Friday roundup, May 21, 2010

May 21, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

Wow … it was another big week full of coal-mining news. I wanted to pass on some links for more coverage of yesterday’s mine safety hearing before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee.

Among those covering it were The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, McClatchy Newspapers, National Public Radio, West Virginia Public Broadcasting, the Beckley Register-Herald, and the Louisville Courier-Journal.

And there were a couple of interesting commentaries on The Huffington Post. One by Gary Bass of OMB Watch connects some dots between the Massey Mine Disaster, the BP Oil Disaster and the Toyota Recall Disaster:

These events have a few things in common, not the least of which is that they all illustrate a governmental failure to effectively regulate business activity and protect the public.

In each instance, businesses with poor safety records have continued to operate in a system of voluntary regulation. Federal agencies, battered by lengthy procedural hurdles, slashed budgets, and anti-government sentiments, rely on business to police themselves. After each “accident,” Congress and the media begin a crusade: how can such things happen and why didn’t somebody see this coming? But after all the hand-wringing and finger-pointing, rarely is anything done to prevent future catastrophes. Instead, we continue to be stuck with “government by reaction.”

Another, by Rena Steinzor of the Center for Progressive Reform, attempts to make the case for criminal prosecution of Massey CEO Don Blankenship. Interestingly, if you look at the photo above, you see Blankenship with Massey’s general counsel, Shane Harvey, and also with Robert Luskin, a well-known Washington, D.C., lawyer who specializes in white-collar criminal defense. Luskin represented Massey subsidiaries Aracoma Coal Co. and White Buck Coal when those two companies pleaded guilty to criminal mine safety violations in recent years.

Cecil Roberts, International President of the United Mine Workers of America, right, listens as Massey Energy Company Chief Executive Officer Don Blankenship testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 20, 2010, before the Senate Health and Human Services subcommittee hearing on mine safety. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Mourning family members seen during the funeral prayers for a mine explosion victim in Zonguldak, Turkey, Friday, May 21, 2010. Rescuers on Thursday found the bodies of 28 miners deep in a damaged coal mine near the northern Black Sea port of Zonguldak, making the methane gas explosion three days earlier one of the deadliest mine accidents in Turkey in recent years. Rescuers are still trying to find two miners still missing in the mine.(AP Photo)

And while another Massey Energy miner died today in West Virginia,  there was also bad news out of Turkey, where the bodies of 28 miners were found following an explosion earlier this week.

In Russia, according to the New York Times:

The Raspadskaya Coal Company announced on Tuesday that, Igor I. Volkov, the director of the mine where 90 people were killed in twin methane explosions, has left his post after a public reproach from Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, who said the mine’s management should be held accountable for safety violations.

And is that weren’t enough, there was this:

The body of a missing man was recovered Friday from a Russian coal mine where two miners were believed to have died in a cave-in.

The roof collapse at the Alexeyevsakaya mine near Kemerovo buried a 30-foot section of the coal pit Wednesday, ITAR-Tass reported. All but two of the 107 miners underground at the time escaped unharmed.

The Wall Street Journal covered the release of a report by Senate Republicans which denounced the Obama administration for holding up issuance of more mountaintop removal mining permits in West Virginia. Others with coverage included The Associated Press.  But if you missed it, the Gazette had a strong editorial that took a bit of a different look at the whole mountaintop removal issue:

The work of Appalachian coal miners built American industry. The broader population prospered, and continues to prosper from the electricity and steel that coal makes possible. That’s true of the few people who own most of the coal to everyone who carries an iPhone or uses a quiet, “clean” cordless weed trimmer. The burdens of that progress have largely been carried by generations of miners who died of roof falls, explosions or black lung and by communities who breathe black dust and put up with acid mine drainage.

Now that broader society is demanding change – cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and limits on mountaintop removal, for example – why should those same families and communities bear the brunt of the economic hardships that these changes will bring?

The region deserves more consideration. Leaders must devise some sort of path for young people to prepare to earn a living when the coal jobs – and eventually the coal – are gone.

This is all we know?

We mentioned earlier in the week the release of three key National Academy of Sciences reports about climate change, and here’s another story about those, noting:

Ditching their past cautious tone, the nation’s top scientists urged the government Wednesday to take drastic action to raise the cost of using coal and oil to slow global warming.

The National Academy of Sciences specifically called for a carbon tax on fossil fuels or a cap-and-trade system for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, labeling global warming an urgent threat.

Finally, don’t forget that Alan Jackson is donating the profits from his concert tomorrow night here in Charleston to the families of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster. You can hear his latest song, “Hard Hat and a Hammer,” here:


15 Responses to “Friday roundup, May 21, 2010”

  1. Scott14 says:

    With MSHA and the coal industry in the spot light and further safety laws most certainly comming. I was wandering if anyone on this blog would support MSHA’s being able to fine individual miners. The state department of miners safety health and training has this tool. Just wandering.

  2. USMRA says:

    Scott,

    This slope gets slick quickly, mainly because individuals rarely do anything on their own. That is, they’re usually instructed to do their individual tasks. And while they normally are not given step-by-step instructions, you still have a case of them just following orders. If they don’t know how to do particular task, their defense is that the company didn’t train them.

    Also, states that issue papers of one type or another also have the ability to take them away. From Miner to Mine Foreman, this can end hurting more than a one-time fine, especially if they’re also losing their job.

  3. Thomas Rodd says:

    Absolutely wonderful Gazette editorial. Thanks for the quote, Ken.

    Taking off on what the editorial says, I want to suggest that two windows of opportunity are now apparently still open, but quickly closing.

    The first is the opportunity to develop technology that will allow coal to be burned with greatly reduced atmospheric CO2 emissions. If this is not done soon, some experts believe that coal will fairly soon be “history” as a fuel, largely supplanted by cleaner energy sources. Other experts believe that absent such technology, there can be no reining in world coal use, and then very soon mankind will experience catastrophic climate change.

    I don’t “know” who is right — no one does, really. Either way, in the absence of market-based economic incentives like cap-and-trade, the necessary investment, to drive the development and application of such coal-emissions-reducing technology, will not be forthcoming.

    All experts are sure of one thing — this window is rapidly closing. The future will never forgive our delay. Let’s pass clean energy legislation — now!

    The second closing window is the opportunity to use some of the revenues from current high levels of coal production to educate and invest in alternatives for young people in the coalfields.

    As coal faces inevitably greater economic pressures in a carbon-emissions constrained economy, there will be less money available for this purpose. High-paid lawyers for the out-of-state corporations that own most of West Virginia’s coalfields (you now who they are) happily fight for their clients’ right to get rich now, while coalfield children’s future gets peanuts — until there’s nothing to get.

    People should stand up to these profiteers and demand a substantial increase in coal severance and profits taxes, to fund these crucial services for our children –now! Again, as this window closes, the future will not forgive our delay.

    Of course, I could be wrong. What do people think?

  4. rhmooney3 says:

    Regulatory Pretend Time over — not

    What’s going on has gone on before after every disaster.

    The regulatory system hasn’t work; it needs to be replaced.

    In today’s world we can know everything within seconds after it happens; there are real-time monitoring systems in classrooms, but not coal mines.

    Coal is costly in many ways but it still is vital to us.

    Focus on results, not on process and actions. Trust but verify.

    Establish a safety council for every mine and make them personally liable as individuals for the conditions of the mine at all times. Those councils need to include mine superintendent, one or more corporate officers, miners, government safety inspectors and others. The council members should maintain continual contact by electronic means. They should be required to maintain an online real-time report on the activities and conditions of the mine for all to see — the good, the bad and the ugly.

    This is in addition to the safe-mining bonus payments program that I have noted previously.

  5. theminerman says:

    more shooting from the hip, as we did after Sago, the companies were mandated to spend tens to millons of dollars on things the miners had no confidence in. As you can see, none of these new mandates played out and saved one life. Also, one must stop and think a little. Why West Virgina,9 out of ten times? Is it the culture? I don’t know. But, when I hear on the news there has been another mine disaster, my mind thinks….I bet,,, W.V and Kentucky! Now mother nature did throw us a good one in Utah, with that bump…But who was in charge of the rescue, when three more died? With news cameras running around inside of a recovery area? The Same MSHA people here in charge! Alabama every now and then has their trouble. But the facts are the facts. Some one on this blog hit it on the head the other day…croniesm!!!! MSHA,,the leader ship has been togeather 20 and 30 years. There Should be a change from top to bottom. The appointed independant investigation of Utah, read like and disputed MSHA’s report almost page by page… Anything done? No…MSHA paid no price…just moved on to the next disaster.

  6. Shelby says:

    Mr.Rodd mentions education opportunities for young people of Wv; the state isnt new in this field of training young people for future jobs : in the early part of the last century, Wv, started several state colleges for teachers. Perhaps, maybe funding can be found for other type instiutions.
    Young folks of Wv should have other choices besides being a school teacher or a coal mining job . Not all kids can attend faraway universitys, like WVU, or Marshall.

  7. rhmooney3 says:

    The game of hot potato again.

    Hey, wasn’t MSHA found to have been partially at fault for the Crandall Canyon Mine disaster?

    http://pr-usa.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=399685&Itemid=32
    Sunday, May 23, 2010
    Massey Energy Company issued the following statement today:
    (Excerpt)
    We and others have called for transparency in this investigation to ensure that everyone’s actions before the accident — including MSHA’s — receive full public scrutiny.

    “As we have said previously, prior to the accident MSHA effectively ordered us to change our ventilation plan by rejecting the plans we submitted. Only by adopting a ventilation plan with changes we did not like, but that were effectively required by MSHA, were we able to proceed with mining operations at Upper Big Branch.”

  8. Thomas Rodd says:

    Here’s a short quote from Joe Rom’s Climate Progress blog on why the window of opportunity on climate legislation is closing. I think he’s right.

    “If the American Power Act dies, state cap-and-trade programs will still proceed. The administration will do what it can through executive branch action at the Department of Energy and elsewhere. The EPA will wade into greenhouse-gas regulations (and a fog of lawsuits). But without a declining carbon cap in place, the market won’t get the 20-to-40-year predictability sought by large energy investors. There won’t be the massive shift in private capital needed to kickstart a green economy. It won’t be enough.”

    I’m 64 years old and can see my personal end in sight, but my children and grandchildren (and the children and grandchildren of this blog’s readers) are going to face a vastly altered and terrifying future — if we do not NOW begin to turn this huge ocean liner of a global economy away from the path we have been on with unrestricted atmospheric CO2 emissions. (It has been a fun ride, one must admit!)

    Every other so called “environmental” issue pales in comparison to this one (in my view).

    The high-paid law firms and PR companies (there are plenty of them here in Charleston, WV) that support and aid climate change deniers like Don Blankenship can be fairly seen as obscene criminals, for promoting and enabling science-denying opposition to clean energy legislation. These expensive-suited advocates are many times more evil, objectively, than the tobacco company advocates who defend the addiction of young people. Shame, shame!

    Source of quote:

    http://climateprogress.org/2010/05/23/the-climate-bill-version-of-marry-him-the-case-for-settling-for-mr-good-enough/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+climateprogress%2FlCrX+%28Climate+Progress%29

  9. rhmooney3 says:

    5/11/10
    EIA estimates that 2009 coal production fell by nearly 8.5 percent in response to lower U.S. coal consumption, fewer exports, and higher coal inventories. Production declines by an additional 3.0 percent in 2010 in this forecast despite increases in domestic consumption and exports. The balance between production and consumption is satisfied through significant reductions in both producer and end-user inventories.
    More: http://groups.google.com/group/bob-mooney/web/powering-down

  10. rhmooney3 says:

    In thinking about coal mine safety it is impossible not to think of this situation — something that was common in our coal mines not that long ago. Our world is far from being civilized.

    5/17/10
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXGq2prJq60 (9 minutes)
    70,000 children are currently working in the coal-rich mines of Meghalaya, India. The figures are according to human rights organisation Impulse who suggests the children are often trafficked from neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and Nepal.

  11. bigblueiron says:

    Bad things happen. We clamor for regulations to prevent the bad thing from happening again. After a while, we forget about the bad thing and because regulators slow things down and cost business more, they are unpopular and so budgets are cut and regulatory staffs are reduced. Until another bad thing happens and the cycle starts over again…

    Don’t forget to add the financial meltdown to the of litany of Toyota, BP and Massey. The same Senators who voted for budget cuts now cry “Where were the regulators!!”

  12. theminerman says:

    no more comments from me, I read these long winded blogs and you tell me I have to wait for moderation……

  13. Vnxq809 says:

    Ahhhhh, Mr. Minerman – U have evidently been put in Mr. Ward’s “penalty box”…….

    Vnxq809

  14. Bill Howley says:

    Apparently, some commenters on Coal Tattoo don’t understand how blogs work. Ken Ward puts the considerable time and effort researching useful information for his blog posts. Commenters should be involved in a constructive conversation that is useful to all readers of the blog by providing well reasoned and documented comments.

    This blog is Mr. Ward’s, and does not belong to the people who comment here. He has an absolute right to decide what comments get posted.

    The quality of Mr. Ward’s moderation is shown clearly in the diversity of views and excellent comments he allows.

    I read another blog called Sic Semper Tyrannus by retired Army Col. Pat Lang. Col. Lang responded this way to commenters who didn’t like having their comments cut: “Get your own blog.”

    Blogging services are free. If your comments are so valuable, I’m sure you will attract lots of readers and commenters of your own.

  15. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Thanks for that Bill … I’ve actually used the “get your own blog” line a few times myself …

    To anyone who gets a message that your comment “is in moderation,” that just means that something you wrote made the blog software temporarily block your comment for me to review before it’s posted — unlike some blogs, I have not set up automatic filters for much of anything, and I don’t require all posts to be reviewed by me before they go “public.”

    And I never take down comments simply because they disagree with me or something I wrote … I take them down because they call other people names or use four-letter words or make personal attacks on other readers or commenters.

    If a comment is listed as waiting for moderation and I don’t get to it as quickly as you like, that’s because I have other duties at the Gazette besides moderating comments on this blog. Please be patient.

    One thing to keep in mind: No one has an absolute right to comment on a Gazette blog or the newspaper’s Web site. And if we take your comment down, that’s not “censorship.” We can’t violate your First Amendment rights to speech — only the government can do that. But if you keep in clean, thoughtful and don’t make personal attacks, you’re much more likely to have your say on Coal Tattoo.

    Ken.

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