By Ken Ward Jr.
The state's largest coal producer has launched an advertising campaign to defend its use of mountaintop removal mining.
Arch Coal Inc. paid for two-page spreads in newspapers across the state on Sunday.
"We plan to have additional ads in the print media," said Arch Coal Vice President David Todd. "And we plan to do other media in the near future."
St. Louis-based Arch Coal operates the state's largest mountaintop removal operations at sprawling complexes in Boone, Logan and Kanawha counties.
Mountaintop removal has come under severe criticism from the media, environmental groups and the federal government. A lawsuit was filed in federal court to curb the practice.
Old-time strip mining shaved the sides of hills to remove coal seams.
Mountaintop removal blasts off entire mountaintops so huge shovels and dozers can reach valuable low-sulfur coal underneath. Leftover rock and earth is dumped into streams and valleys.
In its ads published Sunday, Arch Coal called the practice "mountaintop mining," rather than mountaintop removal, and said of the method, "It's good for West Virginia, and it's the right thing to do."
"Arch Coal and its subsidiaries have been practicing underground and mountaintop mining in West Virginia for the past two decades," the ads said. "Our goal is to operate the industry's safest, most environmentally responsible mines.
"Pursuing that standard is the right thing to do. It respects our heritage, and we think it's also good business."
The ads included full-color photographs of reclaimed mine sites, as well as photos of deer and of a farmhouse lit by electric lights at night.
"Low-sulfur coal from Arch mines is primarily used to generate electricity," the ads said. "Whenever you switch on the air conditioning or boot up a computer, you are using power from West Virginia coal.
"Coal is the source for more than one-half of the electricity generated in the United States. In West Virginia, 99 percent of all electricity comes from coal, which is the primary reason our energy costs are lower than many other states."
Todd said Arch Coal bought the two-page ads in 10 West Virginia newspapers, including all daily and weekly papers in the southern coal counties, and in papers in Morgantown, Fairmont and Clarksburg.
Ads the size and type Arch Coal bought cost about $10,600 in the Charleston Sunday Gazette-Mail.
The ads were produced by Charles Ryan Associates, a Charleston public relations firm.
"The overall goal is to educate and inform from an objective viewpoint about mountaintop removal, and the reclamation success being achieved under the surface mining act," Todd said.
The ads come after an aborted industry campaign that described mountaintop removal mine sites as "West Virginia's Own Field of Dreams" for economic development.
Cindy Rank, mining chairwoman of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, said of the Arch Coal ads: "It's their spin on the facts that doesn't necessarily give people the full story."
"These are the facts that are attractive to the industry in its quest to make big profits," she said.
"They say nothing at all about the damage to communities and people and the illegality of filling in streams and all the other aspects of their operations that affect people and the environment."
To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702.
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