Groups appeal court ruling on Blair Mountain coal development

A coalition of historic preservation, labor history and environmental protection organizations filed an appeal on Nov. 29 in a renewed effort to restore West Virginia’s Blair Mountain Battlefield, which is subject to coal mine development, to the National Register of Historic Places.

The appeal, to be pursued at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, challenges an Oct. 2 ruling out of the U.S. District Court for the D.C. Circuit that declined to address claims that Blair Mountain was unlawfully removed from the National Register of Historic Places. The groups contend that the National Park Service’s December 2009 decision to de-list Blair Mountain was arbitrary, capricious and contrary to the National Park Service’s own guidelines. The mountain was the site of a bloody 1921 clash between coal labor union supporters and coal company enforcers and federal troops.

In October, the court concluded that the groups lacked legal standing to challenge the National Register de-listing because there was insufficient proof of an imminent threat of coal mining at the site, the groups noted. “This decision ignored abundant evidence that coal mining companies continue to seek permits to mine the battlefield and continue to block efforts to list Blair Mountain on the National Register,” they said.

Units of both Arch Coal (NYSE: ACI) and Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE: ANR) hold properties in this area and have engaged in coal permitting work. Alpha picked up the relevant property in a June 2011 buy of Massey Energy.

“With the exception of the Civil War, the Blair battle is the largest insurrection in U.S. history,” said Regina Hendrix of the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We cannot let this rich, undisturbed, site be wiped away forever. The area is a vital part of U.S. labor history. The archaeological record waiting to be explored will clearly show the places where the battle occurred, as well as the intensity of the battle at different sites. The archaeological record has lain dormant for 90 years along the Spruce Fork Ridge from Blair Mountain to Mill Creek and it cries out for our protection.”

“This ruling creates a no-win situation for preservationists and environmentalists fighting to protect the Blair Mountain battlefield and America’s labor history,” said David Brown, executive vice president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Unless this decision is reversed, we would be prevented from taking action to protect this significant place until after coal mining has already begun, at which time irreparable damage would no longer be avoidable.”

“Blair Mountain is an important part of my family’s history, “said Julian Martin of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. “My grandfather and great uncle fought at Blair Mountain in 1921 on the side of the United Mine Workers of America. It would be a huge loss for Blair Mountain to be unprotected from mountain top removal strip mining.”

Groups involved in this appeal are the Sierra Club, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Friends of Blair Mountain, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the West Virginia Labor History Association and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.