US should stop mountaintop coal mining -scientists

* Study says mountaintop mining hurts health, environment

* Report says no mountaintop coal permits should be issued

* Industry says a ban would cost jobs, raise power prices

WASHINGTON, Jan 7 (Reuters) - A group of scientists on Thursday called on the U.S. government to stop issuing new permits for mountaintop coal mining, citing research that finds the practice is damaging to the environment and human health.

An analysis of recent scientific studies showed mountaintop coal mining, which accounts for about 10 percent of U.S. coal production, does irreparable environmental harm, the researchers said in article published in the journal Science.

They said research also shows that mountaintop mining exposes local residents to a higher risk of serious illnesses.

“Its impacts are pervasive and long lasting and there is no evidence that any mitigation practices successfully reverse the damage it causes,” said lead author Margaret Palmer of University of Maryland at College Park in a statement.

The scientists said no mountaintop mining permits should be granted “unless new methods can be subjected to rigorous peer-review and shown to remedy these problems.”

An mining industry spokeswoman dismissed the report as “an advocacy piece” and said the end of mountaintop coal mining would mean job losses and higher electricity rates.

More than half U.S. electricity is generated from coal.

Mountaintop mining involves scraping the surface of mountains and pushing the crumbled mountaintop debris into adjoining valleys. Major energy companies, such as Arch Coal Inc ACI.N and Consol Energy CEIW.PK, participate in this type of mining, which accounts for about 10 percent of U.S. coal production.

The practice has faced increased federal scrutiny under the Obama administration. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department and the Army Corps of Engineers have pledged to reduce the impact of surface mining, mostly done in the steep mountains of Appalachia across Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky.

Still, this week the EPA supported issuing a permit for a new mountaintop coal mine in West Virginia proposed by Hobet Mining, LLC.

The researchers said their analysis of the latest data found that such mining destroys extensive tracts of deciduous forests while hurting fish and plant life.

Local residents also may be hurt by contact with streams or exposure to airborne toxins and dust, the scientists said. Residents of areas near mountaintop mining show elevated rates of lung cancer, heart disease and other ailments, they said.

Attempts to reverse or lessen the impact of mining on the environment have not been very effective, with many reclaimed areas showing little or no regrowth of woody vegetation even after 15 years, the researchers said.

National Mining Association spokeswoman Carol Raulston said the industry’s environmental practices are sound and the study’s conclusions are faulty.

“It attempts to draw correlations that should not be made,” Raulston said. “It’s really an advocacy piece intended to end mountaintop mining, which would put thousands of people out of work and hurt our ability to provide affordable electricity.” (Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by David Gregorio)