CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Hundreds of miners and coal industry supporters turned out Tuesday evening to speak against a high-stakes federal decision that could possibly end mining at one of the largest mountaintop sites permitted in West Virginia, the Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County.
Some, including Jennings Webb of Richlands, Va., even traveled across state lines to show their support.
Webb, along with Juanita Ball, Esther Russell and Alford Russell made the trip to Charleston. "We came to West Virginia to back up our neighbors in coal," Webb said.
"The (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) is trying to ruin their future," said Webb, who is a retired miner with 41 years experience.
At a pro-coal rally before the 7 p.m. EPA public hearing at the Charleston Civic Center, Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and his Republican challenger, Spike Maynard, told a crowd of about 150 that the EPA was overstepping its bounds.
Rahall said the EPA was putting miners in an "untenable emotional limbo." He said the agency must not think that "job losses are the inevitable result of protecting the environment."
Maynard, who spoke shortly after, has been campaigning against Rahall, saying the Congressman hasn't done enough to protect the coal industry.
"Who is doing this? Who is killing West Virginia jobs?" Maynard said. "The Obama administration through its EPA."
Standing just feet from Rahall, Maynard said voters needed to "change Congress," "fire" Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and "defund the EPA."
The hearing was presumably over the EPA's plan, announced in late March, to revoke an existing permit and prohibit or significantly restrict mountaintop mining at the Spruce No. 1 surface mine in Logan.
The mine at issue is owned by an Arch Coal subsidiary. Mingo Logan Coal Co. was issued a water quality permit by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to mine the 2,300-acre Spruce site in early 2007, though a court fight has held up mining there.
The EPA wants to revoke the permit, which authorizes the company to create six valley fills for placement of
excess spoil material, because mining at the site could damage downstream water quality. The agency has suggested the Corps failed to comply with clean water laws.
Presidents and representatives of Kentucky, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia coal associations attended the hearing to testify that the EPA's actions at the Spruce mine could hurt mining across Appalachia.
Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, told EPA officials at the hearing "you scare us" and that the Obama administration agency and its backers will face problems at the ballot box.
"If you don't believe me, call Alan Mollohan right now, because he's sitting in his house," said Bissett, a former Marshall University chief of staff.
The man who beat Mollohan in the Democratic primary, state Sen. Mike Oliverio, D-Monongalia, attended the hearing and read a resolution from the Legislature challenging the EPA's decision over the mine permit.
But Tuesday's hearing was more than political positioning for the Nash brothers of Logan County.
Both David, 37, and Douglas, 39, work at the Spruce mine, jobs they got just last month after they were laid off at another mine last fall. In an interview before the hearing, they said that mine had trouble getting permits, too.
"If they pull this permit, we're probably out of a job again," David.
Both men attended the pre-hearing rally, organized by the West Virginia Coal Association, wearing their hard hats.
David, who has been a surface miner since 1995, runs the bulldozer that will help fill in six valleys with spoil material from the mine, if the permit isn't revoked.
If it is, he said he and his three children would have to live on the salary of his wife, who makes $7 an hour as an office manager at Loved Ones In-Home Care. David said he makes $18 to $20 an hour now.
And another job would be hard to find, he said.
It took him and Douglas since October at Chafin Branch Coal to find their current jobs, which they got in late April, and partially thanks to a buddy.