ambiguous. Secondly, the reason that the Trump administration is giving for abruptly stopping it is clearly non-genuine. The study is obviously in relation to environmental protection. It is hardly two-year tenure. In fact, it is already more than a year that the study was going on. The budget for this study was the US $1 million. Is this a clear indication to lock academic freedom. As a matter of fact, the study is on the health risks of coal mining. NASEM (US National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine) was conducting this study.
NASEM is one of the premium institutes. So far, there had been an excellent relationship between the government and NASEM. The US government has been taking all observations and conclusions by NASEM quite seriously so far. In fact, just a year ago there was a sanction of more than the US $200 million from the government to NASEM. This amount was to research on issues from the scientific workforce to military implications of synthetic biology. As a matter of fact, it was quite successful. Another pathbreaking 2009 report by NASEM is worth mentioning. The report says there are serious flaws in the forensic methods that the law enforcement uses thereby increasing the risk of putting innocent people in jail. But an abrupt halt on US Coal Study is something oppositely serious.
NASEM was conducting US Coal Study independently
In fact, it was US Department of the Interior (DOI) in 2016 to commission a $1-million US Coal Study of the serious health risks of surface coal mining on communities in West Virginia. As a matter of fact, there are proofs suggesting that people living near surface-mining operations (they also call it as mountaintop removal) have greater chances of lung cancer and birth defects. The reason for this is air and water pollution. The study was already in its mid-way with substantial achievements. As a matter of fact, more than half the budget is also consumed. The results of this report would definitely have a serious impact on Mining companies and trade organizations. Is Trump administration under pressure from them to close it?
The National Mining Association has always been against the NASEM US Coal Study right since its inception. On 21 August, NASEM committee was to meet in a Kentucky mining town. Tragically, on 18 August, DOI orders a complete stop to the study, with immediate effect without even bothering to understand the balance scope of work. Was NASEM about to declare something drastically serious that probably Trump administration and the mining companies favoring him didn’t like? The reason DOI is giving is altogether rubbish and absurd. It says it is reviewing spending on all projects where the cost is more than $100,000.
Studies similar to US Coal Study are at risk
Heather Swift, DOI Spokeswoman says, “The Trump administration is dedicated to responsibly using taxpayer dollars in a way that advances the department’s mission and fulfills the roles mandated by Congress.” Surprisingly, she did not reply to questions about which other projects are under review. Is it probably none? As a matter of fact, it is the first time that the administration of President Donald Trump is canceling a NASEM study that is already ongoing. Otherwise, in the past also, a move like this has rarely happened.
On the other hand, the NASEM says in its statement that its investigators “stand ready” to resume US Coal Study as soon as the DOI completes its review. In fact, they know it is not going to happen. Rather they’re likely to be waiting a long time and there is no possibility of its revival. The Trump administration rests a plenty of its fondness for the US coal industry. One of the prominent reason could be because it employs more than 75,000 people. But one thing they have made it clear that their priorities are not towards the health of the nation. Rather at the cost of it, they are giving more weightage to employment.
In fact, another evidence in this regard is equally shocking and clearly states Trump’s interests as US President. Ryan Zinke, Head, DOI has clear plans to downsize national parks in order to get more area for resource extraction. As a matter of fact, there is a serious concern among NASEM and similar agencies about the cancellation of some other studies like US Coal Study that are similarly severe in nature. Is it the end of freedom for Science and Academics in the United States?