Michael Fox can literally see where his job ends.
The 14-year veteran of the West Virginia coal mining industry is about a year and a half out from finishing his current project, and he can see the boundaries of the site. He doesn’t know whether there will be any work left for him after that, since a wave of environmental regulation has put his firm’s other permits on hold.
"Unless we can get a permit, we can’t extend the job no farther," he said. "Right now, I don’t know if I can make it or not."
Fox, who is married and has three kids, was among the hundreds of Appalachian miners who rallied in Washington, D.C., Wednesday in a bid to pressure the Obama administration to loosen restrictions on coal mining in their states. They say the rules amount to a de facto freeze on a chunk of the industry, jeopardizing jobs in one of the most economically depressed parts of the country.
Since last year, The Environmental Protection Agency has stepped up regulation on mountaintop coal mining across six Appalachian states because the explosives that are used to remove mountain surfaces send debris into rivers and streams, endangering the environment.
But with the stricter rules in place, the industry, which is considered the lifeblood of Appalachian towns, argues it’s under attack. Workers and advocacy groups that represent them say the rules unfairly target their region and require mining firms to meet unrealistic standards.
They say the hold-up threatens mining jobs, industry investment and small businesses in the region that rely on the salaries of well-paid miners to keep their economy humming.
"It’s causing the elimination of jobs across Appalachia," said Bryan Brown, executive director of the Federation for American Coal, Energy and Security, or FACES of Coal. "At a time when the nation’s trying to get people back to work, it’s threatening to take people’s jobs away."