UMWA to EPA: Let’s talk

March 25, 2009 by Ken Ward Jr.


United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts has issued the union’s first statement on the Obama administration’s move to begin more thorough review of mountaintop removal mining permits.

Among other things, Roberts criticizes initial media coverage of the EPA announcement yesterday, praises EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson for issuing a statement to clarify things, but also asks for a meeting with Jackson “so that we can get direct clarification from her as to what EPA’s stance is regarding the pending permits.”

Here’s the full statement from Roberts:

“Yesterday’s initial reporting regarding the scope of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) actions with respect to the approval of mountaintop removal permits apparently was not the full story. We were pleased to see the EPA’s clarification issued later yesterday, which said that the agency ‘is not halting, holding or placing a moratorium on any mining permit applications.’

    “What EPA did was to comment on two pending surface mining permit applications. EPA indicated that it would be reviewing other applications, but also said that it ‘fully anticipates that the bulk of pending permit applications will not raise environmental concerns.’ That’s a very important statement, one that everyone involved should  pay attention to.

    “We have requested a meeting with Director Jackson of the EPA so that we can get direct clarification from her as to what EPA’s stance is regarding the pending permits. We have many members whose jobs are related to surface mining, and we believe it is important for the lines of communication to be completely open between us and the administration so that the confusion and anxiety created by yesterday’s initial reporting do not happen again.

    “We also look forward to continuing our discussions with the Obama administration regarding the critical need to fund and develop innovative technologies to allow the United States to continue using its most abundant energy resource – coal. The funding included in the stimulus package for developing carbon capture and storage technology, as well as the moves toward reversing the previous administration’s cancellation of the FutureGen project, are good first steps.

    “America’s coal miners and the coal they mine have been and will continue to be the foundation upon which our nation’s manufacturing and energy industries are built. The work they do provides not just the power we all need to light and heat our homes and keep our computers running, but also to provide a decent living for their families and economic growth for their communities.

    “We will continue to do all we can to support their jobs, their families and their communities.”

The last time I looked closely at the numbers — about a year ago, in April 2008 –  UMWA members accounted for just 760 of West Virginia’s 5,400 strip-mining jobs. That’s about 14 percent.

13 Responses to “UMWA to EPA: Let’s talk”

  1. Phil Smith says:

    Ken, just FYI, the UMWA represents about 1,000 surface miners in West Virginia as of today, and several hundred more who work in preparation plants that are fed in whole or in part from surface mines.

  2. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Thanks, Phil. Can we get a state-by-state or mine-by-mine breakdown, or some further information? Is this based on the UMW’s own data, and is it supported by data operators filed with the government?

  3. victim of coal says:

    What about all that 3 generation of UMWA UNDERGROUND miners have worked to have and maintain in Boone County. Their communites are being blasted into non-existance for a thousand jobs. Even the battle ground where the union was born (Blair Mountain) is being blown up. Where is the unions pride? My GrandFather (life long UMWA memeber) would have told his UMWA brothers to get off those MTR operations. He recognized what it was doing for jobs in WV and that was nothing but doing away with them. In 1996 Cecil Roberts stood on Kayford Mountain and encouraged community members to stand up and fight Massey and stop MTR. Now he is supporting it. Wonder what changed?

  4. Coal has ruined this planet enough! Clean, carbon neutral E-Coal can be grown on the land and burned in existing coal power plants. Lots of nice green jobs are a bonus.

  5. Bob Kincaid says:

    Cecil Roberts needs to amend his statement. The amended statement needs to read: ” to fund and develop innovative technologies to allow the United States and China to continue using America’s most abundant energy resource – coal,” and “America’s coal miners and the coal they mine have been and will continue to be the foundation upon which our nation’s, as well as China’s manufacturing and energy industries are built. ”

    After all, doesn’t a great deal of Appalachian coal (extracted by both union and non-union workers) wind up on a slow boat to China? If so, why? If coal is America’s “most abundant energy resource,” why do we squander it on the world market when we need it to help “end our dependence on foreign oil” here at home?

  6. mills says:

    because the biggest union job in boone county is a surface mine hobet 21 thats why cecil is back pedaling.

  7. watcher says:

    To victim of coal What changed? These environmental groups are against underground mining also. If they happen to be talking to a deep minre ,its hey we support you, but be carefull when you turn your back!

  8. Nanette says:

    Watcher you are so wrong! There are many deep miners who oppose MTR. My husband is one of them. None of the deep miners that we know support MTR. They all know that MTR has taken many of their brothers jobs. They are totally against it.

  9. watcher says:

    Nanette I will refer you to the 4th post by Mr Fred Mills on Moutaintop Removal or Something Completely Different .

  10. Elaine says:

    You all are blaming Cecil Roberts for doing his job. He is the President of the UMWA. His job – first and formost – is to protect the jobs of the miners who ARE members of the Union. I don’t care if it is 76 miners instead of 760 or 10 instead of 1000! His job is to try to see to it that they keep working. He is sworn to do that! On the national level, all the Unions are working to get a bill passed that would make it easier to organize non-union operations. Do any of you know anything about that. Probably the reason Mr. Roberts was against MTR on Kayford was because, most likely, there were no MTR sites which employed Union miners at that time. I’m not sure. If so, he would have had no responsibility to any of the workers there. Then after organizing some workers at MTR sites, he had to stop speaking out against it because he then had a responsibility to fight to keep those jobs intact. The man is doing his job while helping other Unions get things changed to make it easier to organize non-union workers.

  11. Elaine says:

    I’m against what mining is doing to our state also. It is creating some really dangerous situations for our citizens. However, MTR is not the only type of mining making a mess! Granted, it is, in my opinion, the most destructive. I believe that for this type of coal extraction, the benefits do not outweigh the damage. But don’t blame the miners or the other workers depending on those jobs. I’ll bet there is not one person who vehemently opposes MTR who would be willing to quit their job because someone else is suffering because of it! Not a one of you who is so outspoken against these men and women making a living off of a practice that is so destructive to the environment would quit your job if it was feeding your family to correct such a tragic situation! Think about what you are asking these people to do. Don’t blame the miners and other workers and the UMWA. Blame those who are truly responsible: the coal operators who want the coal no matter who has to pay for it; the government agencies that refuse to enforce the laws we have on the books already (and they can); blame those who keep giving tax breaks to and forgiving fines for the coal operators. According to the written laws, MTR is illegal. Who is at fault for letting it happen? Think about it.

  12. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    Thanks for reading Coal Tattoo and taking the time to comment. Your thoughts are certainly a welcome perspective that readers need to consider.

    In some ways, you are right — Cecil Roberts’ main job is to protect his members. Part of the UMWA Constitution sets out as one of the union’s objectives to “increase … employment of our members…”

    I don’t think any reasonable person would expect Cecil Roberts to sign off on putting one of his members out of work.

    In addition, I don’t think anyone on Coal Tattoo (either me or any one who has commented) is blaming the miners. You’re criticizing something that hasn’t happened here. Go back and read other comments and posts, and you’ll see that.

    But, there’s a larger picture here with the UMW has for a century been — for the most part — an organization that worked toward greater social justice goals in the coalfields, not just looked at the particular interests of its members. This is one of those times that the UMWA leadership might serve the communities where its members work if it opened its eyes to the damage being done and the concerns of those who live near these mines.

    At the same time, Elaine, you are absolutely right that folks in the environmental community should not blame the miners. And it might be a good thing if some environmentalists (including many who follow this blog) spent more time listening to the concerns of coal miners and less time telling these miners what’s best for them.


  13. Montanus says:

    Ken – have you reported on the possibility of a compromise that would ban valley fills from surface mines, but not from underground mines? Isn’t there room for a definitive legislative solution that would drastically limit mountaintop mining without negatively affecting jobs in the underground mines?

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