Coal Tattoo

FILE - In this Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton listens to a home care worker during a roundtable discussion in Los Angeles. Calling for a “new college compact,” Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday, Aug. 10, will unveil a $350 billion plan aimed at making college more affordable and reducing the crushing burden of student debt. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)


We certainly wrote a lot about it at the time she said it. That quote from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton that was so taken out of context by the coal industry, Trump supporters and West Virginia political leaders (see here, here, here, here and here).

Now, more than 10 months after the general election, Clinton herself has a few things to say about that comment. There’s a whole chapter about it in her new book, “What Happened.” She called the chapter, “Country Roads” and said that it was the campaign comment that she regrets the most from the entire race:

Stripped of context, my words sounded heartless. Republican operatives made sure the clip was replayed virtually nonstop on Facebook feeds, local radio and television coverage, and campaign ads across Appalachian for months.

… The point I had wanted to make was the exact opposite of how it came out.

As Clinton recounts, she was answering a question about how she would win support from working-class whites who normally vote Republican. Here’s the full answer:

Instead of dividing people the way Donald Trump does, let’s reunite around politics that will bring jobs and opportunities to all these under-served poor communities. So, for example, I’m the only candidate who has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity using clean renewable energy as the key into coal country. Because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right, Tim? [That’s Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who was in the audience]

And we’re going to make it clear that we don’t want to forget those people. Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health, often losing their lives to turn on our lights and power our factories. Now we’ve got to move away from coal and all the other fossil fuels, but I don’t want to move away from the people who did the best they could to produce energy that we relied on.

In the book, she explains:

If you listened to the full answer and not just that one garbled sentence pulled out of it, my meaning comes through reasonably well. Coal employment had been going down in Appalachia for decades, stemming from changes in mining technology, competition from lower-sulfur Wyoming coal, and cheaper and cleaner natural gas and renewable energy, and a drop in the global demand for coal.

I was intensely concerned about the impact on families and communities that had depended on coal jobs for generations. That’s why I proposed a comprehensive $30 billion plan to help revitalize and diversify the region’s economy. But most people never heard that. They heard a snippet that gave the impression that I was looking forward to hurting miners and their families.

The book does a lot of blaming the media for all of this, and anyone who reads my blog (see here and here  especially) knows I don’t really disagree with that basic point.

But perhaps another reason that most people didn’t hear about the Clinton plan to save the coalfields is that she didn’t really talk about it that much. And, of course, others in her party — I’m looking at you, Sen. Joe Manchin — want to just keep talking about coal, coal coal, as if the next boom is right around the corner. And Clinton is wrong to try to rewrite history to suggest that Sen. Bernie Sanders didn’t propose his own coalfield rescue plan (see here). President Obama had such a plan, of course, but as we’ve discussed before, it was really too little and too late and wasn’t promoted nearly enough by Obama or any Democrats.

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The Gazette’s Dr. Paul Nyden had a review in Sunday’s paper of Laurence Leamer’s major new book, “The Price of Justice: A True Story of Greed and Corruption. ” The book focuses on the Harman Mining/Hugh Caperton lawsuit against Massey.

As most readers of this blog certainly know, that case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and produced a ruling that state Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin was wrong to refuse to step down from Harman Mining’s appeal because of then-Massey CEO Don Blankenship’s funding of a campaign that helped put Benjamin on the court. As Dr. Nyden has already reported, this whole dispute continues in the courts in Virginia.

In his Sunday book review, Dr. Nyden explains:

Leamer tells the story of Pittsburgh lawyers Bruce Stanley, who grew up in Mingo County and worked as a newspaper reporter in Williamson before getting a law degree, and David B. Fawcett, whose father and grandfather were both lawyers. Both work for prominent Pittsburgh firms — Stanley for ReedSmith and Fawcett [first] for Buchanan Ingersoll and now for ReedSmith.

Fawcett and Stanley also previously represented clients in two other lawsuits against Blankenship and Massey.

Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel hired Fawcett to sue Massey after it violated its 10-year contract to supply the company with high-quality metallurgical coal. Instead, Massey began selling its met coal to buyers willing to pay higher prices, exporting much of it to steel producers in foreign countries. After a four-month trial that ended in July 2007, Fawcett won $220 million in damages for Wheeling-Pitt. When the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Massey’s appeal, Massey paid the troubled West Virginia steel company $267 million, including interest.

Stanley sued Massey on behalf of the widows of two coal miners killed during a fire in its Aracoma mine in Logan County. Using government inspection reports and testimony from other miners, Stanley proved Massey had forced its Aracoma miners to work under unsafe conditions. The size of the settlements paid to the widows were never made public.

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Coal writing featured at W.Va. Book Festival

For folks who are interested in the coal industry or coal history, there’s plenty to love about the West Virginia Book Festival, being held this weekend at the Civic Center here in Charleston.

First off, my friend Bonnie Stewart will be giving a talk about her new book, “No. 9: The 1968 Farmington Disaster” on Saturday at 10 a.m. We’ve talked about Bonnie’s work before on Coal Tattoo here and recall a great NPR piece that gave a preview of the book here. It’s also been featured on the Gazette’s book festival blog by my boss, Gazette City Editor Greg Moore.

Earlier this week, the Gazette’s Dr. Paul Nyden had a story in the paper about the book, writing:

Records and documents, Stewart writes, show the 1968 “disaster easily could have been prevented. The company men responsible for the mine’s day-to-day operations knew the mine was dangerous, but did not slow or stop production to make it safe.

“Everyone in the mine was under intense pressure to produce coal . . . . State and federal inspectors ignored the mine’s glaring and egregious ventilation violations.”

One of the book’s saddest stories is about 48-year-old Emilio Megna, who had one more shift before he would retire and open up a gas and repair service station in Worthington.

“Just eight more hours, 600 feet underground inside the cold and dark tunnels, then he would no longer have to breathe coal dust or scrub it from his face and clothes each day.

“No longer would he have to worry about methane gas explosions or roof falls that could bury him alive,” Stewart writes.

“The day before the No. 9 exploded, Emilio’s 16-year-old son, Joe, tried to convince his father to play hooky and go trout fishing. But Emilio would not do it, said he owed it to the company to work his last shift.”

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Reinventing fire: Amory Lovins on coal’s costs

Folks who follow the work of Rocky Mountain Institute co-founder Amory Lovins certainly are well aware that he’s got a new book out.  Called “Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era,” the volume is being promoted as a blueprint to the new energy era:

Business can become more competitive, profitable and resilient by leading the transformation from fossil fuel to efficiency and renewables. This transition will build a stronger economy, a more secure nation and a healthier environment.

I wanted to share a few things Lovins has to say in the book about coal:

Coal fires the power stations that generate 45 percent of U.S. and 41 percent of world electricity … Burning coal emits sulfur and nitrogen oxides (causing acid rain), particulates, mercury and other toxic metals … Coal ash from power plants pollutes streams. Mining coal injures and kills workers and inverts landscapes. Such hidden costs of U.S. coal-fired electricity total $180 to $530 billion per year. Properly charging that on our electric bills, rather than to our health and our kids, would double or triple the price of coal-fired electricity.

… Coal depletion, long assumed to be centuries off, may arrive unexpectedly soon. Coal resources had long been assessed with little or no attention to their exploitation cost. Recent reassessments of coal’s economic geology are more sobering, suggesting that ‘peak coal’ will occur within decades even in such coal-rich countries as the U.S. and China. Physical depletion could take much longer, but the cheap coal is going fast.

Lovins explains:

… Business, motivated by enduring advantage, supported by civil society, sped by effective policy — can advantageously achieve the ambitious transition beyond oil and coal by 2050, and later beyond natural gas, too … New technologies, and new ways of combining them, can wring several-fold more work from the same amount of energy. Those efficiency gains then allow renewable energy sources, equally enabled by modern information technology, to by deployed faster. The transition will create new industries with vast potential for jobs, profits, and better, cheaper, more robust services.

Check it out …

New book chronicles Farmington Disaster

This just in from Vicki Smith over at The Associated Press, about my friend Bonnie Stewart’s new book on the Farmington Disaster:

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — A new book on a 1968 explosion that killed 78 West Virginia coal miners concludes the tragedy that led to passage of the federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act was both preventable and poorly investigated.

West Virginia University journalism professor Bonnie Stewart spent five years researching and writing “No. 9: The 1968 Farmington Mine Disaster.”

She found records suggesting the victims might have escaped if a safety alarm on a ventilation fan had worked. But it was disabled for as long as 90 minutes before the blast.

Stewart says the memo could have helped the widows who later sued Consolidation Coal Co. They settled their claims for just $10,000 apiece.

Only 21 men escaped. Fifty-nine bodies were removed during the nine-year recovery effort, but 19 remain entombed.

Some readers may recall that Bonnie did a story with my buddy former Gazette reporter Scott Finn about that memo. It’s still available online here.

While I’m mentioning books, a much-belated recommendation that Coal Tattoo readers might want to check out Mike Guillerman’s volume, Face Boss: The Memoir of a Western Kentucky Coal Miner.

Gore on CCS: ‘Compelling’ but a long way to go


Former Vice President (and Nobel Peace Prize winner) Al Gore’s new book “Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis,” has a full chapter on carbon capture and storage (CCS). And what he has to say will sound familiar to folks who have followed Coal Tattoo’s discussion of the possibilities — and pitfalls — of this technology.


The chapter begins:

The idea of  ‘carbon capture and sequestration’ is compelling. In theory, the world could capture all of the CO2 that is presently emitted into the atmosphere by fossil fuel electricity plants and sequester it safely in repositories located deep underground and beneath the bottom of the ocean. We could then continue to use coal as a primary source of electricity without contributing to the destruction of human civilization in the process.


The reality, however, is that decades after CCS was first proposed, no government or company in the world has built a single commercial-scale demonstration project capturing and sequestering large amounts of CO2 from a power plant.

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Coal at the West Virginia Book Festival


This weekend’s West Virginia Book Festival here in Charleston has plenty for everybody, even for folks interested in the coal industry.

On Saturday morning, our friends Wess Harris  and Penny Loeb will present a program called When Documentaries are Not Enough, in which they discuss making a non-fiction book into a feature film, including the limitations of documentary film and the process of dramatization.

Penny, of course,  wrote the incredible 1997 U.S. News and World Report  expose on mountaintop removal and is author of the book Moving Mountains: How One Woman And Her Community Won Justice from Big Coal.  More of her work is available on her Web site, WV Coalfield. And Wess published When Miners March, about the Battle of Blair Mountain.

My guess is coal might come up a time or two in their discussion …

Their Saturday session starts at 10 a.m. The Book Festival is over at the Charleston Civic Center, and the complete schedule is online here.

At Taylor Books: New novel on Hawks Nest Disaster


Tomorrow evening, Dwight Harshbarger will be reading from and signing copies of his new book about the Hawks Nest Disaster.

Witness At Hawks Nest is a novel about the disaster, in which hundreds of workers died of acute silicosis while digging the hydro-electric tunnel for Union Carbide. You can learn more about the book, and about Harshbarger, at this Web site.

The reading and book signing is from 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. Saturday. (though the time is listed differently on Taylor’s Web site).


We’ve talked before about peak coal (see previous posts here, here and here), and now I can’t wait to read Richard Heinberg’s new book, Blackout: Coal, Climate and the Last Energy Crisis.

Fortunately, David Roberts over at Grist has already done so, and gives us a preview report … and the picture painted in the book is pretty scary.

In short:

There isn’t nearly as much coal left as most people think. “Clean coal” will run down limited reserves even faster. If humanity doesn’t begin massive, sustained investment in renewable power sources immediately, civilization could be at risk before the end of the century. And that’s without considering the impacts of climate change.

And more to the point for our recent discussions of carbon capture and storage proposals:

The second fateful illusion: that carbon capture and sequestration can enable the continued expansion of coal use.

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There’s a new collection of writings about mountaintop removal out. It’s called We All Live Downstream and is from Motes Books.

Contributors include Wendell Berry, Erik Reece, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and Silas House. It’s edited by Jason Howard.

New mountaintop removal book from Silas House


I’m sitting here on a Friday afternoon, thumbing through my copy of “Something’s Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal.”

It’s the new book by Kentucky author Silas House and Jason Howard, editor of the forthcoming, We All Live Downstream. It’s published by the University of Kentucky Press, and you can read their promotional material on it here.

The book is a series of essays about various major figures in the region and in the battle over mountaintop removal, including Denise Giardina, Jack Spadaro, Carl Shoupe, and Jean Ritchie.

By happenstance, I was talking on the phone today to the legendary Wendell Berry, and he told me that he was reading “Something’s Rising,” and was especially enjoining the chapter on Ritchie.  If that’s not enough of an endorsement, I don’t know what is.

Spend Sunday at Taylor Books

The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition passed on this notice about two authors of coal-related books who will be appearing at Taylor Books here in Charleston on Sunday afternoon:

The coal industry is “Bringing Down The Mountains,” but plans are afoot for “Fixing the Ungodly Mess.” Hear about both at a book signing event sponsored by the Huntington-based Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition from 2 – 5 p.m. on Sunday, March 22 at Taylor Books 226 Capitol St., Charleston.

Wyoming County native Dr. Shirley Stewart Burns’ book Bringing Down the Mountains is one of the top-selling books printed by WVU Press. Burns’ book provides the first scholarly study about mountaintop removal’s impact on the people and land. This well researched and highly readable book provides insight into how mountain­top removal has affected the people and the land of southern West Vir­ginia. It examines the power relationships between coal interests, politicians and the average citizen.

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Remembering the Scotia Mine Disaster

scotiawidows.gifI just finished reading Gerald Stern’s recent book, “The Scotia Widows: Inside their Lawsuit Against Big Daddy Coal.”

Many of you may recall that Stern wrote a book about his experience as the lawyer for victims of the 1972 Buffalo Creek Disaster, in which a coal-slurry dam failure killed 125 people in Logan County, W.Va.

Stern also represented widows of the Scotia Mine Disaster. And while this new book isn’t as good as the Buffalo Creek one, it is well worth the read.

It’s also a pretty timely book in a couple of ways.

On March 6, 1976, a violent explosion ripped through the Scotia Mine in Eastern Kentucky. Fifteen miners who were working nearly three and a half miles underground were killed. The United States Mine Rescue Association has posted a short description of the disaster on its Web site.

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