CLOTHIER - On one end of the Dal-Tex complex, huge shovels and dozers rip apart mountains and bury streams with mine waste. Like most active strip mines, it looks like a moonscape.
Over the hill, alfalfa, yellow clover and blackberry bushes dot green hillsides. Turkey and deer scamper about, and ducks splash around the wetlands.
This is reclaimed land, a side of mountaintop removal coal industry officials say the public today doesn't hear or see enough about.
Arch Coal Inc., Dal-Tex's parent company, showed off the operation on Monday, the first of a three-day, state-sponsored tour to examine the controversial type of strip mining.
About 65 people piled into vans and rumbled through the 2,300-acre Dal-Tex complex in Logan County for a first-hand look at what has caused a stir in public hearings, courtroom battles and now, a regulatory fight with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"I hope you're here with an open mind," Dal-Tex general manager Mark White told tour participants. "I hope you're here to better understand the importance of mining to our society, and not just to get ammunition to hurt our industry and our jobs."
The tour is sponsored by the state Division of Environmental Protection.
Two of the four phases of the tour focuses on reclamation work, and only one limited trip showed participants active mine pits. The fourth was a presentation on coal's economic impact on the state.
During one of the reclamation segments, Larry Emerson, director of environmental performance for Dal-Tex, explained the company's efforts to replant hardwood trees on a mountaintop removal mine site.
Dal-Tex has planted more than 27,000 oaks and other hardwoods at the site in the last two years, Emerson said.
Company experts tried fencing them in or planting them in plastic tubes to keep out deer and other animals that feed on the saplings.
Still, the company reports, only about half of the trees survived.
"There's certainly room for improvement," Emerson said. "But it's not too bad, either."
One problem is that the federal strip mine law places priority on getting grasses and other cover going early in the reclamation process to protect against soil erosion.
But the grasses and other cover require a neutral soil (strip mines often mix their own "topsoil substitute" rather than segregate topsoil during mining), while trees need a more acidic soil to thrive.
"More than likely, the trees can't compete with the grasses," said state Division of Forestry Director Bill Maxey, who went along on the tour.