LAWRENCE MESSINACHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) â¿¿ Consol Energy Inc. told 145 workers in southern West Virginia on Tuesday that it will start laying them off in late December because of a dispute over permits for surface mining related to the King Coal Highway project. The Pittsburgh-based coal producer said it plans to idle its Miller Creek operations in Mingo County, which include Wiley Surface Mine, Wiley Creek Surface Mine, Minway Surface Mine, Minway Preparation Plant, and Miller Creek Administration Group. "The facility has operated without a lost-time accident since 1986, an exemplary safety record for the mining industry, and it is unfortunate that they will not be afforded the opportunity to extend that record," Consol President Nicholas J. DeIuliis said in a statement. Consol has sought U.S. Environmental Protection Agency permits to redirect the Mingo County operations to mine land that would then become a 5-mile stretch of the King Coal Highway. The agency has raised several concerns about the Buffalo Mountain mining operation, including its planned burial of several area streams. DeIuliis noted that while the EPA had relented in objecting to one of the two permits sought, "that permit alone is not sufficient to allow miners to begin work." An EPA spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. Once completed, the King Coal Highway would run 90 miles from Williamson to Bluefield and be part of the Interstate 73/74 corridor. West Virginia has enlisted coal companies to help build the road. Through these public-private partnerships, the companies keep the coal they mine while grading the land for road-building in the process. A 12-mile section opened in 2011. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and fellow Democrats in West Virginia's congressional delegation blasted the EPA over Tuesday's layoff notice. "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," said U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, who helped launch the project while Tomblin's predecessor as governor. "The EPA has lost court case after court case for its overreach, and it should be using better judgment by now."
Consol credited West Virginia officials in Tuesday's statement for issuing the necessary state-based permits for the project. But with Tomblin running in this year's election, his GOP opponent slammed the incumbent over the layoff news.The Republican nominee, Bill Maloney, has sought to tie Tomblin to President Barack Obama, who is unpopular in West Virginia, and argues that Tomblin has failed to fight Obama and his EPA. "I'm supporting Mitt Romney so that we can get our miners back to work," Maloney said in a statement. "As Governor, I won't pay lip service to creating and retaining jobs like Earl Ray, I will really do it." Tomblin's campaign has cited how he has pursued the lawsuit filed by Manchin that has so far successfully challenged the EPA's oversight of certain mining-related permits in West Virginia. "Governor Tomblin is endorsed by the West Virginia Coal Association and the United Mine Workers because they know he always has and always will fight for our miners and coal industry," Tomblin spokesman Chris Stadelman said Tuesday. "Any suggestion to the contrary is an outright lie." DeIuliis and other Consol officials, including Chief Executive J. Brett Harvey, have contributed nearly $35,000 to Tomblin's re-election bid. Consol has also launched an independent ad campaign in support of Tomblin and other candidates, according to a filing posted Tuesday by the Secretary of State's office.