Coal Tattoo

In a ruling just issued today, U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers has allowed environmental groups to continue lawsuits over selenium pollution against Arch Coal and Massey Energy. We’ll have more about this in tomorrow’s Gazette … Until then, here’s a copy of the ruling:


Testimony at today’s Senate committee hearing has raised a new question about the performance of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration in the days just prior to the April 5, 2010, explosion that killed 29 miners.

Did MSHA fail to perform a mandated inspection meant to help protect miners from a methane explosion?

The issue came up when MSHA chief Joe Main was being questioned today by Sen. Mike Enzi, a Wyoming Republican and the ranking GOP member of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Enzi asked Main:

Was UBB scheduled for a 103(i) spot inspection? And were those completed?

And Main responded:

They were scheduled for those. As far as were they all completed, that’s something that will be assessed.

Wow. That’s something that will be assessed? I’ve asked MSHA to clarify Joe Main’s answer, but so far I have not received any sort of clarification.

UPDATED: MSHA just issued this statement in response to my request for clarification of Joe Main’s testimony —

We have found no evidence that we missed the timeframe for completing spot inspections at UBB, based on the procedures in place. In addition, the Internal Review team will examine MSHA records thoroughly to ensure that we have met those inspection requirements.

Continue reading…

Today’s Senate committee hearing on coal-mine safety has started, and you can watch it live here.

In the meantime, I’ve reviewed the prepared testimony submitted by MSHA chief Joe Main and by the Labor Department Inspector General, Elliott P. Lewis.

Frankly, there’s not a tone of news in there. Main recounts his agency’s efforts to beef up enforcement since the Upper Big Branch disaster, and repeats his call for more mine safety legislation. Lewis mostly goes over previously released findings about MSHA’s failure to ever use the Pattern of Violations enforcement tool.

But Lewis does reveal some ongoing investigations by his office:

Mr. Chairman, our oversight work in the area of mine safety and health continues. We currently have one audit in progress to determine whether MSHA effectively and timely collects final civil penalties from mine operators. In the near future, we plan to assess whether MSHA’s laboratories are providing timely and quality services in support of MSHA’s inspection and investigative responsibilities. We will also audit MSHA’s oversight of miner training. In addition, we plan to audit MSHA’s Metal/Nonmetal mandatory inspections.

That probe about MSHA’s penalty collections sounds especially interesting to me, in part because of some stories I did a few years ago, in which I revealed that MSHA had not even bothered to assess monetary fines — as it is required to do by law — on quite a few coal industry violations.

As I wrote at the time:

Federal regulators have allowed mine operators to avoid fines for thousands of health and safety citations, despite a federal law that requires monetary penalties for such violations, government officials have confirmed.

Over the last six years, the Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration did not assess civil penalties for about 4,000 violations, according to preliminary MSHA data.

Stay tuned …

This just in:

U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) released the following statement today after the Mine Safety and Health Aministration failed to provide requested documents regarding the administration’s enforcement of mine safety:

“More than three weeks after I asked Assistant Secretary Main to produce information related to his administration’s enforcement of mine safety, I am still waiting. We understand numerous internal audits may have uncovered critical details about enforcement lapses of the administration. Deadlines have come and gone, and despite providing the administration with additional time, not a single audit has been turned over to the committee. Where are the documents? Stonewalling a congressional investigation into mine safety impedes our ability to protect the health and well-being of America’s miners. As the Assistant Secretary testifies before the Senate today, I strongly urge him to explain this inaction and provide all documents without further delay.”

Chairman Kline and members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce recently learned of a March 2010 report released by MSHA’s accountability office detailing several instances in which MSHA officials failed to enforce existing rules and regulations. Chairman Kline sent a letter to Assistant Secretary Joseph A. Main on March 7, 2011 to express his concerns about this report and request a copy of all reports, audits and post-audit reports generated by MSHA’s Office of Accountability since 2007. Despite a deadline of March 21, 2011, MSHA has failed to provide a single audit to the committee.

Recall that Rep. Kline asked for these records after a Gazette story about the MSHA Office of Accountability.

Just before the close of business yesterday, a fascinating news release showed up in my email inbox from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration:

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration today announced that the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission has upheld civil penalties assessed against Stillhouse Mining LLC for four flagrant violations of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. The violations were found during a Dec. 3, 2006, inspection of the company’s Mine No. 1 operation near Cumberland, Ky.

Of particular interest to me were these words from MSHA chief Joe Main:

No miner should be subjected to the kinds of conditions that were found at Stillhouse Mining. Although the case was not resolved for more than four years, we are extremely pleased with the judge’s decision and will continue to use this important enforcement tool in our ongoing efforts to keep mine operators accountable.

That line really caught my attention, in large part because I had already filed this story for this morning’s Gazette, reporting:

Despite escalating safety concerns prior to the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, federal regulators never hit the Massey Energy operation with one of their toughest tools: fines of up to $220,000 each for “flagrant” safety violations, officials confirmed this week.

Now, the MSHA press release reported:

Since the passage of the MINER Act, MSHA has assessed 142 citations and orders as flagrant violations, 92 of which are currently in contest.

And it quoted Joe Main saying:

As this most recent case suggests, some mine operators still aren’t getting the message. As long as they continue to put their miners at risk of serious injury or death, we will continue to use all the enforcement tools we have at our disposal.

But as we reported in today’s Gazette story:

After the Obama administration took office in January 2009, MSHA’s assessment of flagrant penalties appears to have dropped off significantly, from 70 such assessments in 2008 to 19 each year in 2009 and 2010, according to agency data. So far in 2011, MSHA has issued three flagrant violations to coal operations, the data shows.

None of the Obama administration’s flagrant violations were issued to coal-mining operations inspected by MSHA’s District 4 office in Southern West Virginia, agency records show.

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Curb on EPA mining oversight in spending deal?

In this Dec. 21, 1995, file photo Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, dumps out coal, his so-called Christmas gift to President Clinton, during a news conference on the federal budget on Capitol Hill. The White House and Congressional Republicans tried to restart balanced budget talks after the sixth day of a partial government shutdown. Then, as now in 2011, a Democratic president clashed over spending priorities with a recently installed Republican House majority. (AP Photo/Denis Paquin, File)

UPDATED:  Politico is reporting that the White House has voiced its opposition to these riders being in the budget language.

For folks following the mountaintop removal issue, the latest Associated Press report on the ongoing budget talks between Congress and the Obama White House had a couple of important paragraphs.

You can read the whole story at this link, but here’s the key part:

A Democratic lawmaker familiar with a meeting Wednesday between Obama and members of the Congressional Black Caucus said the administration made it clear that some House GOP proposals restricting the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory powers would have to make it into the final bill. In order to characterize the White House’s position, the lawmaker insisted on anonymity because the meeting was private.

Some of those proposals would block the government from carrying out regulations on greenhouse gases, putting in place a plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and from shutting down mountaintop mines it believes will cause too much water pollution.

Stay tuned …

President Barack Obama waves as he leaves Georgetown University in Washington, Wednesday, March 30, 2011, after speaking about his plan for America’s energy security. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

President Obama, in a major energy speech today, made a brief reference to coal:

And just like the fuels we use, we also have to find cleaner, renewable sources of electricity. Today, about two-fifths of our electricity comes from clean energy sources. But I know that we can do better than that. In fact, I think that with the right incentives in place, we can double it. That’s why, in my State of the Union Address, I called for a new Clean Energy Standard for America: by 2035, 80 percent of our electricity will come from an array of clean energy sources, from renewables like wind and solar to efficient natural gas to clean coal and nuclear power.

Not nearly enough praise for coal to please the National Mining Association, which issued this statement in response to the president’s speech:

The president’s goal of reducing oil imports is attainable if we use the enormous potential of our nation’s coal reserves – America’s most abundant energy resource – for creating an array of fuels that can lessen our dependence on foreign oil. The technology exists today that can transform our coal resources into clean, affordable transportation fuels, provide a wide range of industrial fuels and supplement the energy needs of our armed forces. And all while creating thousands of jobs across the country by using an abundant domestic resource.

As a U.S. senator from Illinois, the president rightly acknowledged that more energy resides in American coal than exists in the oil of the Persian Gulf. Indeed, the United States is called the Saudi Arabia of coal for a reason–our coal reserves can supply more than three times the amount of fuel contained in Saudi Arabia’s proven oil reserves. We urge the president and Congress to work with the U.S. coal industry to unlock the full potential of American coal for providing the fuels to make our nation stronger.

There should be some interesting action today in the U.S. Senate, where lawmakers will be considering a variety of efforts to block the Obama administration from pursuing actions to try to curb global warming.

UPDATED: It looks like votes on this issue may not come until Thursday.

West Virginia’s Sen. Jay Rockefeller is a key player in the drama, with his amendment — to an unrelated small business bill — to block any U.S. Environmental Protection Agency action on greenhouse gas emissions for two years.

Sen. Rockefeller is trying to portray himself as a moderate in this debate, noting that he isn’t supporting all-out efforts to dismantle EPA and the Clean Air Act altogether. And in fact, he’s been under attack in an advertising campaign by a group called “The Committee for Truth in Politics“:

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

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration today announced that it will hold a briefing on June 29 to share with the public information gathered during the investigation of the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, W.Va. The briefing will coincide with the one-year anniversary of the start of the underground investigation at the Upper Big Branch Mine and will be held at the National Mine Health and Safety Academy in Beckley, W.Va. Although the underground investigation and interviews are still ongoing, MSHA investigators will be able to compile additional relevant evidence by June in order to provide a substantive presentation to the public.

MSHA already has shared information with the families of the victims through several meetings and has released information gained during the course of the investigation on the agency’s “Upper Big Branch Mine-South Massey Energy Co. Single Source Page”.

In June, MSHA intends to provide an overview of the physical evidence gathered in its investigation, as well as summaries of other evidence obtained by investigators. As has been the practice throughout this investigation, some information will remain confidential in light of the ongoing U.S. Department of Justice criminal investigation and requests by federal prosecutors to MSHA to limit the public release of evidence relevant to potential prosecutions. President Obama has instructed both agencies to conduct thorough investigations into the tragedy, and to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.

“We take very seriously the need to keep the public informed as to what we’re learning and when we’re learning it,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “We also take seriously the efforts of the FBI and the U.S. attorney to bring to justice those who may have broken the law. Throughout this investigation, we’ve worked hard to balance those important goals.”

Since the passage of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, MSHA has conducted investigations in all fatality cases to determine the cause, identify any violations and assess penalties. There have been approximately 4,000 fatalities since 1977. Over the years, it has been the general practice of the agency to include records and information developed during the investigation with the release of the investigation report at the conclusion of the investigation. The current investigation into the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion and the inquiry into the 2006 Sago Mine disaster are among the few examples in which records have been released as the investigation has progressed, and the Upper Big Branch Mine investigation has been one of the most transparent in MSHA’s history. MSHA will continue to make publicly available relevant information that will not compromise MSHA’s investigation or the ongoing criminal investigation.

U.S. Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin just announced that they’re going to present a showing of the reality TV show “Coal” later today at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

In this press release, they said that the show “has been praised as an accurate and moving portrayal of what life working in a West Virginia mine.”  The release continued:

“I am honored to be able to introduce the gritty reality of mining to my colleagues here in Washington. Our nation thrives on the energy provided by coal and this film documents an intimate and accurate view of working in a coal mine, as many West Virginians do,” Senator Rockefeller said. “The work that these miners do is dangerous, dirty, physically demanding and sometimes frustrating, but always an absolutely essential part of providing the coal that builds and powers this nation. It is my hope that those who do not know much about coal mining will come away from this event with a new and greater appreciation for the industry and the men and women who make it possible.”

“Coal miners are the backbone of this country. For the last century, they have provided the energy that has protected this country and kept us safe and free. They’ve provided the energy that makes our steel and runs our factories, which have built our country into the greatest industrial power in the world and helped create the middle class as we know it today,” Senator Manchin said. “Coal miners are dedicated, hardworking, and smart, and they are some of the most patriotic individuals I have ever met. I have had the tremendous honor to stand side-by-side with these brave men and women in both good times and bad.

“We are approaching the one-year anniversary of the Upper Big Branch explosion that took 29 miners’ lives last April, and I welcome this opportunity to show America what miners go through on daily basis to provide this country our energy. I also want to express my thanks to Senator Rockefeller for organizing this showing.”

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With Friday’s target date approaching for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to issue its final water quality guidance for Appalachian surface coal mines, our old friend Rep. Nick J. Rahall is at it again …

The West Virginia Democrat issued this press release, to let us know he’s again asking the White House to intervene in the matter:

U.S. Representative Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) Tuesday appealed to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) to examine EPA’s Clean Water Act Guidance Memo affecting coal mine permitting in Appalachia before the April 1 deadline when the guidance is slated to be finalized.

“There are many regulatory actions underway – at the EPA, OSM, and elsewhere – that would hurt coal miners and local communities in southern West Virginia,” said Rahall. “All of those efforts, under executive orders in place long before President Obama took office, are subject to review by OIRA before they take effect. I am hopeful that OIRA will bring some additional oversight and help to check the EPA’s more abusive actions.”

Rahall met earlier this year with Cass Sunstein, Administrator of OIRA, regarding EPA regulations. In a letter to Sunstein on Tuesday, Rahall renewed his request for OIRA to intercede before the EPA finalizes its guidance on water permits for surface mining, which is scheduled to happen Friday. The EPA issued a Guidance Memo on April 1, 2010, establishing new criteria for the issuance of Clean Water Act permits for surface mining in Appalachia. Contrary to statutory and executive requirements, those guidance documents were not reviewed by OIRA or subject to public comment and participation before they took effect.

The White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is responsible for overseeing regulatory actions at Federal agencies, including at the EPA. It is charged with ensuring that agency regulatory actions are consistent with applicable law and the efficient functioning of the economy, promoting productivity, employment, and competitiveness. OIRA can clear regulatory actions with or without change, return them to the agencies for reconsideration, or encourage the agencies to withdraw them.

“The EPA is stretching its statutory authority to the limits, and doing so in a way that circumvents the rights of the affected communities to comment on how these proposed actions will affect jobs and their economic health and well being. I am asking the White House regulatory office to review the EPA actions before they are finalized, and to reverse guidance policies that circumvented the proper regulatory review and procedures,” said Rahall.

Board requires changes in Mingo liquid coal permit

Word just in this afternoon that the West Virginia Air Quality Board has rejected key portions of an air pollution permit for the TransGas Development coal-to-liquids plant proposed for Mingo County.

I’ve posted a copy of the ruling here.

Recall that the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Air Quality issued a permit for this facility over the objections of the Sierra Club, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

Among other things, board members ruled that “the record does not support” the DEP’s determination that the plant’s flare combustion efficiency would be 99.5 percent — a key factor in the agency’s decision to permit this facility as “minor source” of air pollution, allowing TransGas to bypass more stringent permitting requirements.

The AQB sent the permit back to the WVDEP with instructions that the permit be modified to comply with the law.

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 166 citations and orders during special impact inspections conducted at seven coal mines and one dimension stone quarry last month. The seven coal mines were issued 127 citations and four orders; the quarry operation was issued 27 citations and eight orders.

Special impact inspections, which began in force last April following the explosion at the 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.

“MSHA has been conducting these targeted inspections for nearly a year and, while some operators have been responsive and showed a willingness to change, others continue to commit the same serious violations,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “We are using all the enforcement tools at our disposal, but Congress has the capability to enhance those tools.”

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At her home in Oak Hill, Bobbie Pauley talks about her boyfriend Howard “Boone” Payne who died in the explosion at Upper Big Branch mine a year ago. A photo of the two of them stands on the end table next to her chair. Gazette photo by Chris Dorst

In case any Coal Tattoo readers missed it, I wanted to point out this story from the Sunday Gazette-Mail that I wrote with Gary Harki:

Boone Payne always called home at a little past 5 p.m., when he finally picked up a cell signal on the trip back from another day at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine.

Last April 5, Bobbie Pauley was cooking his dinner, and the time for his phone call came and went. She assumed they were running good coal, and Boone had just worked past his normal quitting time.

When her phone finally rang just before 6 p.m., it wasn’t Boone but another miner.

“Something’s happened at the mine,” the miner told her. “It’s either a fire on the belt line or an explosion underground.”

Pauley jumped in her car and rushed from Boone Payne’s house in Cabin Creek to the mine near Montcoal, in Raleigh County.

She knew the route well. She worked at Upper Big Branch, too. She was an underground miner, the same as he was. She ran continuous-mining machines, scoops and shuttle cars.

Upper Big Branch was where they met, where their love blossomed, and where their life together was ripped apart.

Read the rest here.

Friday roundup, March 25, 2011

Mine workers and residents gather outside a coal mine after a explosion in Sorange near Quetta, Pakistan on Sunday, March 20, 2011. A methane gas explosion in a coal mine in southwestern Pakistan killed at least 43 miners. (AP Photo/Arshad Butt)

I apologize for not getting a Friday roundup done last week. I was busy with some other assignments, but we’ll try to catch up here today.

First off, we have a couple of interesting “fact check” items regarding claims about the Obama administration’s coal policies.

In one of them, the Lexington Herald-Leader declared to be “mostly false” the allegation by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., that “President Obama is on record saying he wants to bankrupt the coal industry.”  According to the paper’s Campaign Watchdog:

There’s no evidence President Barack Obama has ever said he wants to bankrupt the coal industry, although Obama has proposed policies that he acknowledged might “bankrupt” anybody who builds a traditional coal-fired power plant.

Next, there’s this piece from WSLS-TV in Roanoke and PolitiFact Virginia regarding statements from Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., regarding EPA’s guidelines on conductivity and Appalachian coal mining:

Not even expensive bottled water, like Perrier and Evian, are of good enough quality to pump out of mines in Southwest Virginia, according to the EPA regulation.

Here’s what they found:

To test the accuracy of Griffith’s statement, PolitiFact Virginia Reporter Jacob Geiger went to a lab at VCU where he and a researcher actually tested the pollutants in various samples of water. One sample was from the James River and several others came from bottled water companies including Evian and Perrier.

In the PolitiFact Virginia reporter, Geiger said, “The EPA’s standard for conductivity is 500 microsiemans. The distilled water had a conductivity of 2.2 microsiemens. The James River water had a conductivity of 139 microsiemens. Evian 584. The Perrier had 795. And the Pellegrino had 1,266 microsiemens.”

What does all of that mean? Technically, that Congressman Griffith’s statement was accurate. Perrier and most of the bottled waters did not pass the EPA’s regulations for streams near the coal mining areas in Appalachia.


But, PolitiFact Virginia reports that this technically accurate statement misses the point. The EPA guidelines aren’t necessarily designed to make human drinking water safe. Instead, an EPA spokesperson says the regulations are in place to protect the environment including fish.

Richard Yost told PolitiFact Virginia, “The science demonstrates that stream life present in waters contaminated by mine waste is killed when salinity levels rise above levels that would not be toxic to humans who may drink such water. Aquatic organisms and people respond to salinity in very different ways, so it is not technically valid to make direct comparisons between healthy levels of salinity in central Appalachian streams and acceptable levels of salinity in drinking water.”

Simply put… what might be safe for us to drink could kill fish and other wildlife.

The verdict?

Rep. Griffith’s statement is: Barely True. The researchers note that while technically accurate, Griffith’s argument misses the point.

Specifically they wrote, “Saying Perrier is good for humans and therefore must be OK for fish seems to us like saying that because humans eat oranges, fish should too.”

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This just in:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Thursday, March 31 at 10:00 A.M., Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) will convene a hearing to look at progress the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has made in improving worker safety since the tragic explosion on April 5, 2010, that claimed the lives of 29 miners in West Virginia, and identify steps Congress can take to further strengthen protections for mineworkers across the country. As Chairman of both the HELP Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education and related agencies, Harkin has focused substantial attention on efforts to improve safety at mining workplaces.

“The awful tragedy at the Upper Big Branch mine shined the national spotlight on a dangerous culture of disregard for the law among some mine operators who put profits over workplace safety. Unfortunately, this culture had been allowed to thrive for years without effective action by MSHA to target these bad actors. In the year since the Upper Big Branch disaster, MSHA has taken vital steps to improve oversight of unsafe mines. I look forward to hearing from regulators to review what they have done and what additional tools they need from Congress to make sure that a disaster like this one never happens again.” said Harkin.

The witnesses include:

Joseph Main, Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor Mine Safety and Health Administration

Elliot Lewis, Assistant Inspector General, U.S. Department of Labor

The West Virginia Environmental Quality Board has issued its formal order in the case of International Coal Group’s New Hill West Mine, regarding conductivity in strip-mining water pollution permits.

Here it is:

The deal sounded pretty good for the federal government when the Obama administration first announced it earlier this week. According to the Casper Star-Tribune:

Nearly 758 million tons of Wyoming coal will go up for sale in the coming months, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Tuesday.

… The sale of the leases announced Tuesday could produce up to $21.3 billion when factoring in bonus bids and royalty payments, Salazar said. Just more than half of the total would go to the federal government, with the state getting the rest.

But … well, according to this follow-up story by the Star-Tribune’s Jeremy Fugleberg:

nterior Secretary Ken Salazar apparently vastly overstated the economic benefits of coal lease sales announced earlier this week.

On Tuesday Salazar announced lease sales of 758 million tons of Powder River Basin coal and said the sales would add between $13.4 billion and $21.3 billion to government coffers over the life of the leases — numbers repeated by media outlets worldwide.

The likely total is far lower, or the amount you get if you move the decimal point over one spot to the left.

“That was off by a factor of 10,” said Marion Loomis, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association.

Loomis said he also accepted the Salazar numbers at face value until they struck him as wildly inaccurate.

He said the proceeds from 758 million tons of coal would more likely produce approximately $2 billion, nearly half of which flows to state coffers.

The Obama administration’s explanation:

An Interior Department representative referred the Star-Tribune to a Bureau of Land Management spokesman, who didn’t respond to several calls Thursday. A spokeswoman for the Wyoming BLM office said the office was looking into the numbers.

The Bureau of Land Management, an agency under the Interior Department, manages federal coal leases.

This just in from The Associated Press:

Massey Energy says it has won a lawsuit that claimed a coal-loading silo next to a southern West Virginia school had exposed hundreds of children to possible health problems.

Jurors in Raleigh County Circuit Court sided with Virginia-based Massey on Friday and rejected the plaintiffs’ requests for a medical monitoring program.

Williamson attorney Kevin Thompson sued Massey and subsidiary Goals Coal Co. over long-term exposure to coal dust from a silo about 235 feet from Marsh Fork Elementary School near Sundial. He did not immediately comment.

Massey General Counsel Shane Harvey calls the verdict an important victory.

He says the jurors ignored hype and publicity, and focused on the facts.

Harvey says Massey employees live in the communities where the company does business, and it takes care to operate responsibly.

Suing over selenium … again

Environmental groups have brought another in their series of lawsuits trying to force coal operators and regulators to take seriously the problems associated with selenium pollution from mining operations.

Vicki Smith at The Associated Press has the story about the new case filed by the Sierra Club and others:

Three environmental groups sued coal operator ICG Eastern in federal court Wednesday over a Webster County surface mine they say has been discharging toxic selenium into streams for years.

The Sierra Club, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy filed the case in U.S. District Court in Elkins over the Knight-Ink No. 1 mine. The complaint alleges violations of state and federal law, including the federal Clean Water Act and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.

The complaint also claims state regulators have been lax in cracking down on ICG, allowing discharges into Big Beaver Creek, and two tributaries, Oldhe Fork and Board Fork, at levels above those designed to protect aquatic life. The mine is in east-central West Virginia, in a scenic, sparsely populated county that juts into the Monongahela National Forest.

I’ve posted the latest lawsuit here and you can click here to go back and read previous coverage of the selenium issue.

ICG officials told Vicki they were still reviewing the suit and had no immediate comment. In a press release, Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, one of the groups that brought the case, said:

If we don’t stop these illegal and harmful discharges of selenium now, we have only ourselves to blame for the destruction of our valuable water resources and for the long term liabilities that will be passed along to our children, grandchildren and future citizens of the state.

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