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55 Cents: The Cost of Big Coal Hubris, Disgraced West Virginian Pols and Betrayed Coalfield Residents

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It doesn't get any clearer than this: Despite posting more than $700 million in earnings for 2010, the second highest in company history, Arch Coal reportedly refused to consider paying an extra 55 cents a ton for coal in order to meet proper EPA and Clean Water Act standards for a controversial mountaintop removal operation in West Virginia.

Read that again: 55 cents. St. Louis-based Arch Coal has essentially turned their backs on West Virginia politicians for 55 cents.

In a blockbuster revelation today, Charleston Gazette reporter Ken Ward uncovered a "secret" engineering report developed for the EPA by Kentucky-based Morgan Worldwide. Ward noted:

Arch Coal Inc. could have cut the stream damage from its proposed Spruce Mine in half without significantly increasing coal-production costs, according to a previously secret engineering report prepared for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Ward has filed additional follow-ups to his story on his indispensable Coal Tattoo blog.

But here's the kicker: With entrenched poverty and their coalfield communities in ruin due to a stranglehold on any economic diversification, in the face of a spiraling health care crisis and unflinching national condemnation for mountaintop removal mining devastation in the central Appalachian coalfields, disgraced West Virginian politicians -- including Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and US Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) -- are paradoxically throwing a rally this Thursday to defend the St. Louis-based company's betrayal of their own state, in the guise of fighting the EPA's attack on "our way of life."

As one coal miner told me in Beckley, West Virginia, last weekend: If the politicians are worried about our way of life, why isn't the governor or Sen. Manchin throwing rallies to protest how heavily mechanized mountaintop removal has led to massive job loss in the last 25 years, or to protest Arch Coal's shift of their jobs to Montana, or to rally for workplace safety and an end to the black lung disease scandal?

More so, why have the governor and senators from West Virginia refused to ever acknowledge or investigate the growing health care crisis from mountaintop removal mining?

Citing the rising death toll in the coalfields and notorious rates of cancer from contaminated water, silica and heavy metal dust from strip mining blasting, coalfields justice leader Bo Webb in West Virginia added:

Arch Coal has proven what many of us have known for years as coal mining families: while people suffer, and even die, the coal industry and its bankrolled politicians are willing to turn their backs and sacrifice the health and lives of WV citizens in order to maximize profits. For mere pennies per ton of coal mined, Arch Coal has refused to modify their mountaintop removal permit for the interest of public health. And Sen. Joe Manchin has been so bold to defend Arch! We must now ask ourselves: Is Joe Manchin so callous, so greedy, that he would go along with poisoning the people he was elected to represent?"

O, Sen. Robert Byrd, where art thou? The venerable West Virginia statesman, who declared before his death that "coal must embrace the future," must be turning in his grave at what outraged coalfield residents are calling the enduring hubris of Big Coal, and the national embarrassment of West Virginia politicians.

"Arch Coal demanded its way with the EPA, and having seen its bluff called, now plays the victim," said Bob Kincaid, Coal River Mountain Watch board president. "I wonder how West Virginia's acting-Governor and congressional delegation feel at having so credulously played the Fool. Only an industry as avariciously myopic as Big Coal would believe it would get away with such bald-faced dishonesty. That is the hubris of Big Coal."

Appalachian Voices analyst JW Randolph wrote a blistering rebuke and important fact-finding breakdown of the West Virginia's congressional support for mountaintop removal and Arch Coal's inevitable shift to the western coalfields: Dear Joe Manchin, Arch Coal Has a Plan, And it is Not You.

Let's hope that Manchin and other West Virginian politicians read Randolph's report before they make fools of themselves on Thursday.

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