West Virginia Workers Laid Off as EPA Withholds Mining Permits

Published December 5, 2012

Consol Energy announced it will lay off 145 workers because the company is unable to get the permits it needs from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a surface mining project in southern West Virginia.

The Pittsburgh-based company said it will shut down three coal mines, a preparation plant, and an administrative facility in Mingo County as a result of EPA’s failure to issue the permits. 

King Coal Highway

The Mingo County operations are part of a larger project known as the King Coal Highway. The King Coal Highway is planned to run between Williamson and Bluefield and be part of the Interstate 73/74 corridor. In an unusual public-private partnership, West Virginia officials enlisted coal companies, including Consol Energy, to help build the highway, allowing them to keep the coal they uncover while grading the new road.

The project is stalled, however, because EPA has yet to give it approval under the Clean Water Act. EPA may be concerned highway construction on Buffalo Mountain will disrupt mountain streams and thus cause environmental harm.

The delay in getting the necessary permits and the resulting Christmastime layoffs have infuriated West Virginia politicians of both parties, who blame the agency for the lost opportunity to create jobs and improve infrastructure in the state.

“I am incensed and infuriated that the EPA would intentionally delay the needed permit for a public-private project that would bring so many good jobs and valuable infrastructure to communities that so desperately need them,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D) in a press statement. “The EPA has lost court case after court case for its overreach, and it should be using better judgment by now.” 

Broader Anti-Coal Agenda

Some observers see EPA’s foot-dragging on the West Virginia permits as further proof of the Obama administration’s hostility to fossil fuels in general and coal in particular. Such hostility could deprive the nation of an important domestic energy source.

Coal Not Easily Replaced

“Coal is energy-dense, so it is a must for electrical output for large-scale manufacturing,” said Teresa Platt, director of the Environment and Enterprise Institute at the National Center for Public Policy Research. 

“You are not going to power large-scale manufacturing on solar or wind power,” Platt explained. “This is why China, the manufacturing center of the world, is investing heavily in modern coal-fired energy plants, sometimes opening as many as one new facility a week.” 

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.