WVDEP confirms: Blasting starts on Coal River Mountain

October 26, 2009 by Ken Ward Jr.


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.

21 Responses to “WVDEP confirms: Blasting starts on Coal River Mountain”

  1. […] Blogs @ The Charleston Gazette – » WVDEP confirms: Blasting starts on Coal River Mountain blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/2009/10/26/wvdep-confirms-blasting-starts-on-coal-river-mountain – view page – cached Coal River Mountain as seen from nearby Kayford Mountain. Photo courtesy of Coal River Mountain Watch. — From the page […]

  2. Matt Wasson says:


    I think I detect a note of skepticism about our evidence that mining had started when we went out on the blogs on Saturday. Just to be clear: starting with the numerous local reports of a lot of heavy equipment being moved up on the mountain, followed by two reports of blasting and smoke, followed by seeing that the last two MSHA inspectors’ reports had gone from “Not moving coal” (http://tinyurl.com/yguryg9) to “Moving coal” (http://tinyurl.com/yjw3v59), we felt like we had that 95% confidence level.

    You seem to have shown a fair bit of skepticism about the wind farm as well. Yes there’s an “iconic” element to all this, but it’s more than that. There’s no question that wind development would create more jobs in the long run, and your coal industry friend’s concern that the jobs would need to come from outside the region is absurd – it’s hard to imagine a better local work force with the skills needed to install turbines. As for the logistics, when I expressed concern to Ed Wiley (an ex-strip miner from Rock Creek) about getting turbines up those steep slopes he just laughed at me — ’nuff said.

    Finally, in the links you provided to previous posts on the wind farm proposal, there’s a criticism from someone in the coal industry that you take what MTR opponents say at face value — and there have been many more comments about a supposedly dual standard from your pro-MTR commentors. I just want to take this opportunity to point out that MTR critics face plenty of skepticism from you as well – a lot more than you showed in posting Gene Kitts’ interesting, but subtly very misleading, justification for Appalachian surface mining a few months back (or the NMA’s absurd estimates of jobs dependent on valley fills). Not to complain, but I get tired of seeing the other side whining.

  3. rhmooney3 says:

    USA Today
    October 27, 2009

    Our view on coal production: Mountaintop mining leaves giant scars in Appalachia

    It’s time to protect forests, streams from environmental degradation.

    Studies suggest, however, that enforcing rules to minimize dumping waste into streams would add at most $1 or $2 per ton to the cost of coal (which recently sold for about $50 to $56 per ton) and cause comparatively little job loss. And while underground mining might be more dangerous, the answer is to make it safer, not to encourage environmental degradation.

  4. Olly says:


    Whining? I’d like to tell you what I think about that but Ken won’t allow it. So I’ll just say, if you are so concerned about wind energy why don’t you go to Beech Ridge in Greenbrier County and join Ivenergy’s fight against the environmetalists who are trying to STOP their windfarm? This is actually a realistic project currently under construction. Environmentalists sure are a confusing lot.

  5. Matt Wasson says:

    Well, Ken doesn’t always let me say what I really think either – another thing I get awful tired of hearing whining from the pro-MTR crowd about. I do my whining about that to Ken directly.

    Appalachian Voices testified in support of BP and Dominion’s proposal for a wind farm in Tazewell County, Virginia – and yes, we got some nasty, nasty flak from the “Not In My Back Yard” types (different than environmentalists) who were concerned about their viewshed. We’d support the Greenbrier project as well, I’m sure – though I don’t make those calls for the organization.

  6. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    Yes … you noted correctly that there was some skepticism from me about what was — or wasn’t — going on at the Bee Tree Mine.

    But, it’s my job to be skeptical or what all sides of everything are saying, writing and trying to get out into the public eye. Isn’t it?

    Despite what folks in the coal industry think, I don’t exist here at the Gazette to simply accept what environmental organizations (or plain old coalfield residents) say and put it in the paper or on our Web site.

    Why the skepticism in this particular instance?

    The initial post you wrote, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/matt-wasson/breaking-mountaintop-remo_b_332717.html, simply cited anonymous reports from coalfield residents. Personally, I try to avoid anonymous reports. I use them very sparingly, and only when the story is urgent and important enough to justify it, and when I absolutely can’t find documents or other information to confirm what the anonymous sources told me.

    But beyond that, you cited none of the information that you now cite as supporting your reporting … Your post doesn’t mention heavy equipment moving to the site, or two reports of blasting and smoke, or the MSHA reports you now mention. (And not to be unkind … but those AREN’T MSHA reports, they’re inspection reports from the WVDEP … and having read hundreds of those over the years, a switch to moving coal does not mean the same thing as an entry on a blasting log. And, the change was made in a Sept. 23 inspection report — which wouldn’t really tell you much about what was or wasn’t happening at the site a month later).

    You may have felt you had a “95 percent confidence interval,” but your piece gave HuffPost readers none of the details to make a decision for themselves about the accuracy of your reporting.

    That, of course, is part of the difference between citizen journalism (which I’m a big fan of), pure advocacy blogging — which I’m not against, and I get a lot out of reading — and journalism produced by independent journalism organizations like the Gazette. I for one try not to just report rumors. I and try to give my readers some idea of what information I have to support what I’m reporting.

    The proof is in the pudding, I suppose … and your blog post and Jeff Biggers’ follow-up (which added weight tot he story, with the photos) piece turned out to be correct.

    But personally, I’d rather get beat on a story than risk reporting something that might turn out not to be correct if I will just wait a bit and try to get hard facts. In this case, the one resident I’m told had the best and most first-hand information didn’t respond to a request to call me about this. And, I knew that once I was able to reach WVDEP’s inspectors (indirectly, through their PR person), I would know for sure if the blasting had started.

    I do view what is reported by activists and advocates on blogs with some skepticism. I think there’s good reason for that. That’s not to say some of them aren’t doing very interesting work — Surely, for example, Joseph Romm’s Climate Progress is an advocacy blog. So is The Power Line by Bill Howley. And Jeff Biggers has brought a great social historian perspective to the mountaintop removal issue. And we at the Gazette have republished some of your own work, Matt, on jobs and mountaintop removal.

    You’re welcome to disagree with my decisions in how I reported this story … but that’s what I did, and I would do exactly the same thing again.

    On the Coal River Wind project … coal industry folks say I’ve just accepted what proponents have said without question, and proponents say I’ve been overly skeptical. As often is the case, the truth is probably somewhere in between. As I’ve reported — Massey has made it clear that it isn’t interested in this proposal, and I’m aware of no interest expressed by the landowner. That makes this a symbolic proposal. There’s nothing wrong with that, and saying it’s a symbol doesn’t mean the jobs argument you make is wrong — it’s just pointing out, correctly, that the people who have the ability to make this a wind farm aren’t interested.

    As for Gene Kitts’ piece, it’s still on my blog — and I’d welcome anyone to continue commenting on it with criticism of the specific things Gene argues … we had quite a few comments, and nobody really laid a glove on Gene … yet.

    It’s right here:


  7. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Matt, readers:

    Oh, and one more thing — Thanks very much to Matt for saying publicly what I hear all the time from MTR opponents — that I am just as skeptical of what they say as I am of what the coal industry says …

    Thanks, Matt.

  8. rhmooney3 says:


    You are ABSOLUTELY correct about Gene Kitts piece although the marketing of the coal is the major factor in the mining of it — unless a company is good at selling coal its ability to mine is worthless.

    Factors not addressed by Gene are spoil haulage (distances and grades) and the amount of spoil rehandling. Mountain Top Removal mining operations maximize efficiencies in these aspects. (Conventional surface mining also encounters being spoil-bound — insufficient space for spoil placement.)

    Lastly, Coals of southern Western Virginia are of very high quality and, therefore, those are a majority of coal exports from our country. That’s a big factor too.

    I do greatly thank Gene Kitts for what he did said — hopefully, he will be saying more.

    P.S. Insofar as thermal coal (burned in electric power plants), WV coal cannot surpass the coals from western states. (The lessening reliability of river transport is becoming even more of a factor in that regard.)

  9. Thomas Rodd says:

    Could someone please post as to who the owner(s) of the surface of the land on Coal River Mountain is/are? I can’t believe that ownership isn’t known. Have there been any contacts with the owner(s) about their decision to allow MTR mining of their land? If so, what results?

  10. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    The property owners are listed on this fact sheet from Coal River Wind folks:


    I believe that Black King is a Massey company.


  11. Thomas Rodd says:

    Thanks, Ken. According to the information on the above Coal River Wind link the surface and/or coal ownership on Coal River Mountain is Western Pocahontas Land Co., Black King Mine Development Co., and Rowland Land Company. Can anyone confirm that?

  12. Matt Wasson says:

    Very good points, Ken – in trying to keep things concise, I really didn’t own the fact that I was essentially “breaking the story.” As someone who doesn’t play reporter very often, I’ll take your comments as constructive criticism for a novice “reporter.”

    I’d reiterate that I had no complaints about your skepticism. But I’ll also point out that we can’t always afford to wait around for 100% confirmation on these things, given the history of WV coal companies. Anyone remember Magnum’s dirty tricks at Hobet last year when they bulldozed a bunch of rubble into Berry Branch before anyone knew they had the permits? They successfully rendered any injunction from Judge Chambers moot. Here’s the story from WV Highlands Conservancy if folks don’t recall:


    While there’s no litigation in this case, we couldn’t wait around to sound the alarm.

    I’ve been meaning to post a full response to Kitts’ piece – started it, but got delayed and then it got lost in the shuffle. I’ll see if I can’t resurrect it.

  13. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    I’m confident, having looked at the permit files on these operations in the not-too distant past, that this information posted there is correct.


  14. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    I’ve documented those problems as well, here:


    Two weeks ago, environmental activists Cindy Rank and Vivian Stockman took a drive through the Logan County hills with Paul Vining, the president of Magnum Coal.
    From the top of a ridge, Rank and Stockman looked down through the trees, mountain laurel and flame azalea.
    The stream that runs through Fitzwater Hollow was already buried, they saw. Workers from Magnum subsidiary Apogee Coal Co. had dumped a six-foot-thick layer of rocks into the valley. The damage was done.

    However, perhaps this is a difference between being a journalist and a blogger … you can be willing to publish something without being sure it’s true, while I need to do as much as humanly possible to get confirmation of things I publish.


  15. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    And not to change the subject … but switch back to the future of Coal River Mountain … but a question:

    What is your organization’s plan at this point for trying to move forward? Or is the campaign to save Coal River Mountain effectively over?


  16. Red Desert says:

    The best part about Gene Kitt’s essay was this: It told you what coal companies thought West Virginia (the forests, the streams, the mountains) was worth: $3 a cubic yard.

  17. Matt Wasson says:

    Trying again… sorry if this creates a duplicate comment, but the system gave me an error and my comment’s not showing up (but WordPress won’t let me re-submit because it’s telling me it’s a duplicate).

    Oh, it’s definitely not over, Ken – I suspect these are just the opening salvos on both side.

    As for Appalachian Voices, we’re going to take our lead from Coal River Mountain Watch and the Alliance for Appalachia as a whole – for those not familiar, that’s an alliance of thirteen groups from 5 Appalachian states that are working together to stop mountaintop removal and build a new sustainable economy in Appalachia. http://www.allianceforappalachia.org

    Whether or not Massey gets their 404 permits it appears they can wreak a lot of destruction in the mean time if they’re willing to endure increasingly long haul-backs to Brushy Fork. Apparently they’re betting on stepped up European demand to make it worthwhile, ’cause I don’t think there’s a lot of demand from US buyers for exhorbitantly-priced CAPP coal right now.

    In general, our message hasn’t changed: “they’re blowing up our mountains and there oughtta be a law!” And there’s no question there are thousands upon thousands of people across the country that are outraged right now – I’ve never seen such a response (not even close). This mountain has enormous symbolic value, representing the crossroads we’re at in our energy future.

    For my part, I’m still hoping that Senator Byrd and Rep Rahall will start really thinking about the kind of legacy they want to leave (though many of my friends in WVa say I’m an idiot for thinking that). In Rahall’s case – he’s been in office for 32 years and the result for his district can be told by this year’s Gallup “well-being index” rankings. Rahall’s district (WV-3) was ranked 432nd out of 435. That would be a monstrously shameful legacy to leave after so long in office, and I have to believe, given the many other good things he’s done, that he’ll want to attend to that. Blowing up Coal River Mountain isn’t any way to turn that around and I’m pretty sure he and his staff know that (of course, I could be dead wrong). Byrd’s in the same boat, as Gallup’s state-level rankings put WVa dead last.

    I’m also hoping the President will relaize that there’s no way he’s going to rally the country around an energy policy that includes blowing up more Appalachian mountains (and Coal River Mountain in particular). And maybe Governor Manchin will decide to stop destroying any national political ambitions he might have.

    Where there’s political will there’s a way – and never underestimate the power of public outrage.

  18. Nanette says:

    Well, I have to say, I never thought a few years back that we would have the support of the many thousands of people from all over the country. I am so grateful to everyone who has worked so hard for so long in what seemed to be a hopeless pursuit. It turned out not to be hopeless, it has turned into an engine of hope for change in the coalfields.

    We are not done, we will not give up. We can’t. Our children’s health and future depends on what we do today.

  19. […] written: Breaking: Mountaintop Removal Begins on Coal River Mountain — Help Needed Now WVDEP confirms: Blasting starts on Coal River Mountain Urgent Action Need: We Face a National Security Threat on Coal River Mountain Battle at Coal River […]

  20. AF-C says:

    Here is a link to an interesting blog on wvablue about the windmill project.

  21. […] been widely reported that Massey Energy late last month started blasting at its Bee Tree Mine on Coal River Mountain, the site where environmental groups have proposed a wind energy facility as an alternative to […]

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