Julia Roberts Goad
NAUGATUCK - CONSOL Energy has announced it will idle its Millers Creek surface operations, laying off 145 employees, due to delays in the permitting process by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The news has sparked outrage among leaders at the local, state and national level.
Although the EPA released its objection to a Clean Water Act 402 permit, CONSOL needs to obtain a 404 permit to begin to work toward mining the site and allow for the development of the Buffalo Mountain section of the King Coal Highway. The project is one of the public-private partnerships developed by the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority (MCRA).
“This is devastating,” Steve Kominar, Executive Director of MCRA, said. “CONSOL has been fighting for this permit for years, they have spent millions of dollars. They have done everything thing they can to satisfy the EPA, then the EPA changes what they want.”
Nicholas J. DeIuliis, president of CONSOL, said the company has been working on the permitting process for Millers Creek since 2007
“CONSOL Energy has been working under a Memorandum of Understanding together with the Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the West Virginia Departments of Highways and Environmental Protection, and the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority since 2007 to secure the permits for development of our Buffalo Mountain mine project on which the King Coal Highway was planned for post-mine use land,” Deluiis said.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin emphasized the importance of public-private partnerships such as the King Coal Highway.
“As a West Virginian, I watched this project come together one partnership at a time for the past two decades,” Manchin said. “I am incensed and infuriated that the EPA would intentionally delay the needed permit for a public-private project that would bring so many good jobs and valuable infrastructure to communities that so desperately need them.”
Kominar said the decision by the EPA and the resulting shut down by CONSOL will affect the county’s economic outlook beyond the jobs lost at Millers Creek.
“It’s frustrating,” Kominar said. “We are trying to do what is best for Mingo County, and its like we have the government smacking us down with uncooperative regulatory practices. We have proved we can do this (surface mine) responsibly.”
“Rather than fight this project, the EPA should be embracing it as a model of how to work together,” Senator Manchin said. “We’ll put the land to good use after it has been mined by building the King Coal Highway. We’ll build a wastewater treatment plant that will clean up millions of gallons of water for people in the Pigeon Creek Watershed – eliminating raw sewage and other pollutants. The EPA’s callousness jeopardized the funding for all these projects. In short, this project is a win-win and the EPA is trying to make it a loser.”
“West Virginia can’t move forward if projects that have been negotiated for so many years remain stuck in limbo, with no clear end in sight,” Senator Rockefeller said.
The project would allow vital economic diversification for the county, Kominar said.
“Look at what we have been able to do, ten percent of our workforce in the county is working on a post mine land use site,” Kominar said. “Those are jobs that weren’t there ten years ago. We are trying to create opportunities for our kids to stay in Mingo County. This is going to set us back.”
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said the EPA had become an obstacle to economic growth in the state.
“Once again the EPA has stepped in the way of a great project here in West Virginia,” Tomblin said. “Instead of stalling and creating unnecessary impediments, we should be working together to put people to work, develop our infrastructure, and provide the low-priced energy that our Country needs. This project would accomplish all three of these crucial goals.”
Kominar said the economic future of the county will be affected by the layoffs.
“This is going to after generations going forward,” Kominar said. “We need to have a life after coal.”