Sen. Rob Portman, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito Visit Rosebud Mine in Jefferson County

Photo by Paul Giannamore Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, left, is joined by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., during a stop at the Rosebud Bergholz Mine in Jefferson County Wednesday morning.

BERGHOLZ — Sen. Rob Portman outlined his thoughts on coal, miners’ jobs, jobs in general and the plight of families in the local region during a stop at the Rosebud Bergholz Mine Wednesday morning.

Portman, R-Ohio, was joined by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who said she supports Portman in his bid against former governor and congressman, Democrat Ted Strickland.

Portman cited a decline in coal industry jobs during the Obama administration, from nearly 200,000 nationwide to about 60,000 now.

Gary Alkire, permitting manager for Rosebud Mining, said the Bergholz mine now has about nine employees working compared with 40 when it was at full employment.

The mine had been idled for more than a year when it received a small order from FirstEnergy that it is currently filling with one shift working five days a week.

“It’s not what we’re capable of producing here,” Alkire said, noting the company once had 1,700 employees between its Ohio and Pennsylvania operations and now it employs “in the 600s.”

As for regulations that are making it costly to mine coal, Alkire said the company had to buy a newly required type of dust monitors, one per man per shift at its 24 mines.

The monitors cost $14,000 each, and even the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration representatives were unable to get them to work properly when they came for a demonstration.

The classification of streams to be protected has been expanded to the point where “small erosion ditches going down a 30-percent slope are being considered as viable resources” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Alkire said. Mine companies have to perform studies on these bodies of water and replace them — going down very steep inclines — when the mining is done at a site.

Alkire said it’s not that his company doesn’t care about the environment. He noted Rosebud Bergholz has been in operation for a decade and the adjacent Yellow Creek is not affected, although the mine discharges its water to the stream after it proceeds through onsite settling ponds.

“In fact, they just stocked (Yellow Creek) with an endangered species, the (Eastern) Hellbender. We are protective of streams and wetlands and we’re proud of what we do, but we believe the Clean Water Act now makes it very difficult,” he said.

Portman said he’s been pushing hard for incentives to power companies to burn more coal by giving them a tax break if they use technology including carbon capture and sequestration. The measure has bipartisan support, he said.

“It keeps coal jobs here. It uses the coal in the ground in Ohio. We have another (200) to 300 years worth in the ground in Ohio, and we can have good jobs in these communities and not have all these layoffs and heartaches we see in these communities in eastern Ohio,” he said.

Portman and Capito held a half-hour talk with miners before meeting with reporters. He recounted the stories of miners leaving on the day of a layoff.

“It’s driven people out of the community. It’s hurt their families. The inability to know they’ve got a job places a lot of strain on a family. We heard about that today,” Portman said. “And it’s not just the 60,000 coal jobs. It’s hundreds of thousands of jobs of a lot of people” including truckers, railroad workers, excavating companies and mine suppliers. It’s the restaurant jobs and the hotel jobs, and we talked about the gas station down the road from here.”