Coal Tattoo

Friday roundup, Sept. 11, 2009


In this Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2009 photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, rescue workers enter the Xinhua No. 4 coal mine in Xinhua district of Pingdingshan city, central China’s Henan Province. An explosion at an illegal coal mine killed 35 miners in central China’s Henan province Tuesday and left another 44 men trapped, the government said. An initial investigation showed that the mine in Pingdingshan city had been operating illegally at the time, the official Xinhua News Agency said. The mine’s owners have been placed under police surveillance and the company’s bank accounts have been frozen. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Zhaojiuyuan Peng) 

Two mining accidents earlier this week in China killed a total of 57 workers.  So far, 44 people have died and 35 are still trapped underground after a gas explosion at a coal mine on Tuesday in Pingdingshan city, according to a report quoting official government news agencies.Thirteen people, including miners and rescue personnel, were killed when a fire erupted at a gold mine in the city of Sanmenxia.

Interestingly, at least 20 mine managers have been arrested, fired or suspended following this deaths … And, as The New York Times reported, the coal-mine explosion came three days after one of China’s senior leaders proclaimed coal-mine safety to be among the nation’s top priorities.

rally12_i090907204958.jpgMeanwhile, here in the U.S., the president of a coal company not exactly know for its great safety record was wrapping himself in the flag at a self-proclaimed “Friends of America” rally held on a holiday set aside to honor our nation’s workers.  Over at The Pump Handle blog, my friend Celeste Monforton wrote a Labor Day post that quoted from the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.  Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.  Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.   Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

And on his blog, The Goat Rope, my buddy Rick Wilson urged his readers to take a look at Davitt McAteer’s report on the Aracoma Mine Fire, where two of Massey President Don Blankenhip’s miners died, to get a flavor for Blankenship’s “devotion to coal mine health and safety.” And the Herald-Leader in Lexington had this to say about Blankenship’s speech at the rally:

Blankenship can command a huge audience, level mountains and buy elected officials (though not respect). He should not presume to speak for the people of Appalachia, however, or God.

One of the key points of Blankenship’s rally was to show how much folks in the coalfields hate the idea of tougher regulation of strip mining and, especially, how much everybody in this part of the country opposes any legislation to deal with climate change.

And the local news media are falling right in line, or at least the Charleston Daily Mail is. Sometimes I wonder if the folks who write the DM’s editorials read their own newspaper, though … take this week’s editorial, “A big difference in public messages: Some W.Va. leaders are ducking the fight against cap-and-trade.”

Among other things, the editorial noted that discussions at Blankenship’s rally “centered on the danger that Obama’s cap-and-trade scheme poses to West Virginia’s coal industry and the state’s economy.” The editorial also quoted an “analysis” by WVU economist Tom Witt about the bill’s impacts (I asked Witt for a copy of his study, and he told me this week he doesn’t have anything in writing yet).

Yet the Daily Mail’s news columns contained a story that described the economic benefits to West Virginians from the energy efficiency provisions of the American Clean Energy and Security Act (I also did a Gazette story on this issue, here).  Among other things, the study both stories were based on concluded that the benefits of the legislation would outweigh the costs. No mention of that in the DM’s editorial.

Of course, it’s hard to blame the Daily Mail, when you’ve got West Virginia’s leading business lobbyist, Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts, putting his name on op-ed commentaries trashing the climate change bill.  Of course, not all state business leaders are taking this position … and the Daily Mail’s news columns also point this out. That story on energy efficiency provisions of the bill? In it, reporter Michelle Saxton pointed out that Charleston-based Appalachian Power and its parent company, American Electric Power — one of the company’s largest coal-fired utilities — supports the legislation. Daily Mail reporter Ry Rivard pointed out the same thing in a story in the previous day’s Daily Mail.

Not for nothing, but there was also a very interesting report released this week by the Institute for Policy Integrity at the New York University School of Law. Called, The Other Side of the Coin, the report concludes that the “economic benefits of the emissions cap in the Waxman-Markey bill likely dwarf the costs by as much as 9-to-1 or more.”

And I also wanted to be sure to point out an op-ed commentary from last Sunday’s Gazette-Mail by my buddy Ted Boettner at the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. Ted calls for West Virginia to do more to diversify our economy and create green, sustainable jobs:

While other states are moving forward, West Virginia remains behind and out or step. We have no green economic strategy, no studies on the feasibility of green jobs in our state, no direct public investment. Our state’s lack of commitment is highly unfortunate because green jobs typically pay about 10 to 20 percent more than other jobs and are one of the fastest growing sectors in the economy. Over the next decade, the federal government will invest billions in green industries. West Virginia will need a long-term strategy and action plan if we expect to take advantage of this job creation opportunity.

West Virginia must set up its own green jobs task force to explore the state’s potential and possibilities in the green economy. A green jobs task force should include members of the business and faith communities, labor organizations, non-profits, government officials, and representatives from the state’s universities and technical and community colleges. This task force should be charged with developing a set of concrete policies aimed at increasing the supply of green jobs along with measures to increase the demand for green products and services.

In other news and commentary this week:

— EPA finally released for public review the details of its survey of all utilities nationwide about their coal-ash disposal practices and impoundment sites. The data is all here.  The AP’s Dina Cappiello had a nationwide review of the EPA data release, and Jim Bruggers at the Courier-Journal provided strong coverage focused on his part of the world in Kentucky and Indiana.

— Problems continue for the industry front group called the American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy, with Duke Energy and Alstom both dropping out of the organization and Congressional investigators finding another forged letter sent by the group’s PR outfit.

— For a great look at the way energy companies have been talking out of both sides of their mouths on climate change, take a look at this story from the National Journal:

As the Senate prepares to return to Washington and resume its debate over climate change legislation, energy companies are walking a fine line. Many have dual membership in groups on opposing sides of the issue, and their attempts to play both sides are becoming increasingly apparent — and potentially damaging to the companies and the coalitions alike.


— From Illinois, there was an interesting story by the AP’s Jim Suhr, looking at the problems caused by abandoned coal mines, such as the cracked walls and floors inside the Benld Elementary School shown in the AP photo above.

— In Kentucky, the great Mountain Eagle reports that a judge has oredered coal miner Scott Howard to be immediately reinstated to his job after he was retaliated against by management at Arch Coal’s  Cumberland River Coal Co. mine for his safety complaints and other protected activity. More also from The Pump Handle.

— Out in Washington state, the state Department of Ecology says a proposed agreement with TransAlta will reduce air pollution at the state’s only coal-fired power plant in Centralia.

— It was big news to Washington insiders and to folks who follow the green jobs movement when Obama adviser Van Jones resigned following a series of attacks by Fox News (for more on that, read this from Climate Progress).  In his Huffington Post commentary, Jeff Biggers pointed out some comments Jones had previously made about coal miners and mountaintop removal:

“I think it’s important that we be respectful of all the contributions that have been made by all workers. Even our coal workers are heros in a way… in that they’ve been asked to sacrifice their lungs, their health, their communities. We’re now asking our coal miners to blow up their grandmother’s mountains! Awful… Mountain top removal and strip-mining… Those coal miners don’t set the energy policy in this country but they have to make the sacrifices to carry it out.

I think that sometimes we aren’t respectful enough, that we’re not as encouraging and honoring of the people who have gotten America to this point.”