Most of Alpha's miners are not represented by the United Mine Workers union.
Crutchfield said the union played an important role in the industry's history, helping to establish workers rights and safety rules. "We certainly don't have anything against unions," Crutchfield said. "Our preference would be union free."
Asked by Welch to name one government regulation that does the most harm to the industry without providing any real environmental benefits, Crutchfield pointed to the greenhouse gas limits the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed earlier in the day for coal-fired power plants and other electricity generating stations.
"That would be hugely problematic," Crutchfield said. He said carbon capture and storage technology -- likely a mandate for new coal-fired plants under the EPA's proposal -- is expensive and hasn't been proven to work on the scale needed.
Regarding the science of global warming, Crutchfield said "it does seem like something is going on," but added, "the question that has to be asked is, 'Is mankind contributing to that.'
"I don't really know the answer to that," Crutchfield said. "Before we go down that path, we need to be sure that the science is beyond reproach. To me, it's uncertain. We need to be absolutely, unequivocally sure before we go down that path."
Most scientists and scientific organizations around the world say global temperatures are increasing, human activities -- primarily burning fossil fuels -- are to blame, and that reductions in greenhouse emissions are urgently needed to avoid dangerous impacts.
Pressed for what would convince him that scientific consensus is correct, Crutchfield said, "There are obviously two schools of thought out there: 'the science is settled' and 'the science is unsettled.' The scientific community needs to come together."
Crutchfield said he hopes that a new industry-funded effort at various universities will produce important research about mountaintop removal's impacts on the environment and public health. Coal lobbyists funded the project, based at Virginia Tech, largely to respond to a series of West Virginia University studies that found living near mountaintop removal increased the risk of cancer, birth defects and other illnesses.
Also, Crutchfield said his company has had private discussions with groups that want to preserve Blair Mountain in Logan County as a historic site to honor the 1920s labor battle.
"We're very serious about the community relations," Crutchfield said. "We've engaged in dialogue with the people who want to preserve Blair Mountain. We've had constructive dialogue with them."
Crutchfield declined to elaborate.
The final event in the UC energy speaker series is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. April 12 at Riggleman Hall and features Barry Worthington, executive director of the U.S. Energy Association.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.