Coal Tattoo

Coal news roundup, Holiday Edition

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Rescuers gather at the entrance of a shaft of Malishu Coal Mine in Shuangbai County, Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture, southwest China’s Yunnan Province, Dec. 28, 2009. Five miners are dead and six are missing after a gas burst at the Malishu Coal Mine early Monday, local authorities said. (Xinhua/Chen Haining)

Back-to-back coal mining explosions in China this week have killed at least 18 miners, and the death count may rise because of other workers who are missing.

At least 12 workers died in a gas explosion Sunday at the Donggou Colliery in Jiexiu City, Shanxi province in Northern China. And early Monday, another explosion killed at least six in southwest China’s Yunnan Province.

Closer to home, the great Louisville Courier-Journal reporter Ralph Dunlop profiled miner and mine safety crusader Scott Howard in this piece. He quotes Howard:

My ancestors fought for better safety, and I’m not gonna go back. I’m not dependent on that company. I’m dependent on God. And God don’t put us here to be trampled on, mistreated.

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Fly ash is loaded into plastic lined rail cars at the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009 in Kingston, Tenn. The Tennessee Valley Authority’s top executive Tom Kilgore isn’t offering any guarantees there won’t be a repeat of a disastrous coal ash spill like the one in Kingston a year ago. Instead, Kilgore says eliminating all wet ash and gypsum storage and converting all of TVA’s coal-fired plants to dry storage is part of a plan “to help prevent anything like the Kingston spill from ever happening again.” (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

One of the biggest stories over the holidays was the anniversary of the Dec. 22, 2008, coal-ash disaster at a TVA plant in Kingston, Tenn., which we covered previously in Coal Tattoo here, here and here.  I also wrote a longer piece that ran in the Sunday Gazette-Mail on Dec. 20, and is still available through our Mining the Mountains Web site.

Sue Sturgis at Facing South had one of the better anniversary pieces,  and there are other articles from The Washington Post, The Associated Press, and Grist. And strong local coverage from the Knoxville News-Sentinel, the Tennessean, and Nashville Public Radio.

Facing South, by the way, rated the TVA coal-ash disaster as its top story of 2009, in a post called The biggest eco-disaster you’ve never heard about (unless you were reading Facing South), in a well-deserved bit of praise for Sue Sturgis coverage of the coal-ash issue.

Andrew Schneider reported on his Coal Truth Web site that “the frequently forgotten and often ignored asbestos victims in Libby, Mont., came out as possible big winners in the dead-of-night battle over health care reform.”

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Here in West Virginia, public broadcasting reported about how the state DNR is trying to figure out how to restore Dunkard Creek at the same time the state Department of Environmental Protection has  given CONSOL Energy permission to resume discharging mine water from its operations in the area into the creek. Over on his Woods and Waters blog, my buddy John McCoy, the Gazette’s outdoors writer, offered  his views of this situation, wondering why it falls to DNR to try to restore the watershed:

After all, it was Consol that discharged zillions of gallons of chloride-polluted water from its Blacksville No. 2 Mine. The chlorides, in turn, created ideal growing conditions for toxic algae to grow. The algae, in turn, killed off the stream’s bass, muskies, forage fish, crustaceans and insects (see accompanying photo).

And it was DEP officials that allowed Consol to discharge those zillions of gallons’ worth of chlorides in the first place.

And earlier today, Climate Ground Zero reported that four of its activists were arrested on trespassing charged related to that Oct. 10 demonstration when a banner that read, “Yes. Coal’s Killing West Virginia Communities” was hung from the Walker Machinery building out in Belle. According to the group’s Web site:

As of noon Wednesday, the four activists remain in police custody in the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver, WV. They have yet to see a magistrate and have not been informed of their charges, other than trespassing, which, if proven, would result in a maximize one hundred dollar fine.

“This is outrageous behavior on the part of the Kanawha County prosecutors.” said Climate Ground Zero campaign director Mike Roselle.

“These four people are guilty of nothing. They were simply present during a
demonstration last October and none of them were ever informed at any time that they were trespassing. Usually in this type of case they simply write you a ticket or mail you a summons. To drag them out of their homes and refuse to allow any bail violates their most basic constitutional right to due process.”

Meanwhile, the Herald-Dispatch in Huntington published an editorial on mountaintop removal titled, Extremes won’t carry the day in coal fight:

The battle of words has become increasingly ugly, with environmentalists describing the pro-coal establishment as “corrupt,” “greedy” and “thugs” and the industry countering with words like “hippies,” “extremists” and “terrorists.” Even some public officials have weighed in with inflammatory remarks.

Both sides in this conflict have avenues at their disposal to make their cases to the people who will decide how this plays out. Chiefly, these are lawmakers and government regulators. And certainly, both sides are free to appeal to the public for support. But ugly tactics and threatening rhetoric aren’t likely to persuade many people over to either side’s views.

Several Coal Tattoo readers passed on a note that the Mother Nature Network has named the Appalachian mountains in West Virginia as among its 15 Most Toxic Places to Live. And several readers also suggested I post this article about how capturing methane from coal mines can be profitable.

Meanwhile, in Michigan, state regulators issued Consumers Energy an air permit Tuesday, a necessary next step to building a $2 billion coal-fired plant near Bay City. And some U.S. senators are joining coal states in objecting to the Obama administration’s plan to have the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement step up its review of how well state regulators across the coalfields police mining.

Finally, here’s an interesting commentary on coal investments from Jeremy Leggett of the company Solarcentury.

Posts will be few and far between for the next few days folks, as Coal Tattoo takes a little more time off for the New Year’s holiday.