A ban on mountaintop removal mining with large valley fills would reduce West Virginia's annual coal production by 10 percent, according to a new industry study.
The report, produced by a consultant for coal land-holding companies, is the first concrete estimate of the potential impacts of restricting mountaintop removal.
John Feddock, an engineer with the firm Marshall Miller & Associates, concluded the ban would cost the state between 17 and 18 million tons of its annual production.
West Virginia produced an average of 165 million tons of coal a year during the 1990s, according to the state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training.
In his report, Feddock found that if mountaintop removal were banned, some coal reserves targeted for that form of mining would never be mined.
Others could be mined by other methods, such as underground mining or smaller-scale strip mining.
Under the ban, the industry would lose about $490 million in revenues each year, based on an estimated sales price of $28 per ton of coal. State and local governments would lose $37 million in annual taxes and fees, or about 10 percent of the industry's annual payments to government agencies. Coal owners would lose $34 million in yearly profits, the study said.
For more than a year, coal industry officials have argued that a ban on mountaintop removal would be devastating.
Now, mining critics say the Feddock report shows the industry has exaggerated mountaintop removal's economic importance to the state.
"That's not very much, is it?" Cindy Rank, mining chairwoman of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, said Thursday.
"It certainly does not shut down all mining," Rank said. "It's just so much less than they would have us believe."
Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, defended his group's previous positions on mountaintop removal's importance to the industry.
Raney said that any business would consider a 10 percent cut in revenue significant, just as any worker would think a 10 percent pay cut was a big pay cut.