Friday roundup, May 16, 2014

May 16, 2014 by Ken Ward Jr.

Turkey Mining Accident

A relative of a victim of the mine accident weeps next to the grave of her loved one, in Soma, Turkey, Friday, May 16, 2014. An explosion and fire at a coal mine in Soma, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul, killed hundreds of workers, authorities said, in one of the worst mining disasters in Turkish history. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

The terrible news continues to flow out of the coalfields of Turkey. Here’s the latest today from The New York Times:

SOMA, Turkey — As grieving families prepared to bury more of the dead from Turkey’s worst mine disaster, the country’s energy minister said on Friday that up to 18 people were still missing and that the death toll could exceed 300.

An explosion on Tuesday in a coal mine near Soma, a town in western Turkey, ignited a blaze producing noxious fumes that choked hundreds of miners to death as they were changing shifts. By Friday, the death toll stood at 284, but the energy minister, Taner Yildiz, said in televised remarks to reporters that the final count was unlikely to be more than 302.

 And surely this sounds familiar to folks who have followed recent mining and other industrial disasters in the U.S.:

A four-year-old report that clearly warns of the life-threatening risks in the Soma mine has revealed the tragedy of the workers who were killed in the Soma mine was blatantly not “a usual incident in the mining sector.”

The “Work Accidents in Mines” report prepared by the Chamber of Architects and Engineers’ (TMMOB) in 2010 gave notice of the dangers in the mine, warned against the potential disasters and set out solution suggestions.

However, none of the issues pointed to were heeded, heading for an inevitable fall.

The 152-page report says the coal at the Soma basin has a high level of methane, which makes the mine intolerant to any mistakes.

“No production should be made before the necessary research has been completed. Carrying out production with the lack of experience might lead to disaster,” the report warns.

The report draws attention to the lack of any alternative routes for breathing or escaping, which made the rescue of the workers almost impossible in case of an accident.

“The ventilation in the mine pit is adversely affected since workers can’t be evacuated from the mine urgently and safely,” says the report that explains the dangers in details.

Also this week, U.S. News and World Report had an extended report on mine safety and how these sorts of deaths and disasters simply don’t have to be happening:

Daniel Lambka was a 20-year-old graduate of Southern High School who loved deer hunting and mudding aboard his dirt bike. Arthur “D.J.” Gelentser, 24, “an avid outdoorsman,” also played basketball and performed with his church’s drama team. Timothy Memmer, 41, was a union millwright who would “ride his Harley whenever he could.” And Eric Legg, 48, and Gary Hensley, 46, hunted and fished in the hills of West Virginia.

Together, they are the first five fatal victims of coal mining accidents this year. Legg and Hensley, claimed inside Brody Mine No. 1 in West Virginia, were the most recent: trapped and killed when the roof of the mine tumbled onto them as they performed an especially risky mining procedure Monday night.

“We express our deepest sympathies to Eric’s and Gary’s families, friends and co-workers,” said Patriot Coal executive vice president Mike Day in a statement. “We are fully cooperating with state and federal mine regulatory agencies to investigate this incident.”

Yet Legg and Hensley’s deaths – and those of countless others – could have been avoided, experts say. 

“We have not come up with any new ways to kill coal miners,” says Celeste Monforton, a mine safety researcher and advocate who worked at the Mine Safety and Health Administration. “These are things that we’ve known for a long time and we know how to prevent them.”

Turkey Mining Accident

Miners wait near the mine in Soma, western Turkey, in Soma, Turkey, Friday, May 16, 2014. An explosion and fire at a coal mine in Soma, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul, killed hundreds of workers, authorities said, in one of the worst mining disasters in Turkish history. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Turkey Mining Accident

People offer their prayers next to the graves of victims of the mine accident in Soma, Turkey, Friday, May 16, 2014. A Turkish mining company defended its safety record Friday, four days after over 250 people died in an underground blaze at its coal mine in western Turkey. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Closer to home, the Wall Street Journal had a story about coal companies abandoning their use of the chemical that leaked into the Elk River back in January:

Two coal companies with operations in West Virginia have stopped using the chemical that contaminated the state capital’s water supply earlier this year after the state found they were discharging trace amounts into waterways, officials said Thursday.

The discovery grew out of a state review of coal-processing plants conducted shortly after Jan. 9, when about 10,000 gallons of a chemical mixture known as Crude MCHM leaked from a Charleston storage facility and fouled the water for thousands of people.

This was picked up on by WOWK-TV here locally:

Greg Branch sits on his porch in Delbarton, miles removed from the Elk River. While the water crisis was a reality for some, it’s a distant thought for Branch.

“It’s like, ‘That was too close to home. But it will never happen to us,'” said Branch, a former coal miner. “It was always that attitude, it will never get here. It’s always somewhere else.”

Little did he know, the heart of the issue hits a little closer to home.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection found traces of MCHM near Branch’s home in Delbarton. MCHM is a material used to wash coal.

“I didn’t know that, I’m sure people around here doesn’t know that,” Branch said.

The problem with both of these stories, of course, is that there is almost certainly worse stuff in coal slurry and preparation plant wastes than MCHM — or at least we know a lot more about other stuff in there, and know it’s bad.

In other news, SNL Financial reported this legal development:

A federal judge has granted a motion to dismiss defamation claims against the media company that owns The Huffington Post filed by Murray Energy Corp. owner Robert Murray.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, ruled May 12 that Murray, the nation’s largest privately held coal producer, failed to set forth claims upon which the court can grant relief.

“The targeted statements present protected opinions and not actionable statements of fact,” the opinion states.

Bloomberg reported this story:

U.S. President Barack Obama plans to personally unveil proposed carbon-emissions rules for power plants, elevating climate change policy as a top tier issue for his final two years in office, according to two people familiar with White House strategy.

Obama is preparing to make the announcement with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, who said this week the rules are on track to be proposed by June 2, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the schedule is still being planned.

After relegating climate change to the back burner during his first term, Obama would be taking an unusual step of announcing regulatory proposals before they are finalized by the federal government and years before they would be implemented. His direct engagement is intended to demonstrate to environmental advocates and business interests that he’s committed to stricter emissions standards.

“There’s no question that President Obama views this as a legacy issue and he wants to be very directly involved,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, a non-profit advocacy group in Washington. “It sends the signal that this is going to remain a high profile issue for probably the rest of the president’s term.”

 And they also recounted this remarkable development:

China, the world’s biggest carbon emitter, plans to speed up solar power development, targeting a more than tripling of installed capacity to 70 gigawatts by 2017 to cut its reliance on coal.

The goal would be double a previous target set for 2015, according to a statement posted today on the National Development and Reform Commission’s website. China also plans to have 150 gigawatts of installed wind power capacity by 2017, 11 gigawatts of biomass power and 330 gigawatts of hydro power.

The plans come as the nation strives to get 13 percent of the energy it consumes from non-fossil fuels. Deadly pollution has forced the government to declare war on smog.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg BNA had a story about the latest 4th Circuit Court of Appeals argument over coal-mining pollution:

A federal appeals court judge reacted skeptically May 14 to arguments by A&G Coal Corp. that its Virginia coal mine’s selenium discharges are protected under the Clean Water Act permit shield

The company didn’t disclose the pollutant explicitly in its discharge permit application because it wasn’t aware of the toxic, naturally occurring pollutant’s presence in the wastewater from its Kelly Branch coal mine when it submitted its Clean Water Act Section 402 permit application, A&G Coal counsel Allen Wayne Dudley Jr. said at oral arguments.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit panel asked A&G Coal several times why it was unaware of selenium’s presence in its discharges. The three-judge panel also questioned how it was within “reasonable contemplation” for the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) to know that selenium was present in A&G Coal’s discharges, when the company itself wasn’t aware.

“We don’t have to disclose a pollutant, but we can discharge an unlimited amount of it,” a skeptical Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, the most vocal of the judges, said. “That, to me, tears a complete hole in the Clean Water Act.”

 From Kentucky, the Herald-Leader’s John Cheves brought us this story:

An abandoned coal mine is causing an Eastern Kentucky hillside to slide slowly onto the home of former state Rep. Howard Cornett, R-Whitesburg, who championed coal companies in the legislature.

The “continual flow” of water from the abandoned mine has saturated Cornett’s yard and the foundation of his home, according to Steve Hohmann, director of the Division of Abandoned Mine Lands. Parts of the hill are sliding down, putting the house at risk.

Long a defender of coal companies’ interests, Cornett lost his seat after he unsuccessfully pushed a bill to allow more overweight trucks on state roads, angering his constituents who considered such trucks dangerous. In fiery speeches, Cornett said his opponents wanted to destroy the coal industry.

“Howard Cornett wasn’t sympathetic when we asked for protection from overweight coal trucks or when we asked for protection from hazardous coal-mining practices. Now the shoe is on the other foot,” said Patty Amburgey of Letcher County, a former Cornett constituent who is active with the grassroots group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.

And finally, another story from Turkey that is just all too familiar:

As family members and colleagues of trapped miners gathered at the Soma mine anxiously waiting for the good news, rescue teams continued to pull out dead bodies from the tunnels.

In another harrowing new detail, rescuers have conveyed a note written by a dead miner and dedicated to his son.

“Please give me your blessings, son,” read the message that was found in the hand of the victim.

APTOPIX Turkey Mining Accident

Anti-government protesters chant slogans on a monument for the town’s miners, during a march in Soma, Turkey where the mine accident took place, Friday, May 16, 2014. Hundreds of protesters took part in the march against the government and there were clashes with the police forces. An explosion and fire at a coal mine in Soma, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul, killed hundreds of workers, authorities said, in one of the worst mining disasters in Turkish history. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

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