WASHINGTON -- The jobs of 700 Greene County miners are safe -- for another five years, at least -- after state and federal officials sorted our their differences over the environmental impact of constructing a new air shaft.
A five-year permit renewal for Cumberland Mine in Whiteley has been approved after months of negotiation between the state Department of Environmental Protection and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"I'm thrilled," said U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown, who intervened to help end permitting delays. "The mine is critically important to the economy of Greene County, to 700 [United Mine Workers of America] employees and their families, and to our nation's continued pursuit of energy independence."
At issue was a request by operator Alpha Natural Resources to add a new air shaft. According to Mr. Critz's office, the EPA was concerned about how construction of the shaft would affect water quality.
Mr. Critz became involved when mine owners and employees told him jobs were in danger because the air shaft was crucial to continuing operations.
After his intervention, the EPA signed off on the construction and re-issued the operating permit with a new stipulation that limits chloride emissions.
"Without the permit approval for the Cumberland Mine, this would have been catastrophic for our 700 workers," said Edward Yankovich Jr., UMW district vice president.
Cumberland Mine has had the attention of state officials before, namely the Department of Transportation, which found mining operations beneath Interstate 79 in Whiteley caused the highway to buckle and guardrails to twist in 2004 and 2005.
Cumberland Mine has been operating since 1975. Alpha Natural Resources acquired it in 2009.
The company also owns Upper Big Branch Mine, where 29 miners were killed in a horrific explosion in 2010. At the time of fatal disaster, Upper Big Branch was mined by Massey Energy, which regulators blame for numerous safety violations that led to the explosion.
Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: 703-996-9292 or firstname.lastname@example.org .