Coal Tattoo

What does coal cost Kentucky?


The coal industry takes $115 million more from Kentucky’s state government annually in services and programs than it contributes in taxes.

That’s the lead of the lead of the Lexington Herald-Leader’s story today about a new study examining the costs and benefits of coal-mining on Kentucky.

The study comes on the heels of a peer-reviewed paper by a West Virginia University researcher that found the coal industry costs the Appalachian region five times more in early deaths than it provides in economic benefits. The Kentucky study was put together by the Berea-based Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, or MACED, which spent a year examining the coal industry’s impact on the state’s general fund and road fund. (Who is MACED? Find out here).

The study is available here. It want to point out that this is not, as the WVU study was, a scientific paper published in a peer-reviewed journal. But it’s still newsworthy.

Of course, my buddy Bill Caylor at the Kentucky Coal Association doesn’t need to read the study to challenge it, as the Herald-Leader’s intrepid John Cheves pointed out:

Bill Caylor, who lobbies Frankfort for the Kentucky Coal Association, said he didn’t know about the study and thus had no specific rebuttal, but he’s sure it’s inaccurate. The coal industry contributes plenty and is the largest private employer in some Eastern Kentucky counties, Caylor said.

“I’ve got a lot of choice words that I could offer on this, but it would sound pretty bad,” Caylor said. “It’s voodoo economics.”

Continue reading…

UMWA Journal blasts Massey’s Blankenship


The latest issue of the United Mine Workers Journal takes on one of the union’s longtime opponents, Massey Energy Don Blankenship, with a lengthy article called, “Don’s World: Massey Energy’s CEO defines a rogue coal company.”

Of course, the UMWA’s beef with Blankenship goes back to the mid-1980s strike. But the story focuses on more recent events, including the Harman Mining case, Blankenship’s involvement in West Virginia politics more generally, and recent workplace safety and environmental problems at Massey operations.

It quotes UMWA President Cecil Roberts:

Coal can be mined in an environmentally responsible way. But in many respects, Massey has chosen not to do it that way, and the result has been to give the coal industry a black eye. As public scrutiny gets raised about coal and coal mining, Massey gives those who oppose coal something to point to as they bad-mouth our entire industry.

The article continues:

In Don Blankenship’s world, the coal industry should hunker down behind the Appalachian mountains and do nothing but call names and make enemies. He somehow appears to think that if he can ignore the issues surrounding coal and the future of coal, or if he says enough bad things about the politicians in Washington, then they will go away and leave the coal industry alone.

Roberts says:

“That is a recipe for failure … Don’s solution is to make the politicians do their worst and then try to gain some political advantage from it. That won’t lead to a single additional ounce of coal being mined, or a single coal job being saved.”


Hey folks, I have received permission from the journal Public Health Reports to post a copy of the recent West Virginia University study on the costs and benefits of the Appalachian coal industry.

So here it is.

Previous coverage of the study is here, and the transcript of Michael Hendryx’s online chat is here.


Photo by Vivian Stockman, showing aerial view of mountaintop removal and slurry impoundment above Marsh Fork Elementary School in Raleigh County, W.Va.

Environmental groups and the coal industry are both gearing up for tomorrow’s big Senate subcommittee hearing on mountaintop removal.

Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md. and chairman of the water and wildlife subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, called the hearing to take testimony on mountaintop removal and specifically on his Appalachian Restoration Act. The legislation — a mere two pages long — would remove “excess spoil” (the stuff that used to be the mountains) from surface coal mines from the definition of “fill material” that can be approved for dumping into streams under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

Scheduled witnesses include Randy Pomponio, director of environmental assessment for EPA’s Region 3 office, West Virginia activist Maria Gunnoe, W.Va. Environmental Secretary Randy Huffman, and Margaret Palmer, a scientist from the University of Maryland.

Continue reading…


Hundreds of people on both sides of the mountaintop removal issue gather along W.Va. 3 Tuesday outside Massey Energy’s Goals Coal Co. processing and shipping plant.  Gazette photo by Chris Dorst.

SUNDIAL, W.Va. — It was quite a scene outside Massey Energy’s Goals Coal Co. operation Tuesday.

First, there were the protesters — a mix of West Virginia residents and those darned out-of-state agitators — playing some hillbilly music, doing some speechifying, and then marching down W.Va. 3 in the hopes of being carted off by State Police troopers, joining the ranks of those who have been arrested in the growing civil disobedience campaign against mountaintop removal.

minersprotest.jpg Then, there were the miners and their families. They revved up motorcycle engines, honked air horns and did one heck of a lot of yelling, all trying to drown out the protesters. Then, of course, they massed together, blocking the entrance to the mine site, thwarting any hopes the other side had of trespassing on Massey property.

And oh yeah, Daryl Hannah was there — and she smiled and waved as she got hauled off in a nice, blue-and-gold trooper cruiser. There was also some guy named James Hansen, who happens to be one of the world’s top climate scientists. He got arrested, too.


Continue reading…

About that big debate …


NASA climate scientist James Hansen was among those arrested Tuesday protesting mountaintop removal outside a Massey Energy operation in Raleigh County, W.Va. Gazette photo by Christ Dorst.

We’ve had more questions from readers about whether the debate between climate scientist James Hansen and Massey Energy President Don Blankenship is on or off … I wish I could say for sure.

The best information available right now probably comes from my friend Scott Finn over at West Virginia Public Broadcasting, who was working pretty hard to try to pull this one off. According to this post from the public broadcasting Web site, it doesn’t look good:

Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship and NASA climatologist James Hansen have agreed to debate one another – just in two different places at two different times.

Hansen says he will stay an extra day in West Virginia after today’s protest for a debate. He accepted an offer to attend an event at Mountain State University at 1 p.m., moderated by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

But …

In a statement today, Blankenship said he would debate Hansen at a live televised event at WOWK-TV, part of West Virginia Media.

“This televised debate will enable the most West Virginians to participate in the discussion involving these important issues for the state,” said Mr. Blankenship. “I look forward to a productive dialogue about the future of Appalachia and the economic vitality of the West Virginia.”

When  I talked to Hansen today before his arrest at the Marsh Fork protest, he sounded like he wasn’t planning to stay beyond Wednesday, after already extending his visit for a day to try to work something out with Blankenship.

But we’ll see …

Updated, noon Wednesday: Blankenship issued the following statement regarding the protests:

“Today, more than ever, America needs jobs, affordable energy and energy independence.  I am confident that coal can help us meet these needs, and I believe that we should have a meaningful dialogue about the role coal must play in our energy and economic policies.

“The protests and pointless arrests by Dr. Hansen, a Hollywood actress and their friends do nothing to move such a conversation forward.

“It is my desire that a meaningful discussion of the issues will end these pointless protests that waste the taxpayers’ money and put our miners and law enforcement personnel at risk.

“In an effort to have real discussion about the real issues that affect real working families I have accepted an offer by  West Virginia Media television stations on Thursday, June 25 at 7:00 PM to debate Dr. Hansen.  I hope we have this opportunity to debate these important issues.”

M.K. McFarland, the Gazette’s multimedia director, was on hand today at the big mountaintop removal protest down at Marsh Fork Elementary School.  Here’s some of her work:

And we also have more photos by the Gazette’s Chris Dorst, available here.


Actress Daryl Hannah is arrested by West Virginia State Police Tuesday, June 23, 2009 following a mountaintop removal mining protest in Naoma, W.Va. She was among several hundred protesters who held a rally outside Marsh Fork Elementary school that sits about 300 feet away from a Massey Energy coal processing plant. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)

Hey, Coal Tattoo readers … Sorry to not have provided any news yet today on the big protest down in Raleigh County, W.Va. We’ve just posted a brief story here, and we’ll have more soon.


Fixing existing coal-fired power plants is a key for the coal industry if it wants to remain part of the world’s energy mix in a carbon-constrained future, according to the latest report published by the folks at MIT’s Energy Initiative.

The new report suggests:

…An intermediate step that could get construction moving again, allowing the nation to fend off growing electricity shortages using our most-abundant, least-expensive fuel while also reducing emissions.

Instead of capturing all of its CO2 emissions, plants could capture a significant fraction of those emissions with less costly changes in plant design and operation.

Continue reading…


The folks at Climate Ground Zero have put together a slicker version of the video from last week’s anti-Massey Energy protest (slicker than the one I previously posted here on Coal Tattoo).

It’s posted on YouTube, so it’s a little easier to watch. But it also includes more narrative and some editorial commentary. Climate Ground Zero Director Mike Roselle said:

By releasing this footage we can clearly demonstrate that protesters were not involved in any violence, did not assault anyone and were even allowed by the operator to climb the stairway leading up the boom. People can look at this footage and judge for themselves, but we think it proves that Massey’s claims that the protestors were violent are not supported by the facts. It was a non violent demonstration, and like the other peaceful protest that have been held to stop mountain top removal since early February no one was threatened or harmed in any way.

Continue reading…

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court paved the way for a gold-mining company to pump hundreds of thousands of gallons per day of toxic wastewater slurry into an Alaskan lake, killing its fish and other aquatic life.

There are reports from The New York Times,  The Associated Press, Reuters, and the Anchorage Daily News.

The complete ruling is available here, and some background from a previous Coal Tattoo guest blogger, Derek Teaney of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, is available here.

Earthjustice is saying that the ruling shows the need for a reversal of the Bush administration’s changes to the Clean Water Act “fill rule,” or for legislation to reverse those changes.

There is more commentary here from Berkeley Law’s environmental law blog,  and tons more background on the case from ScotusWiki.

I hope to write more in coming days about what this ruling means for mountaintop removal.

hendryxpic1.jpgHere’s the transcript of today’s Online Chat with West Virginia University’s Michael Hendryx about his new study on the costs and benefits of coal mining

Gary Harki:  Good afternoon and welcome.

Gary Harki:  The live chat with WVU researcher Michael Hendryx will begin in a few minutes. Feel free to go ahead and submit questions.

Michael Hendryx:  Thanks Gary for setting this up, and to everyone for taking time to participate.   I’ll try to answer any questions as best I can.

Ken Ward Jr.:  You all can also check out our coverage of the WVU coal study on the Coal Tattoo blog.

Ken Ward Jr.:  Thanks to Dr. Hendryx for taking the time to join us.

Gary Harki:  Thanks again for taking the time to do this, Mr. Hendryx. I think we’re ready to begin.

Gary Harki:  Ken, why don’t you start us off with a question.

Ken Ward Jr.:  To start off, Dr. Hendryx, could you just give us a quick summary of your findings?

Michael Hendryx:  It is hard to get an exact answer to that question because it is hard to separate out the effects of mountain top mining from other mining, as all forms of mining are taking place in close proximity to each other.   But best as we can tell, direct effects include air pollution from increased surface disturbance (explosives, removing overburden), water pollution from drainage, stream spoilage, and water pollution from coal cleaning.

Continue reading…


Mountaintop removal mining is always a popular topic for editorials.

Last week, I mentioned the  editorial that was published the same day as the Post’s news columns got the scoop interview on the Obama administration’s plans for dealing with mountaintop removal permits.

But, the folks over at The New York Times editorial page decided to celebrate West Virginia Day  with their own response to Obama’s plan. Headline “More than stopgaps for Appalachia,” the Times editorial is quite different from the Post’s:

The coal-mining practice known as mountaintop removal has inflicted great harm on streams and valleys throughout Appalachia. The Obama administration has now taken several useful steps to limit future damage. But these are stopgap measures, well short of the permanent protections needed.

Continue reading…

hendryxpic1.jpgHey gang, we’ve thrown together a quick Web Chat for this afternoon with Michael Hendryx, author of the West Virginia University study examining the costs and benefits of the coal industry to Appalachia.

We’ll start at 2 p.m. Visit our Web site to take part.


This just in, from NASA climate scientist James Hansen, in response to Massey Energy President Don Blankenship’s challenge to debate global warming, the coal industry and the West Virginia economy. I received this note from Dr. Hansen, who asked that I forward the information on to Blankenship … I’ve done that, and I’m sharing it with Coal Tattoo readers as well:

Dear Don,

Thanks for your offer to publicly discuss climate change, human-made global warming, and its implications for the coal industry in general and mountaintop removal in particular.  That is an excellent suggestion.  I would be glad to participate in a format that allows the public to become better acquainted with the science and its implications.

I had planned to return to a meeting in Washington immediately after the activities at your place on Tuesday, but to accommodate a public discussion, I will stay another day.  I expect that we will be able to find a school auditorium that would be well-suited for presentations and discussion.  I am scouting that out now and will get back to you with specific information.

Usually I spend close to an hour on a climate science discussion for the public, but I can shorten that to about 40 minutes, so that you can have a similar time to present your views, if you would like that much time.  You are welcome to speak either before or after me.  After we have both spoken, we can open it up for discussion with the public.

If for any reason you are unable to find time for this discussion on Wednesday, I will give my talk anyhow.  Hopefully the public will then be able to get back to you with information and questions about how your practices relate to climate, the environment, and the future that will be faced by young people and future generations.

Thanks again for your helpful suggestion.  I very much agree on the importance of reaching out to the public and increasing public understanding of scientific matters.

Jim Hansen

Stay tuned, folks … I’ll update Coal Tattoo as soon as we have any more information on how this debate is going to be worked into the schedule for tomorrow’s big protest down in the Coal River Valley.

Updated, 10:50 a.m.:

Hansen has a new commentary on Yale’s Environment 360 blog called “A Plea to President Obama: End Mountaintop Removal.”   He writes:

The Obama administration is being forced into a political compromise. It has sacrificed a strong position on mountaintop removal in order to ensure the support of coal-state legislators for a climate bill. The political pressures are very real. But this is an approach to coal that defeats the purpose of the administration’s larger efforts to fight climate change, a sad political bargain that will never get us the change we need on mountaintop removal, coal or the climate. Coal is the linchpin in mitigating global warming, and it’s senseless to allow cheap mountaintop-removal coal while the administration is simultaneously seeking policies to boost renewable energy.

Mountaintop removal, which provides a mere 7 percent of the nation’s coal, is done by clear-cutting forests, blowing the tops off of mountains, and then dumping the debris into streambeds — an undeniably catastrophic

We must make clear that we the people want a move toward a rapid phase-out of coal emissions now.

way of mining. This technique has buried more than 800 miles of Appalachian streams in mining debris and by 2012 will have serious damaged or destroyed an area larger than Delaware. Mountaintop removal also poisons water supplies and pollutes the air with coal and rock dust. Coal ash piles are so toxic and unstable that the Department of Homeland Security has declared that the location of the nation’s 44 most hazardous coal ash sites must be kept secret. They fear terrorists will find ways to spill the toxic substances. But storms and heavy rain can do the same. A recent collapse in Tennessee released 100 times more hazardous material than the Exxon-Valdez oil spill.

 If the Obama administration is unwilling or unable to stop the massive environmental destruction of historic mountain ranges and essential drinking water for a relatively tiny amount of coal, can we honestly believe they will be able to phase out coal emissions at the level necessary to stop climate change? The issue of mountaintop removal is so important that I and others concerned about this problem will engage in an act of civil disobedience on June 23rd at a mountaintop removal site in Coal River Valley, West Virginia.

… We must make clear to Congress, to the EPA, and to the Obama administration that we the people want mountaintop removal abolished and we want a move toward a rapid phase-out of coal emissions now. The time for half measures and caving in to polluting industries is over. It is time for citizens to demand — yes, we can.

Weighing coal’s costs and benefits


Sunday’s Gazette-Mail includes a story I did on the latest study by West Virginia University researcher Michael Hendryx,  who has over the last couple of years been doing fascinating and important work about coal’s impacts on Appalachia.

As I explained in the story, this latest study:

…Questions the idea that coal is good for West Virginia and other Appalachian communities, and recommends that political leaders consider other alternatives for improving the region’s economy and quality of life.

hendryxpic1.jpgHendryx and his co-author, Melissa Ahern of Washington State University in Spokane, compared age-adjusted mortality rates and socioeconomic conditions across Appalachian counties with varying amounts of coal mining, and with other counties in the nation. They converted the mortality figures to something called the Value of Statistical Life (VSL) estimates, and then compared that to accepted numbers for the economic benefits of the coal industry to our region.

The result?

The coal industry generates a little more than $8 billion a year in economic benefits for the Appalachian region. But, they put the value of premature deaths attributable to the mining industry across the Appalachian coalfields at — by a most conservative estimate — $42 billion.

The authors conclude:

The human cost of the Appalachian coal mining economy outweighs its economic benefits.

And, they recommend:

In response to this and other research showing the disadvantages of poor economic diversification, it seems prudent to examine how more diverse employment opportunities for the region could be developed as a means to reduce socio-economic and environmental disparities and thereby improve public health.

Potential alternative employment opportunities include development of renewable energy from wind, solar, biofuels, geothermal, or hydropower sources; sustainable timber; small-scale agriculture; outdoor or culturally oriented tourism; technology; and ecosystem restoration.

The need to develop alternative economies becomes even more important when we realize that coal reserves throughout most of Appalachia are projected to peak and then enter permanent decline in about 20 years.

Continue reading…

Happy West Virginia Day!


Click here to hear my friend and fellow West Virginia native Kathy Mattea sing one of my favorite songs about our state…


Hey folks, this just in, and I wanted to pass it along … video of yesterday’s protest at the Massey Energy Twilight Mine in Boone County.

Click here and then hit the play button, but beware, there is some bad language sprinkled throughout. I’ll let the video speak for itself …


Massey Energy President Don Blankenship has challenged one of the world’s top climate scientists to a debate on global warming.

Blankenship’s announcement came this afternoon, after word came out that renowned NASA scientist James Hansen would be attending an anti-mountaintop removal protest next week in Southern West Virginia.

Blankenship said he’s:

…More than willing to invite Dr. Hansen to have a factual discussion about coal mining in West Virginia, which provides thousands of jobs in the state and provides low-cost energy to millions of Americans.

I look forward to hearing from Dr. Hansen, as I’m sure a productive dialogue – not publicity arrests – is what Dr. Hansen, a university professor who values an exchange of ideas, surely, must desire.

I tried to reach Hansen this afternoon via e-mail and telephone, but have not been able to as of yet.

Hansen, of course, is one of the world’s top experts on climate science,  having warned Congress more than 20 years ago of the problems of global warming. I’ve written before about his views on coal and mountaintop removal.

Blankenship? He’s made it very clear that he doesn’t believe in global warming:

Yesterday’s anti-mountaintop removal protest in Boone County clearly didn’t turn out exactly the way its organizers hoped. As of earlier this afternoon, four or the activists were still in jail, after being charged with battery for allegedly shoving their way onto a Massey Energy dragline.

As I wrote previously, what happened in the early morning hours at the Twilight Mine will be sorted out in criminal court. But surely both sides of this debate could agree to avoid any more of this nonsense on Tuesday, when the anti-mountaintop removal groups have planned a huge protest — scheduled to be headlined by actress Daryl Hannah (above, from the 1984 Ron Howard film, Splash) and renowned NASA climate scientist James Hansen (below), and longtime West Virginia political leader and strip-mining opponent Ken Hechler.


I’m told that the event will focus on Marsh Fork Elementary school, which sits below a huge Massey slurry impoundment, and that after a few speeches:

… The crowd will march a short distance to Massey Energy’s office of operations. Standing in defiance at the Massey Energy property line of a mountaintop removal mining operation Dr. Hansen, Representative Hechler and dozens of Coal River Valley residents will risk arrest in a line crossing civil disobedience, the next big step in stopping mountaintop removal where it starts.