Coal Tattoo

Friday roundup, Sept. 23, 2011

Image released by South Wales Police on Thursday Sept 15 2011 of emergency workers at the scene in Gleision Colliery near Swansea, South Wales. Four workers died. (AP Photo/ Carl Ryan/South Wales Police)

Like some of you probably did, I spent part of the morning listening to the House “debate” the latest Republican effort to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from protecting public health with new air pollution rules.

Here’s some coverage from The Hill. The legislation passed 249-169, with Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., joining the Republicans in voting for it.  The National Mining Association issued a statement praising passage of the bill:

The House took responsible action today against a significant threat to jobs and the economy by requiring the administration to assess the true cost of two major rulemakings before imposing them on a fragile economy and a weak job market. We urge the Senate to promptly pass the TRAIN Act.

John Walke of the Natural Resources Defense Council has called the legislation “the worst air pollution bill ever to reach the House floor“:

… The bill’s lengthier minimum periods of delay (15 & 19 months) would result in up to 33,450 premature deaths. The real toll likely will be much higher since the legislation allows indefinite delays in these vital public health safeguards.

While the initial version of the TRAIN Act was bad, the version the House is scheduled to vote on this week is indefensible. It will sacrifice tens of thousands of lives, pollute the air we breathe, and expose our children, families, and communities to toxic air pollutants that cause illness and developmental disorders.

If you missed it previously, I wanted to be sure to pass on this great profile of Scott Howard, the brave Kentucky coal miner who continues to stand up for his rights to a safe workplace.  Dave Jamieson wrote the story (and took the photo) for The Huffington Post:

Having worked in the mines for three decades, he’s been disciplined, fired, and otherwise branded a troublemaker for speaking out about unsafe conditions. His troubles have all sprung from the simple but rigid code that he works by: He refuses to do anything that he believes may endanger himself or his fellow miners. Under the relentless pressures to produce coal, upholding such a code comes with great personal risk.

“There’s no other miner like him in the United States,” says [Howard’s lawyer Tony] Oppegard, who’s been representing Appalachian miners against coal companies for more than 20 years. “He’s done things that no one else has done.”

Continue reading…

We reported in the Gazette this morning on the 10-month jail sentence handed down by U.S. District Judge Irene Berger for former Upper Big Branch miner Thomas Harrah, who faked foreman’s qualifications for nearly two years and then lied to government agents about his actions.

Under the law, Harrah could have faced as much as 10 years in prison, though federal sentencing guidelines put his recommended sentence in the range of 10 to 16 months. So Judge Berger, while sending him to jail — his defense lawyers had argued against that — went with the bottom end of the guideline range.

It’s obvious that prosecutors went after Harrah pretty hard in large part because he lied about what he’d done — and he lied in a way that probably sent investigators scurrying around for more evidence to support his initial claims that Massey officials helped him get a fake foreman’s license.

Now, prosecutors did not allege that Harrah had anything to do with the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 Massey Energy workers. He had stopped working at Upper Big Branch in August 2009.

But one of the more interesting things I’ve seen come out in the Harrah case is this memo from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, which shows that the Upper Big Branch Mine was cited far more frequently than other mines for violations of MSHA rules regarding safety examinations required of the company.  Mine safety experts understand the importance of these safety examinations — and having qualified and honest people performing them — and MSHA chief Joe Main has proposed to toughen the federal rules for these safety exams.

Continue reading…

A makeshift memorial, with flowers and a sign, covered the fence outside the Jim Walter Resources No. 5 Mine in Brookwood, Ala., when I visited the area five years ago.

Today marks the 10-year anniversary of the series of explosions that killed 13 coal miners at the Jim Walter Resources No. 5 Mine in Bookwood, Ala.

On this day last year, I wrote a little bit about my own trip to Brookwood five years ago, as part of the Gazette’s Beyond Sago:  Coal Mine Safety in America project and series. I also wrote:

It’s worth remembering that the Bush administration’s response to Brookwood was to proceed to dismantle the regulatory safety net intended to protect our nation’s coal miners. Since then, we’ve seen not only Sago, Aracoma and Darby, but also Crandall Canyon and now, Upper Big Branch. Since that day in September 2001, 292 coal miners in the United States have died — and that doesn’t count the perhaps 10,000 who succumbed to black lung in the last decade.

I did a quick Internet search and only found one mention in the media of today’s anniversary, an article in the local Tuscaloosa News,  recounting the investigation report and subsequent litigation over the disaster:

On Dec. 11, 2002, MSHA issued its report. It cited Jim Walter Resources for 27 violations, including eight major violations that the agency said contributed to the deadly disaster.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao sought $435,000 in civil fines from the company.

Jim Walter Resources appealed the penalty. MSHA Administrative Law Judge David F. Barbour took testimony over 24 days. On Nov. 1, 2005, Barbour ruled. He reduced the fine to $3,000 after dismissing six of the major violations against Jim Walter Resources and modifying the other two.

Continue reading…

Later this week, the House is set for a series of votes aimed at delaying several major air pollution rules, mandates inter-agency economic studies of such rules, and seriously erode EPA’s ability to cut back on toxic air pollutants.

The Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation Act of 2011 is backed by Republicans, including Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley of West Virginia.

But contrary to complaints from the GOP and regulated industry that the EPA rules would harm the economy, a new report out this week from the Economic Policy Institute says:

… The regulations formulated by the Obama Administration will be of tremendous benefit to public health, and the combined compliance cost of the rules – both finalized and proposed – amounts to only about 0.1 percent of the economy, and thus are not a significant factor in the overall economy’s direction.

According to the report:

The Combined Effect of the Obama EPA Rules calculates the dollar value of the benefits and costs of new EPA rules, expressed in 2010 dollars, including the following:

* Setting aside the Cross-State Air Pollution rule, the combined annual benefits from all final major rules exceed their costs by $10 billion to $95 billion a year. The benefit/cost ratio ranges from 2-to-1 to 20-to-1.

— The net benefits from the Cross-State Air Pollution rule exceed $100 billion a year (this rule is treated separately because benefits accruing from action under the Bush administration and the Obama administration cannot be disentangled).

— The combined annual benefits from three major proposed rules examined here exceed their costs by $62 billion to $188 billion a year. The benefit/cost ratio ranges from 6-to-1 to 15-to-1.

— When fully in effect in 2014, the combined costs of the major rules finalized by the Obama administration’s EPA would amount to significantly less than 0.1% of the economy.

— Assuming the proposed rules are also finalized, when fully in effect in 2016 the combined costs of the major EPA rules finalized and proposed so far under the Obama administration would amount to about 0.13% of the economy.

Pay attention this week, and see if your local news coverage of the House debate discusses these conclusions …

Here’s an interesting piece out today from the Summit County Citizens Voice:

Montana ranchers downstream of coal mines say their livelihoods are threatened by pollution and disrupted water-flows, and they are demanding that state regulators follow laws intended to prevent such conflicts.

“Montana’s water belongs to everyone – we all depend on it,” said rancher Doug McRae, who lives near Colstrip. “State regulators are asleep at the switch and need to wake up. Without clean water, I simply can’t run my business.

McRae and other ranchers say they have tried repeatedly to get the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to address how coal mining impacts the quality and quantity of ground and surface waters in eastern Montana. With their pleas falling on deaf ears, the ranchers say they have no other choice but to seek legal assistance. They have teamed with conservation groups to file a notice of intent to sue the state on behalf of eastern Montana ranchers.

Should W.Va. increase taxes on coal?

Gazette photo by Chip Ellis

Here’s something you probably won’t hear the major candidates for West Virginia governor talking much about: It seems West Virginia’s coal industry pay significantly less in severance taxes than other mineral-producing states.

That’s what the fine folks over at the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy had to say in this new blog post:

… It’s not surprise that the top severance tax states all are rich in coal, oil, gas, or all three. Alaska tops the list, with over 66% of state tax revenue coming from severance taxes. West Virginia comes in with over 7% of state tax revenue coming from its severance tax.

Continue reading…

President Barack Obama, flanked by Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joe Main, speaks about mine safety, Thursday, April 15, 2010, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Regular readers of Coal Tattoo will recall the untimely death of 53-year-old Larry Marek, a miner at the Lucky Friday silver mine in Idaho back in April.

Well, thanks to reporter Jessica Robinson of Northwest News Network, we’re finding out much more about what led up to Marek’s death. Check out what she’s reporting:

It’s been five months since a rockfall at the Lucky Friday Mine in north Idaho killed veteran miner Larry Marek. Much about the accident is still unknown. But public records going back several years suggest the federal agency that oversees mines did not adequately ensure the safety of workers at the Lucky Friday. A 2008 report on another collapse there went missing. And since Larry Marek’s death, inspectors have found a dramatically higher number of safety violations.

Jessica found that, at the time of his death, Marek was working in an unusually wide stope, or opening where miners extract the silver ore.  This stope was located near an intersection of veins, a spot where the roof can easily become unstable. As Jessica reported:

In fact, a wide stope and an unstable wedge of rock had been factors in a collapse at the Lucky Friday Mine before, but no one was there. It was in 2008, three years before Larry Marek’s death. According to a federal report on the fall, “Had it occurred a few hours earlier or later, it is likely that a fatality or fatalities could have resulted.”

… The 2008 incident involved intersecting faults, not veins. But the federal geologist who wrote the report made recommendations to address a couple of key points that are relevant to Larry Marek’s death. The report recommended the mine keep stopes narrow and reinforce unstable rocks like the ones created at intersecting veins and faults. Those are the “acrobats” that Brady referred to.

But it appears the 2008 report was never given to the mining company.

“We had not seen this report prior to when you provided it to us,” Hecla spokeswoman Melanie Hennessey told me.

Continue reading…

As if we hadn’t heard enough about the U.S. Office of Surface Mining’s botched efforts to rewrite the federal stream buffer zone rule — or the coal industry’s campaign to promote a one-sided view of what OSMRE was studying

Now, we hear that the House of Representatives’ Committee on Natural Resources has scheduled a field hearing for next Monday here in Charleston to discuss the matter.

Republican committee leaders are calling the hearing, “Jobs at Risk: Community Impacts of the Obama Administration’s Effort to Rewrite the Stream Buffer Zone Rule.”  The witness list hasn’t been posted publicly yet, but I understand it includes West Virginia Coal Association officials, Tom Clarke from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, and our old buddy from the United Mine Workers union, Roger Horton — who has said publicly that EPA efforts to reduce the impacts of mountaintop removal amount to “state-sponsored terrorism” or breaking into people’s homes at night.

So, it’s clear that this hearing will provide another opportunity for a clear-headed, thoughtful, and reasonable discussion of the impacts of mountaintop removal on Appalachia and the industry’s role in the region’s economy.

Stay tuned ….

Monday update, Sept. 19, 2011

Rescue workers arrive at the Gleision Colliery near Swansea, south Wales as a second body is located in the flooded mine Friday Sept. 16, 2011. British rescue workers have found the body of a second miner dead while searching a flooded coal mine in south Wales. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland/PA Wire)

Sorry to drop out there for a couple of days last week folks. I was unexpected out of pocket. There were a few major stories I wanted to update and we’ll have a more traditional “Friday roundup” after we see what this week brings …

First, most of you probably followed the story — with another sad ending — of the four workers who died in the Gleision Colliery accident in Wales last week. As I said, I was out of pocket, and would therefore appreciate any links to interesting coverage of this disaster.

I did see this interesting piece from the BBC:

An expert says the rising price of coal is behind the reopening of small mines such as Gleision in the Swansea Valley, where four men died after it flooded.

Robert Murray Willis says the anthracite in such drift mines is high value as a dense smokeless fuel.

The former mining safety officer and engineering consultant said small mines tended not to have technological advances as they employed few people.

One Associated Press story I saw had this interesting bit of background:

South Wales was long synonymous with coal mining, as immortalized by Richard Llewellyn’s novel “How Green Was My Valley,” whose film version won the 1941 U.S. Academy Award as best picture. Cardiff, Wales’ main port city, once led the world in coal exports.

However, Britain’s Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher shut down the mines following a yearlong showdown in 1984 with the miners’ union. In the year of the strike, there were 196,000 miners working in Britain; now there are about 6,000.

The worst mining accident in British history was in 1913, when 439 miners were killed in a gas explosion at the Senghenydd colliery in South Wales. In a 1966 disaster that shocked the world, an avalanche of coal sludge buried a school in the village of Aberfan, killing 116 children and 28 adults.

Seven people have been killed in mining accidents in Britain since 2006, according to Health and Safety Executive statistics.

Continue reading…

Here’s some news that Alpha Natural Resources dropped in its SEC filings on Friday:

On September 13, 2011, Elk Run Coal Company, Inc. (“Elk Run”), a subsidiary of Alpha Natural Resources, Inc., received an imminent danger order under section 107(a) of the Mine Act alleging that a continuous miner operator was observed walking along the side of the continuous miner while tramming the machine between pillar blocks at the Hunter Peerless Mine. No injuries occurred, and the order did not require withdrawal of miners from the mine.

Elk Run has a safety policy which prohibits persons from entering the areas along either side of the continuous mining machine while it is being trammed anywhere in the mine. Elk Run has retrained all miners working at the Hunter Peerless Mine on its safety policy, and the order has been terminated.

Greg Bosscawen, manager of renewable energy for Pacific Gas and Electric Co., walks past solar panels at PG&;E’s Vaca-Dixon solar energy site near Vacaville, Calif., Tuesday, April 12, 2011. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Here’s the latest from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration:

Renewable energy is projected to be the fastest growing source of primary energy over the next 25 years, but fossil fuels remain the dominant source of energy.

Fossil fuels, however, continue to supply much of the energy used worldwide throughout the projection, and still account for 78 percent of world energy use in 2035.

Regarding coal, the EIA’s new International Energy Outlook 2011 says:

World coal consumption increases from 139 quadrillion Btu in 2008 to 209 quadrillion Btu in 2035, at an average annual rate of 1.5 percent in the IEO2011 Reference case. In the absence of policies or legislation that would limit the growth of coal use, China and, to a lesser extent, India and the other nations of non-OECD Asia consume coal in place of more expensive fuels. China alone accounts for 76 percent of the projected net increase in world coal use, and India and the rest of non-OECD Asia account for another 19 percent of the increase.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Maloney makes no bones about the fact that he’s not a big fan of government regulations on business. He says on his campaign Website:

As your governor, I’d remove the obstacles to job growth and work to make West Virginia a great place to work and raise a family. I’d fight against unfair taxes and job-killing regulations. I’d cut wasteful government spending and remove red tape. I’d fix our out-dated courts and end our lawsuit abuse problem. I’d stand-up to intrusive federal agencies that threaten our jobs.

Maloney has also gotten a fair amount of mileage out of his role in the rescue of those 33 Chilean copper and gold miners last October.

Aside from that — and mentions of Maloney’s drilling business moving to Pennsylvania after he sold it — campaign coverage so far hasn’t given voters a lot of information about his business career.

During the debate last week, though, I was reminded of a U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration rulemaking a few years back regarding safety and training requirements for workers who drill and build ventilation shafts for underground coal mines.

Bush administration MSHA chief Dave D. Lauriski proposed these rules in the wake of a January 2003 explosion at CONSOL Energy’s McElroy Mine near Moundsville, W.Va.  Three workers died in that explosion, which occurred as they were building a new ventilation shaft for the mine. Regulators also cited the deaths of four workers killed in another explosion during the sealing of a mine shaft at CONSOL’s Blacksville No. 1 Mine outside Morgantown.

As I wrote at the time (subscription required):

In announcing the proposal, MSHA said that it had found 15 fatal accidents in mine shaft construction between 1982 and 2003 …

To try to address these problems, MSHA proposed — and eventually finalized — a requirement that shaft-drilling and construction workers undergo the same sorts of training as coal miners. MSHA said at the time:

The hazards that confront these workers are generally no different from hazards faces by other underground or surface workers.

Continue reading…

West Virginia’s anti-science gubernatorial candidates

Well, given their earlier answers to similar questions during the primary campaign (see here, here and here), none of this should have come as much of a shock.

But it’s still something to see when the anti-science attitudes of West Virginia political leaders and candidates are put out there so clearly …

At last night’s debate between the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates (the broadcasters group that sponsored the event refused to allow third-party candidates to take part), Hoppy Kercheval of  West Virginia MetroNews asked:

Do you believe man’s actions are causing the world to warm?

Republican Bill Maloney replied simply:

We’re in a cooling cycle.

Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin said:

Once again, there are differences of opinion as to whether we’re in global warming now.

OK … where to start here? What can you say about answers like these, except that they are extreme views — they are out on the fringe of what the science tells us. That they’re simply wrong?

Let’s just review very quickly here:  The world is clearly warming, according to repeated analysis by all sorts of scientific agencies and scientific bodies, from NOAA to the National Academy of Sciences to the World Meteorological Association.

So to just answer Hoppy’s question, well — the science clearly shows Tomblin and Maloney are just both wrong.  And to get to that you don’t even have to get into the issue of what’s causing the warming (though it’s clearly human activity like burning coal) or what should be done about it (most experts say we need to move quickly to reduce these emissions).

Now, I credit Hoppy for asking about global warming — and in the interest of full disclosure, he asked me for some suggested questions on issues I write about. Here’s the global warming question I suggested:

What is your reading of the current science about global warming? Do you believe the climate is changing, that those changes are caused by human activities such as the burning of coal? What specifically would you have our state do about climate change?

Continue reading…

Speaker Boehner gets big bucks from coal

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)

The Wall Street Journal has a story out today reporting (subscription required):

U.S. coal companies have pumped $1.5 million into House Speaker John Boehner’s political operation this year, a sign of the industry’s beefed-up efforts to fight new and proposed regulations from the Obama administration.

The coal industry now ranks as one of the top sources of cash for the Ohio Republican, rivaling such perennial GOP donors as Wall Street and the real-estate industry. A large part of the coal industry’s donations came in a single week at the end of June.

Donations from coal-industry interests account for more than 10% of the $12.5 million Mr. Boehner collected from Jan. 1 to June 30 for fund-raising accounts he directly controls. Mr. Boehner’s personal campaign account collected less than $200,000 from the coal industry during the entire 2009-10 election cycle.

The Journal story, and a blog post from Joe Romm at Climate Progress quoting the Journal, tied this contributions to the House’s moves to try to block various EPA actions to more strictly regulate coal mining and coal-fired power plant emissions:

The cash flowing to Mr. Boehner’s coffers stems partly from the GOP’s efforts to roll back the Obama administration’s environmental and energy policies since taking control of the House in 2010, and replace them with fewer regulations in order to boost domestic energy production. Republicans say proposals to curb pollution from coal-fired power plants and limit mining threaten to raise energy costs and stifle job-creation. The speaker has long been a backer of the coal industry, and many coal interests are based in his home state of Ohio.

In April, the House voted to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse-gas emissions from coal-fired power plants and other industrial sources. In July, the House approved legislation that would limit the EPA’s authority to veto water permits previously issued by the Army Corps of Engineers. Other measures benefiting the coal industry are still moving through the House, though they have gone nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Continue reading…

A natural gas well operated by Northeast Natural Energy on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011.  (AP Photo/David Smith)

We had an interesting story in today’s Gazette reporting:

Switching power plants from coal to natural gas will not help to significantly slow down global warming, according to the latest in a series of studies to examine the much promoted role for gas as a “bridge fuel” to cleaner energy production.

The study, published late last week in the peer-reviewed journal Climate Change Letters, found that substitution of gas for coal would result in increased — rather than decreased — global warming for many decades.

We first reported on this study in our watchdog blog, Sustained Outrage, on Friday, and the study has received a fair amount of other media coverage here, here, here and here.

This is an issue we’ve covered before over in Sustained Outrage, with posts here, here and here.

There is much more research needed on this issue, especially given some great uncertainties about the levels of methane leakage from gas drilling operations. But so far, the take-home message, really, was in our Gazette story today:

Robert Howarth, a Cornell University ecologist who authored a widely cited paper on the subject earlier this year, cautions that switching from coal to natural gas shouldn’t divert the country from bringing on more renewable energy sources.

“It’s not saying we should keep burning coal,” Howarth said in an interview. “It’s that we should do more to move to what we need to do in the longer term anyway.”

Why coal miners die on the job

Here’s the conclusion from the latest coal-mine fatality investigation report issued by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration:

The mine operator’s administrative controls, training, and policies in place at the time of the accident were not adequate to prevent the practice of operating continuous mining machines from an unsafe location. The continuous mining machine operator received fatal crushing injuries when he was caught between the conveyor boom of the continuous mining machine and the coal rib. The accident occurred because the victim operated (trammed) the machine, while being located between the right side of the conveyor boom and the coal rib.

Here’s what happened:

On March 25, 2011, at approximately 8:10 a.m. a 54 year old scoop operator was killed when he was caught between the conveyor boom of a remote controlled continuous mining machine and the coal rib. Robert L. Cook (victim) was substituting for the continuous mining machine operator.

Continue reading…

Friday roundup, Sept. 9, 2011

This undated photo provided by Westech shows a truck with Westech’s Flow Control Body holding 447 tons of coal at Peabody Energy’s North Antelope Rochelle coal mine, north of Douglas, Wyo. Guiness World Records recently awarded the body’s manufacturer, Mills-based Westech, a certificate for its custom-built unit designed for a Wyoming mine. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Westech via Casper Star-Tribune)

You can read more about what is apparently the world record load of coal here:

By any measure, it’s a big, big truck.

The truck can haul 447 tons of coal. That’s enough coal to fill more than 4 1/2 railroad cars. That’s enough coal to fill an average-sized house from floor to ceiling. That’s enough coal to fuel a power plant for an entire day.

And now, Guinness World Records recognizes the three-story truck’s ability to haul that much coal.

While the huge haul truck is a standard but still large design, its custom-built body —the tipping back portion of the truck that carries the coal — is what got Guinness’ attention.

From China this week, we have more bad news:

The bodies of two more miners trapped in a flooded coal mine in Northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province over two weeks ago have been recovered, bringing the death toll to three, said rescuers Thursday.

While in New Zealand, there’s news on the investigation of the Pike River Mine Disaster that might sound familiar to folks who have followed the story of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster:

Pike River survivor Daniel Rockhouse failed to share his safety concerns with his father, because he feared it would ruin his career.

Former Pike River coal mine safety and training manager Neville Rockhouse has today resumed giving evidence at the royal commission of inquiry into the November 2010 disaster, in which 29 men were killed.

His son Daniel Rockhouse is one of only two men to survive the mine explosions. His younger son Ben Rockhouse, 21, did not survive.

Under cross-examination by Nigel Hampton, lawyer for the Engineering Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU), Rockhouse said he now knew the men working underground had safety concerns that were not reaching him.

“My son and I had a rather large argument over it because I was very upset that there were unsafe acts and unsafe practices occurring underground and he didn’t come and tell me, or felt peer pressured not to do that.”

Closer to home, Jim Carroll of the Courier-Journal offered this take on the MSHA proposal to require proximity detection devices in underground coal mines:

Bobby Smith Jr. was an experienced miner, with 12 years in the industry, but on June 24, 2010, he was killed when he was pinned by a mining machine he was operating in Perry County.

Smith, 29, was cleaning up loose coal on the floor of Leeco Inc.’s No. 68 mine, using what is known as a continuous-mining machine. Operating the machine by remote control, he got caught between the equipment and the mine wall and suffered fatal injuries.

Smith’s was one of two deaths in 2010, along with one so far this year, in which miners were struck, crushed or pinned by continuous-mining machines. Since 1984, 31 miners have been killed and 220 injured in such accidents, according to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Now MSHA is proposing a new rule requiring that the machines — which by one estimate are used in 45 percent of underground U.S. coal production — carry devices to detect the presence of miners or other equipment and shut off when they are dangerously close.

Continue reading…

President Barack Obama speaks to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011. Watching are Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Unlike some previous major speeches (see here, here and here), President Obama’s “jobs” address last night made no mention of coal — not even clean coal. But, of course, it didn’t include any discussion of the role our energy system plays in jobs and the economy, either.

As Greenwire previously reported, some advocates of clean energy — and clean jobs in general — saw last night’s speech as a bit of test for the president’s commitment on these issues:

… There’s a bigger employment picture that some advocates hope is not lost in Obama’s focus on attaining immediate jobs. The idea that he might shuffle away from his pledge to “win the future” with innovative technologies — his central employment pitch this year — frustrates environmentalists who point to strong public support for renewable energy.

There’s also concern that Obama is allowing House Republicans to shape his employment approach. Seeking bipartisan compromise could compress the president’s vision for clean energy, they say. The risk is that Republicans will reject Obama’s compromised terms, providing losses legislatively and in the battle for ideas.

Interestingly, the story also reported:

Some moderate Republicans are willing to work with Obama to extend tax credits for renewable energy and to help coal plants install scrubbers and other equipment to cut air emissions, Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in an interview.

Those and other things, like carbon capture and sequestration, would be paid for with revenue derived from royalties and permits associated with expanded oil and gas drilling.

Continue reading…

Searching for green jobs for the coalfields

Evell Meade, left, of Kermit, W.Va., and Mitch Mitchell, right, of Charleston, W.Va., carry a solar panel into a doctor’s office Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011 in Williamson, W.Va. A group devoted to creating alternative energy jobs in Central Appalachia is building a first for West Virginia’s southern coalfields region this week: a rooftop solar array, assembled by unemployed and underemployed coal miners and contractors. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)

Yesterday, the National Mining Association took its shot at imposing the view that the only way out of the nation’s economic mess is more coal and more coal-fired power plants. Of course, the NMA’s views ignore the reality of global warming and — for folks here in Central Appalachia — the very real declines in coal production expected by the end of this decade.

So I thought Coal Tattoo readers might be interested in checking out this guest post on Joe Romm’s Climate Progress blog, which outlines some very interesting points about the green economy, including:

There are already 2.7 million jobs across the clean economy. Clean energy is already proving to be larger job creation engine than the heavily subsidized fossil-fuels sector, putting Americans back to work in a lackluster economy.

— Across a range of clean energy projects, including renewable energy, transit, and energy efficiency, for every million dollars spent, 16.7 green jobs are created. That is over three times the 5.3 jobs per million dollars that are created from the same spending on fossil-fuel industries.

— The clean energy sector is growing at a rate of 8.3 percent. Solar thermal energy expanded by 18.4 percent annually from 2003 to 2010, along with solar photovoltaic power by 10.7 percent, and biofuels by 8.9 percent over the same period. Meanwhile, the U.S. wind energy industry saw 35 percent average annual growth over the past five years, accounting for 35 percent of new U.S. power capacity in that period, according to the 2010 U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report. As a whole, the clean energy sector’s average growth rate of 8.3 percent annually during this period was nearly double the growth rate of the overall economy during that time.

— Median wages are 13 percent higher in green energy careers than the economy average. Median salaries for green jobs are $46,343, or about $7,727 more than the median wages across the broader economy. As an added benefit, nearly half of these jobs employ workers with a less than a four-year college degree, which accounts for a full 70 percent of our workforce.

Now, you don’t hear many political leaders or business boosters in West Virginia talking about these things. They’re too busy smokestack chasing for a natural gas “cracker” plant, despite the continuing questions about whether the boom-and-bust of that sort of economy is the right way to go.

But groups like The Jobs Project, working with companies like Mountain View Solar, can make a difference, as we’ve reported here on Coal Tattoo before.

And energy efficiency efforts alone could create 60,000 new jobs in Appalachia over the next five years, according to a report prepared for the Appalachian Regional Commission (subscription required). We’ve also talked many times about the prospects for wind power in places like the Coal River Valley.

And what if we really started spending big money from the Abandoned Mine Lands program to clean up the coal industry’s old messes across the region? Think of the jobs that could create.

Not for nothing, but one report also projected that carbon capture and storage, or CCS, could create 74,000 U.S. jobs by 2030. But CCS isn’t going to happen as long as industry groups like the National Mining Association oppose efforts in Congress or by EPA to put a price on carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Pennsylvania sues CONSOL over Dunkard Creek

This just in from the Pennsylvania  Fish and Boat Commission:

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) today sued Consol Energy for civil damages resulting from a devastating 2009 pollution incident in which discharges from a Consol coal mine entered Dunkard Creek, contributing to a massive fish kill spanning nearly 30 miles of stream in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages for the lost aquatic life and lost fishing opportunities for Pennsylvania anglers and punitive damages to deter future pollution.

My old buddy Don Hopey at the Post-Gazette has a story on this, and there’s also a report on the New York Times Green blog.

Readers may recall that CONSOL had already agreed back in March to pay $5.5 million in civil penalties over the Dunkard Creek disaster, in a deal that also required construction of a new water pollution treatment facility for the mine company’s operations in that area.

Keep in mind, as CONSOL pointed out at the time:

CONSOL is also resolving alleged natural resource damages claims in a cash settlement of $500,000 with the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources. This agreement will not only avoid pointless litigation, but will also provide resources to the state to enable them to further address stream degradation issues such as poor stream habitat and poorly managed sewage discharges along the creek.

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