Friday roundup, Jan. 27, 2012

January 27, 2012 by Ken Ward Jr.

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:

6 Responses to “Friday roundup, Jan. 27, 2012”

  1. Casey says:

    There are some scientists that do not believe that the evidence of global warming is incontrovertible.

    It states “Alarmism over climate is of great benefit to many, providing government funding for academic research and a reason for government bureaucracies to grow. Alarmism also offers an excuse for governments to raise taxes, taxpayer-funded subsidies for businesses that understand how to work the political system, and a lure for big donations to charitable foundations promising to save the planet.”

  2. Matt Wasson says:

    Casey, I dont suppose you thought to look at exactly who it was that wrote that letter, did you? As it turns out only a couple were even climate scientists and almost all were affiliated with and/or funded by the oil industry. Before anyone gives this even a shred of credibility, just take a look at the bios of the authors:

    Anyone can find a dozen or two “scientists” to say just about anything if they look hard enough, and you can find support for almost any argument at all somewhere on the internet. But as I’ve tried to teach my students in this age of (mis)information overload, you need to ensure the credibility of sources.

  3. Casey says:

    How is science suppose to work? Is it acceptable to say that evidence is incapable of being contradicted or disputed and that it is undeniable? I think this is the main issue being discussed plus the possible reasons for the use of the word, incontrovertible. In my opinion it does not take a climate scientist to support the thinking of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Ivar Giaever and his objections to this non-scientific policy statement position of the APS.

  4. Matt Wasson says:

    Unfortunately, I have no hard-and-fast rules to offer as to how one is to understand science, Casey. Science can only disprove hypotheses – it can never prove them. Because of that, you just have to use your best judgement based on the best and most credible evidence you can find.

    I give the most weight to actual climate scientists who are actively doing research and publishing in the field – as you’ve heard many times, more than 97% of them believe in human-caused climate change. As for the APS, here’s a little more background on their statement, straight from the source:

    The overwhelming position of the 47,000 members of that group (which includes many Nobel laureates) is that human-induced climate change is very real and a very real threat. If I were looking to physicists to inform my understanding of climate change, I would tend to start there – unless, of course, I had a personal motive for not wanting to believe the science of climate change. In that case, I can see how the opinions of a handful of Exxon-funded engineers, physicists, chemists and meteorologists would be somewhat more compelling. But if you really want to understand science, separating logic from motives is a must.

  5. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Welcome back Casey. We haven’t heard from you in a while. Thanks for reading and for your comments.

    But, it’s hard to know where to start with this stuff … I only allow myself a certain amount of time every week debunking global warming deniers who post on Coal Tattoo, and I usually have to save most of that for Hoppy Kercheval and Don Surber.

    This fellow (who I don’t know and don’t generally read) has what purports to be background information on the folks who signed that Wall Street Journal piece … They generally aren’t people who research in or publish in this field.

    And this piece by Peter Gleick, notes that the Wall Street Journal turned down a similar op-ed by 225 members of the National Academy of Sciences. That op-ed, later published by the journal Science, is here,

    Joe Romm has a debunking out of the WSJ piece,

    The word at issue here? Incontrovertible? Here’s one definition I found:

    “not open to question” ( ).

    Is anything in science ever “not open to question”? I’m not a scientist, from where I sit this whole thing is, pardon the expression, a lot of hot air — aimed at doing what the climate deniers (Casey being chief among them on this blog) always try to do, which is divert attention from the problem so that nothing gets done. The strategy has been successful for years.

    The letter in the WSJ is not very compelling. Readers are welcome to make what they want of it, but this blog is moving on to more substantive things.


  6. Jeremy Richardson says:

    As a scientist — and the son of a WV coal miner — I thought I’d offer a few thoughts here.

    Here’s the consensus statement from the scientific community on climate change, as stated in the last IPCC report, and signed by nearly all world governments including ours:

    “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.

    “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations…. Discernible human influences now extend to other aspects of climate, including ocean warming, continental-average temperatures, temperature extremes and wind patterns.” [IPCC AR4, SPM]

    Science “works” by researchers testing hypotheses based on the objective analysis of data and then opening their analysis to critique by their peers. The fact that a warming trend has been confirmed by multiple groups using various datasets corroborates the theory that man-made emissions of greenhouse gases are causing a rapid warming of the Earth system. Many have suggested alternative theories, but none have held up to scientific scrutiny.

    Any alternative explanation for the observed warming would have to meet two criteria: 1) it would have to explain the observations of changes in the climate (air and sea temperature increases, snow and ice melting, and sea level rise, among others) and 2) it would have to explain why the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations would NOT cause warming — the physical mechanism that explains why these gases trap heat has been understood for more than 150 years and is not disputed by anyone.

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