Coal Tattoo

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


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?