Deep Roots: John McDaniel Has Worked to Improve Coal Mining Practices, Impact During Illustrious Career
By Charles Young
August 5, 2019 - John McDaniel, director of engineering and technical services for Arch Coal’s eastern operations, comes from a long line of West Virginia coal miners.
McDaniel said he ended up working in the coal industry by “default,” having grown up surrounded by mining and its culture in McDowell and Nicholas counties.
“Both of my grandfathers worked in the industry, my father did, and in practicality, my great-grandfather actually cut timber on the family farm and provided that to the mining industry,” he said.
After starting his career as a laborer, McDaniel has risen to become a corporate leader at Arch, which is among the nation’s leading producers of coal.
The company supplies around 15 percent of the total domestic coal market annually and employs more than 2,100 in its eastern operations division.
His role with the company involves ensuring its practices and operations are in compliance with the various local, state and federal entities that oversee mining, McDaniel said.
“Our primary goal is design and permitting and making sure we’re on par with the mine plans and the schedule, as it relates to liaisons with the regulatory agencies,” he said.
Including positions at several companies which preceded the formation of Arch, McDaniel has more than 37 years of experience in the industry.
The company has an established policy of striving to incur zero regulatory violations, McDaniel said.
“That’s not just a goal; that’s absolutely supported by all levels of the corporation,” he said. “In all my working career under Arch, I can’t recall one time when someone has gone to management with a project that would result in environmental improvement or performance that we’ve been turned down for.”
McDaniel also has served as the chairman of the West Virginia Coal Association’s Environmental-Technical Committee for many years, providing insight and expertise on environmental and regulatory issues.
Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said McDaniel is an invaluable resource to the organization.
“They just don’t come any better than John McDaniel,” he said. “He is an exquisite environmental engineer and knows the coal industry probably as well as anyone in the country. He’s been an advocate for making sure that we advance with practical and usable environmental regulations and works on them to make sure they are achievable.”
For his impact on the coal industry, McDaniel was recently honored as part of the 2019 Class of Who’s Who in West Virginia Business by The State Journal and NCWV Media.
Jason Bostic, vice president of the W.Va. Coal Association, said McDaniels is a natural mentor and is always generous with his wealth of knowledge and experience.
“Something that I think is unique to John and something that I’ve benefited from myself and have watched others benefit from as well is John’s patience with the next generation of professionals in the coal industry,” he said. “He really does take on the role of a teacher and is very patient with those of us who are a generation or two behind him. I think that’s a really good added benefit — not only to the coal industry but to everybody.”
His first experience with mining came when he was just a teenager, McDaniel said.
“I started working around a small family surface mine when I was 16 doing general labor and things like that basically just to keep me busy,” he said.
After graduating from high school, he originally considered pursuing a degree in chemical engineering, McDaniel said.
“I decided that I didn’t like it and it didn’t like me,” he said. “I ended up working in the mines as an equipment operator and a laborer for a period of about four years.”
One of his supervisors recognized McDaniel’s potential and encouraged him to become a mine administrator.
“He said ‘I think you should go back to school and become my boss,’” McDaniel said. “So that served as a little bit of motivation to go back to school and get my degree.”
He then graduated from the mining technology and engineering program at the West Virginia University Institute of Technology, McDaniel said.
“I came out of there in 1980 and was lucky enough to end up with a small firm here in Charleston,” he said.
Several industry veterans took him under their wings and helped him through the process of transitioning into an administrator, McDaniel said.
“I had some excellent mentors when I was starting out,” he said. “I worked for a couple of guys who at that point in time had been in the industry for probably 30-some years. They really helped guide me.”
The mining industry has undergone an enormous amount of change over the course of his career, McDaniel said.
“Of course the technology has changed. Everything that used to be done by hand is now done by computer,” he said. “We rely heavily on that to the point where it’s possible for the people in my department to accomplish their jobs from a variety of remote locations. They don’t have to drive to and report to a central location any more.”
The industry’s continued evolution has resulted in increased efficiency and a smaller environmental impact, McDaniel said.
“The industry has always managed to be innovative and comply with tightening requirements,” he said. “The regulatory programs have advanced and provide quite a level of environmental protection.”
While the industry faces numerous challenges and competition from the booming oil and gas industry, McDaniels said he believes coal mining will remain an important element of West Virginia’s economy for many more years to come.
“I think the way we remain as a viable industry in this state is we have to continue with innovations and accept changes,” he said. “Instead of fighting changes we need to embrace those and figure out how we can actually improve upon those requirements.”
McDaniel said he was able to pass down his love of the mining industry to one of his two daughters, who works in the human resources department of one of Arch’s subsidiary companies.
He has been married to his wife Anne, a retired school teacher in Kanawha County, for longer than he has worked at Arch, McDaniel said.
The couple own and operate a small family farm in Monroe County, McDaniel said.
“We like to go down there when we can,” he said. “It’s been in the family over 100 years. We raise and breed American thoroughbred horses. We’ve been doing that for some time now.”