Here in West Virginia, we like to do things efficiently, not spending taxpayers' money unnecessarily. And we like, as we say here, to kill two birds with one stone.
That was the idea behind a public-private partnership to build some sections of the 90-mile King Coal Highway from Bluefield to Williamson. State officials asked a few coal companies, including Consol Energy, to help build the road.
Coal companies contour and grade the land for sections of the highway and, in exhange for their help, are permitted to mine the coal under the ground. Consol's part of the deal, in Mingo County, would have prepared a five-mile section of the new road with crews who have operated several mines for many years.
But the Environmental Protection Agency has other ideas. It objects to one of the permits Consol needs to proceed with the work. EPA officials say they are concerned about damage to several streams, among other things.
On Tuesday, Consol told 145 miners in Mingo County it would have to start laying them off in December because it cannot get all the permits necessary for the work to proceed.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said he is "incensed and infuriated" about the EPA's action. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., noting the EPA has lost court cases over its refusal to grant mining permits, said the agency "should be using better judgment by now."
Apparently not. The agency's vendetta against coal seems to include even projects that improve the infrastructure and provide jobs in low-income areas of southern West Virginia.
Surface mining does disturb the land. But so do infrastructure projects such as highways. In this case, the state of West Virginia planned merely to allow coal companies to take coal under land that was to be torn up for the King Coal Highway. It was to have been a win-win-win situation - with coal companies and their miners, taxpayers and residents of the area to be served by the highway benefitting. Again, however, the EPA appears not to see it that way.
With encouragement from President Barack Obama, the EPA has launched a no-holds-barred war on coal -regardless of who gets hurt in the process. This has to end - and voters should make that happen on Tuesday.