Coal Tattoo

West Virginians at D.C. coal protest

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Vivian Stockman at the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition reports that a number of West Virginians are headed to Washington, D.C., this weekend for the big protest on Monday over climate change and the coal-fired Capitol Power plant. (See Coal and our Capitol)

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Admitting the costs of coal

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The editors of the Louisville Courier-Journal published a pretty amazing editorial on Friday. It was called, “The cost of coal,” and here’s a taste of it:

The mantra of the industry is that coal is America’s cheapest, most abundant fuel, and the most secure from foreign meddling. The problem with that argument is that the real cost of coal mining and burning is never toted up.

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Coal and our Capitol

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Citizens and activists from around the country are planning to descend on Washington Monday for what organizers hope is a huge protest against the burning of coal to fire an antiquated power plant that generates steam and chilled water to heat and cool the Capitol building. (The Capitol buys its electricity from Pepco).

The protest is being billed as:

…A multi-generational act of civil disobedience at the Capitol Power Plant — a plant that powers Congress with dirty energy and symbolizes a past that cannot be our future. Let’s use this as a rallying cry for a clean energy economy that will protect the health of our families, our climate, and our future.

On their website’s FAQ section, under the heading “Why this Action? Why Now?” the organizers explain:

It’s time to take a stand on global warming. For more than 30 years, scientists, environmentalists, and Americans from all walks of life have urged leaders to take action to prevent a climate catastrophe. Yet even with the impacts of global warming mounting–droughts and wildfires in the West and Southeast; hurricanes in the Gulf; record floods year after year in the Heartland; deadly heat waves in the Northeast; and the spiraling cost of it all—our leaders have failed to take the action so urgently needed. Now we are running out of time. The Bush administration has left our world with precious little time to avert the most catastrophic impacts of the climate crisis.

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I don’t have many details right now, but apparently Massey Energy lawyers are trying to get a Raleigh County judge to block further protests at the company’s mountaintop removal sites.

Antrim Caskey, a photographer who has been documenting the protests, passed on word of the action to me in an e-mail message, and I see that Climate Ground Zero has mention of it — along with part of a court document — on their Web site. It’s not clear from the site whether Massey has simply asked for the TRO, or if it’s already been granted. (Antrim, by the way, is listed among the defendants in the Massey court filing).

Recall that these protests have really geared up with leadership from environmental activist Mike Roselle. See previous posts here, and here.

PATH power line delayed again?

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Picked up a bit of news from a blog called The Power Line, by a guy named Bill Howley in Calhoun County about American Electric Power’s PATH power line project:

Power company attorney John Philip Melick with the firm of Jackson Kelly, filed a request on February 24 to postpone PATH’s filing for a Certificate of Need with the WV PSC from March 2009 to “on or about April 1.”

Howley is also encouraging folks to oppose Gov. Joe Manchin’s power line tax, which as you recall hasn’t yet been introduced. (See What happened to Manchin’s power line tax?)

Friday roundup

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News from around the coalfields and beyond …

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(A rescue worker emerges from the pit entrance to the Tunlan Coal Mine in Gujiao, in China’s Shanxi province, Sunday, Feb. 22, 2009. AP Photo)

–  The death toll has risen to 78 in last weekend’s explosion at a Chinese coal mine. China Daily reported that “poor ventilation and gas management, as well as the lack of on-site supervision and security measures” were to blame.

— Coal has proved to be a valuable resource for the Navajo Nation, providing tens of millions of dollars in revenue each year to the tribe and jobs to its people on a reservation where half of the work force is unemployed. But the Navajo Nation contends it could have received up to $600 million more in royalties over the years had the U.S. government not conspired with a coal company to cheat the tribe. Reports from The Associated Press, an editorial in the New York Times, and tons of other information from Scotuswiki.

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The Smith Mine Disaster

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Sixty-six years ago today, 74 miners died in an explosion at the Smith Mine No. 3 near Bearcreek, Mont. It was the worst coal-mining disaster in Montana history.

The photo above, from the town of Bearcreek’s Web site, shows the above-ground buildings of the Smith Mine as it appeared in the early days. The site also describes the disaster this way:

 February 27, 1943 began on an optimistic note for most families in Bearcreek, Washoe
and Red Lodge. The bright sun reflecting off a light covering of new snow gave most
people living in the shadows of the Beartooth Mountains a trusting
view of the world.
It was Saturday, and the kids were out from underfoot early that morning, not wanting to miss a minute of sunny escape from school. In addition, it was payday for the Smith Mine workers. The men would return home that evening with pay for their toil.

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As I predicted yesterday, (See Obama and abandoned coal mines) political leaders from Wyoming are not too happy with President Barack Obama’s plan to stop giving them Abandoned Mine Lands money to use for projects other than cleaning up abandoned coal mines.

According to an Associated Press account, Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal (a Democrat) — among others — said he would work with  his state’s congressional delegation to resist Obama’s plan.

We will work shoulder to shoulder with our delegation, as we did when the state’s share of federal mineral royalties was reduced from 50 percent to 48 percent.  We intend to work closely with the congressional delegation on this going forward.

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murrayheadhands.jpgFederal mine safety regulators have won a round of their latest battle with coal operator Bob Murray and his Murray Energy.

Mike Gorrell at the Salt Lake Tribune reports this morning that a federal administrative law judge ruled for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration in a case over major safety problems at Murray’s West Ridge coal mine:

Federal mine safety regulators did not abuse their discretion in shutting down a longwall mining machine at Murray Energy Corp.’s West Ridge coal mine after a series of “bounces” during the past month, a judge in Denver ruled Thursday.

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Obama and abandoned coal mines

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President Barack Obama seems to be picking a fight with Wyoming, the nation’s top coal-producing state. But at the same time, the president might be proposing a change in the federal Abandoned Mine Lands program that would end some long-standing abuses.

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This just in from a federal court in California…

A new ruling will require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to finally close a loophole that for more than 25 years made it easy for mining companies to skip out on costly cleanups by declaring bankruptcy.

The ruling, by the U.S. District Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California, concerned EPA’s failure to issue “financial assurances” standards to require polluting industries to be financially able to clean up contaminated and dangerous mining sites.

“By not promulgating financial assurance requirements, EPA has allowed companies that otherwise might not have been able to operate and produce hazardous waste to potentially shift the responsibility for cleaning up hazardous waste to taxpayers,” Alsup wrote in a 15-page decision issued Wednesday.

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Remembering Buffalo Creek

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(A dog sits in Buffalo Creek hollow in the aftermath of the 1972 coal-slurry dam disaster in this photo by longtime Gazette photographer Lawrence Pierce)

Thirty-seven years ago today, a coal-slurry dam on Buffalo Creek in Logan County, W.Va., broke. A wall of water and coal waste — 30 feet high and 550 feet across — burst from the impoundment, and rushed more than 15 miles down the hollow, toward the confluence of Buffalo Creek and the Guyandotte River at Man.

The disaster killed 125 people, injured 1,000 and left 4,000 homeless.

In 1997, the Gazette produced a special series, Voice of Buffalo Creek, to mark the 25th anniversary of the disaster. The project included oral history-type interviews with survivors, a government inspector, a newspaper reporter, and others. We also published the full text of a citizens’ commission report on the disaster, and a Buffalo Creek chapter from my colleague Paul Nyden’s doctoral dissertation. And Gazette Editor James A. Haught wrote a story about his long investigation of Buffalo Creek including his quest to find out why then-Gov. Arch Moore accepted a $1 million settlement from Pittston Coal as complete payment for the state’s losses from the disaster.

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Flood of mine permits at the Corps II

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(Photo by Vivian Stockman, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition)

Since I posted a very rough estimate of the mountaintop removal permits pending at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (See Flood of mine permits at Corps), citizen groups have been digging deeper. They wanted to figure out what might happen now that the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers to require more detailed reviews of valley fill permits.

Their conclusion?

Permits pending at the Corps could result in the burial of more than 218 miles of streams in Southern West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky. The damage would be done by more than 100 permits, covering more than 63,000 acres — nearly 100 square miles — and including 441 valley fills.

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(Mike Roselle and James McGuinness halt the movement of coal off Cherry Pond Mountain in Raleigh County, West Virginia. Photo by Antrim Caskey)

Environmental activist Mike Roselle has an interesting piece online at the website of Counterpunch, the great journalism newsletter by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair.

For folks in the coalfields who are wondering about Roselle, and the rumors being spread about him by the coal industry (See Anti-coal activist drawing some heat),  the Counterpunch article is interesting reading. Here’s a taste:

The first time I was on Cherry Pond it was ramp season, and I joined Judy, Bo, Larry and Ed for the much anticipated spring ritual, in which the tasty wild onions are harvested and cooked in butter with potatoes. It was a steep hike through rugged country, and from the ridge you could see Coal River Mountain, the highest peak around, all the way up to Kayford Mountain, which is no more. Kayford Mountain is now a huge pit, where bulldozers, trucks and dynamite can be heard for miles around.

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More on Massey death report

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The death last fall of James Otis Woods, 61, wasn’t the first — or the last — serious mining accident at Massey Energy subsidiary Alex Energy’s No. 1 Surface Mine near Drennen, Nicholas County.

Woods was operating a bulldozer for Alex Energy contractor AJM Corp. at the No. 1 Surface Mine near Drennen, Nicholas County. He was attempting to grade a previously reclaimed area of the mine when the dozer he was operating overturned and rolled four times to the bottom of a steep grade, according to a report from the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training. (See photo above from U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration).

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Obama, Manchin and coal

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(President Barack Obama talks with W.Va. Gov. Joe Manchin following a White House dinner with the nation’s governors. AP photo)

The Associated Press had a story the other day about a letter that the governors of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming sent to President Barack Obama, urging the president to fund development of so-called “clean coal” projects in western coal states.

It struck me as a little odd, because West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin is buddies with Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, and the pair have worked together before on coal issues that affect the two states. But Manchin wasn’t part of this letter to Obama.

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The West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training issued its investigation reports today on three coal-mining deaths from 2008.

We’ve posted a story about the reports on the Gazette’s Web site.

And, I’ve posted the reports online here:

Alex Energy

Bluestone Coal

CONSOL Energy

Obama on carbon caps and coal

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President Obama’s speech to the nation tonight included a call for caps on greenhouse emissions and more money for research to limit those emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Environmentalists will be happy with the president’s focus on clean energy and climate change, but perhaps will start worrying about what Obama might — or might not — do about other aspects of coal, such as mountaintop removal. The president clearly isn’t on the same page as some citizen groups who argue that there isn’t any such thing as “clean coal.”

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The federal government can’t overrule state decisions to reject new electric transmission lines, under a new appeals court decision.

A three-judge panel from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s  rulemaking to allow federal preemption of power line siting decisions. The decision, issued last week, was written by Judge M. Blane Michael.

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Another Bush rule tossed

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A federal appeals court today struck down a key Bush administration rule that set national standards for airborne soot and dust.

Coal-fired power plants are among the largest sources of particulate pollution, which has been linked to respiratory problems, decreased lung function, aggravated asthma, and premature death.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia  ruled that the U.S. EPA’s 2006 standards for fine particulate matter were “in several respects, contrary to law and unsupported by adequately reasoned decision-making.”

As a statement issued by Earthjustice explained: At issue was the rule that kept the primary standard for annual fine particulate matter at 15 micrograms per cubic meter, even though EPA’s staff and scientific advisers had recommended a standard between 13 and 14 micrograms.

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