Study Needed: Mountaintop removal mining deserves scrutiny

For months, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine worked on a major study of the health effects of mountaintop removal mining on people living nearby. Abruptly after President Donald Trump took office, the project was shelved.

Cost was the reason, according to the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement. Officials there said the study was halted because of a review of all Interior Department research projects costing $100,000 or more.

But other Interior Department studies exceeding the $100,000 cost threshold were allowed to continue. It is likely their subject matter had not come up in campaign promises quite as often as coal. Meanwhile, the mining safety research already had chewed through $600,000 of its projected $1 million price tag.

Now, unless something changes, taxpayers — and those worried, rightly or wrongly, about the health effects of mountaintop removal mining — will get no results.

A truly objective, comprehensive study of the safety of any industrial practice can be a very good thing, however. If it identifies concerns, they can be addressed. If it gives the technique in question a clean bill of health, political objections to it can be dismissed.

It appears completing the study in this case will cost only about $400,000 more. Federal officials should allow it to proceed.