Coal Tattoo

Friday roundup, Aug. 7, 2009


Yessica Valdez, left, and Jorge Arena grieve for their relative Jairo Valdez, one of nine coal miners who were killed in an explosion, at the entrance of the mine in Amaga, Colombia, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009. Two miners were evacuated alive. (AP Photo/Luis Benavides)

Eight miners were killed yesterday in a methane gas explosion at a coal mine in Colombia, according to a report from Reuters.

Closer to home, the big coal story this week seemed to be the growing revelations about a major industry public relations and lobby group’s faking of letters to members of Congress to create the appearance of citizen opposition to the global warming bill.

There was plenty of coverage to go around, including in Greenwire via The New York Times and in The Washington Post. Also, a reader pointed out this item in the blog Dirt Diggers Digest on this whole scam.

For those who missed it, employees an employee of a contract firm hired by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy (ACCCE)  forged the letters to members of Congress. ACCCE made out like this was just some horrible mistake by contract employees it had no control over … but as the folks at Think Progress pointed out, the coal industry group knew about this fraud BEFORE the House voted on the Waxman-Markey bill, but said nothing about it.

And the Talking Points Memo noted that this isn’t the first time this coal promoters have gotten caught pulling this kind of nonsense. The scandal continues to grow, as reported by Facing South and the Post. And lawmakers are demanding answers and an investigation.

joe_lucas.jpgUnfortunately for ACCCE, a story also appeared this week in the Guardian about mountaintop removal, in which ACCCE mouthpiece Joe Lucas uttered the standard (and totally unsupportable) industry claim that Appalachian needs more mountaintop removal because we need more flat land for economic development:

I can take you to places in eastern Kentucky where community services were hampered because of a lack of flat space — to build factories, to build hospitals, even to build schools. In many places, mountain-top mining, if done responsibly, allows for land to be developed for community space.

That got Lucas nailed by Think Progress, and  ridiculed by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who said the whole thing amounted to nothing less than mail fraud by the coal guys, and pointed out that the contract firm, Bonner and Associates, had done the same sort of thing numerous times before.

Have the coal lobbyists learned their lesson? Doesn’t sound like it, at least according to these comments from Lucas, quoted in by Greenwire, about ACCCE hiring the same firm again for a new PR effort on behalf of coal:

While the issue involving these falsified letters is a very serious matter, an outrageous matter, it still remains to be an isolated incident. We’re not going to throw the baby out with the bath water here.

And if you think this is just standard, beltway kind of stuff, remember that the West Virginia Coal Association has been taking advice from ACCCE on how to convince West Virginians to oppose the global warming bill. In fact, I ran into someone from ACCCE at that top secret coal industry meeting I crashed last week. ACCCE has been putting out West Virginia-specific press releases on these issues, and monitoring Twitter feeds and Web chats here at the Gazette on coal-related issues.

UPDATED, 3 P.M.:  In addition, check out the list of member companies that support ACCCE. It’s posted here and includes CONSOL Energy, International Coal Group, American Electric Power, Allegheny Energy and CSX.

Phew. OK, some more of the news and commentary from the week …

Another story that I think should have been big, but didn’t get too much attention from the national media was the confirmation hearing for President Obama’s nominee to be director of the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, Joseph G. Pizarchik. You can read previous Coal Tattoo posts on this here, and my story for the Gazette is here. Other coverage came from West Virginia Public Broadcasting, ABC News and my buddy Don Hopey at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. JeffBiggers had a blistering commentary on Pizarchik for the Huffington Post.

The Associated Press reports that Maryland officials have approved  an underground coal mine that would tunnel beneath the Casselman River, a popular trout stream. Environmental groups have promised to continue to right the proposal.

Closer to home, Logan County residents are worried about proposals for two new mines in their community, and The Power Line blog reminds us why the PATH power line issue is a story about coal.

The Sierra Club has announced that lawyers Jim Hecker and Joe Lovett (of Public Justice and the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, respectively) have the club’s 2009 William O. Douglas Award. This award recognizes those who have made outstanding use of the legal/judicial process to achieve environmental goals, particularly those with national significance. The award will be presented in San Francisco at the Club’s annual dinner on September 26, 2009.

Out west, the AP had a story about how the state of New Mexico doesn’t much like the Obama administration’s plans to stop letting states spend coal-tax money from the AML program on other projects.

The Pump Handle blog explains why it’s good news that Greg Wagner has been named as a top official over at the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Finally, Greenpeace protesters these week spent 36 hours chained and dangling from  the top of an Australian coal terminal to highlight inaction on global warming … Here are some photos via AP: