Coal Tattoo

What are the year’s biggest coal stories?


Steam and smoke is seen over the coal burning power plant in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009. Coal power plants are among the biggest producer of CO2, that is believed to be responsible for climate change. Delegates from 193 nations at a U.N. climate talks conference in Copenhagen are deadlocked in talks on a deal to curb global warming. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

It’s been an interesting year — to say the least — here in the Appalachian coalfields.

So what do Coal Tattoo readers think are the biggest coal-related stories of 2009? Please join in with your comments, and provide links to articles that illustrate your point. To get things started, here are some ideas, offered in no particular order — and without defining what is meant by the “biggest” story … I’ll leave that to you to decide. Here we go:


The U.S. House and a Senate committee moved forward with strong legislation to try to deal with global warming. Despite the United Mine Workers union’s statement that the House bill would ensure the future of coal, many industry officials continue to oppose congressional action. Some factions in the coal industry, led by Massey’s Don Blankenship, try to convince coalfield residents there’s no such thing as global warming and sponsor rallies against any action on the issue.


The Obama administration announced plans for a crackdown on mountaintop removal, saying various agencies would be taking unprecedented steps to reduce the impacts of this form of mining.


A variety of factors — the economic downturn, declining reserves, and concerns about global warming — are major setbacks for the coal industry, especially in Central Appalachia.  More and more, analysts are talking about the region soon reaching “Peak Coal” and then seeing production and jobs steadily decline. No new coal-fired power plants were started in 2009.


Coalfield residents and activists from around the country carried out a series of peaceful civil disobedience protests  aimed at shutting down mountaintop removal operations and pressuring government agencies to ban mountaintop removal.


Coal miners, their families and supporters fought back, mounting counter-protests and, according to the latest dispatch by the AP’s Vicki Smith, creating fears that violence would erupt as the mountaintop removal issue continues to heat up.


Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., issues a harsh criticism of the industry’s tactics, warning that the coal industry must “embrace the future,” but also chiding environmentalists who argue that coal-fired power can be eliminated altogether.


American Electric Power launched the largest-ever demonstration project of Carbon Capture and Storage technology, while AEP President Mike Morris and some coal industry leaders support action on climate change, as long as it includes strong provisions to encourage CCS.


President Obama’s choice to protect the health and safety of the nation’s miners was Joe Main, longtime safety director  of the United Mine Workers union. Main takes office and quickly announces a plan to “End black lung,” but then appears to back off a proposal to cut the legal limit of dust that causes the deadly disease.


The proposed PATH power line, which critics believe is little more than a giant extension cord for Ohio Valley coal-fired power plants, faces continuing delays and other hurdles.


While the TVA continues to try to clean up the mess left from its huge coal-ash disaster in East Tennessee last December, the Obama administration promises tough regulation of the handling and storage of this power plant waste — but then delays action on the matter.

secretary-randy-huffman-portrait_small.jpgThe West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection issues a ban on new permits that would allow the underground discharge of coal slurry, and The New York Times cites pollution from such practices in a nationwide story on contaminated drinking water supplies. Protests continue against what critics say are WVDEP’s lax enforcement policies concerning the coal industry, and local citizens seek a federal takeover of the program.

hendryxpic1.jpg— A West Virginia University researcher publishes a landmark, peer-reviewed paper that outlines why the coal industry costs the Appalachian region more in adverse health effects than it provides in jobs, taxes and other economic benefits. Coal industry officials try to attack the study, but offer little evidence to show why the conclusions are wrong. (If you haven’t read the study yet, you need to — it’s available online here).


— Coal industry revenues help West Virginia weather the economic downturn better than many other states, a fact that Gov. Joe Manchin and other coal supporters point to when pressing for federal regulators to drop plans for tougher permit standards and greenhouse gas limits.


The U.S. Supreme Court rules that West Virginia Chief Justice Brent Benjamin wrongly took part in deciding a case involving Massey Energy, whose chief executive’s independent expenditures largely bankrolled Benjamin’s 2004 election victory. The West Virginia Supreme Court later rules the same way in the Harman Mining vs. Massey Energy case, without Benjamin and with only Justice Margaret Workman voting against Massey. Workman was also the only dissenting vote when the Court blocked the public release of former Justice Spike Maynard’s e-mail discussions with Blankenship.


— Coal-mine drainage is at least partly to blame for the destruction of Dunkard Creek along the West Virginia-Pennsylvania line,  an incident citizen groups hope will be a warning to the WVDEP and other regulators about long-time inaction on mining-related water pollution issues.


— Massey and the United Mine Workers union continued their more than 25-year fight, with court battles over the failure by Massey to rehire union employees when it bought the Cannelton operations out of bankruptcy, and with a settlement of an age discrimination case miners at that site brought against Massey.


— The Walker family decided to sell its huge mining machinery business, which provides hundreds of local jobs in the Charleston area, but has been the target of protests for its ads promoting mountaintop removal and calling coal “carbon neutral.”


—  And across the world, workers continue to pay the ultimate price for our society’s demand for coal. Major disasters occurred this year in Poland, China, Turkey, Ukraine, and Colombia.

Please add your suggestions (with links!) for the biggest coal news of 2009.