Coal Tattoo

Massey security chief indicted in UBB probe

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U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin here in Southern West Virginia just announced:

Hughie Elbert Stover, 60, of Clear Fork, Raleigh County, West Virginia, has been charged with two felonies in connection with the federal investigation of events at Massey Energy Company’s Upper Big Branch Mine (UBB). Stover is Chief of Security at UBB and at least two other Massey operations. A federal grand jury indicted Stover last week on charges of making false statements to federal agents and obstructing a federal investigation. The indictment was unsealed today after Stover was arrested at his home.

I’ve posted a copy of the unsealed indictment here, and we’ve got a quick news story on the Gazette Web site here.

Continue reading…

UPDATED: Here’s the announcement just made by AEP and FirstEnergy:

American Electric Power (NYSE: AEP) today announced it will file, along with FirstEnergy Corp., to withdraw the applications for state regulatory approval of the Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH) project following an announcement by regional grid operator PJM Interconnection that the project has been suspended.

Today’s filings in Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia are in response to a directive by regional grid operator PJM Interconnection to suspend further development of the PATH project while PJM conducts a more rigorous analysis of the potential need for PATH as part of its continuing Regional Transmission Expansion Plan. PJM directed the construction of PATH in 2007 to resolve violations of national and local standards for reliable operation of the region’s transmission system. Since then, annual studies reaffirmed the need for PATH as the recommended solution for resolving these issues. However, PJM’s latest analyses indicate that the need for the project has moved well into the future.

“While we are certainly disappointed by the suspension of PATH and the uncertainties created by the PJM planning process, we do support a thorough and detailed analysis of the need for the project. We remain convinced that the project will be needed and plan to move forward with it when PJM completes its review,” said Michael G. Morris, AEP chairman and chief executive officer.

Here’s the announcement just in from PJM Interconnection, the group that manages our regional electrical transmission grid:

The outlook for a slower economic recovery has led the Board of PJM Interconnection to direct transmission owners to suspend efforts on the Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH).

The news release doesn’t appear to be on PJM’s Web site yet, and Here’s a link to the news release. Apparently the board decision was made on Friday. Here’s more:

PJM annually reviews its transmission expansion plans. A preliminary analysis suggests that the need for the line has moved further into the future. Therefore, the PJM Board has decided to hold the PATH project in abeyance in the 2011 Regional Transmission Expansion Plan (RTEP). The preliminary analysis used the most current economic forecasts, demand response commitments and potential new generation.

PJM will continue its analysis. The PJM Board will review the comprehensive analysis as part of its consideration of the 2011 RTEP.

And:

Over the last two years, the recession and the dramatic change in the economic outlook caused PJM to forecast lower growth in the use of electricity. Growth in the use of electricity correlates with economic growth. The forecasted slower growth rate likely will delay the need for the line.

The PJM Board’s action affects only PATH, which would connect the Amos Substation in West Virginia to the proposed Kemptown Substation in Maryland.

This announcement by PJM comes after the West Virginia Public Service Commission again delayed its hearings on the PATH project, amid mounting evidence that there are viable alternatives to the power line.

Blaming EPA

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An item out of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph got some attention late last week, when it reported that a coal processing plant had closed because of the U.S. EPA crackdown on surface mining permits.  The Associated Press picked up the story, saying:

A subsidiary of Russian mining and metals company Mechel OAO is blaming the closure of a McDowell County coal-processing plant on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A company official said Mechel has been unable to get water quality permits for new mines from EPA.

The Bluefield paper’s story offered some other interesting details, though, quoting Roman Semenov, general counsel for Mechel’s Keystone Service Industries:

He stated that while the prep plant has undergone several updates and renovations, the plant will require a “multi-million dollar modernization to be efficient in the coal preparation process,” according to the press release. “Such an investment must be based on the knowledge that sufficient raw coal will be produced to necessitate the plant’s capacity.

“Unfortunately, the current EPA refusal to issue any NPDES (National Pollution Discharge Elimination Discharge) permits related to coal mining in southern West Virginia leaves our company with no clear way of knowing whether we can operate this plant without the needed raw coal to process,” according to the press release.

Now, there’s something else interesting here, though.  Are conditions really as bad as it seems? Check out what else was reported:

At the same time, commissioning of the new Nufac Plant near Pineville in December 2010 represents a significant investment in southern West Virginia and has created over 21 jobs,” according to the press release.

So while Mechel (which bought Bluestone Coal) is closing one old and outdated prep plant, they’re opening another, brand new one.

And what about the company’s stalled permits?

I asked the state Department of Environmental Protection about that, and WVDEP spokeswoman Kathy Cosco said agency officials were only aware of one of the company’s permits that was caught up in those more detailed EPA reviews.

And if you look at EPA’s Web site, you can see that the holdup on the one Bluestone permit caught up in the EPA-Corps ECP process doesn’t appear to be on the federal government’s end. That site says that the processing of this permit is:

Awaiting additional information from applicant.


Buffalo Creek, Feb. 26, 1972

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Here’s part of  “Disaster on Buffalo Creek: A Citizens’ Report on the Criminal Negligence in a West Virginia Mining Community,” which we posted online back in 1997 as part of Voices of Buffalo Creek, a series to mark the 25th anniversary of this terrible disaster:

For the Buffalo Creek disaster, like the recent coal-mine fire tragedies at Farmington, West Virginia, and at Hyden, Kentucky, could have been prevented — it need not have happened. Clearly and simply, people living downstream from the Buffalo Mining Company’s coal refuse dam at Saunders were the victims of gross negligence.

In Appalachian — sometimes known as “the last white colony of western civilization” — absentee owners of the region’s vast energy resources and their subservient homebred and imported politicians time and again are to blame for mass death and destruction. Time and again, those most at fault throw up smokescreens to obscure their responsibility .

There is a basic question raised anew by Buffalo Creek, the latest assault by the coal operators in their long slaughterhouse in death, injury and disease: Whether the people of Appalachia and West Virginia can any longer afford this senseless destruction of their lives, their land, and their democratic institutions; or whether the ownership and operation of coal mines should be brought under democratic control to benefit all the people. All to clearly the tragedy of Buffalo Creek has torn away the mask, revealing the ugly truth that powerful coal interests dominate the government, the environment, and the West Virginia way of life to the detriment of all citizens. Discussion and action are needed now to transform King Coal, the tyrant, into Citizen Coal, the servant of all — before and not after another Buffalo Creek disaster.

Friday roundup, Feb. 25, 2011

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Afghan firefighters work to extinguish a fire at a coal depot in the old part of Kabul, Afghanistan,Thursday, Feb, 17, 2011. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

Our friend Celeste Monforton had a great post recently on The Pump Handle blog titled, Congressman blames US coal miners for having black lung disease.  She explained:

Freshman Congressman Larry D. Bucshon (R) of Evansville, Indiana is a cardiothoracic surgeon. His father was an underground coal miner and a member of the United Mine Workers Union for 37 years. Both his grandparents were coal miners. But, Republican-controlled Capitol Hill is now the Twilight Zone when I heard him say the following last week at a congressional hearing:

“I see a lot of patients with workplace related respiratory problems, some of which, to put it bluntly, are their own issue because they refuse to wear safety equipment regardless of whether there are regulations in place to do so or not.”

The congressman’s offensive remark was part of a question to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis on her department’s regulatory plan to address coal workers’ pneumoconiosis. I thought I’d heard it all, but blaming coal miners for having black lung disease?? That’s shameful.

Celeste went on:

The doctor/congressman may know cardiothoracic surgery, but he needs to pick up a few history books. When the 1969 Coal Act was being debated, physicans bought and paid for by coal operators told lawmakers that coal dust was not the cause of miners’ lung disease. Some even argued that breathing in the black dust had a protective effect. In many industries, workers have been told (lied to) “don’t worry, it’s just dust,” or “it’s not dangerous, it just makes you cough,” or “it’s safe enough to put on your morning cereal” or “you’re more likely to be hit by lightning than be harmed by this stuff.” The health of millions of workers has been harmed because they never had access to complete and accurate information about the compounds to which they were exposed, nor the appropriate controls to prevent them from being exposed.

Despite what the doctor/congressman might think, the answer is not as easy as a surgical mask and latex gloves. The most effective way to protect workers from dangerous workplace hazards is to control them at the source. With coal dust, that means controlling the dust with water sprays, ventilation and dust collectors. Wearing a respirator should be the last line of defense, and for workers who already have impaired lungs, breathing through a respirator is not even an option.

Continue reading…

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration just released its report on the death of  Rhett Lee Mosley, a 32-year old lube truck operator with 6 years of mining experience Mosely  was killed on the Rex Coal Company Inc., Rex Strip No. 1 in Harlan County, Ky., on Nov. 23, 2010.

Here’s what happened:

At approximately 12:15 a.m. on November 23, 2010, Rhett Lee Mosley, a 32-year old lube truck operator with 6 years of mining experience, was killed on the Rex Coal Company Inc., Rex Strip # 1, Lowsplint coal seam pit access roadway. The accident occurred on a section of roadway used to provide access for mobile equipment traveling between the Highsplint and Lowsplint coal seam work areas. Mosley lost control of the DM-690-SX Mack tandem axle lube truck while descending the roadway. The truck encountered the outer roadway barrier near the bottom of the roadway, traveled approximately 77 more feet and overturned on its left side, onto back dumped spoil material. Mosley apparently either jumped or was thrown from the truck and was found lying under the service bed of the truck.

MSHA investigators found:

An air leak was identified in the service brake portion of the left rear drive axle brake chamber. The air leak occurred only when the service brakes were applied and only affected the primary brake supply system pressure.

The brake evaluations indicated that five of the six service brakes, along with three of the four parking brakes, were ineffective or compromised.

The left side steering axle brake was not functioning. The s-cam rollers were dislodged from their seats and the drum’s contact surfaces had visible surface rust.

The left rear and right rear drive axle brake chambers were above the readjustment limit and did not have any effective reserve stroke. Neither of these brakes could produce any effective braking.

The right side steering axle brake would not have produced any effective braking and the left front drive axle brake would have produced limited braking. While both had reserve stroke, both were compromised due to varying degrees of grease-like material contaminating the contact surfaces of the brake shoe linings.

Five of the six service brake chamber pushrod strokes for the truck exceeded the maximum allowable pushrod stroke.

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Massey to set up medical monitoring in slurry case

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Here’s something just in from Vicki Smith at The Associated Press:

Massey Energy Co. said Thursday it will create a medical monitoring fund to provide health screenings for hundreds of southern West Virginia residents suing the company over claims it poisoned their wells with coal slurry.

General Counsel Shane Harvey said the deal was reached even though a second mediation attempt in Charleston this week failed to settle other issues in the long-running lawsuit against Virginia-based Massey and a subsidiary, Rawl Sales & Processing.

Harvey said that while Massey is confident its operations didn’t affect the plaintiffs’ water supplies, “We hope that the medical monitoring program will go a long way toward easing the plaintiffs’ concerns and leading to a fair and complete resolution of all issues.”

He did not say how much Massey will spend on the fund.

Continue reading…

Yesterday, I was re-reading the House floor debate over the coal industry riders pushed through by the Republican leadership (with a little help from our good friend, Democratic Rep. Nick J. Rahall).

Something jumped out at me from the remarks made by Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., regarding his amendment to block the U.S. EPA from vetoing anymore Clean Water Act Section 404 permits for surface mines. Here’s what I’m talking about:

These actions by the EPA continue to justify why so many Americans worry about the EPA’s relentless war on coal. If the EPA can be allowed to retroactively revoke a permit in West Virginia, they can continue this onslaught wherever water permits exist throughout America. Any entity discharging water is vulnerable to having their permits pulled and will put at risk city sewage treatment plans, farms, mines, steel mills, and chemical plants.

OK … here’s the thing. EPA vetoed a Section 404 permit — known as a “dredge-and-fill permit” for the Spruce Mine, not a water discharge permit of the type McKinley is worried about regarding steel mills and city sewage treatment facilities. Those are permits issued under a separate part of the Clean Water Act, Section 402.

And if you look at the language of Rep. McKinley’s amendment, it specifically prohibits:

… The use of funds used by the Administrator of the EPA to carry out section 404(c) of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act.

So if Rep. McKinley is concerned about those city wastewater treatment plants and steel mills, he’s going to have to rewrite his amendment.

Why coal miners die on the job

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The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration this morning made public its report on the death of 39-year-old Jesse Adkins of Belington, a roof bolter operator who was killed last July 29 at CONSOL Energy’s Loveridge Mine, near Fairview, Marion County.

Adkins was killed when a mine wall, or rib, collapsed on him. MSHA investigators found:

The accident was caused by a failure to effectively control the rib at the work area which exposed the victim to a hazardous condition. The hazardous condition consisted of slickensides that were present in the out-of-seam area of the belt overcast between the No. 4 and No. 7 entries. Contributing to the accident was an inadequate rib support system, the use of equipment that was not provided with a means to support the ribs as mining advanced, and failure to reevaluate changing conditions relative to equipment, mining procedures and practices.

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About the GOP House mining budget riders …

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As mentioned earlier, I was out for a few days, allowing me to miss all the fun in Washington, D.C., with the Republican House budget legislation and its various riders to block environmental initiatives of the Obama administration (see here and here for general summaries, focused mostly on the greenhouse gas rules).

There were four coal-specific riders worth noting here:

Defunding EPA’s water quality guidance —  An amendment numbered 109 printed in the Congressional Record to prohibit use of funds to the EPA, the Corps of Engineers, or the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement may be used to carry out, implement, administer, or enforce any policy or procedure set forth in the memorandum issued by the EPA. See roll call vote here.

Prohibiting EPA from vetoing fill permits — An amendment numbered 216 printed in the Congressional Record to prohibit the use of funds used by the Administrator of the EPA to carry out section 404(c) of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. See roll call vote here.

Stopping OSMRE’s stream protection rule — An amendment numbered 498 printed in the Congressional Record to prohibit the use of funds to be used to develop, carry out, implement, or otherwise enforce proposed regulations published June 18, 2010 (75 Fed. Reg. 34,667) by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement of the Department of the Interior. See roll call vote here.

Defunding EPA’s effort to regulate toxic coal ash — An amendment numbered 217 printed in the Congressional Record to prohibit the use of funds by EPA to develop, propose, finalize, implement, administer, or enforce any regulation that identifies or lists fossil fuel combustion waste as hazardous waste subject to regulation. See roll call vote here.

All four of these amendments passed and were part of the government funding resolution that the full House approved. The whole bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate and a veto threat from the White House.

Continue reading…

Hey folks, I’ve been out for a few days and am catching up on things. I wanted to make sure Coal Tattoo readers didn’t miss this commentary from United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts, published first on the Perspectives page of the Sunday Gazette-Mail:

When my great-uncle Bill Blizzard marched up the side of Blair Mountain with several thousand other coal miners in the late summer of 1921, he wasn’t thinking about the coal that lay within the mountain. He wasn’t thinking about whether the streams along the base of the mountain ran clear or not.

He was thinking instead about the murder of his friend Sid Hatfield by Baldwin-Felts thugs just a few weeks before. He was thinking about the near-slavery conditions coal miners and their families were forced to endure. He was thinking about how to make their lives better.

It’s important for Americans to remember the events that occurred on the slopes of Blair Mountain those fateful days, for it is a compelling and historically significant story of struggle against oppression. That story cannot be told nearly as well if the mountain is not there.

Blair Mountain is as close to sacred ground as there is for the UMWA. Though we may not physically own the mountain’s land, its legacy is ours. We strongly support its preservation, for it represents the power ordinary people have when they decide to stick together and take up common struggle for the benefit of all. That is the essence of who we are as union members.

Today, West Virginians are still thinking about coal miners’ jobs, and about how to make their lives and their communities better. But we are also thinking about the coal under Blair Mountain and surrounding ridges, and what ought to be done with it. And we are thinking about whether the water runs clear, not just for the fish, but for the people as well.

These are critical times in the coalfields. For coal miners, our families, our relatives, our friends and our neighbors, the decisions we make and the actions we take will determine not just how we live, but how our descendants will live for generations to come.

We must do our best to make the right decisions. And as we do, we must also realize (just as those miners did so many years ago) that although we may not agree on everything, we are all in this together. Failure to do so puts us at the mercy of those who would use our differences to divide us, allowing them to reap their own, selfish rewards at our expense.

So let us start.

Let us start by recognizing the dignity of work, and the fact that those who mine coal, by whatever method, do so because they seek to provide for themselves and their families. And let us also recognize that when the UMWA represents any workers anywhere, we have a duty to defend every one of their jobs and make them the best jobs they can be.

Let us start by recognizing that coal operators have a responsibility to make the jobs of their workers as safe as possible. And they have a responsibility to respect their neighbors and do all in their power to minimize any damage that may be done to the environment as a result of their operations. And they further have a responsibility to repair any damage they do cause.

Let us start by recognizing that if the operators do not fulfill those responsibilities, then someone has to make them do so, most often the federal or state government, or both. The last thing any of us in the coalfields should desire is to go back to the days when coal operators were allowed to do anything they wanted with no consequences. That’s how Bill Blizzard ended up at Blair Mountain, after all.

Let us start by recognizing that the government has a critical role to play, because for too long, far too many coal operators have not respected their workers, not respected their neighbors, not cared about the damage their operations may have done and not cared to repair that damage once it was done.

Let us start by recognizing that whatever role government does play, it has a responsibility to take into account the impact of its actions on all concerned. And government has a responsibility to seek ways for coalfield residents, including miners and their communities, to benefit, not suffer, from its actions.

Let us start by recognizing that there will be changes in the way our nation and our world generate electricity over the next century. We don’t yet know what form this change will take, nor how fast it will happen. We do know that there are not currently enough other sources of energy (whether other fossil fuels, renewables, nuclear, biofuels or anything else) to replace the energy we create from coal to feed a growing demand in America, much less the world.

Let us start by recognizing that at some point in our future (perhaps decades from now, perhaps centuries from now (the coal will run out or will become too expensive to mine. Between now and then, it is our task to do all we can to develop ways to use coal responsibly and cleanly to power our nation and our world.

And let us start by reaffirming that all God’s children have a right to prosper in a safe and livable environment (at home and on the job) where they can thrive without fear of sickness, disease or injury caused by the irresponsible actions of corporations motivated solely by profit at any cost.

I believe that, working together, we can develop an environmentally sound and economically secure way forward for those who live and work in the coalfields of central Appalachia, one that does not merely celebrate the heritage of coal but embraces its future. If we are to live by the lesson of Blair Mountain, standing together to create a better future for all our children and grandchildren, we really don’t have any other choice.

Coal’s impacts: New study sorts out good and bad

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Studies about the costs and benefits of coal are always a topic that generates heated discussion here on Coal Tattoo (see here, here and here).

But understanding these costs and benefits is increasingly important, and whether any one particular study is perfect is less important than the fact the we’re all asking these questions and seeking good answers.

With that in mind, there’s a fascinating study out today in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. It’s called “Estimating the Global Public Health Implications of Electricity and Coal Consumption.”

The study starts with the notion that some serious environmental and public health problems related to contaminated water and poor sanitation improve with access to a reliable energy source. And, access to electricity also reduces in-home burning of inefficient and polluting fuels such as coal, wood and animal dung.

But, depending on how electricity is generated, new health hazards can be created, including exposure to particular matter, sulfur oxides, nitrous oxides, volatile organic compounds, and carbon monoxide emitted during power generation.

In this study, researchers used models to examine 40 years of data on infant mortality, life expectancy, electricity use, and coal consumption in 41 countries. They found that electricity use improved infant mortality rates, but only in countries where rates were relatively high in 1965. Also, life expectancy did not appear to be affected by electricity use, but increasing coal consumption was associated with reduced life expectancy and increased infant mortality.

Lead author Julia M. Gohike said:

As we negotiate energy and climate policy, teasing apart the complex relationships between energy consumption and health will help us to identify those policies that may be particularly health promoting. This study is a starting point.


Friday roundup, Feb. 19, 2011

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Pakistani Qaseem Shah, 66, foreground, breaks coal while working in a brick factory on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan, Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

Today’s news and commentary roundup will include some material from last week, because I ran out of time last Friday and didn’t get around to posting stuff … sorry about that, but here goes.

A Coal Tattoo reader pointed out this interesting article in The Economist headlined, “Burning Ambitions: What is Good News for Miners is Bad News for the Environment“:

IN RICH countries, where people worry about air quality and debate ways of pricing carbon emissions, coal is deeply unfashionable. Elsewhere demand for the dirty rocks has never been stronger. The International Energy Agency (IEA) reckons world consumption will increase by a fifth over the next 25 years, assuming governments stick to their current climate-change policies. A new age of coal is upon us.

… This boon for miners bodes ill for the environment. The power stations frantically being built in China to feed the country’s new electricity grid will be relatively efficient and thus less polluting than older coal plants around the world. But that is a rather low bar. Coal is the filthiest fossil fuel and is cheap only because its dirtiness isn’t included in the bill.

Indeed, the coal boom blows yet another hole in the effort to restrain greenhouse-gas emissions. The Kyoto protocol makes countries responsible only for their own direct emissions. As environmentalists point out, rich countries that spurn coal-fired power while exporting the rocks to countries with less ambitious emissions targets are merely shifting the problem around the globe. Even China’s modest hopes of bringing its share of coal-fired power down to 63% by 2015 sit ill with its growing dependence on coal. Alongside coal-fired power stations and coal exports, a coal conundrum is growing.

Rescue workers and firefighters stand by their vehicles outside the Uricani coal mine in western Romania, Saturday, Feb. 5, 2011. (AP Photo/Mircea Opris)

Elsewhere in the world, five Romanian families are mourning the deaths of their loved ones in a coal-mine explosion:

The explosion took place on Feb. 5 at the Uricani mine operated by state-owned Compania Nationala a Huilei SA, the ministry said yesterday in a statement on its website, without indicating the cause of the blast.

The five workers were repairing a power transformer at the time of the incident, which is under investigation, news service Mediafax reported today.

Continue reading…

The latest results of MSHA ‘impact’ inspections

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Here’s the latest from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration:

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration today announced that federal inspectors issued 377 citations and orders during special impact inspections conducted at 15 coal and seven metal/nonmetal mine operations last month. The coal mines were issued 208 citations and seven orders; the metal/nonmetal mines were issued 148 citations and 14 orders.

These inspections, which began in force last April following the explosion at Upper Big Branch Mine, involve 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 hazard 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.

“Some mine operators have begun to show signs of improvement, while others continue to demonstrate poor compliance with safety and health laws,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.

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MSHA update: District 4 not alone in failing miners

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My buddy Howard Berkes over at NPR had another piece about MSHA chief Joe Main’s plans to split his agency’s Southern West Virginia district office in two, in the hopes that doing so will make mine safety problems in the region more manageable.

Howard raised a perfectly reasonable question, given the deaths of 29 miners last April at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine, and the history of trouble in MSHA District 4: Why didn’t MSHA do this before? Joe Main’s answer:

In a brief interview today, Main said he can’t explain why his predecessors in the Bush Administration didn’t split the district sooner. But he says the Upper Big Branch mine had “rigorous ongoing enforcement” before last April’s explosion despite the workload and management problems in District 4.

Main adds that District 4’s oversight of the mine “is part of the ongoing investigation” of the explosion “and part of the internal review” of MSHA’S enforcement.

The NPR piece outlined a history of District 4 problems that Coal Tattoo readers know well:

  • a 2007 internal review of the Aracoma mine disaster, which cites “ineffective use of MSHA’s enforcement authority coupled with inadequate supervisory and management oversight” in District 4. Two coal miners died at Aracoma.
  • a 2007 report from the Inspector General of the Labor Department, in which District 4 had 85 percent of the nation’s missed mine safety inspections the year before.
  • a 2009 agency audit reporting MSHA’s intentional limits on tough enforcement actions against coal mines with persistent safety violations due to “resource limitations.” Half the mines that had not received heightened scrutiny and enforcement were in District 4.

And Howard was kind enough to note previous coverage by the Gazette of District 4 problems going back many, many years:

Ken Ward of the Charleston Gazette reported even more problems with District 4 enforcement, going back decades, in this story in 2007.

But as I read the MSHA budget justification and the media coverage of this issue, I couldn’t help but think that MSHA District 4 isn’t alone. Other MSHA districts have had similar failings, and have seen many miners die in disasters as a result.

Continue reading…

The Boston Globe’s GreenBlog has an item out today about a new study from the Harvard Medical School’s Center for Health and the Global Environment. Here’s how reporter Beth Daley summarizes it:

By now, we all know coal’s climate change reputation: Power plants that burn it release enormous amounts of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.

But a new report released today by the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School looks deeper at the full cost of coal, following its life cycle from exploration, through transportation, processing, and burning to estimate that coal is costing the U.S. one-third to over one-half a trillion dollars annually. The report was released aboard the Arctic Sunrise at Rowe’s Wharf, Greenpeace’s chartered icebreaker.

The report, being published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, notes that fully accounting for these costs would double to triple the price of electricity from coal, thus making wind, solar, and other forms of renewable energy far more competitive.

I’ve posted a summary of the Harvard study here.


This is a guest blog by Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, and is cross-posted from that organization’s blog:

The New York Times and the Economist both had interesting pieces last week highlighting the difficulties of federal corporate tax reform. Most interesting, however, was a chart in each article showing the effective federal corporate income tax rate by industry.  Unfortunately (or fortunately), the chart contained a major error. The effective rates in the chart are not just for the “federal” corporate income tax, but for federal, state and local taxes paid by companies.

The chart was compiled using data from about 6,000 (not 7,000) publicly traded companies by Aswath Damodaran, a Professor of Finance at the Stern School of Business at New York University. The data show that the total effective corporate tax rate is 15.3% for all companies, and 29% for companies that made a profit. It is important to keep in mind that the the top federal corporate tax rate is 35%. The effective rate was found by dividing the taxes paid by the taxable income as reported to the stockholders.

There are several reasons why companies pay so little, but one is that our federal and state corporate tax code is riddled with tax preferences and tax subsidies – what some are beginning to call “tax earmarks.”  And these tax expenditures have a lot of powerful friends. This means efforts to reform the corporate tax code – reduce the rate and close loopholes – will benefit some companies while hurting others.

The chart above displays effective tax rates for select industries. According to WorkForce West Virginia, these industries are some of West Virginia’s largest employers, such as Kroger, WV United Health, AEP, Consolidated Coal, Chesapeake Energy, Mylan, Dupont, and Wal-Mart.

As you can see, profitable coal companies (20 out of 25 were profitable: see here) have a smaller effective tax rate than any of the other dominant industries in West Virginia. In fact, of the 100 industries examined by Damodaran, the coal industry had the 7th lowest effective rate. The natural gas industry, which has been getting a lot of attention lately, also had a below average effective rate.

While some have argued that the state already taxes coal too much, it appears the industry doesn’t pay nearly as much as other companies or as much as most households

According to a 2008 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report, the total household effective “federal” tax rate in 2005 was 20.5%. (Here are the effective taxes rates by category:  individual income tax 9.0%, social insurance (Medicare, Social Security) was 7.6%, corporate income 3.1%, and excise was 0.8%.)

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) finds that state and local taxes are about 9 percent of a household’s income.

While you and I may be paying close to 25-30 percent of our income in taxes, the coal industry is paying far less. It is time to for them to pay their fair share and help chart a course to the future.

We had some fun two weeks ago asking the question, Does Sen. Manchin really think coal doesn’t get ‘a penny of subsidies’?

Well, now it seems that President Obama is interested in making it so. As my buddy Peter Gartrell reported for Platts:

The coal industry stands to lose nearly $2.6 billion in federal tax incentives over the next decade as part of the Obama administration’s proposed fiscal 2012 budget released Monday.

The administration’s proposal is identical to coal incentives cut in its budget last year. The White House is aiming to meet a G-20 climate change agreement from 2009 in which member countries pledged to phase out fossil fuel subsidies.

Repealing the tax provisions would “foster the development of a clean-energy economy and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels that contribute to climate change,” the administration said in its budget message. The tax incentives equal less than 1% of the coal industry’s revenue over the next 10 years, according to White House projections.

Continue reading…

Republicans in the House are hoping to derail some of the Obama administration’s initiatives regarding the coal industry by attaching “riders” to a government funding bill that is being debated this week on the House floor.

One proposed amendment by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., would block EPA from using any funds it receives to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste.

Another, by Rep. Morgan Griffin, R-Va.,  would prohibit EPA from using its budget to perform tougher reviews of mountaintop removal Clean Water Act permits or enforcing new water quality guidance for those permits.

A third, by Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., would keep EPA from using any funds to veto Clean Water Act permits, as it did the Spruce Mine here in West Virginia.

There may be more riders coming, but these are the ones I’ve seen so far … stay tuned.

As explained in our print story this morning — and a nice post by Howard Berkes on the NPR blog, The Two-Way, MSHA chief Joe Main and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis couldn’t be bothered to answer questions yesterday about the Obama budget proposal for a new MSHA district in Southern West Virginia.

But gosh, here we are this morning with a press release in which MSHA “announces” the move that was already announced yesterday (and, truth be told, revealed to lawmakers months ago).  The release says:

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration today announced that it will split the agency’s jurisdiction over southern West Virginia coal mines into two separate districts, a process that will begin in the second quarter of fiscal year 2011. Of the nation’s 2,100 coal mines, approximately 400 fall within the existing District 4 boundaries.

The District 4 office, located in Mt. Hope, W.Va., currently has the most employees of all MSHA’s 11 coal districts, as well as the most extensive workload with the smallest ratio of managers and supervisors to line staff. It is responsible for 27 percent of all mechanized mining units in the nation, compared to 14 percent in the next closest district. In FY 2009, District 4 issued 23,282 citations, 47 percent more than the next most active district in the nation.

A new District 12 Office will be located in Pineville, W.Va., and staffed by positions reallocated from District 4 and other districts. The new district manager, once hired, will create an organizational structure similar to other districts that are comparable in size.

It quotes Joe Main:

Resources must be reallocated to allow MSHA’s coal division to effectively carry out its mission, including new administration initiatives designed to strengthen health and safety protections for the nation’s miners. MSHA is committed to implementing management reforms that will increase the agency’s efficiency and effectiveness within a significantly constrained budget framework.

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