What does coal know that the rest of us don’t?

March 23, 2009 by Ken Ward Jr.


None of the coal industry lawyers at today’s federal court hearing in Huntington responded when Obama administration lawyers said they are “in a state of transition” in how the government regulates mountaintop removal.

So, I asked the National Mining Association what they made of the  review of mountaintop removal issues being conducted by the White House Council on Environmental Quality, in conjuction with EPA and the Corps of Engineers.

Here’s what the e-mail message I got back from NMA spokeswoman Carol Raulston said:

NMA knows of no significant directional change from the Obama Administration on mountaintop mining policies–especially none that might jeopardize 14,000 direct mining jobs in Appalachia.

Among the hundreds of items the Obama Administration is “reviewing” are about a half-dozen 404 permits for MTM operations.  While we are concerned about the overall delay throughout the region in processing permits, it’s simply premature to prejudge the meaning of this particular review of MTM permits.

Jobs preservation and creation are the primary focus of the Obama Administration.  Everything is viewed through that prism.  No one wants to cut 14,000 high-paying jobs.

With respect to climate policy, the Administration firmly believes clean coal technologies, including carbon capture and storage, can play a vital role in meeting their objectives for green energy (climate) and reduced reliance on foreign energy.  The president says this, Energy Sec. Chu says it.  Getting the economy rolling on a sounder energy foundation is driving several policy considerations, and we find nothing that is inconsistent with these policy objectives and the practice of mountaintop mining in Appalachia.

6 Responses to “What does coal know that the rest of us don’t?”

  1. Clem Guttata says:

    What the National Mining Association is leaving out is MTM operations employ less miners per ton of coal extracted than underground operations. So, if job creation was really the only consideration (which it isn’t anyway), we’d be better off transitioning as quickly as possible to underground mining.

  2. Stefan says:

    Van Jones is a now a special advisor to the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Why not query him?

  3. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    Here are those figures, from discussion the other day with Matt Wasson:

    (these are 2007 figures)

    Productivity of Appalachian mines, in tons produced per employee per hour:

    Underground mines — 2.91
    Surface mines — 3.44

    In West Virginia, the difference is larger —
    Underground mines — 2.82
    Surface mines — 4.25

    Note the difference also with Kentucky-
    Underground mines — 2.69
    Surface — 3.53

    Just for fun, look at the same numbers for Wyoming:
    Underground mines — 6.47
    Surface 34.19.

    Anyway, surface mines in WV are 1.5 times more productive than underground mines.

    Put another way, underground mines in West Virginia employed twice as many miners, but produced only 19 percent more coal.

    (The productivity numbers are available here:

  4. gary bartoe says:

    As unfortunate as it is, W.Va will go down kicking and screaming instead of reading the tea leaves and diversifying the economy. Mountaintop removal will have to go through a transition eventually, but this state will not be prepared. We can only think coal and we will not think out of the box. What a shame!!!

  5. […] of many eastern rivers to continue under the Bush Administration’s rules. Here’s their reasoning:14,000 mining jobs are at risk.The savvy reader will probably be thinking: "14,000 jobs? Didn’t the auto industry just layoff […]

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