The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

June 1, 2014

Bad timing

— The federal indictments of former workers at Arch Coal over an alleged kickback scheme involving nearly $2 million from vendors could not have come at a worse time.

On Monday, The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to release new emissions regulations that will no doubt continue to hammer the coal industry.

Friends and allies of coal don’t need to give industry critics any more ammunition to use against coal.

Four workers at Arch Coal’s Mountain Laurel complex in Logan County are accused of taking kickbacks from vendors to assure they got contracts with the company. Prosecutors say the mining complex’s former general manager was at the heart of the operation.

Some of those vendors paid more than $400,000 to get and keep those lucrative contracts.

“This kind of pay-to-play scheme hurts honest coal industry vendors who refuse to pay bribes as a way to get customers,” said U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin.

Indeed it does.

Arch Coal executives at headquarters in St. Louis contacted federal authorities to initiate the investigation, suspecting that something was very wrong at Mountain Laurel.

On Friday, they thanked prosecutors for their efforts.

“While it was extremely disappointing to find that former employees had failed to live up to our trust in them, we are pleased and relieved to have this issue behind us,” the company said in a statement.

The action Arch Coal executives took is commendable.

But where was the company’s oversight for the years — 2007 through 2012 — this was occurring? Certainly some sort of alarms should have gone off if the scope of the problem in West Virginia was as big as federal prosecutors suggest.

The investigation, Goodwin says, is continuing and more indictments are possible.

The damage to the coal industry, however, is apparent today.

The EPA’s new carbon emission limits are coming Monday. And although they are expected to allow states to tailor compliance through a menu of options, the end result will hardly be coal-friendly.

The coal industry will need all the friends it can get in the coming weeks and months.

The scandal at the Mountain Laurel complex isn’t going to help.