Coal Tattoo

Friday roundup, Jan. 27, 2012

In a Monday Jan. 23, 2012 photo, Sheila Combs, president of the Upper Big Branch Mining Memorial Group, looks over a sign showing what the Upper Big Branch Miners Memorial will look like in Whitesville, W. Va. Media outlets report that work began Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012 on a memorial for 29 miners killed in the 2010 explosion of the Upper Big Branch mine.   (AP Photo/The Register-Herald, Rick Barbero)

One of the more interesting stories out there this week was a glowing profile of our buddy Joe Main, the assistant secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health. It was published on a site called and is apparently part of a book about various Obama administration officials. Here’s a little to give you the flavor of it:

After an explosion in April 2010 killed 29 workers in Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, Main faced the competing demands of disaster management and day-to-day operations. His experience provides three leadership lessons for all executives responding to a crisis …

While the instinct might be to shift all of an agency’s resources into responding to a major event like the Upper Branch mine explosion, Main knew MSHA’s routine operations must continue without interruption. “I’ve lived through these experiences before, so I knew what to expect,” he says. “You have to be careful not to let everyone run into the fire. I knew I had to leave some people here in headquarters in order to keep the place running.”

Looking back, Main says, “I’m proud that I was able to keep the agency running in spite of Upper Big Branch. We had a successful strategy in place and we kept it going. We kept doing our work . . . The key thing is to stay focused.”

Starting on the day of the tragedy and during the months that followed, MSHA took a close look at its operations, Main says. “You have to ask yourself and the agency, ‘What did we miss? How did this happen? What have we learned?’ he says. “And finally, ‘What changes do we need to make?’ “

Regular readers of this blog have a pretty good idea about some of the things that went wrong … if MSHA ever publishes its “internal review” report on Upper Big Branch, maybe we’ll find out more.

Snow rests on the Coal Miners’ Statue at Turkey Hill in Minersville, Pa., Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012. The Coal Miners’ Statue and Park is a tribute to those who worked in the anthracite coal mines. (AP Photo/Republican-Herald, Jacqueline Dormer)

In other developments this week:

— Over in Kentucky, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported on cuts in the state mine safety budget being proposed by Gov. Steve Beshear, and the Herald-Leader published an op-ed by retired federal mine inspector Stanley Sturgill:

It’s now January 2012, 21 months after UBB and Congress continues to do nothing. A total of 38 coal mine deaths have been recorded since the 2010 tragedy.

I live in the very heart of coal mining country, Harlan County, in the district of U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers, who is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He does not support new mine safety reform to help protect the coal miners in the district he supposedly represents. Rogers was named, “Coal Miner of the Year for 2010” by the Kentucky Coal Operators Association. It’s such a shame they would not recognize even one of thousands of hard-working Kentucky coal miners.

Sen. Rand Paul also does not support mine safety reform. Paul says mine safety should be dealt with on a local basis and that miners would not work at an unsafe mine. Since former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has indicated he might soon mine in southeastern Kentucky, he would be considered a “local.”

I was an underground coal miner for 41 years. Many miners would work anywhere we could in order to feed our families. It is just so depressing that our nation’s miners must continue to work in unsafe conditions that could be corrected by Congress. The GOP voted down mine safety. They told our miners they are not worth what it would cost Big Coal to operate safely. It’s an insult to our coal miners and to the memories of miners who have given their lives for a block of coal.

It seems to me that our present legislators and Big Coal have forgotten all the blood-soaked coal that it took to pass the 1977 Mine Act. I think they have forgotten the section of the Mine Act that declares “the first priority and the concern of all in the coal or other mining industry must be the health and safety of its most precious resource, the miner.”

— Out west, the Bellingham Herald reported:

With a musical kickoff from bandZandt singing “No Coal Trains,” local activists launched their “Coal-Free Bellingham” campaign for a citizen initiative to outlaw coal trains through a city ordinance.

Stoney Bird, a retired corporate attorney who is one of the key organizers, said it may be a week or two before signature-gatherers hit the streets. The language for the ballot title needs to be worked out with the City Attorney’s office. But judging from the Thursday, Jan. 26, turnout of 200 or more enthusiastic supporters, the signature-gathering process won’t lack for volunteers.

— The Associated Press reported:

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is preparing to auction off the right to mine more than 400 million tons of coal in the Powder River Basin.

The coal lease sale is set for Feb. 29 in Cheyenne.

The 3,200-acre tract is adjacent to the North Antelope Rochelle Mine operated by Powder River Coal, a subsidiary of Peabody Energy.

The BLM says coal royalties in Wyoming last year totaled $590 million. The money was shared nearly equally between the state and federal governments.

The Sierra Club on Thursday delivered to the Utah office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management more than 210,000 signatures opposing a proposed expansion of a coal strip mine about 10 miles southwest of Bryce Canyon National Park.

The BLM is completing an environmental review, the draft for which recommended approving expansion of the Coal Hollow Mine at Alton from private land onto 3,500 acres of federal land. Sierra Club organizing representative Tim Wagner delivered the signatures after a small rally outside the office, and said coal is a poor foundation for southern Utah’s future economy.

David Nimkin of the National Parks Conservation Association added that the dust and night lights from the mine could harm the views and stargazing experiences of the 1.3 million people visiting Bryce each year.

BLM and Alton Coal Co. officials have said they don’t expect significant effects to the park.

Finally, if you haven’t watched this NASA video that shows 131 years of global warming in 26 seconds, you should: