But the center's new report, and the independent review of it, said that enough evidence already exists to take precautions, such as a moratorium on new mountaintop removal permits until a more thorough study is done.
"Preventative action in the face of uncertainty is warranted," the report said.
The report said that coal companies "have a responsibility" to fund research on the health and environmental impacts of mountaintop removal, but study author Stephen Lester, the center's science director, said such research must be set up with a "firewall" between scientists and funding companies.
"The commission is very concerned that industry-funded research could be influenced by that industry," Lester said. "This particular research ... would have to be completely independent and be something that the community would be comfortable with."
The studies by Hendryx and others have come under fire from other researchers whose work is being funded by the National Mining Association and by the industry-funded Appalachian Research Initiative for Environmental Science, or ARIES.
Michael Karmis, a Virginia Tech researcher who is coordinating ARIES, has said that coal companies that funded the project "have no direct input on the development of studies or the reporting of results." But industry officials have said that they were allowed to help draw up the list of initial research questions that ARIES studies would try to answer.
Hendryx, who attended a congressional briefing on the moratorium legislation, said during that briefing that the ARIES studies he has seen were "really poorly done" and "laughably bad."
"This research is bought and paid for," Hendryx said.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.