WHEN THE MINE shuts down, it's going to hit the county hard. Officials will have to make do with $2 million less in taxes every year. Businesses in the county that depend on mine workers' spending $5.78 million in payroll every year will also struggle.
I'm not talking about Logan County and the closing of the Dal-Tex mine. These details concern Carbon County in Wyoming.
The Cyprus Shoshone mine is shutting down - not because of a judge's order but because of competition with Powder River Basin coal, which is less expensive to mine.
In Harrison County, West Virginia, 350 miners found out they will be laid off - again, not because of a judge's order but because of low energy demand following a mild winter.
So where is the outrage from miners in these instances? Why isn't United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts organizing protests and rallying the troops around these job losses?
When a coal company throws a miner out of work for purely economic considerations, everyone accepts it. But when a federal judge decides that societal good is served by delaying a mine permit for several months to sort out whether the permits are legal, he is demonized by the coal industry and the miners union.
A hundred thousand miners have lost their jobs in this state over the past four decades. A tiny portion of those people lost their livelihoods because of environmental regulations (mostly the federal Clean Air Act, which made high-sulphur coal unattractive).
Remember that those regulations are designed to benefit everyone by reducing pollution.
The vast majority of miners lost their jobs because of increased mechanization, because the coal industry decided it could make more money using machines than men.
And the coal industry was right. Coal companies in West Virginia are producing more coal than ever, using less than a fifth of the miners they once employed.
Tens of thousands lost their jobs as a sacrifice to strengthen the bottom line of a handful of large corporations.
And if you look, you'll find that union mines - even highly productive ones - tend to get shut down before nonunion mines, a fact that led the UMW to strike against the same company it now finds itself in bed with.
The hypocrisy of Arch Coal is maddening, as is the union's apparent blindness to it. This company has never hesitated to lay off workers, especially union workers. But when asked simply to follow a 22-year-old federal law, the company treats the loss of 350 jobs as a traumatic event.
Arch Coal is using those 350 jobs to try to blackmail regulators and government officials into ignoring the law. If Arch Coal were successful and the permit for the expansion of Dal-Tex were approved today, does anyone really believe that Arch Coal would hesitate to fire all those miners in a year or two for its own reasons?
The economic disruption of this closure should not be minimized. Residents of Logan County and the workers at Dal-Tex will face genuine hardship.
But the issue at stake here involves more than just current jobs and more than damage to the environment caused by this incredibly disruptive form of mining. This case is about the future of Southern West Virginia.
Whether Dal-Tex closes now or in five or 10 years, Logan County needs to prepare for a post-coal future. The closure of the Carbon County mine in Wyoming is a bad omen. Powder River Basin coal has been moving farther and farther east as transportation costs have come down.
That coal, which lies close to the surface in very thick seams, as opposed to the thin-seam coal under hundreds of feet of rock in West Virginia, is very cheap to mine. Arch Coal officials have said that competition from Western coal is one reason that mountaintop removal mining is an economic necessity.
What Arch Coal officials don't say, naturally, is that the company itself mines much of the coal from that area. So who is competing with whom here?
What happens when Arch Coal and other companies decide that their resources are better spent mining the more easily obtained Western coal? The same thing that's happening in Logan County now, only on a much larger scale.
Mountaintop removal, which leaves no recoverable coal behind, guarantees the post-coal era will come to West Virginia sooner rather than later.
Which is why it is vital that regulators enforce federal law. Perhaps the most important aspect of the 1977 federal Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act - and certainly the most ignored by regulators - is the requirement for real development on land that has been mined by mountaintop removal.
Last week, I bet West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney that less than 5 percent of mountaintop removal mines in the state had met that requirement. Gazette reporter Ken Ward Jr. did some figuring based on his examination of the mountaintop removal permits issued in the state.
Had Raney taken me up on that bet, he would have lost. According to Ward's figures, less than 2 percent of the acreage permitted for mountaintop removal has seen real development. Most has been classified as "fish and wildlife habitat" - an illegal post-mining land use that will do nothing to help the people of Logan County wean themselves from this unhealthy dependence on coal.
Radmacher is the Gazette's editorial page editor. He can be reached at 348-5150, or by e-mail at dan...@wvgazette.com.
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