Friday roundup, Feb 15, 2013

February 15, 2013 by Ken Ward Jr.

Relatives of miners killed in a blast at the Vorkutinskaya coal mine, mourn during the funeral ceremony in Vorkuta, Komi region in northern Russia, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013.  A blast at a coal mine in northern Russia on Monday killed 18 people, officials said. (AP Photo)

The Philadelphia Inquirer had an interesting feature story the other day:

SHAMOKIN, Pa. – The black mountain of coal waste that looms over Route 61 here is both a grimy testament to an ephemeral economy and an apt symbol for this town time has discarded. That anthracite refuse came from long-shuttered mines and collieries, closures that have halved Shamokin’s population since the 1930s.

Many of the remaining 8,000 residents are as old as the tattered clapboard houses they occupy. (Since 1996 the town, about 70 miles northwest of Allentown and 70 miles northeast of Harrisburg, has issued just four permits for new single-family homes.) So deep has the vein of poverty grown here that more than 70 percent of Shamokin Area High School’s students qualify for free lunches.

Decades after King Coal’s demise, Pennsylvania’s coal region is littered with similarly depressed communities. And the economy isn’t the only victim. As Wednesday’s national signing day for college recruits dawns, many here fear that quality high school football, a cherished tradition and a civic balm in difficult times, could soon become the next disappearing resource.

“We’re a very depressed area,” said Rick Kashner, Shamokin’s athletic director and a former player at the school in Coal Township. “We were kind of known for hard-nosed coal region football. But our participation numbers are down significantly.”

 And from Kentucky, we had this story from the Courier-Journal:

A bill intended to help students in coal counties get their bachelor’s degrees passed the House Education Committee on Thursday without dissent.

House Bill 210 would use some of the state’s coal severance tax revenues to pay for financial aid to students in coal counties who have already earned two years of college.

The bill, which now goes to the House floor, stems from a proposal last year by former Gov. Paul Patton to put the private University of Pikeville in the state university system. Patton is now president of the University of Pikeville.

Patton’s concern is that students in Eastern Kentucky’s coal counties must now travel farther than students elsewhere in the state to attend any state university.

 

Demonstrators march up the steps of the Kentucky Capitol before a “I Love Mountains” rally in Frankfort, Ky., Thursday, Feb. 13, 2013, to protest the form of coal mining known as mountaintop removal. The rally has become an annual Valentine’s Day rite in Frankfort to show support for perennial, but so far unsuccessful, legislation that would effectively end the controversial practice. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

The Courier-Journal also reported on the annual protest against mountaintop removal held in Frankfort, Ky.,:

A thousand people or more marched up Capital Avenue on Thursday to demand the elimination of the mining practice known as mountaintop removal.

It was “I Love Mountains Day” in Frankfort — an annual demonstration outside the state Capitol by people who complain that leaders inside aren’t listening.

“We are Kentuckians who love our mountains,” said Suzanne Tallichet, chairwoman of the citizens group Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, which organized the rally. “… We just want what all people need to survive … such radical things as clean water, safe and decent jobs, the chance to raise our kids in a healthy, hopeful place.”

Here in West Virginia, Bill Howley on his Power Line blog had an interesting take on a recent Daily Mail story:

Reporter Jared Hunt wrote a somewhat strange article that appeared on Monday in the Charleston Daily Mail.  The story purports to be about the AARP’s resistance to utility rate increases.  While an AARP spokesperson talks vaguely about keeping rates down, especially for the group’s 300,000 WV members, he offers nothing concrete in the way of solutions.  The AARP seems content to just complain about rates to make it appear as though they are doing something.  When it comes to actually doing something about rate increases, they don’t have much to say.

The real long-term solution to WV’s electric rate problems, and the state’s over-dependence on increasingly expensive coal-fired power technologies, is to require power companies to prove that their investment choices are the lowest cost in all PSC cases.  In order to do this kind of least cost analysis, which is now common around the US, the PSC needs to require power companies to do integrated resource planning.

Has AARP publicly supported integrated resource planning legislation in WV?  No.  Have AARP spokespeople even publicly supported the idea of integrated resource planning?  No.

In fact, integrated resource planning was not mentioned once in Hunt’s story, which was ostensibly about rate increases.

From Tennessee, we had this story:

The King Institute for Regional Economic Studies at King University has released a report on cconomic impacts of job losses in the coal mining industry.

“The US department of Energy in its February 2013 outlook for coal production in the Appalachian region forecast a decline of 5.4 million tons in 2013, on the heels of a decline of 33 million tons in 2012. This forecast implies that more layoffs may be in the offing,” according to Sam Evans, associate professor of finance and economics at King University.

The newly released paper presents estimates of the impacts of potential job losses in the coal industry on the economy of the coalfield region of Southwest Virginia.

From Texas, State Impact reported:

The company behind what would have been the last new coal power plant in Texas, called White Stallion, is no longer pursuing the project, a representative announced in a press release Thursday.

The news marks a victory for opponents of coal in Texas, notably the Environmental Defense Fund and the Sierra Club, who have worked for years to oppose the White Stallion and other coal power projects in the state. At this point, there are no longer any major new traditional coal power plants planned in Texas. All of the new projects are primarily natural gas and wind power, with some solar.

And Bloomberg brought us this story:

Striking coal miners at BHP Billiton Ltd.’s Cerrejon joint venture with Xstrata Plc and Anglo American Plc in Colombia lowered demands for a wage increase as the mine considers seeking arbitration.

The workers, who walked off the job at the mine on Feb. 7, are pushing for a 5.8 percent increase, down from 7 percent previously, said Marlon Gomez, a negotiator for the National Coal Industry Workers Union, known as Sintracarbon. Melbourne- based BHP, Zug, Switzerland-based Xstrata and London-based Anglo, which each own 33 percent of Cerrejon, are offering 5.1 percent, he said.

“The union has shown a will to continue dialog to end the strike,” Gomez said in a telephone interview from La Guajira province where Cerrejon is located. “The Labor Ministry is willing for both parties to sit down together, because since we started the strike, we’ve had no other contact.”

Cerrejon, the world’s largest export-focused, open-pit coal mine, produced 34.6 million tons last year, according to its website. Along with Drummond Co., whose loading license was suspended last week, it accounted for 80 percent of Colombia’s coal exports of about 75 million metric tons in 2011, according to the World Coal Association.

Relatives of a miner killed in a blast at the Vorkutinskaya coal mine, comfort a widow of a killed miner in blast, during funeral in Vorkuta, Komi region in northern Russia, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013.  A blast at a coal mine in northern Russia on Monday killed 18 people, officials said. (AP Photo)

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