Coal Tattoo

Friday roundup, Aug. 21, 2009


It turns out American politicians aren’t the only ones who feel compelled to tour coal mine. In the AP photo above, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is shown after he inspected a coal mine in Pyongan Namdo, North Korea, and the Pukchang Thermal Power Complex.

germanyminevisit.jpgAnd the photo to the right shows German Social Democratic candidate for Chancellor, Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier, when he visited the Prosper Haniel coal mine in western Germany.

Here in the U.S., you can view an extensive photo slide show of U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis’ visit to a West Virginia coal mine by clicking here.  Read her Gazette commentary on the trip here. I wonder if President Obama will make a trip underground — or maybe even come visit a mountaintop removal mine and talk with folks who live in the coalfields.

This week brought the sad news of the 10th U.S. coal miner to died on the job so far in 2009.  Fifty-eight-year-old William W. Parrott was killed by a rib roll early Thursday morning at Big Laurel Mining Corp.’s Mine No. 2 in Wise County, Va., according to this preliminary report from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.


Just one day earlier, the West Virginia Blue blog cross-posted this commentary, Legacy of Coal: Honor the Fallen,  which focused on 27-year-old truck driver Jarod Kacer, who was killed on Feb. 27, 2009, when he was crushed by a pile of lumber he was delivering to a coal mine in Perry County, Ill. You can read more details in that post or this MSHA report, but here’s the conclusion:

The accident occurred because mine management’s policies and controls were inadequate and failed to ensure that the truck load of lumber was unloaded in a manner that did not create a hazard to persons.

As I reported in my 2006 project, Beyond Sago, most workers who are killed at coal miners die for similar reasons that boil down to the mine operator’s failure to follow established safety laws, rules and procedures.

The West Virginia Blue post promised more stories like this one:

Legacy of Coal is a newly-launched diary series inspired by the panels at Netroots Nation.  We hope to publicize the issues around coal use and mining, including MTR, the damage to less-politically-powerful areas of our country, and the general impact of energy and economic policy.  Of course, this leads to the broader issues of climate change, health care, and human rights.  While none of us can know everything about these issues, it is by working together we can make a difference.

I also wanted to highlight this week an editorial from The Roanoke Times, where my old buddy Dan Radmacher is editorial page editor. It’s called “The Future of Coal,” and it concludes:

No matter how you look at it, coal is going to become a far more expensive energy source. If CSS can even be developed and implemented on the mammoth scale necessary to make a difference in carbon emissions, that won’t happen until about the time we reach peak coal.

The U.S. is extraordinarily dependent upon coal for the energy that keeps the nation running. Clearly, the time is now to start weaning ourselves from that dependence.

The new edition of my favorite magazine, National Geographic, had a cover story about solar energy.  It also included a sidebar that discussed various energy sources, and asked the question, “Can Solar Save Us.” Included with the sidebar was a chart that showed that — even with a 25-percent renewable requirement (something coal industry supporters don’t like), coal-fired power generation would still increase in the U.S. over the next 20 years. The article says:

Yet even if Congress enacted that ambitious law, coal would still dominate the nation’s electricity portfolio two decades from now, and solar energy would probably remain a minor contributor. Cap-and-trade legislation that sets a price on carbon emissions would not be a magic bullet for solar either. Both mandates would likely lead utilities to favor the cheapest renewables, like wind. Solar would make a sizable contribution only after 2025, once the expansion of wind energy had plateaued.

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, meanwhile, provided this thoughtful essay about moving Appalachia away from the coal mono-economy. Citing a speech by the great Appalachian historian Ron Eller, the essay said:

Though elected officials have generally supported the idea of a more diversified economy, few have had the courage or foresight to talk about the coming day when coal will not dominate the economy or the politics of the region.

That conversation is now changing, thanks to Eller’s challenge, the work of KFTC members, and the realities of the coal-based economy that continues to discard workers.

And, striking a tone that you’ve read before from Coal Tattoo:

All indications are that a successful economic transition in Appalachia, and consequently Kentucky, is possible; but it won’t be easy and Appalachia cannot do it alone.

A couple other great examples of coal-related journalism this week:

First, from my friend Jim Bruggers at the Courier-Journal in Louisville, a story from eastern Kentucky, about how “the earth has been blown apart to reveal the valuable rock underneath — ironically, to help clean dirty power plants fueled by coal. Limestone, it turns out, is the key ingredient for stripping sulfur dioxide from smokestacks, helping to reduce acid rain and asthma-inducing haze.”

Another piece, by Bill Estep in the Lexington Herald-Leader,  told us, “Surface mining in the steep-sided hills of Appalachia stretches back generations, but the practice expanded rapidly through the 1960s and ’70s because of advances in methods and machinery to uncover coal.”

And in The Washington Post,  Kari Lydersen wrote a story about how the nation’s utilities may try to get exemptions for their aging power plants to new pollution rules being considered as part of the climate change legislation working through Congress.


In its piece, How to Kill a Coal Plant,  tells the story of protests against a British coal plant that is very relevant to what’s going on in Southern West Virginia this summer in the battle against mountaintop removal mining:

This year, in a series of escalating initiatives, environmentalists in the area have chained themselves to rock trucks, obstructed coal roads, and climbed up a huge crane-line mining machine to halt its work.

On his Dot Earth blog, Andy Revkin wrote about how India is shopping around Appalachia for coal to help fuel its expanding economy.  And here’s a related blog post from Sierra Club President Carl Pope, and this one from Jeff Biggers at The Huffington Post.

On his Power Line blog, Bill Howley wrote two pieces about a major federal court decision he says may doom the PATH and TrAIL power lines. See those here and here, and a copy of the decision here.

Over in Kentucky, this week also included the dedication of a miners’ memorial in Harlan County,  a project put together by the brave and inspiring Stella Morris, whose late husband, Bud Morris, was the subject of one of my Beyond Sago stories and whose photo Stella kindly allowed me to use in Coal Tattoo’s masthead.


Secretary of State Natalie Tennant (front, from left) and Gov. Joe Manchin and West Virginia Young Democrats Chris Hatton (back, from left), Dustin Burgess, Justin Williams and Justin Marcum take part Friday in the official event announcing the creation of West Virginia Coal Miner Appreciation Day. Gazette photo by Chip Ellis.

Here in West Virginia, Gov. Joe Manchin and the Young Democrats  announced the creation of West Virginia Coal Miner Appreciation Day. The annual event will be the Sunday before Labor Day.

Meanwhile, the sign-ups for the big coal love-fest concert on Labor Day have topped 25,000, according to a story in the Daily Mail.  George Hohmann had previously commented that the event was likely to upstage the UMWA’s annual Labor Day rally in Racine. Environmental activist Dave Cooper had a different take, questioning  in a Huffington Post piece whether an event featuring Ted Nugent is really likely to be family friendly.  Several coal folks pointed out to me that Nugent is going to emcee the event, I guess meaning any little kids attending won’t be exposed to the words to Cat Scratch Fever or Wang Dang Sweet P*****g.

A few other interesting pieces this week:

We are all from Wise County

—  A neat slide show on America’s coal consumption.

—  A talk on C-Span from Silas House about the new mountaintop removal book, Something’s Rising.

— An item about the Ontario government setting a deadline for getting rid of coal.

There’s also word about another new book on mountaintop removal, this one called Plundering Appalachia.

This weekend at the Capitol here in Charleston, there’s a CD release party/concert for Still Moving Mountains: The Journey Home, another collection of music about mountains, strip-mining and the people of Appalachia. It starts at 2 p.m. More information available at the link.

Finally, make sure to check out the new coal coloring book, Eyes for Frosty,  brought to us by Families Organized to Represent the Coal Economy (FORCE) — a group that doesn’t actually allow families to join.   Read one take on the coloring book from Grist.