Coal Tattoo

Friday roundup, Jan. 18, 2013


Gary May, former UBB mine superintendent walks away from the U.S. District Court in Beckley Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013 with his attorney, Tim Carrico, after his sentence hearing. May was sentenced to 21 months in prison and three years of supervised release. Judge Irene Berger also ordered that May pay a $20,000 fine. (AP Photo/The Register-Herald, Rick Barbero)

In case you happened to miss it, here’s the link to our story about U.S. District Judge Irene Berger sentencing former Upper Big Branch Mine superintendent Gary May to 21 months in jail for his guilty plea to taking part in a Massey Energy conspiracy to violate mine safety laws. Howard Berkes over at NPR also had a piece about the sentencing, though it looked like to me that Kris Maher of the Wall Street Journal was the only member of the national media who attended the hearing.

Also this week, the UBB Memorial launched a new website that you can check out here, and Dan Lowrey at SNL Financial did a piece about former Massey CEO Don Blankenship’s recent commentaries on coal-mine safety issues, which we covered previously here on Coal Tattoo.

Manuel Quinones  of Greenwire did a piece about the battle over coal-ash regulation, featuring the town of Chester, W.Va.:

The ground here is leaking.

Several neighbors have moved away to escape seeps coming out of the hillside. They say the leaks have dampened their backyards and infested their homes with mold.

Curt and Debbie Havens, who put a trailer on their Pyramus Road lot in the mid-1970s and built their current home in 1979, are ready to pack up, too.

“It’s equivalent to seven fire hoses,” Curt Havens said, describing one outflow. “If you lay seven fire hoses side by side, that’s how much water is coming through there.”

Neighbors blame the 1,700-acre Little Blue Run coal ash dump — an unlined impoundment that straddles the border with Pennsylvania and has for decades been a repository for combustion waste from FirstEnergy Corp.’s Bruce Mansfield coal power plant near Shippingport, Pa. The waste travels several miles through an underground pipe.

And my buddy Tim Wheeler at The Baltimore Sun had a piece about coal-ash issues in Maryland:

The operator of three coal-fired power plants in Maryland has agreed to pay a total of $2.2 million in penalties and fix long-standing pollution problems at the landfills in Southern Maryland and Montgomery County where it disposes of the ash from those plants, according to court documents.

In a proposed consent decree filed recently in U.S. District Court, subsidiaries of GenOn Energy, a Houston power company, agreed to settle lawsuits by Maryland and environmental groups alleging that the company’s Brandywine, Faulkner and Westland coal-ash landfills have been polluting groundwater and nearby streams. GenOn, which merged last month with NRG Energy, based in Princeton, N.J., pledged to pay $1.9 million and to investigate and clean up the contamination caused by its disposal facilities.

The company also agreed recently to settle another lawsuit brought by the Maryland Department of the Environment accusing it of allowing ash from its Brandywine landfill in Prince George’s County to wash into a tributary of the Patuxent River. In that consent decree filed in Prince George’s Circuit Court, GenOn agreed to pay $300,000 and to beef up runoff pollution controls at the site.


Smoke is emitted from chimneys of a cement plant in Binzhou city, in eastern China’s Shandong province, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013. Air pollution is a major problem in China due to the country’s rapid pace of industrialization, reliance on coal power, explosive growth in car ownership and disregard for environmental laws. (AP Photo)

From Tennessee, we had this report from the Knoxville paper:

Legislation designed to prohibit “mountaintop removal” coal mining in Tennessee — killed in a House subcommittee for five consecutive years — is back for another try in 2013 with a new sponsor and a new committee to decide its fate.

The “Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act” (HB43) is the first bill filed by freshman Democratic Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, who serves on the 19-member Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee that will rule on the proposal under a committee realignment for 2013 by House Speaker Beth Harwell.

In past years, similar legislation always died in a subcommittee of the House Conservation and Environment Committee, which was abolished by Harwell with its responsibilities over environment-oriented bills assigned the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. The latter committee also has an eight-member subcommittee — Johnson is not on the subcommittee — that will take the first action on the bill.

Out in South Dakota, the news is that the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration has not been excessive in its enforcement of health and safety rules, at least according to the Labor Department Inspector General:

Assistant inspector general Elliot Lewis said in the report that Mine Safety and Health Administration enforcement numbers were higher in South Dakota than the national average, but that was largely due to two mine operators whose penalties were resolved on appeal. One of the operator’s penalties were upheld, and the other received some reductions in penalties.

“We found some variations in the data in some years; however, most of the variations could be traced to two mine operators, who significantly skewed the results for their group,” Lewis wrote.

In Kentucky, the Herald-Leader editorialized about the state’s efforts to punish a coal-mine safety whistleblower, in Oregon, public broadcasting had an interesting explanationof the coal-leasing process for federal lands, and for Rolling Stone, my friend Jeff Goodell had a piece called Obama’s Climate Challenge – As America wakes up to the dangers ahead, the president has a historic opportunity to take bold action on global warming, in which he concludes:

… In the end, no matter what kind of deal the administration makes with China or how tough the EPA gets on coal plants, the harsh truth is that it won’t be enough to defuse the climate crisis. Unless he takes a bold stance and fights for a more sweeping solution like a cap-and-trade system or a carbon tax, the best Obama can do is to help limit the pain and expense we pass on to future generations. But the president knows there is little political upside to spending his last years in office focused on a gloomy subject like climate change. Instead, he has opted to wage his next legislative battle over immigration, an issue that has the potential to expand the Democratic base among Hispanic voters. Making real progress on global warming would require Obama to do something he has shown little inclination for: leading a massive grassroots campaign to rally the American people and overcome the fear-mongering of the fossil-fuel industry and its Republican allies.

And finally, Andrew Revkin, who does the Dot Earth blog for The New York Times, pointed out this interesting tidbit (I’m not advocating this, just pointing it out) in a story from Men’s Journal:

For those who think cutting coal is too expensive in a recession, we must recognize the massive, $60 billion annual health costs associated with burning this fossil fuel– everything from cardiovascular and respiratory illness to premature death. “You could pension off all the 80,000 workers in the coal industry for a tiny fraction of the medical bills due to burning coal,” says Burton Richter, a Nobel laureate in physics.