Coal Tattoo

Friday roundup, July 26, 2013

Emilio Galdeano

Jose Antonio, 55 years old and coal worker, carries fuel to prepare  the mountain of charcoal he is making, to sell during the summer season in his small town of Viloria, northern Spain on Friday, July 19, 2013.  Charcoal making by heating wood under a mound of earth is an old tradition in the mountain villages in the north of Spain . (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

We wrote yesterday on Coal Tattoo about the House approval of the coal-ash legislation being pushed by the industry and Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va. Now, Pam Kasey over at the State Journal has an updated story that makes an interesting point about this legislation even more clear:

In creating a state-run program, the bill would pre-empt a rulemaking currently under way at the EPA. The agency has found that the unlined landfills and slurry ponds that power plants dispose of CCRs in in in West Virginia and across the U.S. can leach contaminants into surface and groundwater.  It aims to set federal standards for the disposal of coal ash, either under the hazardous waste subtitle of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act or in the same manner as household garbage.

Quoting Lisa Evans of the group Earthjustice, Pam writes:

… Her larger concern has to do with the fact that the very form and intent of the bill circumvents, in an unprecedented way, the established method for creating permitting programs.

Typically, Congress creates a broad framework in environmental law — the Clean Water Act, for example, or the Clean Air Act. That’s almost written in stone, as hard to change as any law. It hands that over to the regulatory body, say, the EPA, which has long experience in creating workable and flexible detailed rules for implementing the law. States, then create permitting programs that comply with those rules.

Asked whether the nature of this bill is unprecedented — whether there is another state-run permitting program that was created in this way by Congress — Evans said she thought not, and she followed up with further e-mail response.

“I checked with a professor of environmental law and an ex-EPA senior official and they both agreed that Congress has never attempted to create a regulatory program in a statute and entirely cut the agency out of the process,” she wrote.

It’s also worth checking out another of Pam’s stories this week, this one about legislative discussions around whether to try to eliminate the state Department of Environmental Protection’s obligation to treat water pollution from abandoned coal-mine sites:

But it’s unclear that the state Legislature can make that happen.

In lawsuits brought by the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy in federal court and decided in 2009 — in the Northern District of West Virginia, in an opinion written by Judge Irene M. Keeley, and in the Southern District, in an opinion written by Judge John T. Copenhaver — the DEP was found violating the federal Clean Water Act at its bond forfeiture sites. The Keeley opinion was upheld in 2010 under appeal from the WVDEP in the 4th circuit.

In other words, federal courts have decided DEP is responsible at bond forfeiture sites for meeting federal Clean Water Act requirements.

Reversing that legal and regulatory history would be complicated, in the opinion of Cindy Rank, who chairs the Highlands Conservancy’s Mining Committee.

“The proposed legislation could hardly stand the inevitable legal challenges,” Rank said.

Also here in West Virginia, public radio’s Emily Corio had a nice story about the comeback of the Cheat River, and the NRDC’s Jon Walke had a great takedown of Hoppy Kercheval in the comments section of one of Hoppy’s commentaries.  It doesn’t appear that Hoppy has responded.

Salustiano Sanchez-Blazquez

 This photo provided by Guinness World Records shows 112 year-old Salustiano Sanchez-Blazquez, who, according to research by Guinness World Records, is the new world’s oldest man.  Sanchez-Blazquez, from Grand Island, N.Y., is a former coal miner and musician.  He became the world’s oldest male when Japan’s Jiroemon Kimura died June 12 at 116.   (AP Photo/Guiness World Records)

And here’s an interesting one:

A 112-year-old self-taught musician, coal miner and gin rummy aficionado from western New York is the world’s oldest man, according to Guinness World Records Ltd. Salustiano Sanchez-Blazquez became the world’s oldest man when Jiroemon Kimura died June 12 at age 116.

Born June 8, 1901, in village of El Tejado de Bejar, Spain, he was known for his talent on the dulzania, a double-reed wind instrument that he taught himself and played at weddings and village celebrations. At 17, he moved with his older brother Pedro and a group of friends to Cuba, where they worked in the cane fields.

In 1920, he came to the United States through Ellis Island and worked in the coal mines of Lynch, Ky. Ultimately, he moved to the Niagara Falls area of New York, where he still lives, working in construction and in the industrial furnaces. He married his wife, Pearl, in 1934.

In other news this week, this BBC piece certainly sounded like a familiar story:

Safety inspectors urged management to close part of a coal mine months before a huge underground fire broke out. The blaze closed Daw Mill Colliery earlier this year, leaving hundreds of miners out of work and forcing part of the company into administration.

In a series of emails and letters seen by the BBC’s File on 4 programme, Health and Safety Executive mine inspectors urged the company to stop mining this area because they were not convinced the risks were being managed properly.

“I remain convinced that early salvage [closure] of this face is essential to minimise risk of serious injury to the workforce,” one communication in March 2012 said.

Another refers to a fire in May 2012 on the same coal face.

It concludes the fire was due to “the failure of your risk control measures”.

“You were only hours from losing the mine and in order to recover the situation, persons were exposed to increased risk.”

The Guardian had this story from China:

A project operated by China‘s largest coal miner, Shenhua Group, has reduced groundwater levels in an Inner Mongolia region and discharged high levels of toxic wastewater, environmental campaign group Greenpeace said on Tuesday.

The report, the first by Greenpeace to single out and publicly challenge one of China’s powerful state-owned companies, comes as the country’s new leadership steps up its focus on pollution amid growing protests over environmental degradation.

Meanwhile, the Yale Environment 360 site offered a variety of views on President Obama’s climate change plan. The Wheeling paper published a speech about it from Murray Energy.

From Virginia, we had this story about a water pollution ruling:

A subsidiary of Roanoke-based Southern Coal Corp. has been found liable for a violation of the Clean Water Act for releasing the regulated pollutant selenium at a coal mine without a permit.

A&G Coal Corp. could face a civil fine in a later stage of the federal case, which was brought by Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, the Sierra Club and Appalachian Voices on grounds that their members use the Wise County creeks and streams involved.

Judge James Jones of U.S. District Court in Big Stone Gap ruled for the environmental groups before trial after determining the facts were in their favor. The company admitted that it released selenium at its Kelly Branch surface mine near the Kentucky border and that it didn’t have a permit to do so, according to the ruling.

And from Kentucky, Erica Paterson of WFPL reported:

Yesterday, a coalition of environmental groups released a report advocating for stricter federal controls on water pollution from power plants. Of the information contained in that report, one thing jumped out: the allegation that 17 of Kentucky’s 20 coal-fired power plants are currently operating under expired water pollution permits.

The Harlan Daily Enterprise reported:

Four coal miners from Virginia have filed a federal class action lawsuit against a Justice-owned coal mine located in Wise County, Va.

In the lawsuit, filed in federal court in the Western District of Virginia, Big Stone Gap Division last week, coal miners Michael and David Sullivan, Thomas Robinette and Jeremy Pennington allege Nine Mile Mining Inc. violated the Warn Act in the discharging of over 100 miners. The mines are Justice-owned and located in and around Wise County and other locations near southeastern Kentucky.

The Associated Press reported:

An eastern Kentucky coal company is being sued by the federal government as it seeks to collect more than $300,000 in unpaid fines for health and safety violations.

The government says Viper Coal LLC owes $318,981 in unpaid fines as of September 2011. The suit was filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Pikeville.

David Roberts of Grist had an interesting commentary called Why coal has a hit on “America’s Got Talent”:

This is an extraordinary cultural artifact, for all sorts of reasons. There are lessons in here for social change agents in general and climate hawks in particular.

First off: It is genuinely affecting! Not least because Jimmy Rose has the kind of deep Appalachian accent and adenoidal, high-lonesome voice you don’t hear much in country music these days. It brings to mind lots of other amazing music out of that tradition. And of course lyrics about a hard-working man watching over his family can hardly fail to tug the heartstrings, even if “clothes on their back and shoes on their feet” might not be the most original turn of phrase. He sells it.

But the segment also draws a great deal of power from the larger narratives and tropes it evokes. It’s pure Americana: Rose served in the military, which makes him an object of instant, bipartisan adoration in the post-9/11 world. He’s got the twang. He’s got Pineville, Ky., which to these hyper-groomed L.A. judges might as well be another planet. He’s got the anti-style haircut and the fish-out-of-water family. He’s got a dream. And he’s got a history as a coal miner. It’s all of a piece.

He continues:

On the show, before he starts singing, Rose emphasizes twice how dangerous coal mining is — even says he joined the Marines and deployed to Iraq to escape it. Yet the implicit message is not that coal mining is a crappy job or that coal companies are neglectful, inconsiderate employers. Instead the job is presented as a kind of heroism: Rose went underground, put himself in danger, so that he could feed his family and keep the lights on for the rest of us. It’s a kind of national service, an analogue to his stint in the military: These are the guys who work and suffer so that the rest of us can live in luxury. Heroes. It’s powerful stuff, clearly enough to get the crowd rooting for him.


Why does coal mining evoke these kinds of feelings? One obvious explanation is that working-class guys are taking a battering all over the country, not just in Appalachia. Coal mining is hard, dangerous work, but it’s honest work, available to anyone willing to do it, and it can — or could — support a family … But still … with all sorts of workers in all sorts of industries being displaced by automation and economic shifts, why do coal miners elicit such a unique emotional response?

Coal has been woven into the fabric of Appalachian life for more than a century. It’s not a job, it’s a cultural identity. That’s the nut of it.

Such is the difficulty for progressives. It’s not just that the status quo has more money, it has more stories, deeper-rooted and more broadly resonant. Novel narratives about, say, “green jobs” do not have the same emotional depth. There is no history, there are no archetypes on which to draw. Coal evokes a rich oral, musical, and cultural legacy.

Democrats, or at least liberals, and especially climate hawks, are fated to forever be pushing the new, promising the future, projecting what could be. It’s an intrinsically weaker position and highlights the great need for creativity and storytelling. Can you even imagine someone in Jimmy Rose’s position singing a song about solar power that brings an audience to its feet?

Finally, there was this “citizen column” in the Henderson, Ky., paper about Patriot Coal:

Five years ago we were told “Patriot Coal Co. is a profitable mining firm” and “Patriot is not affiliated with Peabody Coal Co.” Now Patriot is a bankrupt company, and recent news is linking Patriot and Peabody.

We were told “Patriot employs many miners and brings many jobs to Henderson.” Now we have miner layoffs and a loss of more jobs in Henderson and surrounding areas.

We were told “Patriot is a good employer.” Now retired and laid-off employees are looking at loss of their pensions and health care benefits. Miners are picketing across the nation.

Once again, they lied to us, raped our lands, took their coal and their money and left bankrupt. They left us with damages, loss of jobs, loss of miners’ pensions and benefits. They gave us more dangerous pits than we had before. They gave us bills and lawyer’s fees and unrest across not only this state but also this county.

Where were our Coal Committee, our local politicians from the fiscal court, our state Rep. Watkins or Sen. Ridley, our Gov. Beshear and all our other state officials? Seems like we voted them in there to protect the people and to serve the people, not themselves. Approve more permits, don’t listen to the people’s voice and it will happen over and over again.

Hate to say it, but I and a few others told you so.