Rep. McKinley gets it wrong on the Spruce Mine

February 9, 2011 by Ken Ward Jr.

I’m still watching the House Commerce and Energy Committee hearing on efforts to block action on global warming, and finally they got around to giving Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., a chance to ask questions.

We’ve seen before that Rep. McKinley doesn’t have a very firm grasp on the state of the science about global warming.

Rep. McKinley continued that today, peppering EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson with questions about Hal Lewis, a minor physicist who apparently resigned from a professional organization over his misguided belief that global warming isn’t real.

But in his zeal to relate the hearing of the day — the Energy Tax Prevention Act — to his own legislation to help out the coal industry, Rep. McKinley couldn’t quite get his facts right about the Spruce Mine.

In particular, Rep. McKinley stated as fact that, because EPA revoked the Spruce Mine Clean Water Act permit,  now “250-some people are out of work.

I’m not sure where Rep. McKinley gets his information about this subject, but the data that Arch Coal reports to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration indicates that, the Spruce Mine at the end of 2010 employed 34 workers. At some point in the future, if the entire mine were to go forward, Arch Coal has said it might employ 250 workers … But the permit veto did not, as Rep. McKinley said, put 250 people out of work. How do such overstatements further a rational debate about coal policies?

We’ve written before here on Coal Tattoo about how facts don’t seem to matter when it comes to the Spruce Mine discussion, and Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy has an interesting commentary here about myths regarding the EPA veto.

23 Responses to “Rep. McKinley gets it wrong on the Spruce Mine”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Might the Gazette not publish Cindy Rank’s article? Since most West Virginians do not subscribe to the Conservancy News Letter, it seems it would be doing a service to all West Virginians to debunk these myths for a larger audience?

  2. Clem Guttata says:


    I’ve heard that those 34 workers are still working, too, as the EPA’s Final Determination did not impact the current mining in Seng Camp Creek, which is continuing. According to reports from a mine neighbor, Seng Creek is still under-going a valley fill.

    If this is true, the EPA decision has not caused any job losses–there’s still active mining going on there today just like there was the day before the EPA decision.

  3. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    I think we just shared it with a larger audience, by linking to it on Coal Tattoo … in addition, the Highlands Conservancy newsletter is available online for free — you don’t have to be a member or subscribe to it. In addition, I believe if you review our print edition stories and Coal Tattoo items on this, we covered the very same issues that Cindy did in her piece.


    I believe that our coverage of this in the print edition and on Coal Tattoo made it clear that EPA was NOT blocking the continuing mining and filling in the Seng Creek area …

    For example:

    The agency said it would allow mining to continue on another portion of the site, burying nearly a mile of streams in the Seng Camp Creek watershed, because work there had already begun.

    That’s the second sentence in the 4th paragraph of this print story that was published the day EPA announced its veto,

    And in the blog post covering the issue, I wrote:

    … EPA’s decision prohibits five proposed valley fills in two streams, Pigeonroost Branch, and Oldhouse Branch, and their tributaries. Mining activities at the Spruce site are underway in Seng Camp Creek as a result of a prior agreement reached in the active litigation with the Mingo Logan Coal Company. EPA’s Final Determination does not affect current mining in Seng Camp Creek.

    I am aware of some other Internet reports about the continued operations in that area, but I’m not sure that those reports have all of their details exactly correct — especially in that they suggest the “mainstream media” coverage has not explained the situation correctly.

    Best, Ken.

  4. Monty says:

    Cindy’s article is a masterful little debunking of the major myths about the Spruce No. 1 permit – myths that the politicians in Washington (including seemingly every one from WV), the coal industry and organized labor are only to eager to foster. As the saying goes, Why let the facts get in the way of a good story?

    Why, indeed? Well, for one thing – the EPA is being pilloried for doing what it is, by statute, required to do. Enforce the law of the land. Some of those laws have been on the books for a longgggggggg time. The Clean Water Act wasn’t written yesterday. Neither was the National Environmental Policy Act. Or RCRA or SMCRA or any of the other alphabet-soup of laws that somehow bear on mining in WV. Congress must have thought they were a good idea or they wouldn’t have passed them, right?

    To me, it seems hypocritical that the National Mining Association is only now crying foul over something that has been coming for years – and that it has know was coming. The EPA attempted to work out compromises with the mine operators with regards to the permit. The same thing happened with selenium here in WV recently. The state DEP hemmed and hawed and dragged its feet for years, all but actively colluding with the coal industry to avoid enforcing the existing standards – until a federal judge finally lost patience with the charade and told the state, and the company, exactly how things were going to be. In both cases the companies gambled on saving pennies a ton for their shareholders, and lost. Is that good corporate stewardship? Maybe by one measure. Taking the long view might be a new and emerging view of corporate stewardship, however.

  5. PJD says:

    On a more general note, the idea that “environmental regulation kills jobs” needs to be challenged head-on.

    The following report shows that considerable good-paying job growth will accrue from two new Clean Air Act regulations to be implemented this year. As a civil engineer who worked in both private industry and government, I have experienced first-hand the equally or greater job-generating effect of the Clean Water, RCRA and CERCLA Act.

  6. Thomas Rodd says:

    Human-caused global warming and climate change deniers — big atmospheric carbon polluters who profit immensely from business as usual — are quite willing to deny this country’s children a chance at a reasonable future, just to keep their profits going — and sometimes they can persuade some politicians to go along with them.

    It’s sad but not surprising. The truth is a tough proposition — although if we face it, we can lick it. The only sure recipe for failure is denial and no action.

    More than 100 years ago, the playwright Ibsen wrote “An Enemy of the People” about how a doctor who revealed poison in a spa was condemned by his fellow townspeople, when he should have been praised. The truth can be frightening, and fear leads to imprudent thinking and close-mindedness.


    See also:

    Come on, Rep. McKinley, don’t stick your head in the sand — lead!

  7. Vnxq809 says:


    If you will – please tell me how you came up with the companies gambled on saving “pennies a ton” and lost. The only “published” # I saw reported was the $0.50/ton mining cost increase projected by John Morgan (EPA & environmental group’s favored consultant) for his alternative method analysis that was commisioned by the EPA. (BTW I’m still reviewing that report in detail to vet his #’s to see if I agree/disagree so I’ll reserve comment on the estimate for now)

    Even if the $0.50/ton cost increase with the alternative Morgan mine plan is accurate, this amounts to huge $$$’s over the course of the reserve’s exhaustion.


  8. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    In response to Vnxq809 and Monty —

    Monty, you talk about the selenium case that was decided upon by Judge Chambers … I’m not sure where you’re getting your information indicating that was for “pennies a ton” … I haven’t looked at the tonnage to be mined at those operations, have you?

    As for the Morgan report — if accurate, it does indeed say the additional costs would be “pennies a ton” … 50 pennies per ton to be exact, Vnxq809. Monty wasn’t talking about the overall costs over time, but the per-ton costs … so he’s being accurate as far as that goes.


  9. Vnxq809 says:

    Okay Ken – I get it…..I really don’t feel you need to take that condescending tone with me…..As someone who has tried to manage a mining operation where “pennies” a ton mean a lot – 50 “pennies” is very significant……Sometimes that narrow margin is the difference between an operation surviving, and therefore providing good paying jobs and benefits, or not……

    You don’t have to be a smart alec (bite my tongue) @ it……


  10. Vnxq809 says:

    And BTW – I didn’t need Monty’s words clarified for me….I have a basic grasp of the language and didn’t indicate he mentioned anything @ the increased costs over the project’s life…..That is a point I made and one that I feel is very germaine to this discusssion……


  11. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    My apologies. I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful. I thought perhaps you read over what he had written quickly and misunderstood.


  12. Vnxq809 says:


    Apology accepted.


  13. Casey says:

    In reading Ms. Rank’s article I would like to know if she would be okay with with Arch mining the Spruce reserves via the plan by the environmentalist’s choice engineer Morgan?

    Is not the loss of 250 direct mining job in the near future, a blow to the great recession recovery of high unemployment particularly when considering the increased indirect jobs and associated economic activity? Even if all positions were filled by persons with existing jobs, the vacated jobs create 250 job opening and indeed I agree with McKinley that ““250-some people are out of work“ that would not otherwise be.

  14. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    I asked Cindy Rank that question — well, not word for word, but basically the same issue regarding the Morgan plan — during a conference call that environmental groups had last month to talk with the media about the Spruce Mine veto …

    “I don’t know that I can really answer fully, but I do think that EPA’s documentation in their veto shows clearly why they think the cumulative impact on this particular area in this particular watershed requires a veto by them … even if Arch had gone along with the Morgan Worldwide report, I have a feeling that the impact would have been great, even though it would be reduced from what it was.”

    As I noted in this post, environmental groups haven’t really been talking about the Morgan alternative any more than coalfield politicians have been.


  15. Bob the Miner says:

    I would loke to point out that McKinley is right on this statement.
    Spruce was originally proposed 13 years ago. It took 10 years — roughly — to get the permit and then three years later it has now been revoked.
    Had the mine gone into production in a reasonable time frame — one or two years from the original application — those 250 miners would be working there today. Yes there are a handful of miners working there, but their number pale in comparison to the jobs lost.
    So I guess what I am saying is that IF Obama can claim to have “saved” three million jobs with his “stimulus” package, then it is equally right to say that the EPA’s policies COST 250 jobs at Spruce.
    But the REAL ISSUE remains … the breach of trust on the part of the EPA in its veto of an existing permit issued legally, one which a company has in good faith made significant investment. As we have noted several times, THIS is the real issue. It goes far beyond a single permit and a single industry and puts in jeopardy ANY job that depends on the issuance of a federal permit.
    Oh, I know, the EPA says this decision doesn’t ‘necessarily” reflect on any other permit, but that is a load of horse dung. It sets a precedent that the agency can follow at any time and in any context of its choosing.
    Even if we take them at their word on this, then this is “selective justice” and is in fact discriminatory against Arch Coal and the miners who would have worked there when production began in full.

  16. Soyedina says:

    I am continually amazed how people on all sides of the aisles talk about “job creation” as if it were magic.

    Who are these 250 miners out of a job because of Arch wouldn’t minimize the environmental effects of this mine? names and address please. I don’t believe they exist.

    How can jobs be “lost” before anyone ever struck a lick? None of this makes much sense to me.

    Bob I’d like to point out that “equally right” can still mean “completely wrong”.

  17. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Bob the Miner (Casey, too) —

    I’m wondering what information you guys have that would show that EPA’s analysis of the impacts of the Spruce Mine are wrong … can you point to anything?


  18. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Bob the Miner,

    It’s also worth pointing out yet again (as outlined here, ) … that Arch Coal was well aware that EPA had outstanding objections to this permit, and that environmental groups had filed suit to try to stop the permit, even after it was issued in a smaller form in January 2007 …

    Arch made its significant investments, in effect betting its money that it would come out on top with EPA and with the federal court suit filed by environmental groups.

    To leave out those important facts is misleading when discussing the history of this permit.


  19. Coalguy says:

    This has been a weird discussion, but I see some statements that I would like to comment on.
    pjd – No matter how you look at it, new regulations do not create jobs. Regulations may create work for some people but overall, when you add regulation, you lose jobs. so, don’t try that argument….it does not hold water (pardon the pun).
    Soyedina – Obviously, no one can give you the names and addresses of the miners that lost their jobs. The jobs were never offered. But, I can almost guarantee you that if the Spruce Mine was operating the way Arch intended it to, they would have 250 miners working there.
    Ken – I keep hearing the statement that Arch knew that the EPA had objections to the permit and environmental groups had filed suit to try and stop the permit and yet they invested in the property anyways. If every company trying to start a new operation (mine or other) waited until all environmental law suits were settled before they started construction, then nothing would ever get done and many more of us would be out of work. I can give you the example of the Turk Power Plant in Arkansas. It received it’s permits almost 2 years ago and has started construction while battling legal challenges to its permit that are still ongoing today.
    And, I don’t know how you can all argue that the Rep. McKinley is wrong by saying that 250 jobs are lost and yet you can also say the extra cost of mining proposed by John Morgan is pennies a ton. Using that logic, $10.00 a ton is only pennies a ton also (1,000 of them). And, from past experience with mining consultants, I can tell you that there is likely more to that number but only Arch probably knows the real cost of the proposed mine plan.
    In the end, if companies in this country can’t rely on a permit that they legally applied for and legally received approval for (remember, EPA does not have to approve the permit for it to be legal – that is the Corps job), then we have no chance of ever recovering from this devastating recession and that is a worry I have for myself and my children that is greater than fears I have for the effects of both Global Warming and Mountaintop Mining combined.
    And my last comment is that I understand that the EPA has the right to revoke a permit at any time but I don’t know if they did so correctly in this case. What they did was revoked the Spruce Permit, not for violating laws that were in existence when the permit application was approved, but they added a restriction after the fact and revoked the permit based on the new water restriction. I don’t understand how that is right.

  20. cindy rank says:

    Casey asked if I would be OK with any of the alternatives outlined in the Morgan Worldwide report.

    I thought i was clear in my Highlands Voice article when i wrote: “…From my reading of the proposed alternative mine plans, I personally can’t imagine any of them could sufficiently reduce the cumulative impacts EPA cited as reasons for veto.”

    But allow me expand a bit on that statement. I can’t claim to fully understand the engineering details of the options put forth in the Morgan (MW) report… Nor can i claim infallibility in evaluating the full extent of the impacts each would allow and/or reduce. However, reading through both the MW report and EPA’s lengthy comments about the adverse impacts to the Spruce Fork area from previous and current mining – i.e. about the cumulative impacts already happening to the water resources and the populations that depend on them – i personally believe that any of the MW options would be unacceptable because of the additional stressors, pollutants, and other stream and water impacts each of them would allow, impacts that could not be abated or mitigated sufficiently.

    As for Bob the Miner’s comments, i continue to be confused by the stance taken by many in industry about some of the broader issues involved in these discussions. For example, in the case of Spruce, in 1998 the company and industry complained that there was no proof that mining in Spruce Fork River valley – or elsewhere – was detrimental. They believed that denial of the permits would be irrationally based on flimsy assumptions and imagined impacts.

    …. And now after a dozen years of studies and additional monitoring and data collecting EPA has attempted to set out scientifically based guidelines by which permits (Spruce and others) can and should be measured, better defined and substantiated guidelines that would allow industry and regulatory agencies to be reading from the same book.

    This is the precedent being set and yet public statements from industry and some of our elected officials are now rife with misplaced cries of foul and phrases similar to Bob’s “breach of trust”, jobs in jeopardy, “horse dung” and “selective justice”.

  21. ted says:

    It is also important to keep in mind that coal production and employment do not happen in a vacuum. Employment and production are mostly determined by supply and demand. Companies that cannot mine coal in one area simply move to another coal producing area, which could be in or out of West Virginia, and those jobs follow. Mining companies are also very cognizant about keeping production at a profitable level – not too high and not too low. If 250 workers had been working at the Spruce Mine since 2000-1, chances are there would be not be 250 more coal jobs today. Again, supply and demand are mostly at work.

  22. Edwin says:

    The purpose of a mine is not to create jobs, except perhaps for the former Soviet states like Ukraine, where a mine that produces a few hundred tons of coal per day employs thousands just so people have something to do. The purpose of a mine is to extract mineral resources for sale at a profit. That’s all. Geological, regulatory, and market conditions all can be expected to affect that definition.

    The thing to consider about regulations with respect to the environment is that at some level, enough of the population of this country, acting through their legislators, has decided at some point that the environment is important and has value. Teddy Roosevelt decided that the environment had value; the state of California decided that the environment had value when they banned the use of hydraulic monitors in gold mining, which could also be argued to have put many out of work.

    When the last ounces of gold are collected from the sluicebox, when the last ton of coal is mined in WV, when the last ton of lead ore is processed in Missouri, when the last redwood is cut for that matter, what do you have left? You still have a bunch of people suddenly out of work because their profession has run its course, and all that’s left is the land. Is that land going to have other uses, or is it going to be a Superfund site? We as a society pay for it eventually. Mineral resources are required by our society, but there are hidden costs in mining that we don’t pay for until later. Wouldn’t it be fair to pay those costs up front by mining responsibly?

    If our society deems that the mineral in question is valuable enough, then the demand will make it pay despite any regulations to be complied with. If not, then that’s the economic evolution of our society. If West Virginia coal, either as steam coal or met coal, is sufficiently sought after, then the demand and associated jobs will still be there despite mining responsibly and complying with any regulations. If not, then the mining will be done somewhere else. Copper mining didn’t last forever in Michigan or Arizona; placer gold mining didn’t last forever in California; silver mining didn’t last forever in Colorado; anthracite mining didn’t last forever in Schuykill County and the Lehigh Valley. The farmers of the Midwest in the 1980’s lost their way of life as well because the small farm just didn’t pay anymore. That’s just how it is.

  23. Vernon says:

    I saw Acting Governor Tomblin on the TV news the day of his anti-EPA rally telling the reporter that he would fight for all jobs in WV. I’m wondering exactly what laws and regulations he’s willing to fight against to provide those jobs, and if he really meant it.
    Regarding the question as to whether “environmental” groups would be happy with the alternative plan: Coal River Mountain Watch works for the abolition of MTR and would not be happy with a kinder, gentler MTR. Filling 3 miles of streams is not an improvement over 3 miles of unfilled streams.

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