Friday roundup, Jan. 22, 2010

January 22, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.


In this AP photo taken on Saturday Jan. 9, 2010, a cyclist pushes a bike near a power plant in Changchun, in northeast China’s Jilin province.

At least five miners have died after a mine flood today in northwest China. One other miner is still believed trapped.

While China’s coal industry is known for its deadly working conditions, some good news is that mining deaths there dropped by 20 percent in 2009. The AP reported:

Zhao Tiechui, the head of the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety, said accidents caused 2,631 deaths – a decline of 22 percent, or 584 deaths, from the previous year, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Wednesday.

That works out to 7.2 deaths a day from 8.8 in 2008. The number of accidents also declined.

By the way, the last time there were that many deaths in the U.S. coal industry was 1917.

The New York Times this week had a review of the movie  “The Shaft” (“Dixia de Tiankong”), which they described this way:

Set in a tiny coal-mining town in western China and arranged in three distinct segments, the film — which the Museum of Modern Art is showing as part of the touring exhibition, Global Lens 2010 — opens as a pretty young woman (Zheng Luoqian) is suspected of sleeping with her boss and takes refuge in an arranged marriage in Beijing. The second segment follows her unemployed brother (Huang Xuan), an aspiring singer, and his efforts to avoid the grip of the mine he detests. And in the final story their elderly father (Luo Deyuan) uses his retirement to pursue his own long-held dream.

There was more mine safety news this week from South AfricaUtah and Montana.


Closer to home, I guess most folks thought the biggest coal news this week was the debate between Massey Chief Executive Don Blankenship and and environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Coal Tattoo’s effort at deconstructing the event is here, and if you missed it, West Virginia Public Broadcasting has the audio online here. Other coverage was provided by Hoppy Kercheval at MetroNews, The Associated Press, The New York Times, Grist, the Daily Mail, and the U.K. Guardian. Please pass on any links to other coverage, and if you have a link to archived video, let me know.

Also, this interesting commentary from Jason Keeling’s A Better West Virginia blog:

When people demonize each other as “coal thugs” and “tree huggers,” they fail to see each other as human beings. The potential for collaboration and future planning is diminished. So long as these patterns of communication continue, the likelihood of economic and social progress will remain bleak.

Perhaps the Blankenship/Kennedy debate will mark a new point in West Virginia’s history, in which people start listening to and hearing each other on the future of coal. Perhaps they’ll start caring more for their southern county neighbors, both those who are impacted by mining’s environmental effects and those with few job options outside of the industry.

As a native West Virginian, I contend it is the moral obligation of residents to stop turning a blind eye. Instead, let’s further educate ourselves on the matter, let’s listen to all parties, let’s engage in the political process and let’s make the tough decisions that help ensure an economically diversified state, whose image is no longer characterized by peril, but by progress.

But frankly, to me, the much bigger and more important story for the Appalachian coalfields was the message carried in the Downstream Strategies report issued this week: That Central Appalachian coal production is projected to drop by as much as half before the end of this decade. That report is posted here, and our blog post and discussion of it is here. Please check it out.

In other coal-related news and commentary:

— The United Mine Workers of America union strongly endorsed Sen. Byrd’s legislation to help miners get black lung benefits.  The UMWA statement came after an article and editorial in the Daily Mail calling the measure “a job killer” and a”billion-dollar blunder.” No mention in the DM’s coverage that black lung has killed 10,000 American coal miners in the last decade, or that West Virginia has the highest black lung death rate in the nation. UMWA President Cecil Roberts said:

There is a way to end the need for black lung benefits entirely, and everyone knows what it is. That is for the coal operators to ensure that the dust levels in their mines are low enough to keep miners from contracting the disease. But that hasn’t happened, and now the disease is once again on the rise.

The fight to end black lung and provide benefits for those who have it is an ongoing struggle. And we still are opposed by apologists for irresponsible coal operators who cry about how much it will cost, just as they have whined about the costs of safety improvements in the mines that have demonstrably saved lives.

— Somehow, I missed this piece about the end of Roland Micklem’s fast against mountaintop removal coal mining, posted on the Climate Ground Zero blog.

An interesting story from the Denver Post about a dispute over mining and roadless area protections on national forest lands in Colorado.

— Here in West Virginia, CONSOL Energy announced it had complete the addition of a new belt haulage system at its Shoemaker Mine near Moundsville.

— While the EPA discussed cleanup options for the TVA coal-ash mess in East Tennessee,  the Center for Progressive Reform reported on how regulation of coal-ash is the first big test of President Obama’s commitment to health and safety protections.

— There were a couple of interesting reports about coal stocks here and here.

— Along with a piece on the Science article on mountaintop removal, the fine folks at Living on Earth posted a  Web Extra audio of their interview with WVDEP Secretary Randy Huffman. And if you missed the study’s lead author, Margaret Palmer, appearing on the Colbert Report, you can watch it here.

Finally, I plan to blog some more about both of these after I’ve read them more closely, but I wanted to make mention of two new coal-related books that are officially coming out next week.


First, there’s Dragline, a collection of photographs by my friend, independent journalist Antrim Caskey. Antrim has taken great personal risks and faced legal challenges from Massey to document mountaintop removal and the civil disobedience efforts by the folks from Climate Ground Zero.

The press release here  explains that Dragline is a “journalism advocacy project,” and that Climate Ground Zero will be distributing copies of the book to the news media and decision makers to publicize the impacts of mountaintop removal on Appalachian communities and the environment.

Also check out Antrim’s Appalachia Watch Web site, with information about her new Rock Creek School of Photography, here.

Next, Coal Tattoo readers are certainly familiar with the blogging work of Jeff Biggers on The Huffington Post, among other places. If they haven’t read his book, The United States of Appalachia, they should.


And now, Jeff has a new book coming out called Reckoning at Eagle Creek.  Here’s the description:

Cultural historian Jeff Biggers takes us to the dark amphitheatre ruins of his family’s nearly 200-year-old hillside homestead that has been strip-mined on the edge of the first federally recognized Wilderness Site in southern Illinois. In doing so, he not only comes to grips with his own denied backwoods heritage, but also chronicles a dark and missing chapter in the American experience: the historical nightmare of coal outside of Appalachia, serving as an exposé of a secret legacy of shame and resiliency.

A new review from In These Times says:

Biggers takes it a step further and pokes holes in the promise of clean coal jobs. Modern coal mining is so mechanized that relatively few miners are needed to extract the coal. Strip mining, which companies do whenever seams are close enough to the surface, is heavy on huge machinery and light on actual workers.

Underground, long-wall mining that is most in use now takes just a few men to run a machine that grinds away at the coal face without leaving behind the pillars which miners once skillfully carved out to hold up the roof.

Biggers also says that promises of many billions of tons of coal still in the ground are misleading, since much of this coal is too deep to be mined. He says the country is in a state of peak coal, similar to peak oil, with reserves already significantly declining. In other words, he says, massive investment in “clean coal” technology, and staking towns’ and regions’ economic futures on coal, will become moot in the not-so-distant future as coal dwindles.

Biggers advocates a “GI bill for miners” wherein the government would subsidize training miners in “green jobs” including the manufacture of wind turbines and solar panels. Like many environmental and civic groups, he dreams of reinvigorating the heartland’s once glorious industrial infrastructure to manufacture machinery and equipment for renewable energy. (Of course the aspects of globalization that led to off-shoring of the steel and auto industries –including vastly cheaper wages and lack of regulations abroad – are also competitive factors in wind turbine and solar panel manufacture).

Here’s a trailer for the book:

8 Responses to “Friday roundup, Jan. 22, 2010”

  1. rhmooney3 says:


    The downswing continues:

    January 22, 2010
    The United States’ biggest railroad company yesterday became the second in two days to unveil results badly affected by slumping demand for coal and the problems of the US industrial sector.

    Union Pacific revealed fourth-quarter net income down 17 per cent to $551m on revenue down 12 per cent to $3.75bn, while full-year net income for 2009 fell 19 per cent to $1.9bn on revenue down 21 per cent to $14.1bn.

    The worst-hit areas were energy — coal shipments from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin and from the Ohio/Colorado coalfield — and movements of industrial products such as steel. Fourth-quarter energy revenues fell 22 per cent to $765m, while industrial products revenue fell 28 per cent to $513m.

    January 22, 2010
    Citi Investment Research analyst Brian Yu also warns that U.S. coal markets face stiffening competition from other energy sources, namely inexpensive natural gas and wind energy, which is slowly edging its way into the market.

    Yu also predicted that “stealthy wind” shares will gain as the renewable energy source grabs chunks of the energy market from coal. He noted that 80 percent of incremental wind capacity is in coal intensive regions.

    Yu downgraded Arch Coal Inc., Massey Energy Co. and Patriot Coal Corp. to “Sell,” citing significant recent appreciation in their share prices.

    Shares of Arch Coal fell $1.59, or 5.9 percent, to close at $25.31. Massey shares declined $4.21, or 8.8 percent, to finish at $43.75. Patriot Coal shares sank $2.66, or 13.2 percent, to $17.57.

    He cut his rating for Consol Energy Inc. to “Hold” from “Buy.” Shares of the company tumbled $3.06, or 5.8 percent, to $49.75.

  2. […] Blogs @ The Charleston Gazette – » Friday roundup, Jan. 22, 2010 – view page – cached In this AP photo taken on Saturday Jan. 9, 2010, a cyclist pushes a bike near a power plant in Changchun, in northeast China’s Jilin province. […]

  3. rhmooney3 says:

    June 26, 2008
    Review: Music of Coal: Mining Songs from the Appalachian Coalfields

    January 23, 2010
    Music of Coal wins Historical Album Award

  4. roselle says:


    No mention of my good buddy Mike Brune being made Executive Director of the Sierra Club? Mike has been very active on mountain top removal and this may mean he’ll want to ramp up their Beyond Coal campaign.

  5. rhmooney3 says:

    Junly 24, 2010
    FBI probe of Pa. coal country corruption snares judges, public officials, former NFL pro,0,5695212.story

  6. rhmooney3 says:

    Bluegrass PRIDE

    January 23, 2010
    Funded by the Kentucky Department of Energy Development, the program allows teachers the chance to learn how coal is mined, its history and future in Kentucky, and the environmental impacts of mining and burning coal.

    “It’s designed to show the good and bad about the coal industry in Kentucky and let us make our own decisions,” said Powell-McCoy, who said she already had strong feelings against coal mining, but wanted to get a different perspective to see for herself what is happening.

    November 14, 2008
    As part of its ongoing outreach to educators in Central Kentucky, Bluegrass PRIDE (Personal Responsibility In a Desirable Environment) hosted 20 teachers for a panel discussion on coal mining and its effect on the environment on November 13, 2008. The event was the culmination of the teachers’ two-day tour of coal and alternative energy in Eastern Kentucky, made possible by funding from the Kentucky Department for Energy Development and Independence.
    The discussion featured four speakers with varying opinions of the coal industry and its environmental impact, including Veronica Judy-Cecil, office of Congressman Ben Chandler; Bill Kaylor, Kentucky Coal Association; Carla Marcum, Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA); and Randy Wilson, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.

  7. rhmooney3 says:

    January 24, 2010
    The problem on stage today is not just Hurricane Creek but all of the creeks, streams and large rivers of Alabama. Friends of Hurricane Creek has joined a coalition of more than a dozen environmental awareness organizations in filing a petition to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the federal authority for enforcing the Clean Water Act. The petition claims that ADEM (Alabama Department of Environmental Management) has not been attentive in enforcing industrial and municipal compliance with water pollution guidelines. The recommendation is that the EPA override the state agency in regulating and enforcing water quality. (To read the petition, visit .)

  8. rhmooney3 says:


    This one is for you:

    January 20, 2010
    Michael Brune, newly named Executive Director of the Sierra Club is interviewed by Orli Cotel.

    Katie Miller, a student of Warren Wilson College and reporter for the Environmental Leadership Center’s radio broadcast – The Swannanoa Journal, interviews author and activist Michael Brune. Michael presentation at WWC on November 20, 2008 was organized and moderated by WWC student Danielle Emmet and sponsored by the Dogwood Alliance.

    Can Coal Be Clean? A Debate Between Michael Brune of Rainforest Action Network and Joe Lucas of American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity

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