Friday roundup, April 13, 2012

April 13, 2012 by Ken Ward Jr.

In this photo released by Peru’s presidential press office, an unidentified miner, center is helped out of the Cabeza de Negro gold-and-copper mine in Yauca del Rosario, Peru, Wednesday April 11, 2012. Nine miners had been trapped inside the mine since April 5. (AP Photo/Job Rosales, Peru’s presidential press office)

There was some good news out of Peru this week, with the rescue of nine miners who had been trapped inside a gold-and-copper mine for nearly a week.  As the BBC reported:

“We told each other jokes to keep up our hopes and ran from one place to another to keep warm,” one of the rescued miners, Edwin Bellido Sarmiento, told broadcaster Panamericana about his ordeal.

“There was a point when we thought we wouldn’t get out,” another miner, Javier Tapia Lopez, said.

Here’s one interesting take on this that was pointed out to me by a Coal Tattoo reader, comparing this to the miners who died in the sinking of the Titanic:

Their story epitomizes the story of all miners; people who go to the next ore body; the next mine; the next chance to earn an honest living; and who face dangers and death at every turn and move.

We empathize with the trapped Peruvian miners who are today’s lead mining story.  May the world come to their rescue and may they live, is all we can pray.

They are but another in a long history, a long line, of miners who have faced dangers that, in a way, are the essence of life.

There was also this news today from the coalfields of China:

Rescue workers are attempting to free nine mine workers who became trapped on early Friday morning when a coal mine flooded in northern China, state-run media reported.

The incident happened at around 1 a.m. local time on Friday at the Shanfu Coal Mine near the city of Changzhi in Xiangyuan County, which is located in Shanxi province. Only few details about the accident were available as of late Friday evening.

Officials from the Changzhi municipal government told the state-run Xinhua news agency that rescue workers from a nearby mine rushed to the site and are working to drain the pit. Xinhua said the cause of the accident is being investigated, but gave no other details.

Earlier this week, the Kongzhuang Coal Mine in Peixian county of Jiangsu province was also flooded. Of the ten miners who were working at the mine at the time of the accident, three were able to escape while the bodies of four miners were later recovered. Three others are believed to be still missing.

Safety conditions at mines in China have significantly improved in recent years but they remain among the world’s most dangerous with 1,083 fatalities in the first seven months of 2011 alone. There were 2,433 fatalities in 2010 and 2,631 in 2009.

Another interesting story from China reports:

The Chinese city Datong, despite being known for its coal resources, is transforming into a solar power center. “During the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15) period, we have 432 projects with a total investment of 536.4 billion yuan ($84.8 billion) to help the city’s transformation from a high-carbon city into a low-carbon one,” said Geng Yanbo, mayor of the city.

A North Korean man pushes a wheelbarrow past a pile of coal in Pyongyang, North Korea, Thursday, April 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Another China story, this one from Scientific American, tells us:

The coal burned in the Dandong Power Plant lights up the night all along the Chinese side of the Yalu River, as a rainbow of shifting illuminated patterns outlines the Friendship Bridge to North Korea, which disappears into darkness after crossing the border. And the smoke that billows out of the plant’s towering, candy-cane striped smokestack day and night includes nearly three metric tons of invisible carbon dioxide for every metric ton of coal burned, or more than 11,000 metric tons of CO2 added to the atmosphere on just one late autumn day.

Thanks to the Dandong plant and hundreds others like it, China is in the midst of unprecedented economic growth—and an unprecedented surge in the use of energy, primarily from burning coal. Coal is the fuel of China and that isn’t going to change anytime soon. As a result, China is now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, along with all the other noxious by-products of coal burning. At the same time, the Chinese government has committed to reducing its CO2 emissions per economic unit by at least 40 percent by 2020. Tasked with ensuring that the nation delivers on that goal is the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the government agency that essentially sets Chinese energy and industrial policy.

And in other international news, this from Canada:

By publicly dismissing an inquiry into mine safety in Ontario, Labour Minister Lynda Jeffrey has trivialized scores of deaths and thousands of injuries suffered by miners over the last 30 years, the United Steelworkers (USW) says.

The Labour Minister dismissed the need for a mine safety inquiry on Wednesday – only two days after Timmins miner Trevor King was killed on the job and well before the circumstances of his death are fully understood.

“Even as another Ontario family grieves the tragic loss of a miner killed on the job, the Labour Minister glibly dismisses the glaring need for an inquiry into mine safety,” said Wayne Fraser, USW Director for Ontario and Atlantic Canada.

Other mine safety this has included this piece from the Tuscaloosa News:

In 1911, April 8 was a rainy Saturday in the northwest Jefferson County town of Littleton.

The morning shift had started at Banner Mine, most of the coal miners coming from the nearby prison camp, when an explosion occurred at 6:30 a.m.

For 128 men, almost all of them prisoners of the state and many of them serving time for minor offenses, it was the day they were effectively sentenced to death.

“It was an awful experience, believe me, an awful experience,” James Franklin, a survivor of the explosion at Banner Mine that day, told The Birmingham News in the days after the accident.

Still the worst mining accident in Alabama history, the explosion at the Banner Mine 100 years ago today was en epic tragedy not only because 128 miners died, but because the accident, horrific as it was, did little to change the state’s practice of selling convicts into hard — sometimes deadly — labor.

“They paid for their crime not only with their works and imprisonment, but also with their life,” read an editorial in The Tuscaloosa News from April 12, 1911. “That such a thing should happen is a blot on justice. The whole thing goes to show the utter wretchedness of our convict laws and demands that in the name of right and humanity they be revised.”

Even closer to home, Vicki Smith over at the AP had this interesting piece about some little-noticed litigation from the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster:

Nine men who survived West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch mine disaster want to abandon mediation of their personal injury claims and start gathering evidence for trial because they say the mine’s new owner isn’t negotiating in good faith.

The miners also suggest one reason Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources is sealing the former Massey Energy mine where 29 men died is to prevent that collection of evidence, according to a motion to lift a stay that’s been in place since last September.

The plaintiffs said they’ve been forced to rely on government and independent reports on the worst U.S. mining disaster in four decades.

And Vicki also wrote her second story about the ongoing investigation of Wheeling Jesuit University and its vice president, longtime mine safety advocate Davitt McAteer, reporting:

Federal investigators are examining whether Wheeling Jesuit University and vice president J. Davitt McAteer illegally diverted federal funds between 2005 and 2011 by fraudulently billing expenses under grant programs or cooperative agreements, court documents show.

U.S. Magistrate James Seibert on Thursday renewed an order sealing search warrants, affidavits supporting those warrants and other documents in the case for another 60 days. “There is good cause,” he wrote, “to continue sealing such paperwork.”

What’s odd about this story is that there is actually a redacted copy of the government’s search warrant affidavit that is not under seal, but it doesn’t seem to be mentioned in the AP story.  I’ve posted a copy of that redacted affidavit here.  It appears that what’s happened here is that a redacted copy of the affidavit was made public (unsealed) at the request of lawyers for McAteer and Wheeling Jesuit. The order continuing the confidentiality that Vicki refers to in her story appears to involve only the original, unredacted materials. If you give the redacted version a look, you’ll notice some curious things about the way it was redacted. For example, why include a sentence that says:

Redacted Subject 1 is the author of “Monongah: The Tragic Story of the 1907 Monongah Mine Disaster, The Worst Industrial Accident in U.S. History,” published by West Virginia University Press in December 2007.

Or why include a sentence that says:

Redacted Subject 1 was the lead author of three investigative reports into coal mine accidents in West Virginia.

It’s not clear at all what the point of redacting Davitt McAteer’s name from those sentences would be. Who is the world couldn’t figure out who the U.S. Attorney’s Office is talking about? If they were really trying to keep “Subject 1” from being identified, they sure didn’t do a very good job of it.

The redactions about Wheeling Jesuit are equally silly:

Redacted Subject 2 was founded in partnership with the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and the Society of Jesus of the Maryland Province in 1954. Redacted Subject 2 incorporated as Redacted Subject 2 on Sept. 25, 1954 and opened its doors on Sept. 26, 1955. In the early 1990s, Redacted Subject 2 became Redacted Subject 2.

What’s going on here? We don’t know, and nobody involved — including McAteer — is talking. But keep in mind that the first public mention of any of this was a rather cryptic (but unbylined) story by Hoppy Kercheval at MetroNews.  And still unmentioned in any of the coverage of this new investigation is a 2009 audit by the Inspector General from NASA of similar issues that occurred at Wheeling Jesuit, but were found by the Inspector General to be the fault of NASA grant officers.

In this Aug. 22, 2006, file photo, a train loaded with coal travels through northeast Wyoming near Gillette. Government data shows U.S. coal exports reached their highest level in two decades last year as strong overseas demand offered an outlet for a fuel that’s been falling from favor at home.  (AP Photo/Nati Harnik,File)

In other coal news and commentary:

— The website TriplePundit had an interesting, if basic, pro- and con-piece about “clean coal.

— Meanwhile, Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central’s Colbert Report took it to UMWA President Cecil Roberts this week. Watch it here. The Republican public group American Crossroads wasted no time getting an ad on the air using Cecil’s recent comments about President Obama and EPA:

— The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration had this great animated graphic that shows changes in the world’s dominant coal-producing regions, while the National Journal had a blog piece about coal’s decline and Climate Central looked back at scientist/activist Jim Hansen’s previous predictions about global warming and found:

Recently, the bloggers at have unearthed an even earlier Hansen projection, from a paper (pdf) published in Science all the way back in 1981. At the time, the authors of a recent post on the paper point out, global temperatures were actually cooler than they’d been since the early 1940’s, thanks to the shadow cast by clouds of pollution — and yet, write the authors, “[Hansen and his co-authors] confidently predicted a rise in temperature due to increasing CO2 emissions.” In fact, they underestimated the temperature increase we’d see 2010 by about 30%, so Hansen was indeed wrong. He was too conservative.

My old buddy Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, seems to have a misunderstanding of what editorial pages are all about. In this op-ed in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Bill seems to be demanding that editorials in the paper be “balanced” and present all sides of the issue, as opposed to the opinions of the newspaper and its editors.

I am a strong proponent that we need a marketplace of ideas for what’s best for this country. While print journalism faces a possibly more bleak outlook in the near term than even Appalachia’s coal industry, both our industries need to grow and adapt to a changing world to be more productive.

From a growing demand for energy to an ever-changing world market, energy production will continue to be a major issue for all of us. There would be a great benefit in applying some diversity of thought to the Herald-Leader’s editorial section. If asked, I would be honored to serve as a citizen member of the editorial board.

It doesn’t look like the Herald-Leader needs Bill’s help, though. Their great editorial writer, Jamie Lucke, received this year’s Walker Stone Award for editorial writing from the Scripps Howard Foundation. The judges praised Jamie “for editorials that took on Kentucky’s powerful coal industry while speaking for the voiceless and powerless in Appalachia.”

Have a good weekend, everybody …

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