While the coal industry has hit a slow period and miners are being laid off due to the country’s recession, permits to open new surface mines that were previously approved have been halted and are currently being reviewed again, Logan County Commission President Art Kirkendoll told the business people, coal miners and elected officials gathered at the Regional Economic Forum at the Earl Ray Tomblin Convention Center in Chief Logan State Park yesterday morning.
“We cannot sit back and be dictated to that we don’t have the right to work,” Kirkendoll said. “Public outcry is important.”
Gene Kitts, senior vice president of mining services for ICG, said mining touches the lives of nearly everyone in southern West Virginia in some way.
Kitts, armed with facts and figures on the coal industry and its impact, said nearly 80,000 jobs are directly or indirectly connected to coal mining. He said people in the coalfield region needs to get informed of how much impact coal mining has on their lives and let their voices be heard.
“The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is launching attacks on coal mining,” Kitts said. “Keeping people working is the key. When we don’t get permits, (workers) are sent home.”
Kitts said that, so far, in 2009, no mining permits have been issued in West Virginia and only one has been issued in Kentucky.
“The states need to take a stand,” Kitts said.
Kirkendoll said the group of more than 450 people shouldn’t have had to gather to urge Congress to allow permits for surface mining in southern West Virginia.
“You think about all these companies around the country that are looking for a bailout,” Kirkendoll said. “We’re just looking for a permit to work. We take reclaimed mine lands and put shopping malls and housing and golf courses on them.”
Kirkendoll said he believes there should be one, definitive interpretation of surface mining laws and approve or deny permits based on that.
Currently, there are 42 surface mining permits that are held up by litigation.
‘A permit shouldn’t take more than six months,” Kirkendoll said.
“If there’s a problem with the coal industry, let Congress sit down and fix it.”
Elected officials and business people from all across the coalfield region gathered in the convention center. Kirkendoll said mines not being able to get permits isn’t just a Logan County or Mingo problem, it’s everybody’s problem.
“This is a regional problem,” Kirkendoll said. “America is regulating itself out of business. Until people like us stand up and say we want work permits, you’re going to get what you’ve got.”
Kitts said the big holdup on many permits is that mayflies are leaving streams due to valley fills and its affect on streams.
“Are we trading jobs for mayflies,” Kitts, a Matewan native, said.
Kitts said the EPA’s Pond-Passmore study on the effects of surface mining on streams “doesn’t say we’re killing the streams. They’re saying a population shift is occurring. They’re saying the absence of mayflies is enough to stop mining. Mayflies can keep their habitats and we lose thousands of jobs. We’ll see local communities’ populations decrease. Life is about choices. Decisions are made every day. Do we choose mayflies or do we choose jobs?”
Christine Risch with the Marshall University Centers for Business and Economic Research said 29 percent of employment in the Logan, Lincoln, Mingo, Boone and Wayne County area is due to coal mining. She said there are 8,850 mining jobs in that five-county area and 7,700 jobs are linked to coal mining.
Kitts said it’s important for people to get involved, get informed and voice their opinions to their state representatives.
“Make yourself heard,” Kitts said.
“Contact your representatives. Don’t let people who would put mining out of business be the only ones speaking. This is an important issue. We have to have mining permits. We can’t lose. If we do lose, this state and region will be devastated.”
Following the forum, many people in attendance lined up to sign a resolution to be sent to West Virginia’s state leaders.
“Now, therefore be it resolved that the participants in the Regional Economic Forum call upon the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the President’s Council on Environmental Quality, the West Virginia congressional delegation and other congressional delegations in the region, and state and local government officials to support coal production and the jobs, economic growth and energy security provided by coal mining by fixing a regulatory system that is frustrating these vital objectives,” the resolution read.
The resolution said coal mining is responsible for more than 90,000 jobs in West Virginia and coal mining jobs pay 100 percent higher wages than the average wage in the state and generates nearly $15 billion in economic output in the state.