Arch Coal Inc. announced this morning that it has completed its acquisition of International Coal Group, and Arch CEO Steve Leer said:
We are pleased with the swift and successful completion of the ICG transaction, which will add tremendous value for Arch’s stakeholders in the coming years. This acquisition extends Arch’s reach into every major U.S. coal supply basin, enhances our low-cost and leadership position in core operating regions and creates a world-class global thermal and metallurgical coal franchise poised for growth.
The company’s news release added:
With expected pro forma metallurgical sales of 11 million tons in 2011, Arch becomes the second largest U.S. metallurgical coal producer and a top 10 global supplier to steelmakers. By capitalizing on expansion opportunities, Arch expects to boost its metallurgical coal output to nearly 15 million tons by 2015 to serve under-supplied, growing global metallurgical markets.
The acquisition also adds nearly 13 million tons of low-cost Appalachian thermal production to Arch’s vast domestic thermal coal portfolio, solidifying the company’s No. 2 position among U.S.-based coal miners and creating the U.S. coal industry’s most diversified producer. Additionally, the company expects to leverage its dedicated throughput capacity, logistics capabilities and strategic relationships to expand export shipments via the East Coast, West Coast and Gulf of Mexico to further penetrate and participate in the global growth markets.
The Gazette’s late publisher, Ned Chilton, was know for his criticism of what he called West Virginia’s “insipid press,” local newspapers that didn’t question the actions of local politicians and powerful institutions.
… The irony of having policymakers sit in air-conditioned offices and pricing air-conditioning out of the budgets of so many homes elsewhere is lost on today’s public administrators.
The really disappointing thing here, though, was that the Daily Mail’s very lengthy news story on the AEP announcement made little or no effort to explain the reasons for the EPA’s regulatory proposal. No mention of the respiratory illnesses and early deaths the rule was aimed at reducing. No mention of the huge hidden costs of continuing to rely on coal for supposed “cheap electricity.” Daily Mail readers had to wait for George Hohmann’s column in the Sunday paper to get a mention of this, and even then it was noted only as kind of an odd afterthought in describing the AEP news release:
… The utility didn’t mention the health and environmental benefits to be derived from the EPA rules. Others will make that case.
Those “others” certainly won’t be any of our state’s elected officials or major political figures. They were falling all over themselves to get out press releases depicting the AEP announcement as another result of the Obama administration’s “war on coal.”
Kevin Crutchfield, the president and CEO of Alpha Natural Resources, was on statewide radio here in West Virginia this morning, being interviewed by Talkline host Hoppy Kercheval.
Hoppy asked Crutchfield what he thought happened back on April 5, 2010, when Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine blew up. Crutchfield said:
That’s a great question. Our goal is to have access to all of the information, which we did not have until the transaction closed, and try to make our own assessment, conduct our own review of what we think transpired at that coal mine, because job number 1 is to ensure that nothing like that ever happens again, so that we can put mechanisms or mitigants in place to ensure that nothing like that ever happens again at an Alpha coal mine or any coal mine in the nation, for that matter, so that’s our goal and we’re still in the midst of looking through the information, hiring some of our own experts, and I would hold back on any opinions until we have a more informed view.
My buddy Hoppy pushed Crutchfield a little bit, and the CEO added:
At the end of the day, our underlying belief is that all accidents are preventable. I think you have to believe that in order to continue to improve over time and achieve better and better safety results. I think with respect to this mine, we don’t honestly know yet. And until we do it probably wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment. But our underlying belief is that all accidents were preventable, because I think you have to have that believe to be able to make the kind of progress we expect to make with respect to our safety performance and taking care of our fellow employees.
Hoppy kept pushing, and Crutchfield said:
I think there are instances probably that are out of our control sometimes, but again, we’re going to stick with the underlying belief that all accidents are preventable, until we learn otherwise. But I think there clearly are some instances that, you know there are exogenous events that fell out of our control. But our philosophy is to stick with the belief that all accidents are preventable, and let’s put plans in place to be sure we send everybody home safely after every shift.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration today announced that the newly formed District 12 office within the agency’s Coal Mine Safety and Health division has begun operations. MSHA initiated the process of splitting the agency’s jurisdiction over southern West Virginia coal mines – formerly all covered by District 4 – into two separate districts earlier this year.
The new office, in its formative stages, eventually will be located in Pineville but for now is temporarily housed at the National Mine Health and Safety Academy in Beaver. It will have jurisdiction over field offices in Pineville, Logan and Princeton. District 4 will remain in Mt. Hope and will oversee field offices in Mt. Hope, Mt. Carbon, Madison and Summersville.
“The creation of an additional office in a part of the country with the highest concentration of coal mines has been one of my goals since coming to MSHA,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “Splitting this district will allow MSHA to more effectively execute its mission, provide adequate oversight and keep pace with the evolution of the coal industry.”
The production of southern West Virginia coal tends to be in higher demand globally. Over the past several years, MSHA had focused significant additional resources on District 4 in order to keep up with industry expansion and meet requirements and expectations since passage of the Mine Improvement and Emergency Response Act in 2006, including new administration initiatives designed to strengthen health and safety protections for the nation’s miners. The agency had attempted to address increasing activity in District 4 by hiring additional personnel, making overtime available and allocating personnel from other districts to complete mandated inspections.
Timothy Watkins, formerly an assistant district manager in Pikeville, Ky., and a mining engineer, has been selected as the new District 12 manager. His staff eventually will be structured like that of other coal district offices. Charles Carpenter recently was selected as manager of District 4.
The District 12 office can be reached by telephone at 304-253-5237.
The letters, signed by Alpha’s general counsel , say:
Alpha is very disappointed that the surviving family members were not given an opportunity to review Massey’s findings before they were made public by Mr. Inman. I also wish to make clear that Alpha Natual Resources did not commission or authorize Mr. Inman’s release of the report or his letter, nor was Alpha given the opportunity to review them before Mr. Inman distributed them to the news media.
Now, it’s important to also note what the Alpha letter doesn’t say … It doesn’t say that the report is wrong, or that Alpha doesn’t believe the “Act of God” theory or won’t deploy that as a legal defense now that it owns Massey. All the letter says in that regard is:
Alpha plans to review the events at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine including a full assessment of the reports issued thus far by the West Virginia Governor’s independent investigation team, the Massey report, as well as the yet-to-be issued report of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration. Also, we intend to fully cooperate with all pending government investigations.
Anti-mining activists have agreed to quit trespassing on the former Massey Energy’s West Virginia coal mines to settle a lawsuit over a tree-sitting protest in 2010.
U.S. District Judge Irene Berger issued the permanent injunction Monday. Her order bars five defendants from protesting at former Massey operations in 23 counties, among other things. The mines are now owned by Alpha Natural Resources, which bought Massey June 1.
Massey sued after protesters climbed trees and refused to come down for up to nine days at its Beetree surface mine in January 2010. The protest was part of a series targeting Massey’s surface mining operations.
Lawyer Thomas Rist said he’s also trying to settle cases stemming from protests in Boone and Raleigh county circuit courts.
Alpha had no immediate comment.
It’s worth noting that court records indicate the settlement has been in the works since early May, after activists won a ruling by U.S. Magistrate Judge R. Clarke VanDervort that protesters did not have to answer Massey Energy’s questions about who assisted or participated in peaceful civil disobedience actions against the company.
I’ve posted a copy of the order settling the case here.
Alpha Natural Resources Inc. of Abingdon, Va., said it doesn’t intend to conduct mountain-top removal in the historic battleground area, but acquired one active operation outside the 1,600-acre boundary when it bought Massey Energy.
“We agree that Blair Mountain is an area of historical significance, and an appropriate commemoration of the 1921 events ought to be considered,” said Alpha spokesman Ted Pile. But, he added, a commemoration shouldn’t “abrogate the legal rights of the many property owners and leaseholders in the area.”
This just in from the United Mine Workers of America:
The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) announced today that it has reached a tentative collective bargaining agreement with the Bituminous Coal Operators Association (BCOA) for a new 5 1/2 year agreement that would become effective July 1, 2011.
Ratification votes at approximately 125 UMWA Local Unions nationwide will take place on Friday, June 17. As required by the UMWA Constitution, Local Union contract explanation meetings will take place on Wednesday, June 15, two days prior to the ratification vote. Details of the tentative agreement will not be released until after the explanation meetings.
“This has been a long and intense process,” UMWA President Cecil E. Roberts said. “We had many issues to confront, especially with respect to our pensions, health care and wages. But through the strength and solidarity UMWA members have historically demonstrated, we were able to meet those challenges.”
MSHA chief Joe Main is fond of talking about how his agency’s investigation of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster is the most open probe of its kind ever … Deep down, though, he probably knows this isn’t true.
And as far as I know, MSHA has yet to make its chief investigator — Norman Page — available for any media interviews. Instead, reporters have had to talk with Joe Main or with Kevin Stricklin. Both Joe and Kevin have been helpful, but often they haven’t been able to answer specific and detailed questions that the lead investigator probably could.
So it’s hard to escape the painful fact that former Massey board chairman Bobby Inman is right about one thing, when he says:
It is in the mutual best interest of miners, coal companies, regulators and union representatives that mine accident investigations be conducted publicly by an independent review agency rather than in private by MSHA representatives. The absence of and independent safety review process contradicts previous congressional mandates and inappropriately allows MSHA to police itself.
Hundreds of marchers head out Monday, June 6, 2011, on a five-day, 50-mile trek through West Virginia’s southern coalfields in an effort to draw attention to mining threats to Blair Mountain. (AP Photo/Brian Farkas)
Union busting corporations have commoditized not just the workforce, but the historic landscapes of West Virginia, using great machines and dynamite to eliminate mining jobs. While production has more than doubled in 10 years, industry employment is one-tenth of it what was when my father warned me about strip mining as a 14-year-old boy.
It is time for Americans to march in the footsteps of our union ancestors of 90 years ago to protect our jobs, and save our national patriarchy, the purple mountains majesty, the individual rights and community based values that make our country of the envy of free people.
… Because atop Kayford Mountain activist Larry Gibson keeps watch by his cabin and family cemetery, surrounded by sheared-off peaks in all directions but one, and the last mountain is, fittingly, Coal River Mountain, targeted for blasting by Massey Energy, as reckless a company now as it was under its notorious former chairman, Don Blankenship. Despite an explosion in 2010 that killed 29 workers, another Massey mine was recently cited by regulators for conduct “nothing short of outrageous.” because The Last Mountain, an official Sundance Film Festival selection, may stiffen the government’s resolve to make Massey and its ilk observe the Clean Water Act, which they flout with every mountaintop blast.
These long-overdue Clean Air Act standards will slash hazardous emissions of mercury and other acid gases, preventing thousands of asthma and heart attacks and premature deaths. Utilities have known for decades that these standards – which are still in the proposal stage and have a built-in 3 year compliance timeline, have been coming for decades. They also know that they are free to approach EPA with serious, fact-based compliance plans, and that state governments also have the ability under the law to seek more time for the plants in their jurisdictions. The standards leverage existing American-made pollution control technologies that are already deployed at over half of the nation’s coal and oil-fired power plants – and will result in thousands of jobs across the country as workers install the technologies at plants.
According to analysis of EIA data, which were updated with GAO’s survey results, a total of 284 tall smokestacks were operating at 172 coal power plants in 34 states, as of December 31, 2010. Of these stacks, 207 are 500 to 699 feet tall, 63 are 700 to 999 feet tall, and the remaining 14 are 1,000 feet tall or higher. About one-third of these stacks are concentrated in 5 states along the Ohio River Valley. While about half of tall stacks began operating more than 30 years ago, there has been an increase in the number of tall stacks that began operating in the last 4 years, which air and utility officials attributed to the need for new stacks when plants installed pollution control equipment.
This just in from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration:
Yesterday, a surface contract construction worker was injured when he fell from a catwalk platform and struck an I-beam on the ground below, a distance of about eight feet. He was conscious initially and was being transported by ambulance to a local hospital when he stopped breathing. Ambulance attendants administered CPR and continued resuscitation efforts until arrival at the hospital, where hospital personnel continued CPR. The hospital personnel were unable to revive the victim and he was pronounced dead.
An inspector was at another part of the mine conducting an inspection and issued a 103k Order when notified. Coal District 9 personnel have started an investigation.
This death occurred at Arch Coal subsidiary Mountain Coal Company LLC’s West Elk Mine in Gunnison County, Colorado.
If I had a dollar for every time my phone rings and the person on the other line is an author or a filmmaker or an out-of-town journalist who has discovered the mountaintop removal story and is sure they have found something new about it … well, if I had that cash, you all wouldn’t have this blogger to kick around anymore.
I’m ashamed to admit that I long ago stopped trying to read every magazine piece or book or sit down and closely watch every documentary on the subject. Despite the claims by some that the media ignores the issue, mountaintop removal has gotten wide, deep and consistent attention, with that coverage only growing in recent years.
But I did sit down last night and watch a DVD review copy of “The Last Mountain.” I even made my wife watch with me. The film is getting so much attention that I wanted to check it out. And yes, I wanted to see if the long interview I did with an earlier set of the project’s filmmakers had somehow survived getting tossed on the cutting room floor.
Those stories came out in 2005, and one thing that struck me in watching the film was how much has happened in the six years since the site of Raleigh County grandfather Ed Wily, protesting the school’s location downstream from a Massey impoundment and adjacent to the company’s processing plant convinced me to detour over to the WVDEP office’s file room and take a look at the old maps on the site.
The campaign to stop (or depending on what side you’re on to continue) mountaintop removal has come a long, long way:
— Activists working against mountaintop removal have hunkered down for a long peaceful civil disobedience campaign, launching direct action protests to literally put their bodies between the mining machines and the mountains.
Based on the regulations as proposed, AEP’s compliance plan would retire nearly 6,000 megawatts (MW) of coal-fueled power generation; upgrade or install new advanced emissions reduction equipment on another 10,100 MW; refuel 1,070 MW of coal generation as 932 MW of natural gas capacity; and build 1,220 MW of natural gas-fueled generation. The cost of AEP’s compliance plan could range from $6 billion to $8 billion in capital investment through the end of the decade.
Specifically, the AEP release says:
— AEP’s current plan for compliance with the rules as proposed includes permanently retiring the following coal-fueled power plants:
Now, much of this isn’t really news … AEP had previously announced plans to retire about 5,000 megawatts of coal-fired generation over the next five years (see here and here).
AEP added today, though, that:
Although some jobs would be created from the installation of emissions reduction equipment, AEP expects a net loss of approximately 600 power plant jobs with annual wages totaling approximately $40 million as a result of compliance with the proposed EPA rules.
But here’s what is really interesting … AEP Chairman Michael Morris in the company’s press release criticizes the EPA plans and the resulting changes to his company’s power mix:
We support regulations that achieve long-term environmental benefits while protecting customers, the economy and the reliability of the electric grid, but the cumulative impacts of the EPA’s current regulatory path have been vastly underestimated, particularly in Midwest states dependent on coal to fuel their economies. We have worked for months to develop a compliance plan that will mitigate the impact of these rules for our customers and preserve jobs, but because of the unrealistic compliance timelines in the EPA proposals, we will have to prematurely shut down nearly 25 percent of our current coal-fueled generating capacity, cut hundreds of good power plant jobs, and invest billions of dollars in capital to retire, retrofit and replace coal-fueled power plants. The sudden increase in electricity rates and impacts on state economies will be significant at a time when people and states are still struggling.
AEP expects to reduce GHG emissions by an additional 10 percent by 2020 from 2010 levels. In 2010, AEP emitted 134 million metric tons of GHGs from its plants. This will result in a total reduction of approximately 25 percent from 2003 levels, the first year of our CCX commitment.
We will, however, achieve additional GHG reductions as we retire older, less efficient coal units and replace them with new natural gas and/or renewable generation, where supported. Under the EPA’s proposed Transport, Coal Combustion Residuals and Hazardous Air Pollutant rules, AEP may be forced to retire a significant amount of older coal-fired generation in the next several years. The industry as a whole may retire between 50 gigawatts and 100 gigawatts. Some of that generation most likely will be replaced with natural gas plants, which emit about half the carbon dioxide of coal combustion plants.
Oddly enough, today’s news release contained no mention of climate change, or the potential greenhouse gas emissions that might be reduced by these coal plant retirements.
EPA believes its proposal will provide $59 billion a year in benefits and save 17,000 lives, while costing just $10.9 billion a year — and creating 31,000 short-term construction jobs and 9,000 long-term utility jobs.
The Tennessee Valley Authority announced plans Thursday to retire 18 older coal-fired generation units at three power plants as part of the federal utility’s vision of being one of the nation’s leading providers of low-cost and cleaner energy by 2020.
President and CEO Tom Kilgore told the TVA board of directors, meeting in Chattanooga, that replacing older and less-economical generation with cleaner sources also is in alignment with recommendations in the utility’s Integrated Resource Plan as well as the utility’s vision for cleaner air.
The Blair Mountain marchers entered their third day today on their trek through Boone and Logan counties, and apparently their effort has run into some problems — and some not-so unexpected opposition to their cause.
They originally planned to spend Monday night at John Slack Park in Racine, but Boone County Sheriff Rodney Miller told the marchers Monday evening they had to leave the site.
… The marchers ended up walking about 15 miles Tuesday, from Racine to a small park near the intersection of W.Va. 3 and Corridor G, just north of Danville.
They stopped briefly at about 2 p.m. outside the grounds of the Boone Career and Technical Center, part of Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College near the town of Foster.
They originally planned to spend Tuesday night on the school’s grounds, but were told by college officials they could not do that.
Rodney Smith, an administrator at the college, said on Tuesday he did not know why the marchers were told they could not stay.
“But we don’t have much grass. Big Earl’s Campground [about five miles north, near Julian] volunteered to let them stay there,” Smith said.
But Stanley said the marchers were told they could not stay there either, and they would have to take shuttles back to Marmet to spend another night there Tuesday.
Interestingly, I had a couple calls from anti-mountaintop removal activists who were really charged up about all of this, alleging that “coal thugs” had injured some of the marchers and stuff like that … at least according to the march’s own website, it thankfully doesn’t appear that any of that was true:
Monday night around 10 oclock the County Commissioner of Boone came to the park to order us to leave the park, overriding prior verbal permission and said that if the Marchers did not leave the park all marchers would be arrested. A small group of vocal counter-protesters added tension to the situation. Police worked with the marchers to evacuate John Slack Park safely.
We decided to leave because we aren’t marching to take a stand at this park, or confront the Boone County Commissioner; we’re here to March on Blair Mountain, confront coal industry power, and demand preservation of Blair Mountain, it’s history, and end MTR.
In full-page newspaper ads and television commercials, Alpha Natural Resources is telling coalfield communities that its takeover of Massey Energy will bring a new day — that Alpha’s “Running Right” program is different from the Massey culture.
The West Virginia Coal Association and Alpha Natural Resources, the third-largest U.S. coal producer, urged the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration to drop a proposal that would require mine operators to conduct more extensive safety examinations. Mine safety officials with the states of West Virginia and Illinois also told MSHA to drop the idea.
John Gallick, Alpha’s vice president of safety, said the rule would place unrealistic burdens on mine examiners and exposes them to MSHA citations if they miss violations, which often are open to interpretation.
“It is difficult enough to a good mine examiner. Now it may become impossible,” he said. “The current proposed rule detracts from the purpose of conducting exams.”
Under the existing standard for pre-shift, supplemental, on-shift and weekly examinations, operators are required to identify, correct and record hazardous conditions. The proposal would apply to these examinations and would require that operators also identify, correct and record violations of mandatory health or safety standards.
The Kentucky coal industry’s compliance with U.S. surface mining regulations dropped sharply from 2008 to 2010, while the environmental impact of the violations has worsened, federal records show.
A U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement report analyzing state enforcement of the federal surface mining and reclamation law shows the industry’s compliance rate in Kentucky dropped from 87 percent of surveyed mining sites in 2007 and 2008 to 65 percent in 2010.
The story appears to be based on part of the OSMRE annual report on Kentucky’s program, available here. That report says:
For EY 2010, OSM found that 211 of the 325 (65 percent) mine sites in Kentucky were in full compliance with all performance standard categories.