Grijalva: IG Report Proves Trump’s Interior Department Lied About Missing Mountaintop Removal Research Funding

Washington, D.C. – A newly released Department of the Interior (DOI) Office of Inspector General (OIG) letter responding to a request from Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) shows that DOI, under Secretary Ryan Zinke, has been lying for months about why and how it canceled a study on the human health impacts of mountaintop removal mining, a deadly practice with a long history of causing environmental damage throughout Appalachia. OIG finds that DOI could not explain why it canceled the halfway-finished report, and that administration officials could produce no documentary evidence of any “review” of grants and cooperative agreements on which the decision was supposedly based.

The OIG letter is available at http://bit.ly/2Jyc0Zd.

On Aug. 18, 2017, DOI’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement abruptly announced that the study – a multi-year literature review by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS) funded with DOI money – would be canceled as part of a DOI-wide review of its grants and cooperative agreements in excess of $100,000. As OIG found, that explanation was false:

In regard to a cooperative agreement between NAS and OSMRE dealing with health impacts of mountaintop mining, we found that NAS was told to cease activities on August 18, 2017. Other than a general document entitled “Secretary of the Interior’s Priorities,” Departmental officials were unable to provide specific criteria, used for their determination whether to allow or cease certain grants and cooperative agreements.

The watchdog notes that it “determined that $455,110, the amount billed, was wasted because no final product was produced.”

“This administration does whatever it wants and lies to the public about it, and their attitude is that the public will just have to deal with it,” Grijalva said today. “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.”

A brief timeline shows how long DOI has been misleading Congress and the American people about the issue.

Aug. 18, 2017: OSMRE sends NAS a letter saying in part, “[T]he Department of the Interior has begun an agency-wide review of its grants and cooperative agreements in excess of $100,000, largely as a result of our changing budget situation.”

Oct. 19, 2017 (E&E News): “Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift maintained yesterday the study was put ‘on hold’ as part of a departmentwide review of grants and cooperative partnerships exceeding $100,000 that began in April. ‘The Trump Administration is dedicated to responsibly using taxpayer dollars,’ she said in an email.”

Oct. 28, 2017 (100 Days in Appalachia): “Interior’s Deputy Press Secretary, Alex Hinson, explained in an email that the review is meant to ensure the proper and responsible allocation of taxpayers’ money. Although Hinson stated that ‘in April the Department began reviewing grants and cooperative partnerships that exceed $100,000,’ he failed to provide any studies that are undergoing similar review.”

March 21, 2018 (West Virginia Gazette): “A spokeswoman for the Interior Department did not answer questions about why the study was terminated, and if there were plans to revive it in the future. ‘Your paper covered this in September 2017. Nothing has changed since,’ Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift wrote in an email.”

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