Coal Tattoo

Boucher: Climate bill is good for coal

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This is a responsible measure. It is carefully balanced; it reduces greenhouse gases by 83 percent by the year 2050 as compared to 2005 levels; it keeps electricity rates affordable; it enables coal usage to grow as the demand for electricity increases nationwide; and it opens the door to a more secure energy future and the creation of millions of new jobs, innovating, deploying and exporting to the world the new, low-carbon-dioxide-emitting technologies that will power our energy future.

— Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., on the climate bill

West Virginia’s three House members all cited  concerns about negative impacts on the coal industry when they voted against the American Clean Energy and Security Act, a move that the New York Times’ Paul Krugman likened to “treason against the planet.”

Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., are also dissing the bill, again citing concerns about coal.

Oddly, as I pointed out earlier, the Friends of Coal industry front group is not attacking the legislation’s impacts on coal — instead going for a general criticism of potential increases in energy costs to consumers.  And as I’ve also pointed out, the United Mine Workers union concluded the bill ensured that “the future of coal will be intact (but still withheld its endorsement, seeking more concessions for coal companies and coal-fired utilities).

One pro-coal voice that has been outspoken in support of the bill is Virginia Congressman Rick Boucher. A Democrat from his state’s southwestern coalfields, Boucher was a strong force in pushing the legislation’s main sponsors, Reps. Henry Waxman and Ed Markey, to add language that slows down emissions reductions and funnels billions of dollars to help the coal industry try to figure out how to control is carbon dioxide output.

During Friday’s House floor debate, Boucher explained why he thinks the bill is good for the coal industry:

 Approximately 80 percent of the electricity in the district that I represent is coal-generated. Coal production is one of our region’s major industries, and it is a major employer of our constituents. Not surprisingly, my focus in the shaping of the bill in the Energy and Commerce Committee was to keep electricity rates affordable and to enable utilities to continue using coal, which accounts for fully 51 percent of America’s electricity generation. Both of these goals have been achieved in the bill that is before us today.

The Environmental Protection Agency projects that by 2020, the usage of coal in our economy will grow as compared to today’s usage. Now, that may seem somewhat counterintuitive in a bill that regulates greenhouse gas emissions, so let me repeat that: the EPA projects that by 2020, coal usage in America, under the terms of this bill, will actually grow.

As transportation electrifies and the demand for electricity increases, coal, our most abundant fuel, will still be the fuel of choice to meet that rising demand. The claims of opponents that the CO2 controls under the bill will force utilities to surrender coal use, causing an overreliance on natural gas with attendant broad economic harm to the Nation are also simply wrong.

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An alert Coal Tattoo reader pointed out this morning that another of the coal-ash impoundments on EPA’s previously secret list of 44 high-hazard facilities reaches into West Virginia.

The Little Blue Dam near Hookstown, Pa., is in Pennsylvania, but the associated lake actually crosses the border into West Virginia.  See the Google Earth map above, or click here to see a regular Google Map. My alert reader points out:

The lake is really as blue as it looks on the satellite image, even on cloudy days.  Some of the lake has dried out recently, leaving behind the white gypsum and other contaminants from the fly ash.

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You think some coal industry PR firm had a seminar on social networking? I’m starting to wonder.

First, Massey Energy President Don Blankenship signed up for Twitter, a move that drew coverage from The Associated Press.   And that prompted Massey Energy to put out a press release touting the fact that AP had picked up on Blankenship’s Tweeting. (Memo to AP: If you’re writing about someone’s Twitter feed, give us their screen name. Blankenship’s is DonBlankenship).

Then, Blankenship’s former Massey collegue, International Coal Group vice president Gene Kitts, signed up to Tweet.  I also see ICG’s general counsel, Roger Nicholson has signed up for Twitter, but hasn’t posted anything yet. Also, Phil Smith, communications director for the United Mine Workers union is Tweeting under the name minervoice.

Updated, 1:45 p.m.: Roger Nicholson Tweets for the first time:

I am reading Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg as well as Hot, Flat and Crowded by Tom Friedman. There, Ken, I’ve posted.

That’s just a few — if you know any other coal-related folks who are on Twitter, let me know.

Environmental groups, including those who oppose mountaintop removal and the coal industry in general, are all over Twitter and some other social networking tools. Just last week, for example, the Sierra Club was micro-blogging the Senate mountaintop removal hearing via Twitter.

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This just in from Friends of Coal, regarding Senate consideration of the global warming bill that passed the House on Friday:

While we hoped the “cap & trade” bill would not pass the U.S. House of Representatives, it did — late Friday evening.  One bright spot was the fact the entire West Virginia delegation (Capito, Rahall & Mollohan) voted “no” on the bill.  The National Mining Association said the narrow margin of victory, seven (7) votes, is a positive sign that will be helpful in blocking or complicating action in the Senate.  This bill needs to be defeated in the Senate, but that won’t happen unless everyone gets engaged, like you did on the House side, and send the same kind of message to Senators Byrd and Rockefeller.

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EPA names the names: Coal-ash pond list disclosed

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After being blasted by lawmakers and activists for its initial secrecy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency late this afternoon finally made public its list of 44 “high hazard” coal-ash impoundments around the country.

The list is posted here on EPA’s Web site, and I’ll list them below.

North Carolina had the most on the list, with 12, following by Arizona with 9. Kentucky had 7 and Ohio had six. West Virginia had 4.

It’s important to note that this “high hazard” ranking is defined this way by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers:

Dams assigned the high hazard potential classification are those where failure or misoperation will probably cause loss of human life. 

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byrdfull.jpgLast week, all three of West Virginia’s House members voted against the landmark bill to begin dealing with global warming.

It’s early in the Senate’s consideration of the legislation, and there’s much work there to do.

But we learned today that Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., opposes the bill in its current form. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said only that he has “serious concerns” about the American Clean Energy and Security Act.

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Wow … there’s been a ton of news reporting and commentary over the last few days, and continuing today, about the passage by the House of Representatives on Friday of the American Clean Energy and Security Act.  It’s hard to know where to start reading to grasp what’s happened, what it means, and where this is all headed next.

But I’ll try to summarize a few things I found helpful, and pass on the links to the best of the coverage so far.

First, The Associated Press had a great little story that kind outlined what this bill is and what it does,  and the AP provided another story that analyzed the bill with some broad strokes about what it means for our nation’s energy future.

Of course, the bill still has to get through the Senate, and there’s much speculation about what’s going to happen there, and what the political implications are from the House vote on Friday. President Obama has already started to pressure the Senate to act on the legislation, and the president discussed his views in more length in an interview with a select group of energy and environment reporters …

I think this was an extraordinary first step. You know, if you had asked people six months ago — or six weeks ago, for that matter — whether we could get a energy bill with the scope of the one that we saw on Friday through the House, people would have told you, no way. You look at the constituent parts of this bill — not only a framework for cap and trade, but huge significant steps on energy efficiency, a renewable energy standard, huge incentives for research and development in new technologies, incentives for electric cars, incentives for nuclear energy, clean coal technology. This really is an unprecedented step and a comprehensive approach.

You can read the transcript of that interview here. By the way, the president is back to calling it “clean coal” after a brief foray into some new term, “cleaner coal” last week.

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This just in, from a press release issued by West Virginia author Denise Giardina:

Since West Virginia is allowing its mountains to be destroyed, it is no longer possible for us to claim the nickname “The Mountain State.” Nor is it possible to root for athletic teams called the “West Virginia Mountaineers.”  Therefore a contest is announced to select new nicknames for our state and our athletic teams.

A winning nickname will be selected in each of the following categories:

1.      STATE NICKNAME: West Virginia, the _____________ State.

2.      ATHLETIC TEAMS:  The West Virginia _____________.  (Or “Let’s go, _____.”)

The winner in each category will receive $100.00

Only submissions that include a West Virginia address will be accepted.  Submissions should include name and address/phone number so if you win, prizes can be awarded.  Your name and winning entry will be publicized. (Addresses will not be made public.)

Contest judges will be writers Denise Giardina, Arla Ralston, and the Rev. Jim Lewis. 

Please send submissions to Nickname Contest, P.O. Box 20454, Charleston, WV, 25362

The deadline for submissions is July 20, 2009, and the winning entries will be announced later in the month.

Take note: This is not a contest sponsored by The Charleston Gazette or Coal Tattoo … so please don’t send us your entries.

Over the weekend, a movement began among bloggers to urge President Obama to visit a mountaintop removal site, and talk with residents who live nearby…

As best I can tell, it started on Daily Kos,  with a post that started out:

You don’t have to travel to the far side of the world to see protesters being arrested as they attempt to save their families, communities, and future. You don’t have to travel to the far side of the world to find a place where the powerful oppress the poor, and where corruption breeds poverty. You don’t have to travel to the far side of the world to find tragedy being written in people’s lives and in the land. You can get in your car and drive there in less than six hours.

Jeff Biggers has added his own take on The Huffington Post, and West Virginia Blue has joined in the effort with a typically thoughtful post.

Bloggers are certainly doing much to spread the word about important issues like mountaintop removal. And watching many of them essentially taking over the work that those of us in the mainstream media were neglecting, is one of the reasons I started Coal Tattoo back in February.

But frankly, some of the blog coverage of this — like the environmental group-speak on climate change and “green jobs” — greatly oversimplifies the issues involved and the challenges faced.

For example, at Daily Kos, “devilstower” writes:

Some may find it audacious, if not outrageous, to compare what is happening in West Virginia to what is going on in places where people are dying in the streets. It’s true that the recent arrests have been, with a few exceptions, as close to peaceful as such events can be. But while there have been no tragic images recorded on camera phones in West Virginia this past week, people have died because of mountaintop removal. Miners have died, but we take that as a matter of course. We accept that flipping on the light switch comes at the price of blood. However, mountaintop removal mining has killed far more than miners. Dozens of people in surrounding communities have died when walls of black sludge plunged down on their homes. Whole families have died, Mr. President, whole towns… so that other Americans can buy their electricity some fraction of a cent more cheaply. And that’s not even considering the lives cut short from contaminated water and fouled air.

OK … what are we talking about here? Buffalo Creek? Aberfan? Both were long before mountaintop removal really started. Maybe Jeremy Davidson, the three-year-old boy killed by a runaway rock from a strip-mine site five years ago in southwestern Virginia? That wasn’t a whole family, and it wasn’t a slurry impoundment.

There are absolutely adverse health costsand deaths — associated with coal mining. But I don’t understand that need the environmental community and its bloggers have to exaggerate. It seems to me that the science about coal’s damage sounds bad enough, without inflating it.

I enjoy Jeff Biggers’ work, and I thank him very much for frequently citing Coal Tattoo, and taking my work to a broader audience through The Huffington Post. And I am frequently pleased to see Jeff dig into our region’s history in explaining the context for today’s debates. The media doesn’t do enough of that.

But take this weekend’s post urging Obama to visit the region and take a closer look at mountaintop removal … he wrote:

Mountaintop Removal Operators Are NOT Coal Miners, But Mostly Heavy Equipment Operators (Bulldozer and Truck Drivers) Who Could Easily Be Used on Infrastructure Projects, Waterworks, Highway Projects, Genuine Reclamation and Reforestation Projects, and a Lot of Green Jobs Initiatives and Manufacturing Plants (Building Wind Turbines, Solar Panels).

In fact, every mountaintop removal operator job has taken away 2-3 jobs from underground coal miners.

First of all, I know guys who work on mountaintop removal mines. And it is skilled work. And they do mine coal. I don’t understand the need the environmental community has to ridicule them by saying they’re not coal miners. Where does that get anybody?

Second, I don’t know that anyone can really prove that every mountaintop removal operator job has taken away 2-3 jobs from underground miners. The industry is too complex to boil it down to that comparison — not all coal that is mined via large, multiple-seam strip mines would be mined by underground methods. Are surface mines very efficient? Yes. In some cases more efficient that underground mining? Of course. But it’s a bit of a jump from there to what Jeff writes.

Finally, sure, guys who run heavy equipment on a strip mine could also run heavy equipment cleaning up abandoned mines or doing a variety of other projects. In fact, strip-mining got its start when highway contractors were looking for easy ways to make some extra money with their equipment and workforce.

But this idea that a transition for communities in Appalachia that rely on mountaintop removal to “green energy” is going to be easy is wrong and not helpful to the debate.  Don’t believe me? Read Paul Krugman, “An affordable salvation” —

Yes, limiting emissions would have its costs. As a card-carrying economist, I cringe when “green economy” enthusiasts insist that protecting the environment would be all gain, no pain.

If West Virginia and Appalachia are going to get aboard this green-energy revolution President Obama and the environmental community keep talking about, it’s going to be hard work. Somebody’s got to start coming up with a concrete and broad-reaching plan.

It doesn’t help do that when our political leaders just so no to change and yes to the same old stuff. But I’m not sure it helps for the other side to overstate their case or make change sound easier than it’s likely to be.

A better approach is the one taken today by Clem Guttata at West Virginia Blue, in a post about Virginia’s efforts at economic diversification. Citing a story by Debra McCown in the Bristol Herald-Courier, Guttato outlines some key points:

1. Diversification provides news jobs as coal mining jobs inevitable disappear.

2. Political independence is necessary for good longer-term planning.

3. Coal mining and other industry can co-exist when resources are specifically allocated and the right structure put in place to make it happen.

But also some key problems, quoting from McCown’s story, he explains:

Kathy Selvage, vice-president of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, a nonprofit group based in Big Stone Gap, Va., said VCEDA’s work is not truly diversifying the region’s economy; instead, she argues, it is building up the region’s dependence on coal.

“Severance money should not be used to promote coal, and that’s what they’re doing with building a power plant; they’re not promoting diversification,” Selvage said. “When you’re creating a bigger demand for coal, that’s not diversifying your economy.”

Steve Fisher, a retired professor who lives in Emory, Va., and has taught and written extensively about the region, said VCEDA should be encouraging a model different from traditional economic development. He said severance tax revenue should be used to address the overall needs of the community and develop a locally based, sustainable economy.

The $1.8 billion coal-fired power plant under construction in Wise County is touted as a crowning achievement of VCEDA’s work.

And then comments:

Okay, that’s definitely a problem. We don’t need any more coal-fired power plants in this area. That’s not diversification I can believe in. The rest of their projects sound a lot better: call centers, R&D centers, and other office space.

More, quoting again from McCown’s story:

“The cap and trade and climate change issue is vindication for why this group is here,” said Tommy Hudson, president of the Virginia Coal Association and vice-chairman of VCEDA’s executive advisory board.

“We all knew coal would be here for a finite time and we’d have to have the industries to replace it,” Hudson said. “Coal might be here for less time because of climate change, and that makes our work and the work of VCEDA more important.”

OK, I don’t know about the call center part … I can hear coal miners and their families cringing at the thought — those jobs aren’t going to replace $65,000-year-year positions mining coal. They’re just not.

But West Virginia Blue is still hitting at the heart of the problem, and doing so without calling names or making it all sound too easy. That’s the kind of discussion West Virginia and other Appalachian coalfield communities need.

As Jeff Biggers likes to say, onward …


Photo by Antrim Caskey

The impacts of mountaintop removal with valley fills are immense and irreversible.

Margaret Palmer, University of Maryland

Yesterday’s U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing on mountaintop removal produced some major disclosures, and also the public release of two new independent reports that detail the growing scientific evidence about this practice’s environmental impacts.

I already discussed some of these findings in my post, Mountaintop removal: Jobs vs. Mayflied — NOT.  But let me emphasize part of what I covered there again … In his written testimony, Randy Pomponio of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency explained that EPA has updated its study of how much forest is and will be lost to mountaintop removal:

EPA’s 2002 Landscape-Scale Cumulative Impact Study modeled terrestrial impacts based on past surface mine permit data. These data provide a retrospective examination of the impacts to forest that occurred over the 11-year period from 1992 to 2002. The Study estimates that 595 square miles (380,547 acres) of the forest environment (vegetation and soils) in the study area will be cleared due surface coal mining during this 11-year period. This represents 3.4 percent of the forest area that existed in 1992. Based on a 2003 analysis, the impacts to forest and forest soils have subsequently been projected over the next 10 years. For the entire 22-year period from 1992 to 2013, the estimated forest clearing in the study area would be 1,189 square miles (761,000 acres) or 6.8 percent of the forest that existed in 1992. Should these forest not be restored, invaluable water quality and ecological services will be lost.

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Ruth Tucker of the Coal River area was charged with battery after she allegedly slapped activist Judy Bonds during a face-off between miners, their families and anti-mountaintop removal protesters outside a Massey Energy operation in Raleigh County, W.Va., on Tuesday. Gazette photo by Chris Dorst.

As I write, the debate goes on (via C-Span’s Web site)  in the U.S. House of Representatives on the landmark American Clean Energy and Security Act. Coal is at the heart of the matter, as shown by the speech I just watched by Illinois Republican John Shimkus, one of the leaders of the GOP’s effort to attack the legislation as a “job killer.” And now West Virginia Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, also a Republican, is adding herself to those throwing around the “job killer” quote.

At least one coalfield lawmaker, Virginia Democrat Rick Boucher, continued to support the bill — and argue that it’s packed with language that will (as the United Mine Workers admits) keep the coal industry safe.

Even if the bill passes the House later today, it’s got a long way to go … so stay tuned. And give a read to my post today, West Virginia and global warming: Coal wins another round, for one take on what it all means.

This was also a huge week on the mountaintop removal front, starting with Tuesday’s big protest down at Marsh Fork Elementary School. For some thoughts and context on that, check out this post, Mountaintop removal protest: Finding a path forward?

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As it stands now, the amount of money dedicated to coal in this bill is remarkable, and the future of coal will be intact.

UMWA spokesman Phil Smith

Major forces in West Virginia’s political establishment are all united now in opposing passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, the bill considered by many to be the current best hope to get some national action to deal with global warming.

All three of our state’s House members (two Democrats and one Republican) plan to vote against the bill if it comes up for a vote today. The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce has been drumming up press coverage attacking the measure, and the coal-mining industry certainly is against it. (See today’s op-ed commentary by renegade coal operator Bob Murray.)

The news this morning was quite a reminder of how much West Virginia’s leaders allow their concerns about coal to drive their actions, despite the growing body of research that the  costs of the industry outweigh its economic benefits (See Weighing coal’s costs and What does coal cost Kentucky?)

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What’s “cleaner coal”?

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It will spur the development of low-carbon sources of energy — everything from wind, solar, and geothermal power to safe nuclear energy and cleaner coal. It will spur new energy savings like the efficient windows and other materials that reduce heating costs in the winter and cooling costs in the summer.

President Barack Obama

Mining and utility industry folks would love us all to use the phrase “clean coal,” while environmental groups call the phrase an oxymoron.

Now, President Obama has adopted a slightly different term — “cleaner coal” — in his speech yesterday pushing for passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act.  Here’s that passage of his speech:

Right now, the House of Representatives is moving towards a vote of historic proportions on a piece of legislation that will open the door to a new clean energy economy.

For more than three decades, we’ve talked about our dependence on foreign oil. And for more than three decades, we’ve seen that dependence grow. We’ve seen our reliance on fossil fuels jeopardize our national security. We’ve seen it pollute the air we breathe and endanger our planet. And most of all, we’ve seen that others countries realize a critical truth: The nation that leads in the creation of a clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the 21st century global economy.

Now is the time for the United States of America to realize this, as well. Now is the time for us to lead. The energy bill before the House will finally create a set of incentives that will spark a clean energy transformation of our economy. It will spur the development of low-carbon sources of energy — everything from wind, solar, and geothermal power to safe nuclear energy and cleaner coal. It will spur new energy savings like the efficient windows and other materials that reduce heating costs in the winter and cooling costs in the summer.

And here’s the video, courtesy of Bloomberg and YouTube:

alanmollohan.jpgBreaking news from Washington, with word that West Virginia Congressman Alan Mollohan plans to vote against the big climate change bill. Here’s his statement:

Mollohan to Vote Against Climate Change Bill

            WASHINGTON – Congressman Alan B. Mollohan announced today that he will vote against HR 2454, the Waxman-Markey climate change bill scheduled for debate tomorrow.

            “As currently drafted, this legislation is not in the best interests of my constituents, and it’s not in the best interests of West Virginia,” Mollohan said.  “For the past several weeks, I have joined the electric utility industry, the coal industry, the United Mine Workers of America, and other coal state Representatives on negotiations to improve the legislation.  We have made significant progress on a number of fronts that together would hold down the cost of electricity to residential and industrial consumers, that would help level the playing field for our steel and manufacturing industries that face international competition, and that would enable the electric power industry to continue to burn West Virginia coal.  As a result of our efforts, the bill is much improved from the original draft, but it still falls short in several key areas, and I cannot support it.” 


rahall_photo.jpgRahall has also issued a statement opposing the bill —

While this bill is greatly improved from the discussion draft that was first circulated in March of this year – and opponents were saying no even before that draft was written – more improvements are needed to gain my support.

Coal does much more than keep the lights on in big cities across America.  In southern West Virginia, it covers the mortgage, puts food on the family dinner table, and keeps open the doors of small businesses.  While the emissions target in the early years of this program has been lowered from the 20% cap initially contained in this bill, there remains widespread concern that even the reduced cap — 17% in 2020 — is still too high and too soon to incentivize rapid development and deployment of carbon capture and sequestration
technologies, so as to ensure coal mining jobs for the future.   We must
allow time for expensive clean coal technologies to come on line.

These technologies are critical to lowering emissions across multiple sectors of our economy.  And they are necessary for keeping hardworking coal miners in the jobs they want, providing power for the country they


Led by International Coal Group’s Gene Kitts, some folks in the coal industry have tried to depict the Obama administration’s somewhat meager efforts to crack down on mountaintop removal as a case of putting mayflies ahead of jobs.

During today’s Senate hearing on mountaintop removal (it’s just starting now — watch the Web cast here), the Manchin administration throws in with that argument. In his prepared testimony, West Virginia Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman — in a broad defense of the coal industry — said his agency doesn’t see any other significant environmental impacts from mountaintop removal:

Without evidence of any significant impact on the rest of the ecosystem beyond the diminished numbers of certain genus of mayflies, the State cannot say that there has been a violation of its [water quality standards].

All this talk of mayflies stems from the fact that, in questioning several mountaintop removal permits, EPA officials cited this study by agency scientists,  which does indeed talk about the impacts from mountaintop removal on mayfly populations downstream from mining operations and valley fills. But as I tried to explain in a story about this study more than a year ago, this isn’t just about mayflies — it’s about mayflies as one measure of overall stream health. We care about mayflies because they are an indicator species that helps us understand broader environmental impacts.

And in more prepared testimony for today’s hearing, a top EPA water quality official went into great detail to make this all clear, and tell lawmakers and the public about the environmental impacts that have his agency — as well as other scientists — concerned.

That EPA official was John “Randy” Pomponio, who is director of environmental assessment and innovation for EPA’s mid-Atlantic regional office in Philadelphia. He started off by reminding us of the direct impacts of streams buried by valley fills:

… Between 1992 and 2002, more than 1,200 miles of Appalachian streams have been filled at an average rate of 120 miles per year by ongoing surface mining practices.

In addition to those impacts:

Valley fills associated with surface coal mining increase the total loading of trace metals and toxic salts (sulfates, magnesium, bicarbonate, and additively–total dissolved solids) to downstream aquatic communities. These dissolved ions are not readily sequestered by the surrounding geology and may ultimately emanate from the fills for decades.

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Over in Washington, the House of Representatives is getting ready to vote tomorrow on the big Waxman-Markey climate change bill, the  American Clean Energy and Security Act. House Democratic leaders are busy trying to round up enough votes to get the bill approved.

Here in West Virginia, Democratic Reps. Nick J. Rahall and Alan Mollohan aren’t saying yet how they will vote. UPDATED, 5:15 P.M. MOLLOHAN HAS ANNOUNCED HE WILL VOTE AGAINS THE BILL.

capito.jpgBut it’s been pretty clear from the start what our other member of Congress, Republican Shelley Moore Capito, was going to do … and she made it even more clear yesterday:

“This bill amounts to a national energy tax on consumers, a tax on business and a tax that we can’t afford. In a state that gets 98% of its electricity from coal and employs thousands of miners, a bill that penalizes domestic energy isn’t a valid option.

“This bill essentially pits states like West Virginia against states like California and Massachusetts, and that’s not the right approach. West Virginians shouldn’t have to subsidize our friends on the coasts, particularly when other options are available.

“I will continue to argue that the bipartisan plan I recently introduced provides an opportunity to invest in renewable energy technology, invest in conservation and invest in clean coal – all without taxing consumers. We need an all-of-the-above energy strategy that capitalizes on all of our nation’s available resources, not one that picks regional winners and losers.”

What’s more interesting is what Rep. Capito didn’t say …

For example, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis, as reported by Climate Progress and Paul Krugman of The New York Times, the legislation would cost an American Household just 18 cents a day (about $65 a year).

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The Tennessee Valley Authority today released its consultant’s report on the “root cause” of the December failure of a coal-ash impoundment in East Tennessee.

The Chattanoogan is describing the conclusions this way:

A combination of the existence of an unusual bottom layer of ash and silt, the high water content of the wet ash, the increasing height of ash, and the construction of the sloping dikes over the wet ash were among the long-evolving conditions that caused a 50-year-old coal ash storage pond breach and subsequent ash spill at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant last Dec. 22, a consultant’s report says.

The full report is available here.

Updated, 1:15 p.m.  Here’s a statement from Lisa Evans, a coal-ash expert with the group Earthjustice:

“In its report, which appears to obfuscate as much as it explains, TVA is casting its billion-gallon coal ash spill as the ‘perfect storm,’ a once-in-a-lifetime event. This type of explanation sounds eerily familiar. When 125 people were killed in the Buffalo Creek coal slurry disaster of 1972, the coal company made the same claims, calling the event an ‘act of God’ to avoid liability, despite the fact that the dam failure was clearly caused by poorly constructed and inspected impoundments.


“By the study author’s own admission, the report did not examine what role agency negligence played in the disaster. TVA’s self-serving version of the truth won’t suffice. We need an immediate investigation by the relevant federal agencies with expertise in dam safety and hazardous substances, namely FEMA’s National Dam Safety Program and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


“In some 1,400 pages the report attempts to bury the most important fact: dumping millions of tons of heavy, wet toxic coal ash in unregulated or poorly regulated impoundments, high above residential areas, is a recipe for disaster, whether that disaster is unleashed in a matter of minutes, or more gradually as the poisons seep through the ground and poison nearby wells.”


“What’s more, we need a full accounting of the locations of all the country’s coal ash dams. EPA has this information but has thus far refused to release it. Nearby communities deserve to know whether they are in harm’s way. This report will do nothing to assure them that they are safe.”


Here’s an Associated Press account of a hearing today in the continued legal fight over the near-disaster in July 2002 at the Quecreek Mine near Somerset, Pa.:

WASHINGTON (AP) — A mining company attorney defended its operations Thursday as the legal wrangling continued nearly seven years since the rescue of nine trapped coal miners in Pennsylvania’s Quecreek Mine.

The Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission heard arguments about whether a judge last fall fairly assessed $110,000 in fines against two companies, PBS Coals Inc. and Musser Engineering Inc., cited for negligence in the 2002 accident. The companies are challenging the fines.

A federal safety panel had previously recommended lesser fines of $5,000 against each company.

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radmacher_100x135.jpgA decade ago, when the mountaintop removal issue blasted its way onto the front pages, my buddy Dan Radmacher was writing commentaries and editorials about it as The Charleston Gazette’s editorial page editor. These days, he’s in charge of the editorial page over at The Roanoke Times. But he still follows the issue, and I asked him to be a guest blogger today and give some reflections on where the issue has been and where it might be headed. (Read his Roanoke Times columns on a variety of issues here)

As I’ve followed the coverage of the growing mountaintop removal protests (mostly right here on Coal Tattoo), I haven’t  known whether to be heartened by the citizen involvement or dismayed that so little has changed since the debate began in earnest back in the late ’90s with Ken’s definitive “Mining the Mountains” series. (See here and here).

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