24 Jobs

[singlepic id=68 w=300 float=right template=caption]Pigeonroost Hollow, W.Va. — The coal industry is always talking about jobs as if that is the only important issue in Appalachia. For the sake of these jobs, we must sacrifice the mountains and streams, and we must poison the air and water, and destroy the local communities? What is the true cost of these jobs and what is the real impact of these jobs on Appalachian communities and the Appalachian environment?

On January 13, 2011, the US Environmental Protection Agency vetoed the Clean Water Act Section 404 “dredge-and-fill permit” for the Spruce No. 1 Mine in Logan County, West Virginia. The Spruce No. 1 Mine would have been the largest mountaintop removal (MTR) mine in US history. Predictably, the coal industry decried the loss of the 250 jobs the mine would have provided over its 15-year lifespan. The EPA, they claimed, had declared war on coal, and war on West Virginia’s economy.

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The Spruce No. 1 Mine has been the most contested coal mine in US history. It would impact 3,113 acres of Appalachian hardwood forests, create five massive valley fills, permanently burying six miles of mountain headwater streams under hundreds of feet of toxic mine spoils, and directly impact another ten miles of streams, all to mine 44 million tons of coal. The Spruce No. 1 Mine has been in operation since 2007, and currently employs 24 people or about a tenth of the total proposed workforce, and has an annual production of about 600,000 tons of coal.

To put this in perspective, last year the US burned about 965 million tons of coal to make electricity; at this rate the Spruce mine would provide less than one month’s worth of electricity for the nation over its entire 15-year lifespan.

Environmental groups have opposed the Spruce No. 1 Mine since it was first proposed as an extension of Arch Coal’s Dal-Tex Mine in 1997.  The original plan would have buried more than 10 miles of stream in the Pigeonroost Hollow area near the town of Blair, West Virginia.  In Bragg v. Robertson the EPA joined the West Virginia Highland Conservancy and other environmental groups in challenging the legality of the 404 permits.  In 1999, U.S. District Judge Charles H. Haden II agreed with the plaintiffs, and after making a personal visit to the mine site and walking the creeks, Haden issued an order blocking the Army Corps from issuing any more 404 permits.

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Judge Haden’s decision was immediately attacked by the coal industry and West Virginia’s political leaders and they appealed to the Federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals where Haden’s injunction was stayed and the case was remanded back to the US District Court.  Arch Coal agreed to delay opening the Spruce No. 1 Mine until the courts could decide on the legality of the 404 permits.

After more legal wrangling, the Army Corps issued the 404 valley fill permits for a scaled down version of 2,300 acres on January 22, 2007. The permits authorized the discharge of fill material into over seven miles of creeks, and the company began mining in Seng Camp Creek, including construction of one valley fill, and has expanded every year since opening.

Since the year ending 2010, the Spruce No. 1 Mine has produced 1.58 million tons of coal and currently encompasses over 200 acres of mountain tops and one valley.  And the 200 acre figure can be misleading, as the mine boundary is gerrymandered along the crest of the peaks and ridge tops, so the actual impacted area is much larger.

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The footprint of the mine also includes the site of the former Sharples High School, on Highway 17.  The school has been replaced by a coal tipple load-out and a coal processing plant. Over half a million tons of pulverized coal per year loads out at the Cardinal Processing plant and is shipped to three different power plants in Tennessee and Alabama. The processing plant is further up Seng Camp Creek and includes a dammed sludge pond surrounded by gob piles. Seng Camp Creek seems to have a large capacity to receive additional mine spoils, so many more peaks and ridge tops will likely be mined even without the 404 permits. Mountaintop removal coal mining will continue at the Spruce No. 1 without the 404 permits. Indeed, this seems to be exactly what is happening.

The Tennessee Valley Authority operates the three power stations that receive coal from the Spruce No 1: Bull Run near Knoxville, TN; Johnsonville, near Nashville, TN; and Colbert, near Huntsville, Al. These three power plants have a combined capacity of 5,600 plus megawatts, enough to power some 2 million homes.  When people say that mountain top removal is about jobs, one might think about the costs of these 24 jobs. Sharples High School is a memory, and the town of Sharples is a ghost town as the area is being depopulated. The mountains are gone. The streams and groundwater are poisoned. The forests are gone. No one will ever want live here again. Some of these communities were here when this country was still an English Colony. These are among the oldest mountains on Earth.

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Last year, a total of 35,398 peopled worked in the US surface mining industry, and only 6,886 of those surface mining jobs were in West Virginia.  That number decreases each year even as coal production rises due to the use of newer and bigger machines.  Additionally there are 60,000 jobs in operations & maintenance in all U.S. coal-fired power plants and that number is also decreasing as older, dirtier plants are taken offline.  However, the number of wind industry jobs surpassed coal mining jobs in the US for the first time in 2008, when wind employment increased to 85,000, and the industry is still growing and expected to reach 500,000 jobs sometime in the next 20 years.

Can we honestly say this issue is about 24 temporary jobs; or even 250 jobs? If you look at the numbers you’ll see that mountain top removal not only destroys the mountains and streams, pollutes the air and water, and poisons people who live in Appalachia, it also destroys jobs and contributes to making West Virginia one of the poorest places in the US. As Robert F Kennedy Jr. has said, it is the biggest environmental crime in America and it must be stopped.

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Thank you SouthWings for the overflight.

13 Replies to “24 Jobs”

  1. such GOOD work !

    all that you to have been thru in the last few months…..
    mikey and antrim,

    wendel berry was right..

    “it is the impeded stream that sings”

    let me get this story photos to folk

    ooooooooooo, my babies loved the coat antrim, tanx and
    asked if you two like pierogies?


  2. THE GREEN JOB’S SCAM AND CONFUSION……………In a recent statement by Al Gore shows just how much Americans are being misled on this issue. Green jobs ars a shell game, and we are falling for it. Mr Gore, in an op ed co-authored with U N sec. Gen. Ban KI-Moon asserts that “In the U S there are now more jobs in the wind industry than in the entire coal Ind” ,but Roger Pielke Jr. of the University of Colorado points out there is something wrong here. The coal industry generated 155 million megawatt-hours of electricity , while wind generated only 1.3 million megawatt-hours. If wind really does employ more people , it’s doing so at a HUGE cost to American efficency,productivity and competitiveness. Of course the wind industry does NOT employ more people. The wind industry figures represents jobs as ” varied as turbine componet manufacturing, construction and installation of turbines,turbine operation and maintenance,legal and marketing services, and more” while coal industry figures represented JUST coal miners. Kind of a apples and oranges comparrisons, but comparing apples to apples the coal industry employs over 1.4 million who are still over seven times as productive as wind industry workers. http://washingtonexaminer.com/blogs/examiner-opinion-zone/2009/02/green-jobs-scam-and-confusion

  3. Watcher,
    I included all the jobs at the coal fired power plants, so it was not just mining. Even still, the numbers are close, and wind will outperform coal in jobs in a few years. Wind creates more jobs per kilowatt, that’s a fact, and for a place like Appalachia, that’s a good thing.

  4. Mr Roselle Even if I believed your job numbers were totally honest and not inflated, still do the math……..85,000 wind jobs to produce 2% of our power vs 81,000 coal jobs to produce 50% of our power. This country was built on low cost energy, not massive, tax payer subsidized job programs.

  5. Well, we agree on something. But low cost energy only if you don’t count all of the true costs of mining and burning coal. How much are your lungs worth?

  6. Mr Roselle, enough to not use tobacco or associate with anyone who does, but back to the subject. I question and refuse to support the wiind/solar industry to the tune of $24.00 per mega-watt of taxpayer subsidies for a power source that’s intermittent at best. Case in point, the wind farm in Greenbrier county that can only operate on a part time basis that has nothing to do with the timing of available wind. Easy to see why no investors have come forward on the Coal River Mountain wind project.

  7. If wind is such a bad investment, why is T Boon Pickens building a 12 billion dollar wind farm with his own money on his own land? Wind power alone of course cannot replace coal, but it will be an important part of the solution, along with solar power. By far, the best way to get off the coal habit is through energy conservation, and its also the cheapest. All it takes is the will to do it. Coal is a 19th century fuel and does not have a future in a world threatened by climate change. The industry is just trying to hang on for an extra buck, and they don’t care who picks up the tab. Of course if you don’t accept that climate change is here, and believe coal sludge meets safe drinking water standards, that mountains will grow back after you blast them to pieces and that coal industry is a good neighbor, then I am probably wasting energy talking about it to you.

  8. So So true Mr Roselle …………in 2008, T Boone Pickens orders 667 wind turbines (Huffington Post) ….. So So not true in 2009 T Boone Pickens scraps plans for huge wind farm project. (www.bizjournal.com.

  9. “The capital markets have dealt us all a setback,” said Pickens in a statement emailed to the San Francisco Business Times through his PR firm. “I am committed to 667 wind turbines and I am going to find projects for them.”

  10. First there is no such thing as low cost or cheap energy.. We pay with our lives.




    Now show me a link that backs up the 81.000 coal jobs. There is only 20.000 state wide in surface and underground… are you talking nationally…

    MTR jobs are only 2% of the employment in the state of WV (6000 jobs) and most of those jobs are out of state workers.. We could replace these jobs in road repair jobs to repair the highways along the coal haul routes. What about we employ some of these fine workers cleaning up the mess their jobs leave us with.

    united states geological survey says that there is only about 20 years of mine-able coal in the US… What we gonna do then? Coal is a transition fuel to the future of renewable energy… We don’t have a choice we must make this transition… (that “we” includes miners and their families)

    just wondering how sustainable is MTR? Can we really rest the future of our country on blowing up our mountains to supply it with power… My opinion is that this is insane… We will soon run out of mountains and coal. Then all the water will be polluted too… Then what? We all die for jobs….

    Prove me wrong please..
    but back it up with some facts not just claim…

  11. Hollergirl , I think you provided the link for me. Yes I’m talking nationwide mining jobs, 83,000 mining ,31,000 transportation of and 60,000 power plant employment, not to mention coal support jobs that range from the low hundreds of thousands to a high ( National Coal Association est.) of 1.5 million.

  12. Mr. Roselle,
    Thank you for taking the time to post this factual article as well as all the efforts you make and have made in the past for the Earth (most humans included).
    Best regards,


  13. W V buisness tax collections up 700% in March compaired to the same month last year. ” It could be a reflection of a increase in manufacturing and COAL PRODUCTION thattranslates into additional JOBS and a stronger tax base” sez Steve Roberts of the W V Chamber of Commerce.

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