Coal Tattoo

Manchin on coal

dsc_4261-sos192x240.JPGIt’s not that surprising that coal mining has played a role in each of Gov. Joe Manchin’s previous four State of the State addresses. Coal remains a big part of West Virginia’s economy, though concern about mining’s impact on our land, water and climate (not to mention the safety of the workers who mine it) continue to grow.

With the governor preparing to deliver the first State of the State of his second term Wednesday evening, I thought coal watchers might want to revisit what Manchin has had to say about the industry during his previous annual messages to lawmakers and state residents.


In Manchin’s first State of the State, coal got just a quick mention:

As many of you aware, there are power companies are looking to build clean coal technology plants somewhere in the east, and I will fight to make that expansion happen in West Virginia.


Manchin’s second State of the State was  delivered just seven days after the Sago Mine disaster, and the governor focused much of his attention on mine safety:

It has been a difficult week in our state. Just seven short days ago, we lost 12 hard-working and brave West Virginians; men who left their homes each day knowing the inherent difficulty and danger of the jobs they performed and men who were proud to provide for their families, proud to be a West Virginian and proud of the energy they produced to keep America strong.We cannot know the purpose of this tragedy – but I assure you we will discover the cause. I am committing every resource available to me to aid in the investigation – not only to determine what happened inside the Sago Mine that caused this terrible accident, but also how the information received outside of the mine regarding the condition of the miners could have been so horribly wrong. Families should never be put through such a heartbreaking, emotional nightmare. Even more important, I rededicate myself and the State to the task of making our mines the safest in the country so that we can avoid future tragedies like the one we have just experienced.

Our prayers as a state are with the families of Thomas P. Anderson, Alva Martin Bennett, James Bennett, Jerry Groves, George Junior Hamner, Terry Helms, Jesse L. Jones, David Lewis, Martin Toler Jr., Fred Ware Jr., Jackie Weaver and Marshall Winans. During the coming days, we will continue as West Virginians to do what we do best – come together in support of our neighbors. We did this when the disaster of Hurricane Katrina hit the people living in the southern states of America, and we do it again now for our own. I want to thank the thousands of West Virginians who have donated goods, as well as their hard earned money, to the miners’ families over the last several days. Words cannot express to you how proud I am to be Governor of a State that is home to such amazing people.

I also want the miners’ families to know that the support that we offer will be ongoing. And so, my office is joining with the West Virginia Council of Churches to establish a “Lifeskills Account” for the immediate family members of the victims. To demonstrate the importance of this effort, my office will be contributing $100,000 from the Governor’s Contingency Fund to this account. These men were working hard to provide a good living for their loved ones, and we must continue their efforts.

The money donated to this account will provide for traditional educational opportunities plus any trade or technical field training that they may wish to obtain in order to expand their knowledge and gain the skills needed to support themselves and their families, no matter what they’re age. We want them to know that we will be in this with them through their long journey. I would like to now thank the Reverend Dennis Sparks with the West Virginia Council of Churches for agreeing to administer this very special account on our behalf. Reverend Sparks, please stand and be recognized.

Many times during the rescue efforts you heard me say that West Virginians believe in miracles – and we do. While we didn’t receive the 13 miracles we were praying for, we did receive one – Randal McCloy Jr. It is my hope that he can one day tell us his miracle story and the stories of his friends and co-workers. So let us also remember his struggles tonight and send him, his wife Anna, their two children, Randal III and Isabelle Hope, and their entire family our prayers and love as well.

Manchin also used the 2006 speech to announce plans by American Electric Power to build a coal gasification plant near the company’s Mountaineer Plant at New Haven in Mason County.

And, I have even more news to announce. I’m pleased to report that this afternoon Appalachian Power filed an application with the Public Service Commission of West Virginia seeking authority to construct a 600-megawatt Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle power plant – or IGCC – electric generating unit in West Virginia. The proposed power plant would be located next to the company’s Mountaineer Plant near New Haven in Mason County.

This is great news for economic development in the state. As one of the first commercial scale coal gasification projects, this proposed plant will allow us to lead the nation in the development of clean coal technology for power generation. Plus, coal gasification technology offers future opportunities to produce clean liquid fuels and chemical feedstock for other industries.

IGCC technology allows us to continue using our state’s coal resources in an environmentally responsible way. With IGCC, we’ll have a cleaner environment. An IGCC power plant efficiently reduces and removes sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulates and mercury from plant emissions. IGCC plants offer opportunity for more efficient, less costly carbon capture for disposal in deep geologic formations.

Bringing an IGCC plant to West Virginia is part of my overall plan to ensure the future of coal in West Virginia, and Appalachian Power has said it is committed to working with my administration on our Coal Conversion Initiatives.

I’d like to recognize and thank two people here tonight: Holly Koeppel, AEP’s executive vice president for its eastern utilities, and Dana Waldo, president and chief operating officer for Appalachian Power. Please stand. Thank you for your commitment to working with the state of West Virginia on the future of coal and please give your CEO Mike Morris our very best.

Appalachian Power made this filing today for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity because it needs new generating capacity to meet its customers’ growing demand for electricity.

While this filing is just the beginning of the permitting process, the fact that AEP has tentatively chosen West Virginia for a project of this significance speaks volumes as to the state of our current business climate. The jobs that will come from a project of this type, if it is successful after going through the process, are of the quality that can have a significant impact upon the entire state. As I said, this isn’t just good news; it’s great news. AEP has made its commitment to West Virginia clear; it’s now up to both of us to work in the best interests of our ratepayers and citizens to make this proposed partnership work.

Manchin also went on to tout his coal-to-liquid technology, which was to later become a major part of his state energy plan (though coal-to-liquid also creates twice as much greenhouse gas pollution as conventional petroleum transportation fuel):

As we all know, energy is crucial to our national and state economies. Our manufacturing jobs, our transportation systems and our way of life are totally dependent upon a reliable, affordable energy supply. So, we must do our part to reduce our dependency upon foreign sources of oil. Our goal in West Virginia is to become a leader in converting coal to liquids and other products such as natural gas, diesel fuel, jet fuel, hydrogen or chemicals. And announcements such as the one today from AEP are substantial building blocks towards achieving that goal.

Manchin led off his 2007 address by touting his administration’s success in passing landmark mine safety legislation, and by announcing more mine safety initiatives:

At this time last year, we were mourning the recent deaths of our courageous and dedicated Sago miners – and hoping for the recovery of our lone survivor Randal McCloy, Jr. Never could we have imagined that our suffering as a mining state was only just beginning. As you know, one short week later we were once again left to pray for men trapped in a deep mine not long after they had kissed their families goodbye and headed off to work. And once again, we would sadly discover that their safe return was not meant to be.I believe we all learned a great deal from those dark days – we learned about our state, we learned about our people and, most importantly, we learned that when it comes to the safety of our mine workers, business as usual is simply not good enough.

As a result, we worked together to pass in one historic day during last year’s legislative session, a mine safety bill that would lead the way for the first national mine safety legislation to come out of Congress in over 25 years. And now, every miner in every state can be confident that if the worst should occur, there are practices being put in place to aid in their survival.

But as proud as I am of that legislation, it was only the beginning of our state’s commitment to our lost miners and their families – and to the miners who continue to strap on their boots and go to work in our mines every day. We must never forget that they are not only providing for their families, they are providing a valuable service for our country by ensuring that our nation has the energy it needs to succeed.

While much has been accomplished over the last 12 months to better protect these hard-working West Virginians, with 24 mining-related deaths recorded in our state in 2006 it is clear that there is still much more left to do.

As a result of the hard work of our Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training, our Mine Safety Technology Task Force and my special advisor on the Sago and Aracoma investigations, Davitt McAteer and his team, I bring to you this session proposals that will not only better protect the miners and families of today but also keep our promise to the families of our lost miners that their loved ones did not die in vain.

First, the Director of the Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training has recently doubled the state’s mine rescue capabilities by designating approximately $500,000 towards: establishing and equipping a new mine rescue station in the northern part of the state; establishing and equipping two additional state mine rescue teams; and, purchasing a personnel trailer and associated resources for use by state mine rescue teams when called to an emergency.

I am also directing an additional $4 million to next year’s budget for this office which will be used to: hire five additional safety inspectors and nine additional safety instructors; increase mine rescue training time from 50 to 96 hours per year, per team member; offer more competitive salaries to mine inspectors and instructors in order to attract the qualified and capable workers needed to perform these duties; increase salaries of existing instructors and inspectors so that we can retain our best and brightest; purchase additional mine rescue equipment; and, continue the abandoned mine mapping project.

Likewise, the regulatory authority given to our inspectors needs to be updated. At times, state officials may observe individual violations at a facility that could collectively create an imminent danger. Unfortunately, our current response to these situations is limited by existing law. That is why, I am seeking legislation that would authorize the Director of the Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training to shut down mines and levy appropriate penalties against repeat offenders where multiple violations continue to exist.

I am also pushing to better coordinate our inspection and other enforcement activities with the federal government. While we consistently communicate with the federal government and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) at many levels, we are legally barred from communicating with one another on our inspection schedules and findings. It makes no sense for the State of West Virginia to be performing similar mine inspection duties as the federal government, yet be barred from discussing them with one another.

Additionally, the tragedies of the past 12 months have demonstrated certain deficiencies in our safety regulations – deficiencies that must be corrected. The explosion at Sago, as well as similar tragedies in other mining states, have raised significant concerns about the use of alternative seals in underground mines – concerns that prompted our Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training, and then the federal government, to place a moratorium on the use of these alternative seals. Based on extensive research, I will now ask you to make this moratorium permanent, along with daily monitoring and extensive remediation requirements for existing sealed off areas.

Another common-sense approach we can take to protect miners, such as those at Aracoma, against the hazards of explosions or fires is to modify the manner in which we review and approve the use of “belt air” to ventilate our coal mines. The use of the belt-way to ventilate a mine could, in certain situations, exacerbate the hazards caused by a fire breaking out along the conveyor belt. Congress has recognized the dangers inherent in this practice and has created a panel to study the utilization of belt air. However, here in West Virginia, I believe we must do more and we should not wait. Accordingly, pending the completion of the federal government’s study, the use of belt air in West Virginia’s mines will no longer be given a blanket approval. Instead, each will go through an extensive review process and be approved by the Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training on a case-by-case basis with input from the Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety.

Once fully implemented, these plans and proposals, coupled with other initiatives such as the continuation of the International Mining Health and Safety Symposium that will be hosted by Wheeling Jesuit University in April, will go a long way toward meeting our goal of making West Virginia the safest mining state in the nation.

And, the governor announced that he was reforming the state Public Energy Authority, with the goal of trying to make West Virginia “energy independent”:

First of all, we are at an energy crossroads. The State of West Virginia and the entire nation is much too dependent on foreign oil, which puts all of us at risk.

That is why, as Chairman of the West Virginia Public Energy Authority, I have tasked my fellow members to develop an energy plan for West Virginia that promotes technologies that increase our energy supply, creates new employment opportunities, helps to protect the environment, and, most importantly, makes West Virginia independent of foreign oil by the year 2030.

Finally, Manchin made a passing reference to the re-authorization of the federal program that funds cleanups of abandoned coal-mine sites:

And speaking of water, just a few weeks ago, with the strong support of our West Virginia Congressional Delegation, Congress reauthorized the Abandoned Mine Lands fund, money critical to the health and safety of our citizens living near old mines. The reauthorization freed up nearly $1 billion in funds over the next 18 years for West Virginia to clean up the effects of pre-law mining on our land and water. As a result, I am announcing tonight that I am committing over $58 million of this appropriation to bring clean drinking water to all of the 38 communities currently listed on the Abandoned Mine Lands Waterline List by 2010. This will occur several years sooner than originally planned and will bring clean, running water to thousands of West Virginians.

Last year, in his 2008 State of the State, Manchin again talked a fair amount about coal-mine safety:

And, of course, we must also pause to remember our lost coal miners, whose deaths have led to so many significant changes to our mine safety laws and procedures, not only in West Virginia but across the country.Since the tragedies at Sago and Aracoma, we have instituted a “rapid response” accident reporting system, hired additional mine inspectors and better equipped and trained our mine rescue teams. We’ve made it easier to close an entire mine if a pattern of serious violations exist, have restricted the use of belt air, have strengthened the requirements for the construction of mine seals and instituted additional education courses for mine foremen and fire bosses.

In addition, all underground coal operations in the state are in full compliance with our new emergency air pack requirements, which occurred six months earlier than originally scheduled and amounts to over 40,000 new self-contained self rescuers deployed in our mines during the past year.

West Virginia also received its first underground emergency shelter in November with a total of 308 shelters scheduled to be delivered over the next several months to mining companies throughout the state. And the deployment of wireless communication and tracking devices in West Virginia’s mines, which has been a major undertaking, is now well under way. Coal company plans for these devices have been received and approved and the deployment of these systems into our state’s mines has begun and will continue throughout 2008 – meaning that all of West Virginia’s underground coal mines should have these systems in place at least one year earlier than required by the federal government.

We want our state’s workplaces to be the safest in the nation, and we’ve worked hard to put in place improvements that don’t just sound good but that will truly make a difference. And we will not stop, because as everyone knows, one fatality is one too many.

And the governor again talked up the coal industry as a fuel of the future,  predicting that carbon capture technologies could be just around the corner:

And as important as the topics I’ve discussed so far are, I believe one of the biggest issues that we face not only as a state but as a nation is energy.

Today, we hear the terms Energy Security and Climate Change spoken almost constantly. As we consider how our nation can provide an adequate energy supply that is environmentally acceptable, we must recognize the critical role of clean coal technologies in this discussion. Because of its wide availability, versatility and reasonable cost, clean coal will be strategically important to our energy future. Coal currently is the fuel source for almost half of the electricity generated in the United States. I sincerely believe that technological solutions leading to the greening of the coal industry hold the key to America’s security – which is why I am so committed to working toward the continued development of clean coal technologies and the construction of clean coal power and fuel liquefaction plants.

And with the carbon that these new technologies can capture having been proven to enhance natural gas and oil production, it is clear that those industries have bright futures in our state as well. In 2006 West Virginia produced over 1.7 million barrels of oil, and through enhanced oil recovery, we will now be able to extend the production horizon of our reserves. Natural gas is also a fundamental building block of our state’s economy. We produce over 225 billion cubic feet of natural gas a year to heat our homes and fuel our factories, and so I look forward to the continued success of both of these industries in West Virginia.

I also recognize that West Virginia is rich in renewable energy sources too, such as biomass in the form of wood and crop residue that will eventually be used to make fuel. Solar and wind opportunities also have their place in our energy portfolio as well. To that end, I am committed to examining the legal barriers that restrict the post-mining development of surface mining operations and exploring ways to give priority to post-mining uses involving renewable energy projects such as biomass, solar and wind, for the purpose of making these lands productive.

However, we must acknowledge that the main ingredient to a successful energy future is sustainability. We need to keep learning how to optimize the use of our resources, become more energy efficient, and minimize waste. And we can all do our part by simply switching to compact fluorescent bulbs and installing high-efficiency heating and cooling systems, proper insulation and storm doors – and the state will help you with these purchases in 2008 by providing a new “energy efficient products” tax incentive.

We can also promote renewable energy and energy efficiency in our building designs. As part of that effort here at the Capitol, we entered into an energy conservation and savings contract in 2005 that guarantees that the State Capitol Complex will reduce its energy consumption by at least 5 percent. However, I believe we can do more, and so I am directing our agencies to reduce consumption by at least 10 percent this year. And I would ask you, in your homes and your businesses, to do the same. Every little bit of conservation can make a big difference in our overall energy consumption, and it’s as simple as turning off a light when you leave a room.

In addition, as we renovate the buildings on the Capitol Complex or build any new buildings in the future, we’re going to put in place energy-saving mechanisms that will make these buildings “green.”

Not since the 1970s has there been so much discussion about the role of energy and how it is produced and used – and I challenge us all to do our part to ensure our state and our country have a stable energy supply so that we can control our own destiny and protect our nation’s security.

What’s the governor going to say about coal this year? Tune in tonight at 7 p.m. and find out. You can watch on the web.

And be sure to read The Charleston Gazette’s coverage and click on Coal Tattoo for more discussion of how Manchin’s plans affect coal mining and coalfield communities.