Coal Tattoo

WVDEP confirms: Blasting starts on Coal River Mountain

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Coal River Mountain as seen from nearby Kayford Mountain. Photo courtesy of Coal River Mountain Watch.

The blogosphere was abuzz starting Saturday evening and continuing through the weekend with reports that Massey Energy had started blasting at its Bee Tree mountaintop removal operation on Coal River Mountain in Southern West Virginia.

If true, this would be big news — at least symbolically — because environmental groups who are trying to stop mountaintop removal have tried to turn this site into an icon in their campaign. They’ve even proposed that the area’s ridges would be better turned into a wind energy facility, rather than blown apart by Massey to get at its coal (See posts here and here for more about the wind proposal and criticism of it)

Matt Wasson of the group Appalachian Voices posted this announcement on The Huffington Post, and word quickly spread via Twitter and other blogs that cross-posted Wasson’s piece. Jeff Biggers followed up with another HuffPost piece yesterday morning.

It’s taken me most of the day, but I’ve finally gotten some confirmation from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection that Massey started blasting last week at this site. (Massey officials have not responded to several inquiries for comment).

I became especially interested when a glance at the WVDEP online database indicated that the Bee Tree site hadn’t been inspected by state officials for more than a month. Federal and state law requires at least partial inspections of all surface mines at least once a month.

But Kathy Cosco, WVDEP’s communications director, assured me via e-mail message that an inspection took place in early October, but just hasn’t been entered in the agency database yet. According to Cosco:

… A DMR inspector was at the site Thursday and two inspectors were at the site today. They said there have been seven blasts at the site, with the last one taking place on Thursday at 4:22 p.m.

I had tried to confirm the blasting through Coal River residents … but was unable to reach the one resident everyone told me had definitive, first-hand information.

This development comes really as no surprised. Massey hasn’t expressed any interest in all in going along with proposals for a wind energy facility at the site, and West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin says he won’t intervene in the permit process (unless doing so involves complaining about federal regulators taking a closer look at mining permits and their potential environmental impacts).

Citizen groups and environmental organizations tried all sorts of tactic, including last week’s sit-down protest in Manchin’s office.  Manchin told protesters last week that he didn’t know much about the wind facility proposal, even though he was personally handed a copy of a report on the idea nearly a year ago at an “Energy Summit” up at Stonewall Resort.

Opponents of Massey’s mining at this site are now urging citizens to contact the White House to demand that President Obama intervene, by asking Manchin to step in and stop the blasting.

An interesting point there: During a failed effort to challenge the Bee Tree permit — or at least a permit change that helped the mining project along — environmentalists alleged Massey had sought that permit change specifically to avoid having to obtain a federal Clean Water Act “dredge-and-fill” permit … You know, the kind of permit that is subject to possible additional review and veto by Obama’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.