Coal Tattoo

Friday roundup, Feb. 4, 2011

People attend a funeral mass for dead miners in Sardinata, northeastern Colombia, Friday, Jan. 28, 2011. Twenty-one miners were killed when an explosion, likely caused by a methane gas buildup, rocked the underground coal mine early Wednesday. A similar blast killed 32 miners at the same mine in 2007. (AP Photo/Efrain Patino)

Following last week’s terrible disaster, the Colombian government has announced a shakeup in its coal-mining industry . The Wall Street Journal reports:

Mining Minister Carlos Rodado, who has been drawing fire for what critics say are lax safety regulations, announced new measures to bolster the government’s mine-inspections efforts. The minister went as far as suggesting that country’s mining code, which was adjusted in early 2010, needed to be revamped.

“We have legislation that needs to be re-examined and reformulated to face this challenge,” Mr. Rodado said during a news conference. “We have a sector that is disordered and chaotic,” he added.

And interestingly, given the problems the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration has shutting down problem coal mines:

The ministry also warned that under new regulations, which were geared to underground coal mines, the government will be able to revoke any mining title if the operating company commits just one serious safety slip. The previous regulations allowed the government to do this only after repeated safety breaches by a company.

Here in the United States, mine safety reform legislation has been reintroduced in Congress, as The Hill reported:

Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) have introduced sweeping mine-safety legislation in response to last April’s fatal blast at West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch mine that killed 29 workers, the worst U.S. mining accident in 40 years.

Harkin said he’s hopeful about winning bipartisan cooperation on the legislation, which is also sponsored by Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

“We now know that the Upper Big Branch tragedy was preventable and that, if our laws were working properly, all miners would be able to come home safely to their families each day,” said Harkin, the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, in a statement.

“We can’t afford to wait any longer for our broken mine safety laws to be fixed. I hope I can work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle on this important issue, and I am proud to join Senators Rockefeller, Murray, and Manchin in taking this first step and laying out our vision for safer mines,” he added.

The AEP towboat Capt. James Anderson pushes several barges full of coal Thursday morning, Feb. 3, 2011 on the Ohio River as it passes the riverfront at Paducah, Ky. (AP Photo/The Paducah Sun, John Wright)

Meanwhile, my buddy Hoppy Kercheval over at MetroNews wrote a commentary about the Alpha Natural Resources buyout of Massey Energy:

The merger represents an opportunity for a fresh start for Massey Energy under new ownership … With Blankenship retired, and Alpha’s planned purchase, Massey Energy is about to get a fresh start; that means capitalizing on what it has done well, while correcting the mistakes of the past.

Out in New Mexico, according to the Associated Press:

A coalition of environmental groups is suing the federal government over its alleged failure to protect the San Juan River ecosystem from coal mining and the disposal of coal-combustion waste in northwestern New Mexico.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment and the San Juan Citizens Alliance filed a lawsuit Monday in federal court in Colorado against the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. The groups claim the agency didn’t consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about threatened and endangered species before renewing a permit last fall for the Navajo Coal Mine.

The AP also reported this development:

Petroleum giant Chevron Corp. said Friday it plans to get out of the coal industry by the end of the year.

The decision came after the company determined that new coal technologies were developing too slowly to make staying in the industry a good strategy, Chevron Mining Inc. spokeswoman Margaret Lejuste said.

The Los Angeles Times detailed a federal appeals court decision that:

… Rebuffed the U.S. Department of Energy’s attempt to establish national interest corridors for new high-voltage electric transmission lines that would cover 100 million acres in 10 states, including state and national parks in the Mojave Desert.

The court decision is available here, and the Piedmont Environmental Council explained more about the ruling in this press release:

The ruling strikes down the existing federal transmission corridors, and remands the case back to the DOE for a new congestion study. Without these corridors, power companies lose a major advantage when applying for new transmission line proposals. We at the Piedmont Environmental Council believe this will impact future applications, and could have an immediate impact on transmission projects currently under review, including the 765-kV PATH line proposal through West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland.

Cale Jaffe of the Southern Environmental Law Center said:

This is a complete vindication of what we have been saying since 2006.  The Department of Energy cannot fast-track the construction of massive coal-by-wire power lines while thumbing its nose at the National Environmental Policy Act.

Finally, a group of scientists wrote this important letter to Congress regarding climate change:

As you begin your deliberations in the new 112th Congress, we urge you to take a fresh look at climate change. Climate change is not just an environmental threat but, as we describe below, also poses challenges to the U.S. economy, national security and public health.

Some view climate change as a futuristic abstraction. Others are unsure about the science, or uncertain about the policy responses. We want to assure you that the science is strong and that there is nothing abstract about the risks facing our Nation. Our coastal areas are now facing increasing dangers from rising sea levels and storm surges; the southwest and southeast are increasingly vulnerable to drought; other regions will need to prepare for massive flooding from the extreme storms of the sort being experienced with increasing frequency. These and other consequences of climate change all require that we plan and prepare. Our military recognizes that the consequences of climate change have direct security implications for the country that will only become more acute with time, and it has begun the sort of planning required across the board.

The health of Americans is also at risk. The U.S. Climate Impacts Report, commissioned by the George W. Bush administration, states: “Climate change poses unique challenges to human health. Unlike health threats caused by a particular toxin or disease pathogen, there are many ways that climate change can lead to potentially harmful health effects. There are direct health impacts from heat waves and severe storms, ailments caused or exacerbated by air pollution and airborne allergens, and many climate-sensitive infectious diseases.”

As with the fiscal deficit, the changing climate is the kind of daunting problem that we, as a nation, would like to wish away. However, as with our growing debt, the longer we wait to address climate change, the worse it gets. Heat-trapping carbon dioxide is building up in the atmosphere because burning coal, oil, and natural gas produces far more carbon dioxide than is absorbed by oceans and forests. No scientist disagrees with that. Our carbon debt increases each year, just as our national debt increases each year that spending exceeds revenue. And our carbon debt is even longer-lasting; carbon dioxide molecules can last hundreds of years in the atmosphere.

It is not our role as scientists to determine how to deal with problems like climate change. That is a policy matter and rightly must be left to our elected leaders in discussion with all Americans. But, as scientists, we have an obligation to evaluate, report, and explain the science behind climate change.

The debate about climate change has become increasingly ideological and partisan. But climate change is not the product of a belief system or ideology. Instead, it is based on scientific fact, and no amount of argument, coercion, or debate among talking heads in the media can alter the physics of climate change.

Political philosophy has a legitimate role in policy debates, but not in the underlying climate science. There are no Democratic or Republican carbon dioxide molecules; they are all invisible and they all trap heat.

And, if Sen. Jay Rockefeller is reading this … the Climate Progress blog had a great tutorial on EPA and greenhouse gas regulations:

The Supreme Court ruled in the 2007 case Massachusetts v. EPA that greenhouse gases are a chemical substance emitted into the air and are air pollutants. EPA then issued an “endangerment finding” in December 2009 stating that greenhouse gases are a threat to public health and are expected to endanger “future public health, public welfare, and the climate.” The finding relied exclusively on science to inform its actions.

What this finding means is that EPA is required under the Clean Air Act to take action to reduce the pollution contributing to climate change since greenhouse gases are found to be pollutants that endanger public health and welfare. This is the law of the land. Any effort, even by Congress, to stall or block EPA from following the law is counter to the original intent of our clean air laws and Congress. Stopping EPA from doing its job represents a victory for the lobbyists of big polluters and a retreat from cleaner air and improved public health.