Friday roundup, Nov. 20, 2009

November 20, 2009 by Ken Ward Jr.


Well, folks, postings on Coal Tattoo are going to be pretty scarce for a week or so … I’ll be back online full-time after Thanksgiving. Hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday next week.

But first, one last blast with a roundup of coal-related news and commentary from the last week.

There were several stories this week that focused on efforts by West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller to stall consideration of the climate change bill while he works to get more in it to protect the coal industry. Those stories came from Politico and  The Hill.

Scientific American had a somewhat related piece titled, What will it take to force political action on climate change.  And thanks to Joseph Romm at Climate Progress for pointing out a Time magazine piece that pointed out that the science of climate change is growing much more dire as inaction to limit greenhouse emissions continues. Meanwhile, the Guardian points out that global temperatures could  rise by 6 degrees C by the end of this century. Jeff Biggers at The Huffington Post continues to wonder when a top Obama administration official will visit coal country to take a look at mountaintop removal mining up close.

Forbes reports that coal isn’t dead, while Virginia Tech is launching a major study with NIOSH of mine ventilation, aimed at examining to look at the effects of mine bumps, roof falls and explosions on underground mine ventilation systems.

Environmental groups are filing a lawsuit over coal-ash pollution from a Prince George’s County, Md., landfill, and  West Virginia Blue had this interesting piece about economic benefits of dealing with climate change.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting had this interesting piece about a mine permit debate in Mercer County,  and this one about the follow-up to the Dunkard Creek disaster. The New York Times published this piece about coal towns in China.

And make sure not to miss Massey Energy President Don Blankenship’s latest comments on climate change here.

14 Responses to “Friday roundup, Nov. 20, 2009”

  1. Clem Guttata says:

    Speaking of coal in China, there’s another horrible mining disaster unfolding there: The current count is: 42 killed, 66 trapped in this tragic accident.

  2. rhmooney3 says:

    (Strong words requiring strong actions to walk the talk)

    November 18, 2009
    But with the regulatory change expected to take many months, the department said it was also taking “immediate actions” to strengthen the federal oversight of the mountaintop mining activities.

    “Through tougher oversight and stronger enforcement … we are putting all hands on deck to ensure that Appalachian communities are protected,” said Joe Pizarchik, director of the department’s Office of Surface Mining.

  3. rhmooney3 says:

    Thursday November 4th, 2009 in room 406 at Allen Hall at the Evansdale campus of West Virginia University Dr. Duane Nichols gave a talk on the status of Dunkard Creek. Here is a synopsis of the relevant environmental information …

  4. rhmooney3 says:

    November 24, 2009
    Judge sides with environmental groups in coal case

    OVEC v. US. Army Corp, 3:08-979
    November 24, 2009

  5. rhmooney3 says:

    November 25, 2009
    Interior floats plans for mountaintop mining

    Stream Buffer Zone and Related Rules

    AGENCY: Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, Interior.

    ACTION: Advance notice of proposed rulemaking; notice of intent to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS).

    SUMMARY: We, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM), are seeking comments on our intention to revise our regulations concerning the conduct of mining activities in or near streams. We have determined that revision of the stream buffer zone (SBZ) rule published on December 12, 2008, is necessary to implement the interagency action plan that the Administration has developed to significantly reduce the harmful environmental consequences of surface coal mining operations in Appalachia, while ensuring that future mining remains consistent with federal law. In this notice, we describe and seek comment on the alternatives that we are considering for revision of the SBZ rule. In addition, we request your help in identifying significant issues, studies, and specific alternatives that we should consider in the SEIS for this rulemaking initiative.

    The June 11, 2009, memorandum of understanding (MOU) implementing the interagency action plan also calls for us to consider whether revisions to other OSM regulations (including, at a minimum, approximate original contour requirements) are needed to better protect the environment and the public from the impacts of Appalachian surface coal mining. We have identified addition of a definition of “material damage to the hydrologic balance” as one such possibility. We invite comment on that option as well as whether there are other OSM regulations that could be revised to implement this provision of the MOU.

    DATES: To ensure consideration, we must receive your comments on or before [INSERT date 30 days after date of publication in the FEDERAL REGISTER].

    (more) (23 pages)

  6. rhmooney3 says:

    Need more Clyde Butchers — showing what’s disappearing
    (video, 7 minutes) (video, 24:46 minutes)

    Cylde Butcher Photography

  7. rhmooney3 says:

    November 26, 2009

    Plans to build a huge coal-fired power plant along the Ohio River in Meigs County have gone up in smoke.

    American Municipal Power, based in Columbus, announced cancellation of the project yesterday.

    It’s been a bad few years for coal, with dozens of power-plant projects canceled nationwide.

    In this case, a contractor told American Municipal Power this month that the cost to build the 1,000-megawatt plant would be about 37 percent higher than the most-recent estimate, $3.25 billion.



    In addition to the 151 proposed coal plants listed in the May 2007 NETK report, at least 63 additional coal projects have been proposed in the United States, for a total of 214 proposals. The disposition of these proposals is as follows…

  8. rhmooney3 says:

    Keep in mind that the amount of wood needed to provide the BTU (heat equivalent) of coal so more material will be transported which also consumes fuel — primarily oil.
    (BTUs: 1 ton coal = 16,200,000 to 26,000,000; 1 ton wood = 9,000,000 to 17,000,000)

    November 28, 2009
    In Sweden and Germany, several major power plants already run on wood pellets. Germany’s Novus Energy, for instance, generates heat for a Total refinery at a wood power plant near Hamburg.

    South of the border, Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric Power– the largest coal-fired electric utility in the U.S.–sees wood pellets as a promising way to curb emissions in what’s almost sure to be a carbon-constrained world.

    As a result of these and other plant rollouts, there’s growing worldwide demand for wood pellets. Production is currently running at some 12 million tonnes on a global basis, and some forecasters say that figure could nearly double over the next five years.
    While emissions from wood pellets are minimal–the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency(EPA)says it’s one of the cleanest energy sources around–the economics are also attractive.

    Pellets are currently cheaper than heating oil, propane and conventional electrical heating, as well as cord wood, Dansons argues. Only natural gas, which has been depressed for the past year, is cheaper.

    April 7, 2009
    Burning wood pellets for heat and power has become common across central and northern Europe and yields considerable environmental, and economic, benefits.


    September 21, 2008
    For the past 11 years, Florida Crystals, the nation’s largest sugar producer, has powered its massive refining operation by burning leftover sugarcane.

    “We grow our own electricity,” said Stephen Clarke, who directs industrial research for Florida Crystals, referring to the sugarcane fiber waste, known as bagasse, that provides half of the annual fuel for the furnaces.

    When there is excess electricity, the company sells it to utilities all over the state, providing enough energy to power 60,000 homes and eliminating the need for 1-million barrels of foreign oil per year, the company says.

  9. rhmooney3 says:

    (Gee, it’s going to be said that coal the cause of world hunger and of world wars.)

    November 28, 3009
    That’s the diagnosis Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) relayed to the public in a comprehensive medical study released on November 18 called Coal’s Assault of Human Health. In it, the organization, comprised of physicians and public health experts, claims that coal pollutants damage every major organ in the human body and contributes to four of the top five leading causes of death in the United States.
    [ ]

    The PSR report is a raucous call that our current addiction to dirty coal is not only unsustainable and a major source of global warming pollution, it is also extremely deadly to human life. No matter how much money the coal industry throws at the issue, either in an attempt to mitigate coal’s contribution to health problems or to have us believe that coal can be “clean” — people are dieing, approximately 24,000 every single year.

    “These stark conclusions leave no room for doubt or delay,” says Kristen Welker-Hood, PSR’s director of environment and health programs. “The time has come for our nation to establish a health-driven energy policy that replaces our dependence on coal with clean, safe alternatives. Business as usual is extracting a deadly price on our health. Coal is no longer an option.”

  10. rhmooney3 says:

    November 18, 2009
    “We are especially proud that we were able to help recycle this property and it is still supplying Americans with energy.”

    Stony Creek is EC&R’s first wind farm in Western Pennsylvania and was constructed on a reclaimed surface mine, which due to the irregular and sometimes unpredictable soil quality, required sophisticated engineering for the wind turbine foundations.

    This additional investment allows EC&R to harness the inexhaustible wind over land that once produced coal.

    It is located in Central City, Pa. along Lincoln Highway in Somerset County.

    (Note: Revenue from will help pay for the treatment of toxic water that’s draining from the reclaimed surface mine, I’m told.)
    The German utility said it plans to invest nearly $12 billion in its global renewable energy portfolio during the next two years.

    The company has five wind farms in the United States with a combined capacity of 1,700 megawatts of power. It plans to expand its global wind capacity to 15 gigawatts, with half of that planned for the United States.

  11. rhmooney3 says:

    The MTR issue is being taken care of.

    November 24, 2009
    Engineers from three major coal companies, another from the Army Corps of Engineers, Fitzgerald and a consulting engineer, along with representatives from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and OSM, have been meeting in Louisville and hammering out a new protocol, which Blackburn asserted will better protect Appalachian headwaters and change the face of reclamation. When implemented, it will apply to the Louisville Corps District and Nashville District, covering most of Kentucky, except the portion of Eastern Kentucky that is in the Huntington District.

    The new protocol aims to minimize valley fills (dumping of mining refuse into valleys), which will reduce disturbances within the watersheds. Blackburn said that these new procedures, when implemented, will require restoring surface mine sites close to their original contours using surface material removed during mining.

    “We’re going to do fill minimization on every type of mountaintop mining job,” said Blackburn.

    The other initiative under development is the Cumulative Hydrologic Impact Assessment (CHIA), which Blackburn explained will improve water quality analysis in the permitting process. Team members of that project include the Louisville Corps of Engineers, EPA, coal industry representatives with an engineering consultant, KRC and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC), Kentucky Division of Water, Kentucky DNR and OSM.

    An interagency memorandum is in the works. “Once it’s signed by the regulators — the EPA, the Corps of Engineers, OSM and particularly DNR (Department of Natural Resources) — the protocol will be implemented,” said Blackburn. DNR is the regulatory authority for all coal mining in Kentucky.

  12. rhmooney3 says:

    Survey: OSM about itself

    In July 2009, OSMRE surveyed its employees about the effectiveness of state programs oversight. There were 52 respondents — about 10% of the agency.

    The survey included five questions which are:

    What elements of oversight are working well and what elements are not ?

    What oversight activities (e.g., random inspections, focused inspections, permit evaluations, bond release reviews, technical studies, technical assistance, and special studies, etc.) should be enhanced, modified, or eliminated? Please explain why and how.

    Assuming no change in total available resources, how should OSM prioritize its use of oversight resources to achieve maximum effectiveness in ensuring that mining operations are conducted in a manner that protects the environment to the extent required by SMCRA?

    How should OSM’s oversight policies and procedures (e.g., Directive REG-8) be revised to enhance effectiveness?

    Do you have any other comments about oversight in general?

    The 52 survey resposnes are available on the above link.

  13. rhmooney3 says:

    OSM puts more of its “hands” — over 100 — into promoting tree-plantings than into the oversight of state programs. I believe there are less than 20 inspectors and 30 others actually doing direct oversight activities — less than 10% of OSM.


    A federal agency called the Appalachian Region Reforestation Initiative (ARRI), created five years ago, has begun to actively promote reclaiming land not by compacting the soil and sowing grass, but by replacing the forests that were cut from the land.

    The forests would be replanted much in the way the forests of history developed, said Patrick Angel, one of Kentucky’s U.S. OSM representatives of ARRI, who is posted in London.

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