Coal Tattoo

WVDEP selects firm for Prenter water study

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This just in from the state Department of Environmental Protection:

Triad Engineering of St. Albans, W.Va., has been selected by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a one-year study on water supplies in the Prenter/Sand Lick Area of Boone County, West Virginia.

The study will analyze whether human activity, including coal mining and activities associated with it, may have negatively affected the quality of groundwater being used as a drinking water source by residents of the study area. The study area includes all residences along Hopkins Fork of Big Coal River and tributaries of Hopkins Fork from Seth to Prenter.

Triad employees will look for the presence of contaminants in residential water supplies, which may affect human health, by taking samples from those sources. The firm’s representatives also will take samples from nearby surface and groundwater locations that include any possible mining and industrial contamination sources, including surface mining, deep mining, coal preparation plants, refuse areas, impoundments, underground mine pools and underground injection sites.

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When I wrote yesterday’s post, Wondering about the Spruce Mine: Toward a more thoughtful discussion of mountaintop removal, I hadn’t seen the commentary from our friends at The State Journal about EPA’s latest recommended decision on the largest mountaintop removal permit in West Virginia history.

First, we have an editorial, EPA’s behavior is unconscionable, which opines:

Federal regulators, you see, do not worry about preserving a foundation of justice that provides predictability and fairness for individuals and corporations alike. They do not care that Arch Coal, at great expense, has adjusted its mining plans time and again to comply with the agency’s ever-changing rules. They do not worry that the government’s reneging on a lawfully obtained mining permit jeopardizes past investments, future investments, future employment and future tax revenues.

But many West Virginians who respect the law are outraged. They have a right to be.

Arch Coal already has gone to court to seek relief from the EPA’s disruptive behavior. Arch’s case, filed last April in a Washington, D.C., federal court, is straightforward: The government should not be able to grant a permit one day and then delay and threaten its use later. Companies that play key roles in our economy — and affordable energy is critical — cannot operate under such conditions.

So, The State Journal is all about respect for the law … They went so far as to call EPA’s permit review and possible veto “an assault on the nation’s legal foundation.”

I wonder if the paper’s editors  respect the law that gives citizen groups who believe the Corps of Engineers unlawfully issued the news Spruce Mine permit the right to their day in court before U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers. Because, for all of the talk that the Spruce Mine has received every approval that is needed, the citizen lawsuit challenging the permit approval has never been heard on its merits. Even if EPA were to approve the permit tomorrow, the law still gives those citizens the right to have their lawsuit heard.

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This just out this morning from The Associated Press:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s mine safety chief wants a new job.

Director Ron Wooten has received permission to seek work with companies regulated by the Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training. State Ethics Commission Executive Director Theresa Kirk granted Wooten’s request for an exemption from ethics law in an Oct. 8 letter.

Wooten declined to comment.

Spokeswoman Leslie Fitzwater says Wooten feels he can stay with the state, but is unsure what might happen if Gov. Joe Manchin wins election to the U.S. Senate.

Manchin, a Democrat, is running against Republican John Raese to finish the final two years of the late Robert C. Byrd’s term.

Wooten’s potential departure comes as the agency investigates the deaths of 29 miners in an April 5 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine.

By way of additional background, Ron Wooten was named Manchin’s mine safety director on Aug. 31, 2006. He replaced interim director James Dean, a West Virginia University teacher who took over when longtime state regulator Doug Conaway left for a job with Arch Coal not long after the January 2006 Sago Mine disaster. Wooten had been vice president of safety for CONSOL Energy from 1983 until 1998.

Photo by Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and Southwings

Nearly a year ago, I wrote a post about the amazing lack of media coverage of the way the U.S. EPA’s involvement in the Hobet 45 mountaintop removal permit had produced a project that allowed almost all of the original coal to be mined, yet greatly reduced the potential environmental impacts associated with that mining.

Now, we’re seeing some interesting commentary from the usual suspects in the West Virginia media about Friday’s big announcement that the EPA regional administrator, Shawn Garvin, has recommended a veto of the Spruce Mine, a move that takes the Obama administration a step further toward blocking that operation.

My buddy Hoppy Kercheval at MetroNews wrote this is a commentary that was also published by the Daily Mail (which added the headline, “Likely unacceptable adverse effects on mankind”):

But this is how it’s working with the current EPA. The coal industry rightly complains that permits are virtually impossible to come by. The obstruction not only affects pending mines, but on a larger scale it creates an atmosphere of uncertainty that is detrimental to the state’s leading industry.

On the same page yesterday, the Daily Mail opined:

The purpose of this veto recommendation seems designed to make the permitting process so excruciating that it discourages further investment in coal.

And rather than actually explain the reasoning of EPA to its readers, the Daily Mail resorted to a short quote from an agency spokesman — who pointed out EPA still hopes to work out a compromise with Arch Coal — followed by the line:

Blah, blah. blah. What is left to talk about?

What’s left to talk about?

Well, how about the distinct possibility that EPA, under the Obama administration, might actually push Arch Coal to further reduce the environmental impacts of this operation? That’s what happened with at least two of the major mining projects (see here and here) EPA has approved since Obama took office.

Then, there’s this idea that the Spruce Mine has been reviewed to death, and that everybody who has ever looked at it closely signed off on it … well, that’s simply not the case.

As I’ve pointed out before, EPA has never signed off on the project — even under the Bush administration. And, U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers has never ruled on the significant challenge to the mine permit filed by environmental groups. Hoppy points out in his commentary that there’s been “litigation” over Spruce, but he doesn’t make clear that the litigation has been on hold while EPA goes through its review process. Citizens who believe the Spruce Mine doesn’t comply with the law haven’t had their day in court.

I suppose it’s hard to fault the West Virginia media coverage. I mean, gosh, you have elected officials falling all over themselves to jump on EPA over this, so why should reporters, editors and commentators be troubled with mixing in a few facts among the posturing?

Rep. Nick J. Rahall should know better, but we’ve come to expect him to resort to these attacks on federal regulators as he faces a rare challenge to his re-election. Sen. Carte Goodwin could use his short time in Washington to carry on the legacy of Sen. Robert C. Byrd, who encouraged the coal industry to “embrace the future,” and advised us all to tone down the “war on coal” rhetoric. Instead, my good friend Sen. Goodwin issued the obligatory statement critical of EPA:

This veto recommendation by EPA Region III is unacceptable. Four years ago, federal officials approved operations at this site. Since then, Arch Coal invested significant time and resources, armed with the security of federal regulatory approval, only now to face a potential arbitrary permit revocation by another agency – the EPA. These are West Virginia jobs at stake—the coal industry must be able to take government agencies at their word.

But I guess the thing that struck me the most was that headline the Daily Mail stuck on Hoppy’s commentary:

Likely unacceptable adverse effects on mankind

That reminded me of the interesting discussion on Coal Tattoo the last few days about whether the EPA’s argument against the Spruce Mine permit is rooted in concerns over wildlife — specifically those meddlesome mayflies — or concerns about people.

Well, here’s the language from Clean Water Act Section 404(c) that describes the conditions under which EPA can veto an Army Corps of Engineers permit like the Spruce Mine:

The Administrator is authorized to prohibit the specification (including the withdrawal of specification) of any defined area as a disposal site, and he is authorized to deny or restrict the use of any defined area for specification (including the withdrawal of specification) as a disposal site, whenever he determines, after notice and opportunity for public hearings, that the discharge of such materials into such area will have an unacceptable adverse effect on municipal water supplies, shellfish beds and fishery areas (including spawning and breeding areas), wildlife, or recreational areas. Before making such determination, the Administrator shall consult with the Secretary. The Administrator shall set forth in writing and make public his findings and his reasons for making any determination under this subsection.

So in general, EPA’s decision here — whenever it is finalized — must be rooted in concerns about an “unacceptable adverse effect on municipal water supplies, shellfish beds and fishery areas (including spawning and breeding areas), wildlife, or recreational areas.”

But, if any of the local media or the politicians had bothered to read EPA’s recommended determination on the Spruce Mine, they would have seen two other important considerations that EPA says add to the weight of its concerns about the Spruce Mine.

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We haven’t talked much on Coal Tattoo about the race for West Virginia’s 1st District Congressional seat … but the AP’s Vicki Smith had this interesting bit of information in her story today about yesterday’s debate between Democrat Mike Oliverio and Republican David McKinely:

West Virginia congressional candidates David McKinley and Michael Oliverio agreed Tuesday that federal spending and deficits are out of control, that the science suggesting man is to blame for global warming is questionable, and that Washington needs a change.

The story continues:

They also touched on coal, agreeing that the science behind global warming is questionable. Many scientists have disavowed past climate change research, McKinley said, and he’s waiting for valid science to convince him there’s a problem and whether man is to blame.

“This is an issue that people are using to try to stop the production of coal and the burning of coal in America, and we’ve got to find ways to stand up and say no to that,” he said, calling for more independent research. “I don’t want to listen to Al Gore tell me from a political standpoint that global warming is caused by man because I don’t think he can support it.”

Oliverio agreed, “I’m a bit of a skeptic.”

He said industry has been able to address many emissions issues, and a solution to make coal a cleaner fuel will be found.

Let’s see … last time I checked the basic science —  Carbon dioxide emissions are making the world warmer, humans are causing those emissions, and the impacts could be devastating — was agreed to by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Academy of Sciences, and science academies around the world (The AP unfortunately didn’t mention any of that in its story). Just this week, NOAA reported that 2010 is the hottest year on record so far.

Perhaps candidates Oliverio and McKinley could take a few moments to review “An illustrated guide to the latest climate science,” written by Joe Romm on his Climate Progress blog. If they did, they would learn:

In 2009, the scientific literature caught up with what top climate scientists have been saying privately for a few years now:

— Many of the predicted impacts of human-caused climate change are occurring much faster than anybody expected — particularly ice melt, everywhere you look on the planet.

— If we stay anywhere near our current emissions path, we are facing incalculable catastrophes by century’s end, including rapid sea level rise, massive wildfires, widespread Dust-Bowlification, large oceanic dead zones, and 9°F warming — much of which could be all but irreversible for centuries. And that’s not the worst-case scenario!

— The consequences for human health and well being would be extreme.

Or, one of them could eventually head to Congress with their head in the sand and, as Sen. Byrd cautioned, send a message that West Virginia says, “deal me out”. Sen Byrd thought that was a bad idea:

West Virginia would be much smarter to stay at the table. The 20 coal-producing states together hold some powerful political cards. We can have a part in shaping energy policy, but we must be honest brokers if we have any prayer of influencing coal policy on looming issues important to the future of coal like hazardous air pollutants, climate change, and federal dollars for investments in clean coal technology.

We’ve written numerous times here regarding questions that remain about GOP congressional candidate Spike Maynard’s relationship to Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship (See previous posts here, here, here and here).

And now, the United Mine Workers union over the weekend started an advertising blitz in support of Democratic Rep. Nick J. Rahall, specifically targeting Maynard’s ties to Blankenship. Here are the ads:

N.Y Times: When does it end?

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Today’s Yesterday’s New York Times had another strong editorial about the coal industry, this one focusing on both mine safety and mountaintop removal:

Nine American miners have been killed in eight little-noted accidents since April, when an explosion in rural West Virginia left 29 dead. Lawmakers, claiming to be scandalized by the failures in safety enforcement, vowed sweeping reforms. That’s all they’ve done.

A new inspector general’s report is one more reminder of how all of Washington has shamefully shirked its responsibility time and time again. In the more than 40 years since Congress passed what was supposed to be a landmark safety law cracking down on industry’s repeat offenders, not a single serial violator has faced the law’s maximum penalties. Instead, a rope-a-dope regulatory process has let companies game enforcement through years of violation appeals.

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This just in from Massey Energy:

Massey Energy will idle production at our 92 underground coal producing sections on October 29 to reinforce the fact that safety is more important than production.

The Company will conduct site specific training at these operations to reinforce the fact the company expects its miners to follow the law. The operations will also review past violations and emphasize best practices to eliminate future violations.

“Despite considerable training,” said Don L. Blankenship, Chairman & CEO, “there have been recent instances where our miners were not doing the right thing as they had been trained to do. The idling of production reinforces our philosophy that safety is first and production is second.”

This just in from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration:

ARLINGTON, Va. – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration today announced that federal inspectors issued 499 citations, 61 orders and three safeguards during special impact inspections conducted at 15 coal and 15 metal/nonmetal mine operations last month.

These concentrated inspections, which began in force last April following the explosion at Upper Big Branch Mine, target mines that merit increased agency attention and enforcement due to their poor compliance history or particular compliance concerns, including high numbers of violations or closure orders; indications of operator tactics, such as advance notification of inspections that prevent inspectors from observing violations; frequent hazardous complaints or hotline calls; plan compliance issues; inadequate workplace examinations; a high number of accidents, injuries or illnesses; fatalities; and adverse conditions such as increased methane liberation, faulty roof conditions and inadequate ventilation.

During this most recent round of impact inspections, MSHA coal inspectors issued 275 citations, 53 orders and three safeguards, while metal/nonmetal inspectors issued 224 citations and eight orders.

“We are continuing to find serious threats to miners’ safety and health,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “While some operators are finally getting the message, others are not,” he said, referencing the Sept. 28 impact inspection at Elk Run Coal Co.’s Seng Creek Powellton Mine, in which MSHA issued 11 closure orders when inspectors found the mine operating without proper ventilation. Such practices can lead to mine explosions and black lung disease.

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West Virginia senatorial candidates Republican John Raese, left, Mountain Party candidate Jesse Johnson, second from left, and Constitutional Party candidate Jeff Becker, listen to West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin, right, speak during a Senate debate in the studios of West Virginia Public Broadcasting in Morgantown, W.Va. on Monday, Oct. 18, 2010. (AP photo/David Smith)

Last evening’s discussion — it wasn’t really a “debate” — among the candidates to fill the U.S. Senate seat long held by Robert C. Byrd pretty much fell in line with the scripts from the two major candidates, Gov. Joe Manchin and Republican industrialist John Raese. See coverage from The Associated Press here and West Virginia Public Broadcasting here. And here’s a link where you can watch the whole thing on C-Span.

There was some discussion of coal issues, and in one instance what seemed like a pretty interesting response from Gov. Manchin when the AP’s Larry Messina asked what Manchin would do in the Senate regarding mine safety issues.

Now, you might have thought that the Democratic candidate for Senate would have offered even the least bit of support for the mine safety reform bill that has passed a key House committee and is pending in the United States Senate. After all, the measure was introduced by W.Va. Democratic Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Carte Goodwin, and it’s named for Sen. Byrd.

Gov. Manchin had a chance to make clear the distinction between blindly supporting whatever the coal industry wants and backing reasonable measures to improve the lives of the folks who mine the coal and live in coalfield communities … Democrats have tried to get this bill moving, only to have their efforts blocked by the Republicans in the Senate.

But remember that Gov. Manchin has allowed his mine safety office to delay implementing a key portion of the executive order he issued — calling for immediate inspections and coal-dust sampling in all W.Va. underground mines — just after the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster. And, the governor has not moved on recommendations for reform legislation on the state level that were submitted to his office by his special investigator, Davitt McAteer, and other safety advocates.

In response to Larry Messina’s question, Gov. Manchin stuck to his position — that he wouldn’t be proposing any changes in state law or regulations until after all of the investigations of Upper Big Branch are complete.

Oddly, though, the governor also seemed to suggest that this was the way things were handled on the state and federal levels back in 2006 — when the record is clear that both the state Legislature (at Manchin’s behest) and Congress acted on new safety legislation before the investigations of Sago, Aracoma, and Kentucky Darby were completed. In fact, Gov. Manchin had repeatedly made a point of bragging that West Virginia moved before the feds did four years ago and he made a trip to Washington just after Aracoma to push Congress to act (See previous links here, here and here).

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This just in via The Associated Press:

Shares of Massey Energy jumped more than 8 percent in premarket trading Tuesday after published reports suggested the coal company is exploring a possible sale.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Massey, (Subscription only) based in Richmond, Va., has formed a committee to study a number of options. Those options could include a sale to a rival or a private-equity firm, acquiring another company or remaining independent.

The Journal’s sources said Massey’s board is pushing for the review while the company’s CEO Don Blankenship wants to keep the company independent. The paper said the committee could reach a decision by mid-November.

An explosion at one of Massey’s mines in West Virginia killed 29 miners, making it the worst U.S. coal mining accident in 40 years.

In a note to clients, FBR Capital Markets analyst David M. Khani said he believes there is a good chance the company could be bought out. He believes Massey, with its rich coal assets in Appalachia, could fetch $50 per share in a buyout.

The shares were trading at close to $55 just before the mine explosion. By mid-July, they’d dropped by more than half. After a recent run-up, shares closed Monday at $35.56. In premarket activity, the shares rose to $38.60, up 8.5 percent.

Khani doesn’t think the company will be taken private because it would need to sell assets to reduce its debt. . .

The Manchin administration finally revealed this afternoon the deal its mine safety office has made to resolve litigation by Massey Energy officials over subpoenas issued as part of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster investigation.

Under the arrangement, Massey officials who choose to invoke their 5th Amendment right and not answer any questions in the government’s probe of the April 5 explosion that killed 29 miners could do so in writing, rather than in person.

Recall that at least six Massey officials and mine managers had taken legal action, filing a joint motion in Raleigh County Circuit Court seeking to have their subpoenas thrown out.

That was nearly a month ago, and the state Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training had reissued at least some of these subpoenas to try to remedy any legal defects in the subpoenas themselves. But this week, investigators had planned to resume interviews, with a number of high-ranking officials from Massey and from the Upper Big Branch Mine listed on their schedule.

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The Kentucky Coal Association earlier today filed a lawsuit to challenge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to crack down on mountaintop removal coal mining.

Coal Association officials announced their suit in a news release posted on their organization’s blog and a copy of the suit if available here.

Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, said:

We regrettably have no choice but to file suit against Administrator Lisa Jackson and the EPA to stop their illegal agenda to end coal mining in Kentucky. This EPA continues to act without any consideration for the law, so it is our hope that the federal court system will find that the EPA’s actions are being made based on political ideology alone, with no connection to actually protecting the environment. We are confident that we will prevail in this action and that the court will agree that Kentuckians know best how their home should be managed. The EPA is a federal agency and we need them to obey the law.

The National Mining Association and West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin have already filed their own suits against EPA over this issue.

Relatives and friends of a miner who was killed by an explosion grief as they leave on a van near the state-run Pingyu Coal & Electric Co. Ltd mine in Yuzhou city, central China’s Henan province on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010. Dozens of anxious relatives and friends of miners trapped underground by the explosion in central China gathered outside the site Sunday while rescuers said they were fighting tons of coal dust to try to reach the workers. (AP Photo/Ken Teh)

Here’s the latest from China:

By Ken Tech

Associated Press Writer

YUZHOU, China (AP) — Hopes were fading Monday for the remaining seven Chinese miners still missing after a deadly gas leak over the weekend that left 30 dead.

The State Administration of Work Safety announced on its website that as of 6 a.m., rescuers had found another four bodies, raising the death toll to 30. More than 200 men had escaped after the Saturday morning leak at the mine owned by the Pingyu Coal & Electric Co. Ltd in Yuzhou city in central Henan province.

Police tightened security around the mine, with dozens of officers blocking entry points and forcing reporters to leave the area. Grieving family members and friends, who had crowded around the mine entrance a day earlier asking for information were nowhere to be seen.

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House Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., issued this statement in support of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration’s proposed plan to end black lung disease:

After years of careful study and delays, I applaud Assistant Secretary Joe Main and Secretary Solis’ effort to seriously address the scourge of black lung disease among our nation’s coal miners. The large number of miners still getting sick every year proves that current protections are woefully out of date. When fully phased in over the next two years, these new standards will not only save lives and provide for better monitoring technology of coal dust, but they will reduce the cost of federal disability program for black lung because fewer miners will be contracting this debilitating disease.

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Friday roundup, Oct. 15, 2010

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In this photo released by the Chilean Presidential Press Office, Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera, ninth right front row, poses for pictures with the 33 rescued miners during a visit to the hospital where they are undergoing a medical check up in Copiapo, Chile, Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010. The 69-day underground ordeal reached its end Wednesday night after the trapped miners were hauled up in a cage through a narrow hole drilled through 2,000 feet, (700 meters) of rock. (AP Photo/Chilean Presidential Press Office, Jose Manuel de la Maza)

In the wake of this week’s dramatic rescue of those 33 Chilean copper miners, one of my favorite sources of international news, The Guardian, had an interesting piece that outlined some “winners and losers” from this incident.

Among the winners:

Union leaders are also likely to be pleased by the domestic and international attention the incident has brought. Before the accident, miners were increasingly being seen as privileged employees with high wages and hefty bonuses; now unions believe that the Chilean public has a better idea of the daily dangers miners face.

And among the losers:

The mine’s owner, the Compañía Minera San Esteban Primera, is blamed by the public, miners and many officials for the accident. The firm is undergoing an internal audit of its assets and debt to determine whether it should declare bankruptcy. The mine, which is more than 100 years old, has a long history of accidents that have killed and seriously injured many miners in recent years.

Over at MetroNews, Hoppy Kercheval had a column about a Morgantown man who helped with the rescue:

Bill Maloney doesn’t cry easily or very often. But as he watched those miners being hauled one-by-one from that mine in Chile, he couldn’t help but to tear up.

Maloney had good reason to be emotional. The Morgantown man played an important role in getting those miners out safely, and a lot sooner than first expected.

Also worth re-reading in the aftermath of the Chilean rescue is this piece by my friend Jeff Goodell, about what happened after the mine rescue at Quecreek back in July 2002:

A year ago, on July 24, when nine miners in nearby Quecreek cut into an old mine that was flooded with millions of gallons of water, the attention of the nation was transfixed. Miners, of course, have been getting trapped underground for hundreds of years. But this particular melodrama, coming less than a year after 9/11 and so close to the crash site of Flight 93, was as much about redemption and faith as it was about rescuing nine men.

A year ago, the rescue of the miners at Quecreek was the biggest news of the summer, a nostalgic tale of brawn and ingenuity and survival set in a small town. It was a story Americans needed to hear at that moment. Terror alerts and anthrax scares had so darkened the mood that the nation sorely needed something to root for.

For the nine men who were the beneficiaries of those prayers, however, it has been a tough year. When they were lifted out of the mine in that yellow rescue capsule, they were reborn into a different world. For a few days, they were the most famous men in the country, expected to speak in sound bites and show up on time for photo shoots with Annie Leibovitz. (None of the miners had any idea who she was.) To President Bush, they were symbols of “the American spirit”; to blue-collar America, they were forgotten men who labored in the darkness for our daily light and heat; to the church faithful, they were living testimony to God’s grace. “After the rescue, people would literally come up to me on the street and ask if they could touch me,” Mark Popernack recalls.

In the aftermath, the miners went out of their way to be humble and to give credit to the hundreds of people who worked so hard to save them. (“The rescuers did all the hard work,” Randy Fogle joked. “We were just on extended vacation underground.”) But, of course, it was the miners who flew to Nascar races in private jets and were feted at the Governor’s Mansion, while many rescuers were lucky to get a chance to tell their story at a Boy Scouts meeting.

In May, six of the nine miners announced their intention to file a lawsuit against Mincorp, the holding company that owned the Quecreek mine, as well as PBS Coals, a subsidiary. (The companies reject the charges of negligence.) Although any settlement in the suit would come out of the company’s $10 million insurance policy, many locals worried that the lawsuit might force the mine to close down, putting dozens of miners out of work. To many in this struggling coal town, it feels like profound ingratitude: “Isn’t it enough that they got out alive?” says the wife of one rescue worker. “Why can’t they just be grateful, be quiet and go on with their lives?”

When Bob Long shot himself, some local residents lashed out at the most visible targets — the miners. It was well known around town that there was no love lost between Long and several of the miners and their wives, even if the details were murky. “I hope the miners and their wives remember for the rest of their lives how Long must have felt the last moments of his life,” one reader wrote to the local newspaper. “They are at least partly responsible for his death.” Another wrote: “I guess to some people, money is everything, and now a wife and children are without a husband and father because of nothing more than greed.”

It was inevitable, of course, that the halos would fall from the miners’ heads. They were unreal to begin with. But who would have imagined that such a triumphant American moment would get mixed up so quickly with such tragedy?

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This just in: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regional administrator, Shawn Garvin, has recommended that his agency veto the Clean Water Act permit for the controversial Spruce No. 1 Mine in Logan County, W.Va.

EPA has posted a copy of Garvin’s recommendation here, and there are some companion documents online here. The recommendation concludes:

… Region III has determined that discharges of dredged and/or fill material to Pigeonroost Branch and Oldhouse Branch for the purpose of constructing the Spruce No. 1 Surface Mine as currently authorized … would likely have unacceptable adverse effects on wildlife … [the permit] authorizes construction of valley fills and sedimentation ponds and other discharges into Pigeonroost Branch and Oldhouse Branch that will bury approximately 6.6 miles of high quality headwater streams.

… Burial of Pigeonroost Branch and Oldhouse Branch would likely result in effects to downstream waters and downstream wildlife caused by the removal of functions performed by the buried resources and by transformation of the buried areas into sources that contribute contaminants to downstream waters. In addition, currently authorized discharges to Pigeonroost Branch and Oldhouse Branch would be likely to contribute to conditions that would support blooms of algae that release toxins that kill fish and other aquatic life …

The regional EPA administrator also concluded:

… Because construction of the Spruce No. 1 Mine and 11 additional mining operations would increase the percent of the sub-basin that is impacted by mining activity, it can be expected that these water quality effects will likely be exacerbated by these additional mines. EPA believes that the Spruce No. 1 Mine project, in conjunction with the other mining operations either under construction or proposed for the Coal River sub-basin, will be likely to contribute to the significant cumulative loss of aquatic resources and degradation of water quality.

In a prepared statement just issued, EPA said:

After an initial review by EPA’s Office of Water at Headquarters, the Agency is releasing the recommendations made by EPA Region 3 Regional Administrator regarding his Clean Water Act review of the proposed Spruce coal mine in West Virginia. It is important to emphasize that this is only one step in the process—EPA has not reached a final decision on this project. EPA’s next step will be to reach out to the mining company, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and West Virginia State officials to engage in discussions about potential actions that can be taken to reduce impacts to the environment and to the waters that Appalachian communities depend on for drinking, swimming and fishing. EPA determined that releasing the Recommended Determination now would ensure that our consultation process is as constructive and productive as possible. Following these discussions, EPA’s Office of Water will issue a final decision after a thorough review of the Regional Administrator’s recommendation, the science, the 50,000 public comments received and careful consideration of our discussions with the State, Corps and Company. EPA is expected to make a final determination later this Fall.

EPA released Garvin’s recommended decision publicly and filed a copy of it in federal court in Huntington, asking U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers to extend for another 120 days — until Feb. 22 — the judge’s order suspending litigation over the Army Corps of Engineers-issued permit until EPA can complete its review and potential veto of the operation.

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Some coalfield politicians, including West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, are quick to point to supposed “beneficial uses” of toxic coal ash, when they attack federal government efforts to more closely regulate coal-fired power plant waste.

We’ve written before regarding questions about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s promotion of “beneficial uses” and the close ties between those EPA efforts and industry lobby groups (see posts here and here).

Now this week, a report from the EPA’s own Inspector General has some criticism of the agency’s actions regarding a Web site promoting “beneficial uses”:

EPA’s C2P2 Website presented an incomplete picture regarding actual damage and potential risks that can result from large-scale placement of CCRs. In its May 2010 proposed rule, EPA showed that environmental risks and damage can be associated with the large-scale placement of unencapsulated CCRs. According to EPA’s proposed rule, unencapsulated use of CCRs may result in environmental contamination, such as leaching of heavy metals into drinking water sources. The proposed rule identified seven cases involving large-scale placement, under the guise of beneficial use, of unencapsulated CCRs, in which damage to human health or the environment had been demonstrated. EPA states in its proposed rule that it does not consider large-scale placement of CCRs as representing beneficial use. However, EPA’s C2P2 Website, which contained general risk information, did not disclose this EPA decision and did not make the seven damage cases readily accessible.

The C2P2 Website also contained material that gave the appearance that EPA endorses commercial products. Such an endorsement is prohibited by EPA ethics policies and communications guidelines. We identified 9 of 23 case studies on the Website that reference commercial products made with CCRs or patented business technologies. All 23 of the studies were marked with EPA’s official logo but none had the required disclaimer stating that EPA does not endorse the commercial products.

Although EPA has suspended active participation in C2P2 during the rulemaking process, the C2P2 Website remained available for public searches, information, and education. The C2P2 Website contained incomplete risk information on the beneficial use of CCRs. The C2P2 Website also contained apparent or implied EPA endorsements that are prohibited by EPA policies.

There’s obviously been a lot of talk during the campaign to fill Robert C. Byrd’s U.S. Senate seat about the Obama administration’s alleged “war on coal,” with Democrat and Gov. Joe Manchin trying to fend off the rather absurd suggestion by Republican John Raese that the governor doesn’t strongly support the industry.

Except for a minor blip here and there — mostly in the form of the Manchin campaign ad criticizing Raese-owned companies’ safety records, which somebody in the Manchin camp decided should be filmed at a mine that’s under federal criminal investigation for faking safety inspections — there’s been little talk about mine safety and health.

But the general thrust from both campaigns has been that Manchin and Raese both are strong supporters of coal miners, defenders of their jobs and their “way of life” against those nasty federal regulators. Almost unbelievably, Manchin took this even farther than Raese did, not only suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for trying to protect the environment, but also trying to show voters he’s man enough to take his gun to a defenseless piece of federal legislation.

So if Gov. Manchin and Mr. Raese are such big supporters of coal miners, you would think they would be all about helping to put an end to black lung, a disease that has killed 10,000 coal miners in the last decade alone — including more than 1,800 in West Virginia.

And yes, what positions the candidates would take on an issue like this could be critically important … Republicans currently have mine safety legislation bottled up in the U.S. Senate, and MSHA’s ability to enact and enforce tougher dust limits could be hampered or enhanced by better funding and oversight, depending on who is speaking for miners from West Virginia’s other Senate seat. Don’t forget — the last time the nation had a Democratic president and a reformer (Davitt McAteer) running MSHA,  the GOP took over Congress in the midterm elections and proceeded to try to dismantle federal mine safety protections altogether.

While Gov. Manchin moved swiftly following the Sago and Aracoma deaths to enact new state mine rescue legislation for West Virginia, the administration here hasn’t followed through yet on increased coal-dust sampling or proposed any legislation at all in the wake of the Upper Big Branch Disaster.

And Mr. Raese? Well, he hasn’t really made improving mine safety a part of his campaign and it’s pretty clear the guy doesn’t care for federal regulation of such things.

But still, shouldn’t voters know whether either candidate would support or oppose MSHA’s new effort to eliminate black lung. Perhaps foolishly, I thought so … so I asked yesterday for comments from both campaigns about the MSHA plan.

First, I haven’t heard a word back from the Raese campaign, though I continue to get their regular e-mail blasts that they send our regularly to all of the media.

But folks at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee should hold off trying to make much of that, because this is the best Gov. Manchin’s campaign could do in commenting on the MSHA plan to end black lung:

It may be challenging to meet this new rule, but everyone wants safe work and health conditions, and we must seek consistent improvements in regards to enhancing our workplace safety. It is my understanding that there is a 60-day comment period and all affected parties will be able to voice their views or concerns at this time.

Here’s a release put out yesterday by Climate Ground Zero:

Activists from the groups Mountain Justice, Coal River Mountain Watch and Climate Ground Zero have announced plans for a mass non-violent civil disobedience action on Kayford Mountain on Sunday, Oct. 24, in opposition to mountaintop removal coal mining. The event will begin with a rally at noon on Sunday, followed by a mass civil disobedience action at the strip mine located on Kayford Mountain.

A press conference announcing the action will be held at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 19, in the courtyard of the West Virginia State Capitol.

Larry Gibson, whose family has owned land on Kayford Mountain for generations, said he thinks what the activists have been doing should “alert people to what is coming their way, so they have a chance to stop the destruction before it happens in their own backyard – in West Virginia or elsewhere.”

The mass action comes on the heels of Appalachia Rising, the largest national gathering of people in opposition to Mountaintop Removal coal mining to date. Appalachia Rising, a similar conference recently held in Washington D.C., ended in over 100 civil disobedient arrests in front of the White House.