Jul 13, 2012
On June 5th, 2012 Marfork Coal Company, a subsidiary of Alpha Natural Resources, submitted an application to strip mine 800 acres of Coal River Mountain. Despite regional and national political uproar about the impact of the Obama administration policies on mine permitting and coal burning, Marfork plans to mine 1/2 a million tons a coal a year for the next 15 years with no valley fills. Obama policies will have little if any effect at all on the ability for Marfork to obtain this permit from the WV Department of Environmental Protection (DEP); a 200-acre permit adjacent to this operation was rubber stamped by the DEP without any federal objections in late 2011.
The Middle Ridge Surface Mine is part of Alpha's planned metallurgical coal mine complex on Coal River Mountain, including both strip mines and underground mines. Metallurgical coal is used in steel making and accounts for roughly 20% of West Virginia's coal production. Despite common industry and political rhetoric such as 'coal keeps the lights on' and the notion that shutting down power plants in America is going to put an end to all coal mining, these statements don't apply to this new proposal. The mining of metallurgical coal without constructing valley fills is unaffected by any recent Obama administration policies.
Thus far, President Obama has given Appalachian citizens some notable victories, possibly the largest victories that have occurred in this multi-decade battle to save the Appalachian Mountains and communities. But compared to the destruction that has occurred in Appalachia over the years and what would be needed to provide true relief to Appalachian citizens, the President has been quite moderate in his actions to reign in the mining industry.
Operations similar to Alpha's new 800-acre Middle Ridge proposal will continue to operate in pockets of high-grade metallurgical coal. These higher value and higher profit margin operations are the last stable leg for the industry to stand on as there are few regions of the world that have this type of coal. More jobs could be maintained with less devastation of communities and the environment if this metallurgical coal were mined underground rather than by strip mining.