The permit application came under heavy criticism from retired miners and union officials during an Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) public hearing in late June. Liberty is in the same general area as Peabody Energy’s former Squaw Creek surface mine that operated for more than three decades before closing in 1998.

For several years, Alcoa deposited toxic waste in Squaw Creek from its aluminum-manufacturing process. Bill Musgrave, a former Squaw Creek miner and member of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), and Roger Myers, a retired UMWA official in Indiana, told the DNR they were concerned that Liberty’s expansion might bring miners into contact with the toxic wastes.

However, both the DNR and Alcoa officials denied that would be the case. Alcoa is seeking to add 1,413 acres to Liberty’s current mine plan, a move that should give the mine several more years of life although it is unlikely to increase overall production.

“The proposed mining plan will improve overall efficiency while maintaining the same distance from the identified sites,” said Alcoa spokesman Jim Beck. If the permit is granted, some areas of Liberty will be switched from highwall to surface mining.

 

Vigo Coal Co., based in nearby Evansville, Indiana, operates Liberty as well as Alcoa’s Friendsville surface mine near Mount Carmel, Illinois. All the coal mined from Alcoa’s extensive reserves in the region is transported to the 755-megawatt Warrick power plant that supplies electricity for Warrick Operations.

Vigo has been ramping up production at Liberty during the past year or so. After producing 586,627 tons of coal in 2013, the mine’s output more than doubled to 1.22 million tons in 2014. Liberty produced 237,929 tons in the first quarter of 2015.

Friendsville produced 849,383 tons last year and 220,805 tons in the first three months of this year.