Coal Tattoo

Happy West Virginia Day!

Please be patient: Coal Tattoo is being upgraded


Hey folks … I know I heard from a few of you this morning when Coal Tattoo was down for a while. I appreciate the fact that some readers just can’t wait to get their fix of coal news and commentary every morning.

But, we’re in the processing of making some changes here at the Gazette, as our blogs are moved to a different server. This will result in some down time later today and tonight, but will also mean Coal Tattoo is upgraded to a newer piece of software that hopefully will give us some more flexibility and power.

In the meantime, though, any comments that are posted after 5 p.m. today might get lost in the shuffle as these changes are made … things should be back to normal late tonight.

Thanks for your patience.

Happy Birthday, Coal Tattoo!


A year ago today, I wrote a post headlined, “Welcome to Coal Tattoo …

This is my 981st post, and so far we’ve received more than 6,100 comments. When I told my wife last night that today was Coal Tattoo’s first birthday, she responded, “Huh. It seems like it’s been longer.” My long-suffering wife — a much more creative person than I — actually named the blog. And she and my son deserve much thanks for putting up with me blogging at all hours of the day and night as I struggled to figure out this new project.

Thanks also to the management of the Gazette and to my editors who have been very patient with me doing less for the daily print paper while I blogged away on Coal Tattoo.

And especially, thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read and to comment, and especially to point out where I was wrong, needed to rethink something, or wasn’t being as fair as I’d like to be. This blog has been far, far more work than I ever thought it would be. But it’s also been very rewarding.

I’ve learned a lot from my readers and I hope the blog has made some contribution to a reasonable public discussion of the issues facing the coalfields.

Not much else to post today … I’m hoping this will be an open thread where folks will jump in and point out what they liked, disliked, would like to see more of, and think maybe Coal Tattoo could do without.

Thanks again for reading and commenting …

A note to Coal Tattoo readers

Hey folks … I’m going to be pretty busy covering another sad, tragic story.

A worker from the DuPont Co. chemical plant in Belle, W.Va., has died after being sprayed with poison phosgene gas.  You can follow updates on that story at the Gazette’s Sustained Watchdog blog.

So, if posts to Coal Tattoo are few and far between for a bit, please be patient.

Merry Christmas from Coal Tattoo


Coal Tattoo is going to be closing down for a week or so for Christmas. We’ll be back online Dec. 28. Hopefully, there won’t be any major news — especially bad news — between now and then.

Historically, this has been a tough time in the coalfields.  Low barometric pressure and low humidity, along with seasonal drying of many areas in underground mines, have contributed to a larger number of mine explosions during winter months.

Continue reading…

Coal Tattoo welcomes opposing views


This photo is getting some attention from some of Massey Energy President Don Blankenship’s buddies (his former political consultants) over at the West Virginia Red blog after last night’s Army Corps of Engineers mountaintop removal public hearing.

I have always firmly believed that the best disinfectant is sunshine, and that a healthy and respectful exchange of views is good for our society. And I’ve also always been proud that the Gazette tries to provide a forum for all sorts of views, and tries to have what one of my bosses calls “big shoulders,” or an ability to take — and publish for readers to see — criticism of our coverage.

Continue reading…

Coal Tattoo: Back online after a couple days off

Sorry for the lack of new material Monday and Tuesday, folks. But I’m back and it looks like it’s been a busy few days and that there’s much more action to come …

A few things that have come up:

— Massey Energy has apparently said it won’t contribute financially to building a new school to get Marsh Fork Elementary students farther away from its Goals Coal operations in Raleigh County, W.Va.

— Gov. Joe Manchin won’t miss an opportunity to blast the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency and its efforts to try to more closely regulate mountaintop removal coal mining.

— And today at noon, the West Virginia Conservative Foundation is sponsoring a rally  “for coal and a protest against big government” at the Capitol here in Charleston. According to West Virginia Red:

This event is open to the public and supporters of West Virginia’s coal mining families and are proud of our coal mining heritage. Coal is under attack and now is the time to send the politicians and government bureaucrats in Washington a message.

Hey folks, I’ve heard from a number of you about problems submitting comments to Coal Tattoo …

I wanted to let everyone know that we’re having some technical problems, perhaps caused by the installation of some new servers here at Charleston Newspapers. Our IT staffers are working on it, but I don’t have an estimated time when it might be fixed.

The problem, though, does seem to be fairly random and intermittent. Please be patient as we try to remedy this.

Thanks for reading and commenting…

Open thread: Six-month evaluation of Coal Tattoo


Well, six months ago today, I wrote my first Coal Tattoo post. This is the 564th post. We’ve had more than 2,500 comments. And I for one am pretty pleased with the readership we’ve gotten.

But what do you think of the blog? Is it covering the issues about coal that you think are important? Is the comments section providing a good forum for discussing the industry and its impacts on coalfield communities?

What would you like to see the blog do more (or less) of in the future …  Let me know what you think. And thanks for reading and commenting.

Coal Tattoo update: Back online now


Anti-mountaintop removal protesters were arrested at the Kayford Mountain mining operation as part of several peaceful actions against the coal industry over the holiday weekend. Photo by Antrim Caskey, via Climate Ground Zero.

OK, folks, sorry for my disengagement there for several days. But I’m back and there’s lots of news to pass on …

First, the peaceful civil disobedience against mountaintop removal coal-mining continued over the Memorial Day weekend, with 17 arrests at three different sites: the Kayford Mountain mine (see photo above), the Brushy Fork impoundment, and outside Massey’s Marfork operation (which includes Brush Fork).

Climate Ground Zero, which is organizing the protest actions, has  descriptions of what happened at each site here, along with video and photo slide shows. The Gazette had a report on the events on Sunday, and The Associated Press did a brief follow-up story. There’s also more on the site of Mountain Justice, another group involved in organizing the protests.

One interesting point, I thought, was that the Kayford protest — a “lockdown” in which activists chained themselves to a giant dump truck — targeted not Massey Energy, but Patriot Coal.

Sunday’s paper also featured a front-page article by Associated Press business writer Tim Huber outlining the coal industry’s complaints about the Obama administration’s policies on strip mining and global warming, and a piece by the Gazette’s Paul Nyden about the new coal tax report issued by  the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy and Downstream Strategies.

Thanks to all you folks who commented and kept is clean and thoughtful over the long weekend. Unfortunately, there were some readers who weren’t so well behaved. So in the future, when I’m going to be off line for a couple of days, I think we’re going to have to put a “time out” on the blog comment section.

Coal Tattoo on Living on Earth


A little shameless self-promotion for everybody’s favorite coal-mining blog …

The folks at Living on Earth were kind enough to have me on their show this week, to discuss all the hubbub over EPA’s actions to start more closely reviewing mountaintop removal permits.

Continue reading…

And the Grammy goes to …

West Virginia native Kathy Mattea’s album of old coalfield songs missed out on this year’s Grammy for folk album.

But Kathy shouldn’t feel too bad, given that the winner was folk legend Pete Seeger, for his “At 89.”

If you haven’t seen Seeger and Bruce Springsteen do “This Land is Your Land” for President Obama, I encourage you to check it out:

And yes, they did the “censored” verses, and here are all the words:

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

What’s in a name?

My friend Al Cross over at The Rural Blog reminded me that “Coal Tattoo” is also the name of a novel by acclaimed Kentucky author Silas House.

The 2004 book, set in 1950s Kentucky, is about two girls whose father is killed in a mining accident. Silas House mentions the song and its author, Billy Ed Wheeler, in the book’s acknowledgments.

Longtime mine safety advocate — and expert on coal-mining songs — Tony Oppegard also mentioned to me that he has about three dozen different versions of the song, and that his favorite is Billy Ed Wheeler’s.

I was very pleased to post an MP3 file of Kathy Mattea’s version of “Coal Tattoo” with this blog. I got to know Kathy a little bit while discussing various coal industry issues — from the Sago Disaster to mountaintop removal — with her. And she was kind enough to come and sing a couple of songs last year at the opening reception of the Society of Environmental Journalists’ 2008 Annual Conference, which I co-chaired.

In any event, here’s some video I found on YouTube of Kathy signing the song. Have a good weekend everybody.

Welcome to Coal Tattoo …

I’ve lost track of how many blogs there are that deal in some way with the swirling issues and growing controversies surrounding the coal industry. So does the world really need another one?

Well, I sure hope so.

Coal helped to build industrial America, powered our nation through two world wars, and is still an important part of the economy in coalfield communities from West Virginia to Wyoming. And, as industry supporters and their billboards remind us, coal keeps the lights on in about half of all American households.

But the downside of coal becomes more and more apparent each day.

Over the last three years, a string of mine disasters — Sago, Aracoma,  Darby and Crandall Canyon — reminded us of the very real human cost to miners and their families.  Just before this past Christmas, the collapse of the TVA coal-ash dam in Tennessee showed us again that there’s really nothing that clean about coal.

Earlier this week, the New York Times’ blog, Green Inc, observed that it’s been a tough week for coal. Among other things, the Times cited the Air Force’s cancellation of plans for a coal-to-liquids fuel plant in Montana, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s call for a moratorium on new coal plants, and a $140 million Clean Air Act settlement by utilities in Kentucky. (Closer to home, the Times also noted yesterday’s big protests against Massey Energy, and a new lawsuit over contaminated drinking water supplies).

But with a few exceptions, most of the blogging out there about coal comes from either the industry’s most vocal opponents (see Coal is Dirty or the Front Porch) or from coal industry boosters such as Behind the Plug.

So maybe it’s time for one of the few daily newspapers in the country that still covers the coal industry on a regular basis to get into the game, to take the leap into the blogosphere.

We’ll still be doing plenty of coal stories in the daily print edition, as well as longer projects on the industry in the Sunday edition. But the blog format will allow the Gazette to get information out more quickly, and to help foster the growing national — really, international — discussion about the future of coal.

With that in mind, one thing that I want to note is that it seems that there are really two separate discussions going on about coal.

One of them is out there in the broader world. Scientists, policymakers and even investors are becoming more and more convinced that the downsides of coal have to be addressed. One way or the other, coal-fired power’s contribution to global warming must be dealt with. To these folks, the question is: Can coal have a place in our energy mix in a carbon-constrained world?

The other discussion is happening here in West Virginia, and in other coal communities. Locally, the issues are different, and in many ways much more emotional. It’s a battle between families who rely on coal to put food on their tables and send their kids to college, and folks who live near coal mines and are tired of blasting, dust, and water pollution. To these folks, the questions are: How can we protect coal’s future or how can we shut down mountaintop removal?

These two discussions are starting to intersect a little bit. Activists who don’t like mountaintop removal are talking more and more about climate change. But there’s still a huge disconnect between the way the broader world talks about coal and the way we here in the coalfields do.

Perhaps the scientists and activists who understand what coal burning is doing to our climate should try to understand a little more about how a third-generation coal miner in Eastern Kentucky feels. And maybe that coal miner should be a little more open to hearing what the world would be like if we don’t do something about rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Most importantly, maybe the policymakers in Washington need to understand what the economic impact of climate change regulations is going to be on places like West Virginia and Wyoming. And maybe politicians and government officials in places like Charleston, W.Va., need to come to terms with the fact that change is coming to this industry.

I hope this blog contributes a little bit to helping these discussions along. I welcome thoughts, comments, suggestions and criticisms on how to get this job done.