Coal Tattoo

Friday roundup, April 29, 2011

In this April 1974 photo provided by the U.S. National Archives, miners line up to enter the shaft at the Virginia-Pocahontas Coal Company Mine #4 near Richlands, Va. The photo is part of Documerica, an EPA project during the 1970s in which the agency hired dozens of freelance photographers to capture thousands of images related to the environment and everyday life in America. Modeled after Documerica, the agency has embarked on a massive effort to collect photographs from across the United States and around the world over the next year that depict everything from nature’s beauty to humanity’s impact, both good and bad. (AP Photo/U.S. National Archives, Jack Corn)

The U.S. EPA has made a global call to photographers to submit photos of the environment around them, and an AP story about the project includes some interesting photos from the coalfields.  Here’s another one:

In this Oct. 1973 photo provided by the U.S. National Archives, Mary Workman holds a jar of undrinkable water from a well outside her home near a coal mine in Steubenville, Ohio. (AP Photo/U.S. National Archives, Erik Calonius)

Meanwhile, this week in China, eight coal miners died when the underground operation where they were working flooded.  Xinhua pointed out:

This accident is the third coal mine accident in Panxian County this year. On March 12, a gas explosion at an illegal coal mine killed 19 workers.

On March 28, a gas leak at another coal mine in the county killed eight workers and injured three.

In Kentucky, the AP reported that the families of two miners killed last year in a roof fall at Alliance Resource Partners’ Dotiki Mine have sued the company, saying production was emphasized over safety at the mine, which had been cited hundreds of times for safety violations.

Miners wait at the entrance to the Webster County Coal Dotiki Mine No. 4 property in Nebo, Ky., Thursday, April 29, 2010.  (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Unfortunately, AP reporter Brett Barrouquere explained the MSHA report on this tragedy this way:

Three months later, MSHA cited the mine operator, saying Alliance Resource Partners properly followed the roof control plan at the Dotiki mine. But MSHA said a non-detectable formation of slippery rock called slickenslides or slips caused the roof to cave in an unsupported area being mined.

The federal report says the collapse couldn’t be foreseen at the massive coal-mining complex in Kentucky. MSHA cited the mine for failing to adequately support the roof, causing a section up to 76 feet long, 19 feet wide and up to 10 feet thick to fall in.

What the AP report didn’t make clear is that MSHA cited the company for not detecting the potential roof control problem and taking steps to avoid it injuring or killing workers. Specifically, the MSHA citation said:

The roof was not adequately supported or otherwise controlled to protect persons from hazards related to falls of the roof … The mine operator failed to detect the presence of slickensides, which dismembered the overlying shale and sandy shale beds and caused the roof to fall.

And here in West Virginia, the state Supreme Court upheld a $1.9 million verdict against Massey Energy in a case brought by an injured miner. You can read the decision itself here. And, the Coal Mine Board of Safety Appeals suspended the mining license for a year of a worker who faked credentials to work as a mine foreman. It’s worth noting that this is another case where the state Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training sought a permanent license ban, but was overruled by the board. Unfortunately, this is not the end of the story about this particular individual.

There were a couple stories this week from the folks at West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Emily Corio reported on efforts by the U.S. Office of Surface Mining to restore red spruce forest in the Monongahela National Forest, and Jessica Lilly had a piece about the continuing court battle of coal miner Mark Gray, who says he was fired for refusing to do unsafe work.  And I was sad to hear that our friend Erica Peterson is leaving W.Va. for a public broadcasting job in Kentucky. Best of luck to here, though.

There were coal company earnings released this week, including those for Arch Coal, Peabody, CONSOL, International Coal Group and Patriot Coal.

Taylor Kuykendall at the Beckley paper wrote up the latest coal outlook from the U.S. Department of Energy, reporting:

This year’s market outlook says coal will still be the largest source of energy generation into 2035, but production of Appalachian coal is predicted to decline substantially.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s “Annual Energy Outlook,” current data suggests Appalachian coal production will decrease “substantially from current levels, as coal produced from the extensively mined, higher cost reserves of Central Appalachia is supplanted by lower cost coal from other supply regions.”

(Haven’t we read about these projections somewhere before?)

Out west, the Billings Gazette reported:

An estimated $2.8 million annual tax break for a Roundup-area coal mine, stuffed into a coal-tax bill by Gov. Brian Schweitzer a week ago, won final approval by lawmakers on the last day of the Legislature — but not before some last-minute lobbying turned around a vote to kill it.

The tax break, which Schweitzer inserted into Senate Bill 266 a week ago, benefits the Signal Peak coal mine south of Roundup by cutting in half its gross-proceeds tax on mined coal for 10 years, starting this year.

Schweitzer’s changes to the bill, adopted by the Legislature on Thursday, also extend the same tax break to any new, underground coal mine for the first 10 years of its operation.

In the wake of this week’s terrible death toll in the storms across the U.S. southeast, it’s worth remember global climate change’s impact on extreme weather events. Read recent posts from Joe Romm, Andrew Revkin, and the Huffington Post. See also this guest post on Climate Progress.

Meanwhile, Greenwire (via The New York Times) had one piece about coal plants’ ability to meet new EPA regulations on toxic air pollution, and another piece (subscription required) about American Electric Power’s efforts to short-circuit clean air protections with congressional action.

Finally, a reader pointed out this piece by Bill Leonard, professor of church history at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity, about mountaintop removal:

Appalachians discovered faith up hollows, on mountain tops, by cold clear streams, and in deep lush valleys. They’ve spent years renegotiating that faith with strip mines and strip malls, slag pits and condominium complexes, polluted rivers and manhandled mountains. They mirror the world, moving as fast as it can to undo sacred space across the globe.

Today, the creature, not the Creator, “makes waste mountains and hills and dries up all their herbs;” the creature, not the Creator “makes the rivers islands and …dries up the pools,” (Isaiah 42: 15), questionable conduct with no end in sight.

So as the mountains continue to crumble, perhaps we’ll have to hedge out bets on Isaiah 72:3: “May hills and mountains provide your people with prosperity in righteousness.” Maybe not, O Lord, maybe not.

That’s all folks … have a good weekend.