Arch Coal Inc. may put about 400 Logan County coal miners out of work on New Year's Eve if regulators don't issue the largest mountaintop removal permit in state history, company and union officials said Friday.
United Mine Workers members at Arch Coal subsidiary Hobet Mining's Dal-Tex complex were told Friday morning they could be laid off on Dec. 31.
Dal-Tex general manager Mark White issued required 60-day layoff notifications to miners and officials from UMW Local 2935.
"This action has been necessitated by the failure of state and federal agencies to issue new permits in a timely manner," said Steven F. Leer, Arch Coal's president and CEO.
"Our inability to secure those permits has reached a critical stage," Leer said.
"We have tried to keep the mine open by mining in increasingly unproductive areas for several months now, which has resulted in losses of approximately $1 million a month," he said. "We cannot continue to incur those losses indefinitely."
Dick Kimbler, president of Local 2935, said Friday that he and other miners are writing to West Virginia's congressional delegation to urge them to put pressure on regulators to issue the permit.
Arch Coal said in a prepared statement that phased layoffs of 299 UMW members and 88 salaried employees at the Dal-Tex Old Hickory Surface Mine and Monclo Preparation Plant could begin Dec. 31. A written notice to workers, required by federal law, said Arch Coal did not know if the layoffs would be temporary or permanent.
Kimbler said the job losses could end up hitting roughly 100 more UMW members who work at related underground mines, as well as contract truck drivers.
"Eventually, if we don't get a permit, they'll shut the place down," Kimbler said in a phone interview. "Everybody's upset."
Bob Phalen, president of UMW District 17 in Charleston, said the union still maintains its middle-of-the-road position on mountaintop removal.
"We can't afford that type of job loss anywhere in West Virginia, and more particularly in the coalfields," Phalen said.
"But the union's position on mountaintop removal is the right position. You can't go with either of the extreme positions.
"One is total abolition, and the other is complete recklessness," Phalen said. "Our position can be adhered to. You can protect the environment and you can continue these jobs."
Hobet Mining applied 19 months ago for a permit to expand the Dal-Tex mine near Blair.
Originally, the permit would have allowed the company to mine nearly 3,196 acres - about 5 square miles - near historic Blair Mountain. Heavy equipment would have moved east across W.Va. 17 toward Pigeonroost Hollow.
According to the permit application, Hobet hopes to mine about 80 million tons of coal under the permit over the next 15 years.
Arch Coal makes an average of about $3.90 in profits from every ton of coal it mines, according to financial records distributed to stockholders. That amounts to about $312 million in profits, or about $21 million a year from the Dal-Tex mine alone.
In its most recent profit statement filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Arch Coal reported it made about $30 million during the first three quarters of 1998.
Gov. Cecil Underwood and coal industry officials have blamed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for Hobet Mining's permit not being issued yet.