Friday roundup, June 22, 2012

June 22, 2012 by Ken Ward Jr.

Coal miners are seen before taking part in “La Marcha Negra”, a five hundred kilometers walk to Madrid, in Mieres, near Oviedo, Spain, Friday, June 22, 2012. Strikes, road blockades, and mine sit-ins continue as 8,000 mineworkers at over 40 coal mines in northern Spain continue their protests against government action to cut coal subsidies. (AP Photo/Jose Colon)

More news this week from the coalfields of Spain, courtesy of Platts:

Spanish miners from three coal-mining provinces are starting out on a three-week march on the country’s capital to demonstrate against subsidy cuts to the coal sector which were approved by the country’s parliament earlier this week.

The march, which is the third of its kind, echoing previous marches in 1992 and 2010, follows 23 days of striking which has seen more than 8,000 workers halt work and output from the country’s mines reduced to zero.

A total of 180 miners will undertake the so-called “marcha negra” or “black march” from the provinces of Asturias, Leon and Teruel which starts Friday and will culminate in Madrid on July 11, Victor Fernandez, a spokesman for the Union General de Trabajadores, which is taking part in the march, told Platts Friday.

“If they can afford all those billions to bail out the banks, why can’t they find Eur300 million [$376 million] for this national industry,” Fernandez said.

Closer to home, one thing that always puzzles me is how West Virginia media outlets that constantly ignore or downplay modern dangers of the coal industry spend a lot of time reminding us of long-ago disasters. Here’s one example from the Beckley paper:

LAYLAND — Emidio Pettinaro insisted his boy do anything to earn a livelihood but take his chances as a coal miner.

Fresh out of high school, back in 1963, the son, Howard, heeded his advice.

Avoiding the grimy and risky life of a coal miner, he headed north and took a job with General Motors, where he stayed in the Pontiac division until retirement.

His father full well realized the perils of working underground, as one of many Italian immigrants who wound up in West Virginia’s mines.

Perhaps, too, there was another compelling reason for Emidio Pettinaro to want a safer life for his son.

About four years before he arrived in Fayette County, a buildup of mine dust was touched off by improperly tamped dynamite March 2, 1915, triggering a blast that rumbled through the Layland mine of New River & Pocahontas Consolidated Coal Co.

“My dad told me when I got out of high school, ‘Boy, you’re getting out of here,’” the son recalled.

When the dust settled in that horrific explosion, and rescue teams got inside, they recovered 112 bodies out of a work force of 164.

 Also this week, the Courier-Journal over in Louisville continued its reporting on unpaid coal industry safety fines:

Two House Democrats are asking company officials of a Kentucky mine where five miners died and of another mine that was shut down after a safety blitz to submit a plan for paying $1.5 million in overdue fines to the federal government.

“The impunity with which some operators fail to pay overdue fines has been an ongoing oversight and legislative concern of ours,” California Reps. George Miller and Lynn Woolsey wrote in a letter to officials at K and D Mining Inc., which operates Mine No. 17 in Harlan County, Ky.

Miller, the senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, and Woolsey, the ranking Democrat on that panel’s workforce protections subcommittee, have been outspoken advocates for tougher mine-safety laws.

They wrote to Jack Ealy, president, and Ralph Napier, vice president, of K and D Mining, as well as to John D. North. Napier and North ran Kentucky Darby Mine No. 1 in Harlan County, where five miners were killed in a blast in 2006. Ealy and Napier’s current mine, operated under K and D, was hit with a safety blitz last month by federal Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors that found so many dangerous conditions that the mine was closed for nine days.

Neither mine has paid outstanding penalties for years of citations for safety hazards.

 Photo courtesy Dave Jamieson, The Huffington Post

Also from Kentucky this week, the Courier-Journal and The Huffington Post reported news concerning coal miner and safety advocate Scott Howard:

Kentucky miner Charles Scott Howard lost his job at Cumberland River Coal Co. last May, after years of butting heads with management over safety issues at the mine. Now, more than 13 months later, Howard may suit up and head back into the mine, whether his employer likes it or not.

A federal judge ordered Friday that Howard’s company immediately reinstate him at the mine and pay a $30,000 fine for discriminating against a whistleblower. The sharply worded decision said managers at Cumberland River, as well as its parent company, coal giant Arch Coal, went to great lengths to find a reason to fire Howard after he brought his mine to the attention of federal safety officials.

“It is obvious that [Cumberland River] worked diligently to end Howard’s employment,” wrote Margaret A. Miller, an administrative law judge for the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission. “The discrimination against Howard ran through [Cumberland River] and its parent, Arch, at the highest management levels.”

And Erica Peterson at WFPL reported:

A new analysis of Kentucky’s energy potential shows renewable sources could provide more than a third of the state’s energy by 2025. It points to several renewable sources—including solar, hydro and biomass—that aren’t being tapped to their full potential.

The report was commissioned by the Kentucky Sustainable Energy Alliance and written by West Virginia-based environmental consulting firm Downstream Strategies. More than 90 percent of Kentucky’s electricity is still generated from coal, and lead author Rory McIlmoil says it makes economic sense for the state to diversify

“Particularly for Kentucky’s electricity consumers, such as businesses, consumers and residents, the rise in energy prices—especially as that increase continues—it’s going to have a significant impact on Kentucky’s economy,” McIlmoil said.

Have a good weekend everybody …

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