Coal Tattoo

Friday roundup, May 22, 2009


After this post, Coal Tattoo is going to take a few days off for Memorial Day. I’m posting above a photo of the new Sago Memorial that was dedicated in Philippi yesterday, in honor of the 12 miners killed in the Jan. 2, 2006, disaster. Four of the 12 men killed were from the Barbour County community. More information about the memorial is available here, on the Web site of artist Ross Straight.

It might be appropriate this Memorial Day  to remember the folks in Southern West Virginia who have been hard hit by flooding. Visit this Red Cross site to find out how you can help.

Flooding has been getting a lot of attention over the last two weeks, and I’ll try to round up a little bit of the news for you.

First, Massey Energy rightly got some positive media coverage from The Associated Press and from the Gazette for calling back some laid-off workers to help with flood cleanup projects.

But Erica Peterson over at West Virginia Public Broadcasting reminded us (as the Gazette has previously reported) that Massey’s strip mining was at least partly responsible for some of the damage.


Tony Cavalier, the meteorologist over at WSAZ-TV, weighed in on the issue, writing on his blog that mountaintop removal “adds a degree of runoff since where the land is cleared of trees there will be more runoff.” But, Tony added, because flooding occurred in some places without mining “to blame the geology or the deforestation for the flooding is a stretch.”

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, of course, rushed to say that the flooding in Mingo County and elsewhere was just an “Act of God,” without first considering that his Department of Environmental Protection might want to study whether its existing regulations go far enough to stop mining from making floods more likely or more damaging.

And Congressman Nick Rahall, whose district was hardest hit, said he’s “not aware of any [studies] that pointed the finger conclusively at mining.” (Note to Chairman Rahall: Click here to read those studies). In the chamber of commerce-funded West Virginia Record, Vic Sprouse praised coal companies for helping out with the cleanup, but just couldn’t stop there and had to attack environmentalists for — he said — not helping (memo to Vic: click here to get your facts right).

One of the few voices of reasons on all this came from the Lexington Herald-Leader, which published an editorial that urged quick flood relief and a complete study of how mining might have contributed:

The Corps [of Engineers] should also be called upon to explain how the mining industry’s destruction of natural drainage systems may be contributing to flooding.

The Corps is responsible for issuing the permits that have allowed the coal industry to bury hundreds of miles of small streams. These rivulets once collected the water from storms and heavy rains that now gushes off mining sites.

Many residents of Eastern Kentucky will tell you there’s no doubt in their minds that widespread strip-mining has worsened flooding. Their elected representatives have shown a notable lack of curiosity about the subject.

Phew. OK, enough about flooding — but please do visit the Red Cross site and help.

More mine safety news from the Lexington Herald-Leader, this being a report that Harlan County coal miner Billy Brannon will receive back pay while his complaint that he was fired for reporting safety problems is heard. Tony Oppegard, one of Brannon’s attorneys, told me that he was fired by Panther Mining on March 27, one day after he reported to regulators a hazardous condition at the underground mine where he worked. At the time, Brannon had three pending safety discrimination cases against Panther Mining, Oppegard said.

Federal law is supposed to protect miners from discrimination of any kind in retaliation for reporting safety problems. But it doesn’t always work that way, and many mine safety advocates don’t think MSHA does enough to help protect miners in such situations. In this case, MSHA actually came to Brannon’s defense, according to an earlier story in the Herald-Leader. Oppegard added:

Brannon’s case is significant because miners need to know their rights — which include being able to make safety complaints and to not work in conditions they think are unsafe. And many don’t know about the temporary-reinstatement provision.

Much of the media was occupied this week keeping up with the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s markup and debate on the Waxman-Markey climate legislation. I’ve written a story that appeared in the Gazette that explains the current version’s impact on the coal industry. There’s coverage today from Time magazine, Huffington Post, and The Washington Post about passage of the bill by that key House committee.

Remember: Any effort to deal with global warming absolutely must deal with carbon dioxide emissions from the coal industry, as this Union of Concerned Scientists graphic shows:


While we’re on the issue, a couple of interesting studies came out about global warming that I wanted to be sure that Coal Tattoo readers were aware of …

One was from the respected journal The Lancet:

Climate change could be the biggest global health threat of the 21st century. Effects on health of climate change will be felt by most populations in the next decades and put the lives and wellbeing of billions of people at increased risk. During this century, the earth’s average surface temperature rises are likely to exceed the safe threshold of 2°C above pre-industrial average temperature.

The other was from MIT:

The most comprehensive modeling yet carried out on the likelihood of how much hotter the Earth’s climate will get in this century shows that without rapid and massive action, the problem will be about twice as severe as previously estimated six years ago – and could be even worse than that.

(Note to faithful reader MX2: Yes, modeling! While models are certainly not perfect, they are very good and getting better — there is little evidence in the science not to use them as part of our toolbox in studying and dealing with global warming).

Also this week, the good folks at the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy published  “Taxing West Virginia’s Coal Reserves: A Primer.” A joint project with Morgantown-based Downstream Strategies, the report is intended as a useful reference for county officials, coal companies, landowners and local citizens.  Check it out.

The Facing South Blog had a nice piece about how the poor and people of color are much more likely to live in communities with dirty air, based on a report called Justice in the Air from the University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute.

Also this week, as explained in the Ohio State University student newspaper, OSU President E. Gordon Gee stayed on the Massey Energy board, despite calls for him to resign.  Don’t forget what Gee said about Massey:

“I think if you take a look at Massey’s record, it has one of the best environmental records in the country.”