More on Hobet 45 deal: Where is the media coverage?

January 6, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.


I scanned the front page of today’s Charleston Daily Mail, but was amazed not to find a story about the big U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deal to issue Patriot Coal’s Hobet 45 mountaintop removal permit. Nothing there.

The DM did post this Associated Press story on its Web site this morning. But it says very little about the real outcome here:

The EPA assented after Patriot agreed to cut the number of stream miles to be buried under excess material removed during mining and direct mine drainage away from surface water, among other things.

(To his credit, the DM’s Ry Rivard did do a lengthy story about the problems coal miners face in trying to obtain black lung benefits, and his editors put it at the top of their front page)

[UPDATED A Daily Mail staffer pointed out to me that they re-published the Beckley paper’s story, with Rep. Rahall saying the Hobet 45 permit situation had been resolved, on Monday. And, the DM published an editorial on the Hobet 45 and Fola permits on Tuesday. But read both pieces. Neither explains any detail at all about how EPA stepped in and did the job of making sure environmental impacts were minimized, while keeping coal production maximized. The DM editorial makes no mention at all of the environmental benefits, shrugging them aside as if they didn’t happen. I stand by my point that the local media need to explain this better].

The AP’s Tim Huber did a story on Monday about the Hobet 45 deal, but he didn’t follow-up to provide readers with any details about the settlement and the changes in the permit.

Over at MetroNews (where Hoppy Kercheval has taken up the coal industry’s mantra that the Obama administration is waging a “war on coal”), we have a story headlined, Coal Company feels ‘drug through the brier patch’. You might think that story was quoting someone from Patriot Coal, but it’s not. It simply lets Bill Raney of the West Virginia Coal Association rant about how terrible it was that EPA officials made the company write a mining plan that reduced environmental impacts. Oddly enough, neither of the press releases issued by Patriot Coal yesterday and today mentioned anything about brier patches.

The Beckley Register-Herald weighed in with a story quoting local officials praising the EPA’s decision to allow the Army Corps of Engineers to issue the permit. The Logan Banner ran the detail-less AP story. Even West Virginia Public Broadcasting, which usually does a great job with stories like this, doesn’t seem to have made clear what’s happened with this EPA deal on Hobet 45, at least judging from its Web site.

What’s the big deal?

Well, generally, the local media in West Virginia have totally peddled the coal industry line on the Obama administration’s review of mountaintop removal permits. But now that we’ve seen what happens with one of these EPA permit reviews, reporters and columnists don’t seem interested in telling that story.

And what is that story?

Well, take a look at the lead of my print story in today’s Gazette:

Patriot Coal will cut in half the length of streams buried by its Hobet 45 mountaintop-removal mine, but still produce nearly the same amount of coal as the company originally hoped, under a deal announced Tuesday by the Obama administration.

The results of his EPA review show pretty clearly why EPA is getting involved in the Army Corps of Engineers permit process for mountaintop removal in the first place. Under the law, coal operators are supposed to avoid stream impacts where possible and minimize them were avoidance isn’t possible.

In this instance, the Corps of Engineers was ready to give Hobet 45 a permit to bury more than six miles of streams. So was the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. But after EPA got involved, the length of stream lost was cut in half — to just more than three miles — but Hobet was still able to remove nearly all of the coal it initially wanted to mine.

Now, not everybody is particularly happy about this deal. Environmentalists harshly criticized EPA. And the Coal Association certainly doesn’t seem to have anything nice to say about what happened here. And Faces of Coal seems to want to just keep encouraging a fight against any continued effort to reduce the impacts of mining. (See their posts here and here).

But what about the majority of West Virginians who oppose mountaintop removal, but aren’t necessarily involved in the issue and don’t make fighting strip-mining the focus of their lives?

Do you think they might want to know that, because the Obama administration had EPA do its job, coal miners will continue working and the environmental impacts will be cut in half?

22 Responses to “More on Hobet 45 deal: Where is the media coverage?”

  1. Ida Wells says:

    We need more press coverage of the Hobet 45 deal!!! This is no deal. This is bowing down to the “Gods” of coal company operators. Well, I will not be bought and sold. As a life long West Virginia I am appalled. This is no compromise. Senator Byrd is wrong. Where is the backbone of our politicians. Oh sorry Senator Rockefeller, I know you have back trouble. Where is your conscience. Where is the leadership of politicians in our state? And “Patriot Coal?” Give me a break. Patriotism is when you care about those that are suffering in America. Those that live around mountain top removal sites are suffering. Poisoned water. Poisoned air. And poverty. We want good, clean jobs! No mine site pays enough for someone to risk dying every day. Where is the leadership? We need someone to replace Manchin, to replace Rockefeller, to replace Byrd to replace Shelley Moore and Nicky Joe and Mollohan. Amen. God has spoken.

  2. rhmooney3 says:

    The EPA piled a lot on its plate…and some things are just sliding off.

    IF the Hobet 45 deal (further) reduced the number of stream miles to half of what USACE was going to allow, how much “unneccesary” stream miles has USACE already allowed to
    to be impacted?

    There is a lot in play regarding coal and this instance is not the big story. See:

    Weekly traffic: coal carloads

    January 6,2009,1108623.shtml
    GILLETTE, Wyo. – (Business Wire) Cloud Peak Energy Inc. (NYSE: CLD) announced an agreement that Decker Coal Company, in which Cloud Peak Energy is a 50% partner, has accepted a buy-out offer from an eastern utility company for a coal supply contract originally scheduled through 2012.
    The customer’s contract accounted for approximately 30 percent of production for 2010 and the majority of the production for 2011 and 2012. The arrangement is mutually beneficial to both the utility and the Decker Joint Venture as it allows the utility to avoid purchasing coal it no longer requires, and Decker to pursue more favorable sales opportunities.

  3. […] Blogs @ The Charleston Gazette – » More on Hobet 45 deal: Where is the media coverage? – view page – cached I scanned the front page of today’s Charleston Daily Mail, but was amazed not to find a story about the big U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deal to issue Patriot Coal’s Hobet 45 mountaintop removal permit. Nothing there. […]

  4. Thomas Rodd says:

    Bob Mooney (or anyone else with an opinion) — can you say anything about what the Hobet Mine will do differently under this deal, in order to reduce stream fills?

    More expensive hauling of rock to place spoil elsewhere? Any idea of the increased cost?

  5. rhmooney3 says:

    Just my opinion:

    Once the permit is un-contested then discussions and exchanges between the company and the agencies will be available through a Freedom of Information Act request — a year from now.

    If the permit issuance is contested, some of those materials would be obtainable through discovery and other legal actions.

    There’s no doubt that mining methods will be more costly — shorter mine faces would be worked and there maybe spoil rehandling both expensive and time consuming.

    Also, the costs of not having the permit and having to undergo the negotiations by themselves are a lot.

    Those who actually know are the mine engineers and managers and I’m very sure this was not a fun exercise for them or for the agencies — it’s more than a lot of work to squeeze an operation this tightly.

    This is especially difficult with the coal market being depressed and likelihood of flucuating coal prices.

    P.S. Permits can always be modified and I’m sure some allowance was made if this becomes necessary albeit everyone involved would pray it does not.

  6. Steve Goff says:

    Maybe some are hesitant to comment on this “deal” because they are hesitant to trust the motivations of the EPA. If the EPA would establish a consistent track record, maybe reactions would be less muffled. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but what if the EPA is merely thanking the UMWA for their support?

  7. Red Desert says:

    Given the history of strip mining and its regulation in WVA, what assurances does the public have that valley fills and water quality standards will actually conform to the limits in the revised permit?

    Perhaps someone has already figured out how much the potential (but by no means certain) fine would cost to get that last 9% of coal.

  8. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    First, Bob Mooney, you’re simply wrong on the access to the documents … any of these permit records are public record — both before and after a permit is issued. Whether or not they are challenged is irrelevant. Permit applications and all related documents are public records.

    I’m waiting now to get a copy of the final permit documents from the Corps. My understanding is that in this instance, some amount of the spoil is being transported off that permit area to a nearby permit area that has more room for backstack.

    I’ll try to answer more about this as the permit documents become available.


  9. Daniel says:

    Red Desert,

    It would cost a hell of a lot more than the coal is worth if the company just went “gung-ho” and got it anyway. Companies have to have mine plans before they start a permit that they have to conform with as they go. That doesn’t even mention the whole big lawsuit Hobet has had against them for piddly environmental stuff. The fines would be certain if they went on through and got all the coal. Nobody needs to figure out how much it would costs cause it would costs a lot more than it’s worth.

  10. rhmooney3 says:


    All the discussions and exchanges with the EPA would not neccessarily be part of the permitting process — there had to be a lot of understanding and agreement has to what should be in the final document — attorney-client previleged stuff.

    I may be wrong about that, but I don’t think so.

  11. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Bob, I think you are wrong. Those sorts of materials, exchanged between an applicant and EPA, are not covered by either side’s attorney-client privilege. EPA might try to invoke another exemption, but I don’t believe they would be successful.


  12. Casey says:

    Regarding your article “Patriot Coal will cut in half the length of streams buried by its Hobet 45 mountaintop-removal mine, but still produce nearly the same amount of coal as the company originally hoped”. What are the permit coal tons and mining ratio before and after the agreement?

  13. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    Good question. I don’t have a complete answer, because I don’t have all of the final permit documents yet. I apologize. I’m trying to get them and if I do, and they’re not too big, I’ll post them.

    The initial Corps permit public notice, refers to 2.1 million tons of annual coal production for a period of 6 years.

    The EPA letter to the Corps, released yesterday, refers to allowing extraction of 91 percent of the coal …

    I don’t have other numbers on this at this time. Sorry.


  14. rhmooney3 says:

    What needs to be know is the amount bank yards (overburden in-place) being removed — not mining (overburden) ratios — along withthe amount of spoil being placed outside of the excavated area — excess spoil disposal.

    Coal productions and recovery rates are not meaningful in this regard.

    P.S. I doubt if the bank yards volume is included in the permit materials although it is fairly easy to calculate from other information that is in the permit.

  15. Casey says:

    BCY’s can be calculated from reserve tons and ratio. The ratio change is extremely important in figuring increased costs. I believe BCY’s are always in the permit. A drastic decrease in valley fill size that is reported and still getting 91% of the reserve seems somewhat unlikely unless material is expensively hauled long onto adjacent non-AOC permits (or to adjacent VF’s) or the original proposal was not AOC and now is. I’m just curious of the details.

  16. rhmooney3 says:

    I do not know the area, but I do know that what the permit states and what actually happens are not always the same.

    This is an ongoing operation — it’s setup to operate a certain way.

    (Unless the coal can be sold it cannot be mined.)

  17. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    Actually, this Hobet 45 permit does not contain “valley fills” in the sense that the industry defines them. I tried to make that clear in my story, but didn’t do a very good job, apparently.

    I wrote:

    The 600-acre Hobet 45 permit application sought federal Army Corps of Engineers approval to bury more than six miles of streams beneath a “mine-through area,” sediment ponds and stream crossings, according to agency documents. The company would produce about 2.1 million tons of coal annually for about six years.

    I’m sure that you, Casey, know what they mean by a “mine-through” area … but I doubt most readers of the newspaper do.

    For those folks, it’s not strictly speaking a “valley fill” but the end result for the streams that are “mined through” is the same. They’re gone, disappeared.

    My understanding is that the spoil produced here was originally about 180 million cubic yards, and EPA prompted a reduction of that number to 160 million cubic yards.

    The spoil is going back on that “mine through” area and some amount — I don’t know how much — is going to be hauled to nearby mine sites for disposal. Neither EPA nor the Corps have released details yet on how all of that is going to happen.

    I’d like to see those details, too, and I’ll pass them on as soon as I get them.


  18. Casey says:

    Ken, thanks for pointing out the details which I failed to catch. That fact makes the 91% coal recovery with 50% less stream impact more feasible.

  19. […] this comes on the heels of the Obama administration’s decision to approve a new MTR permit in West Virginia. Perhaps the EPA doesn’t believe that blowing up mountains harms […]

  20. […] Opponents of mountaintop removal expressed disappointment over the Obama Administration’s fluctuating stance on mountaintop removal, citing inconsistencies with statements made by President Obama about restoring science to a more prominent position in agency decision-making. The new study was released just days after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the expansion of the largest mountaintop removal c…. […]

  21. […] Arch Coal to come up with ways to further reduce its impacts to a point where EPA would — as it did with the Hobet 45 permit — allow mining to move forward. So, we’re coming up on EPA giving Arch Coal nearly […]

  22. […] Jackson also noted (citing the Hobet 45 permit, where stream impacts were cut in half and most of the coal still able to be mined) that the EPA […]

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