Mountaintop development?

December 2, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

Last week, Erica Peterson over at West Virginia Public Broadcasting did an interesting story about a move by our friend Chris Hamilton at the West Virginia Coal Association to re-brand mountaintop removal mining as “mountaintop development.” According to Erica:

The coal industry has long pointed to its economic benefit in West Virginia — from mining jobs to development projects on former mine sites. Now, there’s talk of changing mining terminology to reflect some of this economic development.

Last month, Tyler Phipps, a junior at the University of Kentucky submitted a letter to the university’s student newspaper.  Phipps pointed to examples of development on former mine sites in Kentucky, and suggested the term “mountaintop development” might be a better way to describe the practice.

Phipps’ phrase appealed to many in the coal industry. Two days later, Chris Hamilton of the West Virginia Coal Association, emailed the story to coal groups, echoing the call of Massey Energy Vice President Mike Snelling that this might be a good way to re-brand the controversial practice.

“It just sort of struck a favorable note among those of us who are more directly involved with the coal industry and surface mining here in West Virginia,” Chris Hamilton said. “All around the state we have many examples today of industrial, commercial or recreational facilities that are on post-mine land sites, former mine sites, where there’s just a tremendous amount of economic development.”

It got me thinking about the discussion on Coal Tattoo a week earlier regarding a West Virginia Commerce Department press release that touted creation of 13,000 jobs on former surface mines in West Virginia. After bugging the Commerce Department, I finally got a copy of their list of projects involved in these jobs. I posted the list here, and also posted some notes the Commerce Department provided regarding some of the projects on the list.

I’ve spent a little bit of time looking at the list, and a few interesting things jumped out at me:

First, about 42 percent of the jobs — nearly 5,600 of them — are seasonal positions, part-time jobs, or temporary construction work.  There’s no mention of this in the Commerce Department press release.

Second, two thirds of the 7,739 full-time jobs are at sites nowhere near Southern West Virginia. They’re in Grant, Harrison, Hancock and Monongalia counties. More than a third of the full-time jobs are at one project — the FBI Center near Clarksburg.

Also interesting were a couple of the notes at the end of the actual list of projects …  For example:

This includes sites that have had prior mining activity. This includes sites with a designated post-mine land use in the permit, properties mined prior to 1977 and projects where a permit was not needed due to incidental coal.

So, we’re not at all talking exclusively about large mountaintop removal sites where post-mining development was made possible by provisions of the 1977 Surface Mining Act that required such development for sites with variances to the “approximate original contour” reclamation standard.

The Pete Dye Golf Course, above, was built on an abandoned coal mine.  The Boy Scout camp is also being built on abandoned mine sites, and the state is spending $12 million in AML money to clean them up in preparation for that. And some of these sites apparently involved little coal mining at all — only removal of coal that was “incidental” to the development and did not require a mining permit. Others were mined and fully reclaimed, and development projects came much later and independently of the mining.

How many of these sites fall into those kinds of categories? Exactly which companies mined these sites? When did they mine them? What about the permitting process and the post-mining development process at these projects worked? What can the state learn from them if they were indeed so successful?

Well, I’m not sure how anybody is going to be able to answer those questions, because it appears the state still doesn’t do much to really keep track of such matters.

I asked Commerce Department spokeswoman Courtney Sisk a few relatively simple questions about the list and the press release her agency issued.

For example, I wanted mining permit numbers for each of the projects, so I could get more information from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection about the sites.

Sisk hasn’t been able to provide those numbers. She did forward to me an e-mail message from Jeff Wood of the Coalfield Development Office, in which Wood explained how the list was put together:

The Office compiled the list of projects from various sources, mainly from local development agencies and had these projects verified by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to be on post mined properties. The properties were evaluated to ensure that mining activity occurred on post mine land property.

Well, I asked WVDEP spokeswoman Kathy Cosco about that, and here’s what she told me:

I’m having trouble finding anyone who says they proofed or reviewed the information you sent me. Also, I’m not having much luck getting you permit numbers for the sheet you sent me.

In the Commerce Department press release, Division of Energy Director Jeff Herholdt is quoted saying:

With some areas of our state having little flat land for development, the use of surface mined lands has been critically important to providing land for new industry and facilities for use by the general public. In addition to the flat land, many projects are able to take advantage of infrastructure, roads and electric-service used during coal mining.”

Sounds great, huh? But are government development boosters and mining regulators just interested in trying to help the coal industry “re-brand” strip mining, or in holding coal companies to the post-mining development requirements Congress established 33 years ago?

To be clear about this, post-mining development of these sites isn’t supposed to be something that happens much later than mining. It’s not supposed to be something that a bunch of local folks come up with long after the mining operation is closed. Mine operators are not supposed to be able to just flatten the land, and hope somebody comes and builds a factory or a mall someday.

Congress required in the Surface Mining Act (See page 83 of this pdf version) that mining operators submit permit applications containing “specific plans for the proposed post-mining land use and appropriate assurances that such use” will be:

— Compatible with adjacent land uses;

— Obtainable according to data regarding expected need and market;

— Assured of investment in necessary public facilities;

— Supported by commitments from public agencies where appropriate;

— Practicable with respect to private financial capability for completion of the proposed use;

— Planned pursuant to a schedule attached to the reclamation plan so as to integrate the mining operation and reclamation with postmining land use; and

— Designed by a registered professional engineer in conformance with professional standards established to assure the stability, drainage, and configuration necessary for the intended use.

Have these requirements been enforced?

Well, there’s plenty of evidence that for many years they weren’t. We wrote about this in our original Mining the Mountains series in 1998, and the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement confirmed our findings in its own oversight report. A follow-up report by West Virginia University, conducted as part of the broad Environmental Impact Statement on mountaintop removal, also found little to suggest post-mining development requirements were working.

More recent examinations of the issue in Kentucky by the Lexington Herald-Leader and across Appalachian by the Natural Resources Defense Council found little evidence of major strides in post-mining development of former coal sites.

There’s also a fairly recent (May 2010) oversight report by OSMRE that looked at whether the WVDEP had improved its review of post-mining land use issues in mining permits since that earlier study a decade ago. The report generally praised reforms made by WVDEP. But, it only looked at four AOC permits.  Only one of those proposed any sorts of post-mining development (a housing project) and it did not contain the required financial analysis to indicate the proposal was viable.

And interestingly, in response to my query about whether WVDEP checked the Commerce Department’s list, Kathy Cosco was kind enough to send me some data about post-mining land uses, including this spreadsheet that is apparently a list of mining permits issued since Oct. 1, 2001, with AOC variances.

Take a look … there are 15 permits on the list, and for eight of them, WVDEP does not list a “purpose of” the post-mining land use. All of those are commercial forestry sites — probably the same as the pre-mining land use. For another, WVDEP listed “industrial/commercial” as the post-mining land use, but said the purpose was for a commercial forest operation. Another “industrial/commercial” was for a wholesale nursery.  The others?

— An athletic complex, with a soccer field, road and parking

— An ATV park with trails.

— Two “commercial cow/calf operations” and/or “switchgrass production” areas.

— One subdivision with a water supply, sewer, and utilities.

During our Coal Tattoo discussion a few weeks ago, a reader who used the screen name “Bob” agreed that not nearly enough had been done to develop sites previously approved for mining. And he offered this vision of what could have been:

For example .. in terms of economic impact, the FBI Center alone accounts for 3,000 good-paying jobs, but it also spawned an entire tech corridor through the area that added many, many more jobs. This happened in large part by chance. Imagine the good that could be accomplished if this were indeed part of a well-planned, well-managed effort on the part of state and local leaders and the coal industry. These sites can become industrial and tech hubs, with others serving as residential support areas, recreational and educational hubs, etc.

That sounds great. But the problem is the mining industry is trying to use the potential for post-mining development as a reason to encourage more mountaintop removal and allow more flattened land, while WVDEP’s permit records don’t seem to indicate much development being proposed in those new permit applications.

76 Responses to “Mountaintop development?”

  1. Observer says:

    “found little evidence of major strides in post-mining development of former coal sites.”

    Examples from Virginia with # of jobs on previously mined sites:

    Norton Community Hospital 708
    Keene Mountain Prison 314
    2 – Sykes 275 & 341
    Mullican Lumber 172
    Crutchfield 90
    2 – Verizon 40 & 44

    Here is close to 2,000 jobs is 2 counties.

  2. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    could you provide more information about the mining at those sites — permit numbers? What company did the mining and when? Exactly what type of mining was done?

    Most importantly, were these developments part of the mining permit, as proposed post-mining land uses, or did the development happen much later?


  3. Observer says:


    First paragraph – I can’t answer the questions with out a lot of research.

    Second paragraph – One of the sites was developed as part of the post mining land use. The development on the others was done later which brings me to the point I wanted to make.

  4. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    For the matter that interests me — are regulators enforcing the post-mining land use requirements of SMCRA and are those requirements working — your information means really nothing without more detail than you’ve provided for these sites.

    You list is about like the Commerce Department list in West Virginia … it’s a starting point, but it doesn’t really get to the heart of of the matter.


  5. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Observer, all —

    Just another point here … the fact that the questions I asked Observer can’t quickly be answered by regulators clearly makes my point: if agencies were strongly enforcing these provisions, such data would be very readily available. But it’s not.


  6. Observer says:


    First off I am by no means a regultator.

    One of these sites is on an AML site. What information is the regulator supposed to have?

  7. Observer says:


    What is the heart of the matter? I provided information contrary to your statement. That is all it was. Nothing more. Nothing less.

  8. Bob says:

    I am not an engineer. Make no claims to be. What I do know is that I find it incredibly selfish to condemn (which is what you are doing) West Virginia to being nothing more than a national park.
    I want development. I want a future. I want a West Virginia that shares in the economy of the rest of this country (well, not so much now, but you know what I mean). I want a means to get the people of West Virginia OUT of the valley floors and up into the light of day, with quality homes in quality neighborhoods, with good schools, recreation opportunities and a truly diversified, sustainable economy.
    Once again, apparently my point is being missed by some, I am not saying mining is THE answer – the Holy Grail of economic development — but it CAN be a valuable partner in the effort.
    Sorry to be condescending myself, but I believe it is irrational to believe Toyota has to be willing to sign a contract to develop a site 10-20 years in advance in order to approve a post-mine land use waiver.
    I don’t know about your experience in Pennsylvania. I do know that I am not willing to turn West Virginia into a “Hillbilly” Zoo for the entertainment of the liberal elite. Which brings me to another point — but one that I think bears importance in this — I liken the attitude of many who suggest West Virginia should be satisfied to be the “wilderness preserve” to those who would deny modern life to the native tribes of the Amazon or of Sub-Saharan Africa because we want to “preserve native culture.”
    Give me a toaster oven, pizza and Fox News! By the way, I want my Big Mac!
    Yes, I am being a bit ridiculous, but it makes a point. I see little difference in that attitude and the attitude espoused by those who suggest a “wilderness” future for our state. It amounts to arrogance and incredible selfishness.
    Ken, I don’t really think it makes a difference whether this or that development occurred as a pre-planned or “incidental” development on a site. It really doesn’t matter that is was a true MTR site or a storage facility. What does matter is that there was a reason these sites were chosen — and that reason is the relative lack of developable land.
    PMLU is not the answer for every site or mountaintop in this state. It is a very possible outcome and one made more likely by the process I outlined previously. No one in the context of these comments has made a dent in the logic of that process.

  9. Taylor says:

    Bob, it appears to me that you are failing to take into account what those “hillbilly” and “native tribal” people want for themselves, and you want to decide it for them. Maybe those aboriginal tribes would *prefer* to stay where they are and live the life to which they are accustomed. And I personally know people living in “valley floors” who are satisfied with the quality of their homes and communities and who’d love to be able to live in peace right where they are. To them, maybe that’s better than Fox News and Big Macs.

  10. Bob says:

    They are welcome to stay. Not saying my vision has to be THE vision for everyone. I am just saying it should be an option. I am also saying in order for it to be an option there has to be a viable and sustainable economy. As for leaving the choice up to the “hillibillies” and the “native tribal” people … I would counter that it is someone who says they must be content with wilderness areas and witch doctors that is “making the choice” for them. Hard to have a choice when there is none presented.

  11. Taylor says:

    I don’t know anyone who says they “must” be content with those things.

  12. Taylor says:

    Since the issue of employment came up here yesterday–specifically, the issue of coal-related employment and whether anything else could replace those jobs–I want to add this.
    I took a look at the MACED report to which Ken provided a link in yesterday’s “Friday Roundup.” It referenced a report by the Center for American Progress ( that says that, if $150 billion in expenditures were shifted out of the fossil fuel industry and into clean energy investments, the net result for WV would be an *increase* in total employment of 10,334 jobs–constituting one more estimate of how “clean energy” can generate more jobs than can an equivalent investment in fossil fuel. Will those jobs pay as much? Probably not. But a lot of people will live longer, healthier lives and the environment will incur less damage.

  13. Bob says:

    First of all, the Center for American Progress is a George Soros-funded organization. Citing information from the CAP is akin to referencing the latest “research” from the SEIU. I put no more reliance on its numbers than you would data provided by the National Mining Association. Sorry, but I will reference data when I see a TRULY independent source.
    Also, even in the report, I found gads of double talk — as a person with a a few statistics courses under my belt, I recognize how statistics can be skewed by the ‘starting point” from which the statistics are measured.
    For example … for a business who had one employee last month and hired 1 additional employee … that is a growth rate of 100 percent. However, a business with 60,000 employees would have to hire an additional 60,000 to reach a 100 percent growth rate. Sorry — no comparison.
    And to simply say, well they may not pay as much but they would be healthier? By what measure? Poverty (as in minimum wage jobs) leads to hunger and hunger leads to malnutrition, sickness and ultimately death.
    Again, I will say, when someone tells me how they will replace 60,000 jobs paying $68,500 per year with full benefits, as well as more than $24 BILLION in total economic impact in West Virginia each year, then we may have something to discuss.
    I noticed two things quickly about the report… one was that one of the sources of clean energy jobs was in carbon capture and storage (ie. coal and fossil fuels). How many of those clean energy jobs were accounted for by that segment of “investment?” I don’t know. I am asking.
    The second thing I noticed was that no where does it say WHERE all those clean energy jobs will be created. In other words, we are likely transferring jobs from West Virginia to California (solar), the New England states (hydro) and the Midwest (biofuels).
    Sorry again, but I am a bit selfish… I actually would like a few good jobs for WEST VIRGINIANS. I have very little interest in transferring jobs and people to bail the folks in California and Massachusetts out of their budget mess. I also have little interest in setting aside West Virginia as “wilderness” for East and West Coasters to play in while we are forced to leave.

  14. Bob says:

    That’s my last comments on this topic thread.

  15. Taylor says:

    First of all, Bob, you have a tendency to try to put words in others’ mouths (e.g. when you suggested I was saying miners didn’t deserve their pay), or to take others’ points to the extreme, as you did here (we’re talking about jobs that would require some technical training, and which would pay much more than minimum wage). These are less-than-honorable ways of trying to win an argument.
    Second, is $68,500 the average for *all 60,000* of those jobs? And if so, is it the mean or the median? Big difference.
    Third, for the third time, a $68,500 income is not a necessity for living well.
    Fourth, what’s your reference for $24 billion? I’m guessing it’s the Kent-Witt study, which estimated “a total business volume of $25.53 billion.” That study was funded by the Coal Association, and it took into account none of the *negative* economic impacts of the coal industry.
    Fifth, Dr. Hendryx has provided empirical evidence that “human cost of the Appalachian coal mining economy outweighs its economic benefits” (, and recent credible work has shown that the net effect of coal on the WV state budget is *negative* to the tune of $42.2 million (
    And those are MY last comments on this entry.

  16. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    This has been a very good discussion … thanks to all.

    One point regarding your comments Bob. It absolutely does matter whether these sites were planned as developments from the beginning as part of their permits.


    Well, first of all, it’s the law.

    But more importantly is the social compact underpinning that law. As discussed in the 1998 series I referenced above, when Congress allowed mountaintop removal, it was doing so as a compromise. Some lawmakers wanted to abolish it. But they didn’t, and the deal was that mining operators could level out the mountains, IF they submitted plans at the beginning of the permit process for how they would develop those sites.

    If these requirements had been enforced all along, there would have been several big advantages for Appalachia:

    First, sites that were mined this way would have some sort of development — something for the future you’re talking about and are rightly concerned about.

    Secondly, because these requirements are hard to meet, it would have forced the mining industry to do less of these destructive form of mining and to do so at smaller sites. Congress knew mountaintop removal was very destructive, and wanted to allow it only on a limited basis.


  17. Bob says:

    In the interests of clarification, I am going to make one more post on this thread.
    I didn’t mean to imply that this isn’t a requirement of the law. My point was that whether or not it is planned, the result has been that mine land has been used. I fully agree with you — as I have noted previously — that not enough has been done with the existing sites. My point was and remains that these sites provide a potential, however untapped, for development and that the sites that have been developed prove rather than disprove the point.
    I think this has been a good discussion. I appreciate the opportunity to make my points.
    In response to Taylor’s last comment. Yes, my comments were based on the WVU/MU College of Business study. I believe this study is much more accurate in its assessment than either the Hendryx or Downstream Strategies studies, which I dismiss as biased much as it appears you dismiss the WVU/MU study.
    However, as I have noted in other forums, I put much more stock in the validity of a joint study undertaken by the combined colleges of business of the state’s two leading universities over studies conducted by organizations or individuals who quite simply conduct the studies and manipulate the data to prove their pre-determined hypothesis rather than disprove it.
    I recently saw that the Downstream Strategies report had cut its initial estimate of the cost of the coal industry by half. And this reassessment occurred in response to criticism from none other than Cal Kent and Tom Witt or the Marshall and WVU business schools respectively. These are men with established reputations for good scholarship both in West Virginia and nationally. I applaud Downstream Strategies for admitting their original “findings” were grossly overstated, however they continue to portray the finding as a true cost-benefit analysis when it obviously isn’t.
    The $68,500 salary estimate is exactly that… I know you mean by the inference that this includes the higher salaries of management and executives. However, I can say that this salary estimate reflects the reality on the ground. Most of our coal miners easily make $50,000 and many approach $100,000 in wages each year.
    You imply that it doesn’t take $68,500 a year to “live well.” I would agree. Money doesn’t by happiness … but I guarantee that those coal mining families are happy to have the the money they make to pay their mortgages, buy the cars and trucks they do and have some of the niceties of life to provide for their children.
    Frankly, I don’t understand your points … it almost seems you just want to argue whatever point rather than address the specifics and admit there are some good things about the coal industry.
    Look, I will admit, the coal industry — just like any other industry — needs watchdogs to keep it honest. There are bad people in the world. Bad things do happen … and often it is the result of someone doing something they shouldn’t or not doing something they should.
    Just as I have said not enough has been done with the existing PMLU sites — for whatever reason. It does no good to simply try to paint everyone with a black and white brush. People are shades of gray. Everyone is painted in shades of gray.
    Enough of my sermon for the week. Brother Bob has left the pulpit!

  18. Bob says:

    Five paragraphs from the bottom .. “buy happiness” rather than “by happiness.” Sorry for the errors. Typing on a Blackberry isn’t easy.

  19. Taylor says:

    Okay, I have to respond to Bob’s comments about Kent-Witt vs. McIlmoil-Boettner, because you were really unfair, Bob.
    “organizations or individuals who quite simply conduct the studies and manipulate the data to prove their pre-determined hypothesis rather than disprove it.” (Btw, it would be just as bad to go looking for evidence that a particular thing is NOT true as it would be to just look for evidence that it’s true.)
    That’s a pretty serious impugnment of someone’s integrity. I really, REALLY hope you actually read their report before saying such a thing, and also the statement that, “they continue to portray the finding as a true cost-benefit analysis when it obviously isn’t.”
    I did read their response to Dr. Kent’s criticisms (it’s at They were gracious in expressing appreciation for Kent & Soward’s review, and they accepted and incorporated the criticisms that were valid–*but not all were,* read the memo for yourself. It’s not rocket science. It is very telling that, even after incorporating Kent’s valid criticisms, they still show a negative effect on the state budget of $42 million. Yes, that’s less than their original estimate of about $90 million, but it’s still a pretty good chunk of change.
    Both Downstream Strategies and the WVCBP are professional organizations. They had to know that such a report would undergo much scrutiny here in “coal country,” and for them to have deliberately done what you suggested would have been professional suicide.
    Finally, since you appear to assume that McIlmoil and Boettner are biased, but that Dr. Ken isn’t, I’ll throw this out there. A while back I was having a conversation about related matters with someone I consider to be more or less neutral (i.e., not particularly sympathetic toward coal or toward its opponents), but who some consider to be sympathetic toward coal. S/he expressed respect for the president of Downstream Strategies, but in the same conversation made a comment to the effect that, “Whenever Cal Kent writes a report about coal, everyone knows in advance what it’s going to say.”

  20. Bob says:

    Taylor, basic scientific method follows the following format…
    1. Define the research question
    2. Gather information and resources (observe)
    3. Form hypothesis
    4. Perform experiment and collect data in an effort to DISPROVE the null
    5. Analyze data
    6. Interpret data and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for
    new hypothesis
    7. Publish results
    8. Retest (frequently done by other scientists)

  21. Bob says:

    The point is that the true scientist doesn’t start the process with an end result in mind. They determine a question, gather basic information and existing data, form a hypothesis of causation. THEN the make every effort to disprove their hypothesis (a finding of no relationship supports the null hypothesis).
    The second part of the format is also important. Even if a relationship is supported by the data, it is never considered to be “settled” but instead forms the basis of a new hypothesis. In other words, if Factor A is not causal, than perhaps it is Factor B. And if we find that the data does not disprove Factor A as a causal factor, is there another factor that might also be a potential causal factor?
    The Hendryx study, for example, posits that because West Virginians have poor health profiles, and mining exists in these same area, that mining is somehow causal of that health profile. If you read Hendryx’ study, he makes this major assertion and then walks it back with this huge disclaimer that essentially says (and this isn’t a quote) that “even though this appears to be the case, it cannot be determined to what extent that relationship exists.” Read the disclaimer yourself. It is big enough to drive an off-road coal truck through.
    Seriously, I have no doubt that coal mining does play some role in the poor health profile of West Virginians. Coal mining is an industrial job. It is a difficult job and it often leads to injury. But these health profiles are also easily explainable because we are getting older as a state, with age comes ill health, we don’t exercise, we eat fried foods, etc.
    And yes, I admit readily that in my opinion, the work of Downstream Strategies and Michael Hendryx falls far short in the test of objectivity. That is my opinion and it is based on my educated observation. Frankly, I think I am more than qualified to make this judgment. However I don’t ask you to share my opinion. I am making my case, stating my argument and if you choose to believe it that’s great.
    By the way, how does my criticism of bias on the part of Downstream Strategies and Michael Hendryx differ from your ad hominem criticism of Cal Kent and by extention Tom Witt?
    I personally put much more reliance on the work of Kent and Witt. They have a body of work that — as noted — is respected both at the state and national level. They are both noted scholars and — as you noted in defense of your own “experts” — it would be “professional suicide” to intentionally skew their studies on behalf of this or that organization.
    And frankly, I see a major difference in the standard of objectivity demanded of people such as Witt and Kent versus that demanded of organizations like the Center for Budget and Policy.
    By the way, I don’t think I have ever seen Kent or Witt have to “revise” their data by more than 50 percent as a result of a mistake.

  22. Bob says:

    Once again, I apologize for a slight mistake.. in the first posting I said “disprove the null hypothesis.” that should have read “disprove the hypothesis and support the null hypothesis.” In other words, the ONLY thing one can “prove” is that of NO RELATIONSHIP.

  23. Bob says:

    Oh, one last thing … the research model I provided holds true as criticism of the Hendryx study. It is a very basic fallacy in scientific research to mistake “correlation for causation.” In other words, because two factors exist together, it does not necessarily follow that Factor A is causal for Factor B.
    The Downstream Strategies study is more rightly considered a review rather than a “study.” It simply establishes a research topic and then collects the data to support the report or review.
    My problem with the Downstream Strategies study is the methodology — specifically the parameters chosen for the data collection — which seems to be designed specifically to allow the study to arrive at a pre-determined result. It ignores key positive economic inputs. As such, I question the quality of the research itself, as their recent 50 percent reduction in “coal costs” proves as a valid criticism.

  24. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Thanks all … glad everyone is keeping the discussion going …

    One suggestion I would have is that everyone focus less on who wrote a particular report and whether they are biased, an on what the objective of their report was, the methods used, and the results … For example, it’s worth remembering that the Kent-Witt study stated its purpose very clearly:

    “The purpose of the study is to provide the public and policy makers an unbiased and reliable determination of how important the coal industry is to West Virginia.”

    Note that part “how important the coal industry is to West Virginia,” which suggests that it’s an advocacy report that will argue in favor of the importance of the coal industry.

    Content-wise, the Downstream Strategies reports have been much more balanced. While Kent and Witt do not mention or include any negative aspects of coal at all in their work, Downstream Strategies acknowledges and includes in its calculations both positive contributions and negative impacts.

    For example, the very beginning of their report ( ) states:

    “Coal plays a significant role in West Virginia’s economy, contributing hundreds of millions of dollars in state and local revenue and providing well-paying jobs to tens of thousands of West Virginians.”

    You won’t find a similar statement in Kent-Witt reports that acknowledge that coal damages the environment or contributes to global warming, or gets workers killed on the job. Anyone who doesn’t recognize this key difference in the balanced content of the two reports hasn’t bothered to read them, or is simply too entrenched in their own view as to ignore what the reports really say.

    There’s also something that’s important to keep in mind here regarding the word of Michael Hendryx and his coworkers. It has gone through peer-review and been published in scientific, scholarly journals. Peer review isn’t perfect. But it is the accepted way that scientists try to sort out good versus bad research methods and results. And Dr. Hendryx has been willing to put his work to the test through that peer-review process — and he deserves respect for doing so.

    Can anyone point me to any work by Tom Witt and Cal Kent regarding the coal industry’s economic impacts on West Virginia that has appeared in a peer-reviewed economics journal? If so, please give me the citation or a link, because I would love to see it.

    Likewise, the Downstream Strategies reports have not gone through peer-review or been published in scholarly journals. However, the folks at Downstream Strategies have asked outside reviewers, and they issued a revised report based on the criticisms offered by Cal Kent at Marshall. I have yet to see Kent and Witt issue a revised report on West Virginia’s coal economy based on the criticisms of their initial report. The way the two sides here — Downstream Strategies vs. Witt-Kent — have handled criticism of their work speaks volumes. Rory McIlmoil has been willing to engage in extended discussions here on Coal Tattoo about his organization’s reports. I’ve asked Tom Witt to take part in such discussions, but he has declined to do so.

    It’s understandable that anyone in the public might at first glance be more willing to accept the work of the WVU and Marshall business schools than the work of an outside group like Downstream Strategies. But a closer look suggests that Downstream Strategies is much more willing to be open and honest and take part in real discussions and dialogue about their work than the folks at our state’s two major business colleges.


  25. Taylor says:

    Excellent points, Mr. Ward; thanks.

  26. Bob says:

    Ken, Taylor, All;
    Thank YOU all for the discussion. I realize I will likely never “win you over” to my perspective but realize that is what it is — my perspective.
    Ken, you are right to point out that the WVU-MU study is a “partial study.” It does not look “downstream” costs OR benefits (pun definitely intended). I would suggest, however, that at very best the Downstream Strategies report is equally flawed in that it is likewise a “partial” report. It looks at public costs (ie, public revenues versus expenditures). It isn’t a true cost-benefit analysis.
    Ken, I appreciate the forum and the opportunity to state my position.

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