The Bailey Mining Complex in southwestern Pennsylvania is located in the thickest and most widespread coal seam east of the Mississippi, and is the largest underground mining complex in North America. Despite the coal industry experiencing a downturn over the past few years, the Bailey Mining Complex has persevered, producing over 24 million tons of coal in 2016. Longwall mining, the method used at the Bailey Mining Complex, accounts for over 60% of the bituminous coal production in Pennsylvania, contributes nearly $2 billion to economies of Greene and Washington Counties, and provides family sustaining jobs to thousands in the region.
When the Environmental Hearing Board recently issued an opinion that halted operations at the Bailey Mine, it triggered the temporary layoff of 200 employees. In addition to the direct impact on Pennsylvania workers, the opinion also creates a dangerous precedent that could jeopardize tens of thousands of jobs in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Nearly forty years ago the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection was charged with primary enforcement responsibility over mining in Pennsylvania, and the Mining Program within the Department has been regulating mine subsidence for even longer. Arguably one of the most robust Mining Programs in the nation, PA DEP’s permitting process is rigorous, involves the evaluation of thousands of pre-mining data sets, review by permitting professionals who at minimum have ten years of field experience, and provides opportunities for comment from a number of sources including the public prior to permit issuance.
The Environmental Hearing Board’s decision fails to acknowledge DEP’s extensive experience and expertise in longwall mining, and the data and science upon which DEP’s permitting decisions are based. Instead, the Environmental Hearing Board accepted the false claims of an anti-coal organization intent on destroying family-sustaining coal jobs and preventing any future development in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Longwall mining in southwestern Pennsylvania is inextricably linked to the strength of the local communities. Mining has rippling effects on the economies that it supports, impacting everyone from equipment manufacturers to local grocery stores, construction workers to car dealers, truck drivers to barge operators, and engineers to restaurant employees. As we await a decision on an appeal, hundreds of hardworking men and women at the Bailey Mining Complex, and tens of thousands more who could be impacted by its precedent, are anxiously standing by to see whether confidence in their jobs can be restored. However, should the appeal not reverse the opinion, the certainty of mining will be jeopardized, causing detriment to the families, communities, and local economies in southwestern Pennsylvania.