by Steve Milloy
October 22, 2011, The Inter-Mountain (Elkins, WV)
If West Virginia’s politicians haven’t yet figured out that the Obama administration means to harm the state and its vital coal industry, recent congressional testimony ought to help clarify the situation.
The issue is longwall mining and the Obama administration’s effort to end the practice – and the thousands of jobs and the billion dollars of economic benefits to West Virginia associated with it.
At a Sept. 26 House Natural Resources Subcommittee hearing, CONSOL Energy senior vice president Katharine Frederiksen testified about the changes being considered by the Obama Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining (OSM) to the innocuous if not sleepily named Stream Buffer Zone (SBZ) rule.
Longwall mining is a form of underground mining in which machines continually scrape coal seams. Hydraulic roof shields protect the miners as the scraper moves along the seam. When the hydraulic shields are removed the overhead rock is no longer supported and is allowed to fall behind the operation in a controlled manner.
Any land subsidence or damage to private property resulting from longwall mining is required by law to be repaired and/or compensated by the mining company.
When longwall mining occurs underneath streams, any ensuing land subsidence will clearly impact the streams. The existing SBZ rule — issued in 2008 after consideration of 45,000 public comments and review by Interior’s Office of Surface Mining, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Fish and Wildlife Service – provides that mining activities in or near perennial or intermittent streams should be avoided, if reasonably possible.
Such “avoidance,” however, is nowhere close to a ban, and the SBZ has so far worked well as West Virginia has been able to enjoy the benefits of longwall mining while protecting its environment.
Moreover, the OSM projects that longwall mining will only have impacted about 2.5 percent of Appalachia’s streams between 1985 and 2018 – a level that will decline as coal reserves are exhausted.
But now, according to Frederiksen’s testimony, the Obama administration is considering the prohibition of longwall mining within 100 feet of streams thereby making longwall mining essentially impossible, as under-stream activity is unavoidable.
CONSOL, which is not the only longwall miner in West Virginia, projects that the Obama SBZ rule would wind up killing 3,035 of its direct mining jobs and 15,175 other jobs that depend on those — and CONSOL’s mines injected $871 million into the local West Virginia economy as well as an additional $146 million in federal, state and local taxes during 2010.
Although a federal judge recently struck down an audacious effort of the Obama EPA to increase its own authority over surface mining under the Clean Water Act — a move the EPA used to delay 79 mining permits — the agency has either proposed or issued myriad rules aimed at killing the coal industry, particularly as it exists in Appalachia.
From July’s “Cross-State Air Pollution Rule” to the coming “Clean Air Mercury Rule” and other regulations, the Obama EPA is systematically tying to destroy the coal industry while cynically claiming bogus benefits to the public health and environment from doing so.
House Republicans and Democrats recently passed the “Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation Act,” (TRAIN Act) to rein in the rogue Obama EPA. Senate Democrats — two of whom are from West Virginia — are now the hurdle.
It’s not enough for Sens. Rockefeller and Manchin to say that they stand behind West Virginia coal. They need to mean it and to break some china in order to protect West Virginians and their jobs.