Friday roundup, Sept. 23, 2011

September 23, 2011 by Ken Ward Jr.

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.”

Tennessee Valley Authority Inspector General Richard Moore, center, leaves the federal courthouse in Knoxville, Tenn., on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011 after testifying at a trial on lawsuits seeking damages for TVA’s coal ash spill. He is accompanied by an inspector general’s office employee, Maria Edwards, (left) ans his office counsel, Charles Kandt. (AP Photo/Bill Poovey)

In Tennessee this week, trial got underway in a case against the TVA over the utility’s December 2008 coal-ash disaster.  There’s coverage of that here and here.

Much father away, coverage continues of the investigation of the Pike River Mining Disaster in New Zealand, including a somewhat family story about problems with an attempted mine rescue:

Royal Commission of Inquiry commissioner Stewart Bell, head of Mine Safety and Health for Queensland, yesterday grilled the top policeman in charge of the Pike River rescue about why he did not let a mining expert lead part of the rescue effort.

The police appointed themselves in charge, and held all the main control positions at the mine, in Greymouth and in Wellington, with more than 300 staff involved.

However, at times, crucial information took days to reach police headquarters in Wellington, where key decisions were made well away from the mining experts gathered at the mine site.

Another piece posed five major questions about the disaster, and a third  about a forgotten mine safety problem:

Mental health has always been a taboo subject, especially so in the mining industry.

But for many men in the industry, it is an every day part of their lives.

Statistically, men are more likely to suffer from depression and other mental health issues, and this number increases significantly for men working and living in rural and regional areas.

One in three rural and regional workers take at least one day off work every few months because they are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, anxious or depressed, according to recent research commissioned by Medibank Health Solutions.

Meanwhile, Mother Jones reported on Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Perry’s ties to coal:

In April 2006, a few days before Earth Day, Texas Gov. Rick Perry joined executives of TXU, the state’s largest utility and biggest carbon dioxide emitter, in cheering plans to open a staggering 11 new coal-fired power plants throughout Texas. With rolling blackouts still fresh on many Texans’ minds, Perry hailed TXU’s rapid expansion as a path to energy security, not to mention a way to create jobs and potentially lower energy costs.

Perry had earned his spot alongside the TXU brass. Months before the announcement, Perry signed a controversial executive order fast-tracking the permitting process for new coal-fired plants, shrinking a process that once took anywhere between one and four years down to a mere six months. And at the same time he was helping usher in new coal plants, Perry was raking in tens of thousands of dollars in donations from TXU. “Perry is very pro-coal, and will bend over backward to do whatever the coal industry asks of him,” says Tom Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “He’s the longest ongoing natural disaster in Texas history.”

Down in Alabama, Black Warrior Minerals is facing a water pollution lawsuit, and in Kentucky, Erica Peterson reported on a new study about the October 2000 Martin County coal-slurry disaster:

A lot of what University of Kentucky sociology professor Shaunna Scott and her team found in Martin County ten years after the slurry spill wasn’t surprising—like those with higher levels of education were more distrustful of the safety of their drinking water.

But she says there were a few interesting tidbits gleaned from the surveys, especially compared with research conducted by Eastern Kentucky University.

“They found that in other counties in eastern Kentucky—not Martin County—distrust of drinking water was related to distrust of the local water district management,” she said. “However, we found in Martin County that safety of the drinking water was more closely related to distrust in coal companies.”

And it was certainly interesting to hear that my old friend Ben Hatfield — formerly of Massey and International Coal Group — had joined Patriot Coal. It will be interesting to see how he deals with the large segments of Patriot’s workforce that are unionized.

And finally, it was great to hear that Kentucky is getting its very own Friends of Coal Bowl.

Have a good weekend everybody … after Monday, Coal Tattoo will be taking a little break, but we’ll be back soon.

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