CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Consol Energy told 145 workers in southern West Virginia on Tuesday that it will start laying them off in late December because of a dispute over permits for surface mining related to the King Coal Highway project.The Pittsburgh-based coal producer said it plans to idle its Miller Creek operations in Mingo County, which include Wiley Surface Mine, Wiley Creek Surface Mine, Minway Surface Mine, Minway Preparation Plant, and Miller Creek Administration Group."The facility has operated without a lost-time accident since 1986, an exemplary safety record for the mining industry, and it is unfortunate that they will not be afforded the opportunity to extend that record,'' Consol President Nicholas J. DeIuliis said in a statement.Consol has sought U.S. Environmental Protection Agency permits to redirect the Mingo County operations to mine land that would then become a 5-mile stretch of the King Coal Highway. The agency has raised several concerns about the Buffalo Mountain mining operation, including its planned burial of several area streams.DeIuliis noted that while the EPA had relented in objecting to one of the two permits sought, "that permit alone is not sufficient to allow miners to begin work.''
An EPA spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.Once completed, the King Coal Highway would run 90 miles from Williamson to Bluefield and be part of the Interstate 73/74 corridor. West Virginia has enlisted coal companies to help build the road. Through these public-private partnerships, the companies keep the coal they mine while grading the land for road-building in the process. A 12-mile section opened in 2011.Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and fellow Democrats in West Virginia's congressional delegation blasted the EPA over Tuesday's layoff notice."I am incensed and infuriated that the EPA would intentionally delay the needed permit for a public-private project that would bring so many good jobs and valuable infrastructure to communities that so desperately need them,'' said U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, who helped launch the project while Tomblin's predecessor as governor. "The EPA has lost court case after court case for its overreach, and it should be using better judgment by now.''Consol credited West Virginia officials in Tuesday's statement for issuing the necessary state-based permits for the project.