Another study released Monday backed off slightly from an earlier published paper that linked mountaintop removal with decreased poverty.
Ohio State University researchers examined mining and poverty data in Appalachia to determine if the region really shows effects of the so-called "natural resource curse," a theory that the reliance on extractive industries like mining actually harms a region's long-term economic performance.
In their new paper, Ohio State's Linda Lobao and her colleagues report that the situation appears to have improved slightly.
While coal mining and mountaintop removal previously were associated with higher poverty in Appalachian communities, mining now appears to show no association at all with either higher or lower poverty. That's a contrast to U.S. coal communities outside Appalachia, where mining appears to be associated with lower poverty, the Ohio State paper said.
The ARIES event includes more than 70 presentations, but authors of only about a half of those papers agreed to submit their work for peer-review process set up by John Cranyon, a Virginia Tech staffer who is coordinating ARIES.
For example, Petty's paper was the only one of five water quality reports on Monday's agenda that had been peer-reviewed by outside scientists, according to symposium documents. Non-peer-reviewed presentations were co-authored by prominent industry consultants and lawyers.
Some officials who spoke Monday downplayed the importance of the scientific peer-review process.
"When you talk about 'science-based,' people seem to think it is entirely without bias, and that's not true," said Len Peters, a chemical engineer and secretary of Kentucky's Energy and Environment Cabinet. "We don't always agree on the science. Even peer-reviewed science is not without disagreement and debate."
Karmis, though, has defended ARIES against criticism that the industry's $15 million in funding for the project will affect the results of the research.
"Funding participants have no direct input on the development of studies or reporting of results," Karmis said.
Gene Kitts, a vice president of Alpha Natural Resources, one of the companies that helped found ARIES, said that Alpha is going to live with whatever results the funded scientists come up with.
"ARIES is not designed to be an agenda-driven research program," Kitts said. "We want the research to drive the agenda."
But Kitts also said that Alpha officials got involved with ARIES in part because they wanted to ensure that certain questions they felt were left out of previous studies were included in future research.
For example, Kitts said, Alpha did not believe previous studies accurately examined the impact of selenium pollution on Appalachian streams or whether measurements of electrical conductivity were a good indicator of mining's influence on aquatic life.
"Those are some of the questions that we asked our researchers to look at," Kitts said during Monday's symposium. "We want to make sure all the questions are asked and that all of the facts are considered in these studies."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.