Clean Power The coal industry promotion group FACES of Coal lambasts US EPA for introducing new rules for issuing mountaintop coal mining permits

Published on April 3rd, 2010 | by Tina Casey


FACES of Coal Opens Mouth, Inserts Foot

April 3rd, 2010 by  

The coal industry promotion group FACES of Coal lambasts US EPA for introducing new rules for issuing mountaintop coal mining permitsLast week the U.S. Environmental Protection announced new guidelines relating to mountaintop removal coal mine permits, and the coal industry promotion group FACES of Coal was right on the case.  FACES promptly issued a blistering press release lambasting the EPA for attacking the Appalachian economy with “as dangerous and threatening an action as this region has ever seen.”


Now, it’s no surprise that a group like FACES of Coal would come out with both guns blazing, considering its mission to promote the coal mining industry.  But seriously, “dangerous and threatening?”  After all, it’s not like the EPA is proposing to blow up hundreds of mountains and bury thousands of miles of mountain streams right here in the U.S.A. – or is FACES of Coal arguing that Appalachia needs more mountains blown up?  I’m so confused!

Mountaintop Coal Mining is a Really, Really Good Thing

Yes, it is a bit confusing.  Mountaintop removal is a specific type of surface mining operation that involves literally blowing up a mountain to get at seams of coal.  That also involves filling nearby valleys and streams with the resulting debris.  Now, on the face of it that seems like a really bad thing, but the “supporters” link on the FACES website makes it all clear.  Before mining, the mountains were “straight up and down, with craggy rocks and no accessibility,”  but now “they are more visually pleasing and more physically accessible.”   We need more of that!  Anyways, that’s according to a FACES supporter.  For an alternate opinion, you can check out a 45-second trailer for Kilowatt Ours, a documentary featuring people who live near mountaintop removal operations.

Mountaintop Removal and the Appalachian Economy

FACES is focused on the potential job loss involved in complying with EPA’s new guidelines, which are designed to protect water quality in streams.  There is no denying that coal is a big employer in Appalachia.  It’s also a fact that Appalachia is chronically impoverished, and the poverty rate within that region closely tracks coal mining operations, so it’s not clear that the coal economy has been a good long term bet.  In fact, a 2005 report from the Appalachian Regional Commission stated that “employment in the mining industry is one of the best predictors of poverty” in the region.  In addition the  coal industry itself has been sucking jobs out of the region by adopting more mountaintop removal, which is far less labor intensive than conventional underground mining.

What’s Up with FACES?

Getting back to FACES (which stands for Federation for American Coal, Energy and Security), it’s not clear that the organization is particularly concerned about the local Appalachian economy over the long run.   Though billing itself as “an alliance of more than 60,000 people from all walks of life” (grassroots much?), the organization is promoted through a D.C. lobbying firm called Adfero, which runs public relations for a laundry list of corporate clients all over the map.   The FACES website launched with faces culled from iStockphotos which doesn’t exactly support its grassroots cred.  Industry watcher Ken Ward Jr. of Coal Tattoo at the West Virginia Gazette put it bluntly:  “let’s not pretend that FACES of Coal is some grassroots uprising.”  So, what’s the motivation behind FACES’s hysterical reaction to EPA’s new guidelines?  Start with President Obama’s proposed 2011 budget that would cut more than $2 billion in coal subsidies, and just follow the money.

Green Jobs and Appalachia

The Rust Belt is a chilling example of what can happen when a one-industry region loses its economic base, but after languishing for years the Rust Belt economy is beginning to welcome new green jobs by the armload.  Appalachia’s coal economy is headed for further decline, as more domestic coal fired power plants turn to major alternative sources like solar energy while emerging renewable energy sources (cow pie power!) eat away at the edges.  With its stunning mountain forests (at least the ones that haven’t been made more “accessible” yet), Appalachia is perfectly positioned to make an even more powerful transition to new sustainable industries.

Image: Mask by Liber on

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • M. Carreiro

    I just saw a FACES Billboard go up in Louisville ranting against those “EPA Bureaucrats” for “locking up” Kentucky coal jobs and had to look up to see who their funding source is. Could not find it until I found this web article. Thanks for providing details and links to all sites, both those of FACES and those who are trying to stop AMR! I plan to show both sites to my college class and have them compare and contrast the information, and figure it our for themselves. You would be amazed at the proportion of city folks IN KENTUCKY who have NOT heard of Appalachian Mountaintop Removal still! Horrifying!

    • Tina Casey

      To M. Carreiro: Thank you for sharing this information and please share your class’s insights with CleanTechnica, I think our readers would be very interested to hear what their conclusions are.

  • hollergirl


    the problem is coal is FINITE! and it is almost gone in Appalachia- 15 years of surface mine coal at best. So – why would a smart person destroy their own future means to attract new industry — such as clean water/ clean streams to fish and swim in?

    As a coal miners daughter and 7 generation West Virginian– Coal has kept West Virginia from becoming what it can be- it’s people from becoming prosperous.. Coal is killing West Virginia…

    Coal is also poisoning all of the nation. 24,000 people a year die prematurely from coal fired power plants and mercury from coal is causing our children to have autism and low IQ’s and mental retardation — ADHD…

  • Frank Hanlan

    I am amazed that you did not mention the horrendous health problems of people in that area. I saw the film Burning (Our) Future and what struck me is all the serious illnesses of people in the area that are directly attributable to the air and water pollution from the mining processing of the coal. I won’t ever defend the tar sands in Alberta but how can people support the growing ponds/lakes and resultant pollution especially from heavy metals from washing coal?

    In addition as I recall they have gone from 50,000 jobs in about 1950 to about 15,000 jobs in about 2000 and it seems it is only destined to go down further. So if the workers are not getting rich who is? Besides owners how many politicians are getting paid by the coal mining companies?

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