Jun 13, 2018, 4:24 PM ET

Interior Dept. wasted more than $400,000 on canceled study: Watchdog


The Interior Department's internal watchdog says the agency wasted more than $400,000 after it decided to cancel an ongoing study into potential health risks for people living near mountaintop coal mines in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.

"We determined that $455,110, the amount billed, was wasted because no final product was produced," deputy inspector general Mary Kendall wrote in a letter to Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., who requested the office look into the decision to cancel the study.

Kendall said in the letter that department officials were unable to explain the specific reasons they decided to cancel the study, other than citing a general document about Secretary Ryan Zinke's priorities for the agency. The officials also said they did not believe the study would produce any new information and felt the cost of the study would exceed the benefits.

The National Academies of Science announced in August of last year that the Interior Department directed researchers to stop working on the study as part of an agency-wide review of grants for more than $100,000. The National Academies still held public meetings that were already scheduled but did not do any more work on the study after the meetings.

The study would have looked into whether there are increased health risks for people living close to sites that have been or are currently being mined for coal deposits near the surface, including a review of previous research.

PHOTO: A June 13, 2008 photo shows a large mountaintop coal mining operation in West Virginia.Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images, FILE
A June 13, 2008 photo shows a large mountaintop coal mining operation in West Virginia.

Other researchers have looked into the relationship between living near the kinds of mines in Central Appalachia. One study published last year by the National Institute of Environmental Health found that some of the substances residents near mines are exposed to could be hazardous but that other factors like socioeconomic status made it difficult to reach a conclusion on the health effects.

That study said that more research would be critical to understanding the impact on the health of communities near surface mines.

A spokeswoman for the academies said that the members of the committee working on the study were not being paid but that the government paid for their travel and other expenses. The money for the study came from the Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation.

Grijalva, D-Ariz., the ranking Democrat on the natural resources committee, said the letter shows that the department lied about why the study was canceled.

"Republicans in Congress have shown they couldn’t care less about conducting real oversight. As long as Trump’s party is in power in Washington, more money will disappear, more lies will follow and there will be no accountability," Grijalva said in a statement.

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  • TexasVulcan

    We sure don't want to know if coal is even worse for humans than we already knew... /s

  • Forward forward

    The Trump administration will be responsible for allowing more deaths due to coal mining, than jobs created from it. They needed to cover that up. The donors run the Trump swamp.

  • CantStoptheSignal

    Trump has had his minions doing this for the past year like ending NASA's CMS (Climate Monitoring System) which cost $10 million while Trump has spent 10 times that on his travel and golf outings is absolutely disgusting.

    This administration is the most corrupt and has been the most damaging to our country since it's founding. And it's really sad/pathetic to see some people who call themselves "Patriots" cheering it on.

  • Marmota

    Trump and the GOP hate science, because science is comprised of facts. Trump hate facts, he prefers lies.

  • Ptah

    Trump may be the first president in history whose cabinet level members may end up on trial for murder or at least accessories.

  • RobertJohns

    This is very small potatoes in the grand scheme of federal government waste. Example: The National Science Foundation gave the University of California - San Diego $560,000 for a study measuring the endurance of mudskipper fish on a treadmill. (Yep, a fish on a treadmill) This study did actually produce a result. What did they find? That a mudskipper has more endurance when there is more oxygen available to it. Duhhh! Thank you for that stunning result, Professor Obvious. Better that this one had been shut down at $400,000 without a report, at least saving the last $160,000.

  • Bert Jackson

    I thought they were going to drain the swamp? Apparently they brought a swamp with them. Disgusting

  • 40acre

    So let me get this straight. They cancelled the study and the reason they cancelled the study was because the study (that they cancelled) wasn't expected to produce any results?

  • MWP

    faux news - an accurate story with all the facts would also include a total of how much the total project was planned to cost. The story might then just as accurately have been written as Interior Department saved monies by canceling the project and not having to pay the full price. The fact that no figure is included of the total planned costs, and the fact that no opposing opinions are presented, just highlights that this piece of "reporting" is nothing less than a political hit job. Welcome to ABCNews, and what now passes as investigative journalism...

  • Furrmin The Cat

    Saving one life is worth the cost.

  • helicohunter

    Canceling the study is a sign that they are trying to PREVENT waste, not a sign that they are wasting money.
    Scientific studies are done to answer questions. Sometimes, getting a clear answer is a lot harder than anticipated. It is important to try to determine whether there are health risks associated with living near coal mines, but if the study isn't providing clear results, there's no use throwing good money after bad.

  • Don'tBotherMe

    Trump's administration is so corrupt. It would be interesting to see whether an investigation is in order to oversee the mismanagement of departmental expenses. It seems every week one of Trump's flunkies is using our tax dollars for a $30K table or jetting around the world on personal business.

  • Liars N. Fools

    Trump has abolished science, and we should just stop all these projects. Coal miners die because of bad decisions made by Obama. Everybody knows that without some study by so-called experts. Better to govern in ignorance. MAGA.

  • catmom

    trump and Republicans could care less about wasting that money. They knew what the outcome would be and besides, it was Obama's doing anyway We have a clear understanding that this administration are most definitely not interested in spending our tax dollars wisely.

  • srichey321

    Only 400k? Yeah right, what an obvious smoke-screen.

  • Ctrygrl

    Zinke and his king had no interest in how proximity of these coal mines were hurting people. The king says support coal

  • Your Worst Nightmare

    Wow, really? A study on whether exposure to coal posed a health risk? Oh, wait. Are we talking about Trump's Clean Coal? No study needed. Donnie's word is good enough for me.

  • gs12

    All the department's are trying to top 700 million gor a web site. This goes on all the time. This is why there is no need for more taxes.

  • Peppapeace

    Trump and his administration only care for the wealthy and corporations. They don't care about the water, the air, or the environment.

  • gbgentleman

    I'm sure Donny has some coal stock he's trying to make a killing on.... Unfortunately the killing will also include coal mine workers and those who live near the mines. Not to mention the environment.

  • rightened

    Reminds me of the McDonald's shareholders, who declined to do a study on the amount of plastic (spoons, forks, knives, cup tops, straws, etc.) that is wasted every year. Even though plastic refuse is choking the ocean and tainting ocean water, not to mention killing ocean life.

    "Health hazard? No, we don't wanna know."

  • Dennis Lynn

    How much would the completed study have cost?

  • PerchLady

    Pruitt and Zinke don't give a flying flip about the health of citizens or the toll their deregulation has taken on the environment. Trump rolled back asbestos testing recently, saying asbestos was the best fire retardant. This coming from an idiot that didn't want sprinkler systems put in his skyscrapers because it cost too much money. Has he never heard of mesothelioma??? Black lung disease?

  • Fulghn

    So is there actual evidence that any 'studying' was done - or do many connected government contractors now have new houses, boats, and fatter wallets?

  • MRB26

    This will most impact people that live down stream and or down hill from one of these sites. That would be mainly in West Virginia, maybe some PA areas.
    This method is an environment killer for sure that's why they pulled the study.
    I guess we'll see how the residents do with no regulation on mountaintop mining.

  • Andrea Brandon

    "...including a review of previous research." Well, maybe this study never should have been approved to start with.

  • Prophet With Honor

    Yeah...they feared what it WOULD show.

  • hold-the-phone

    _Of course_ the study was cancelled, and there'll be no report. Can't be having any "evidence" come out against deregulation of environmental protections affecting the corporate bottom line, can we??? /s