Coal Tattoo

We’ve noted before (see here and here)  that Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., is trying to be among the leaders in Congress in putting a stop to U.S. EPA efforts to better regulate mountaintop removal and for the first time really regulate on the federal level the handling of toxic coal ash.

Now, the Environmental Integrity Project is offering one potential explanation … they’ve issued this report that outlines McKinley’s political contributions from major coal and related companies. It says:

Congressman McKinley (R-WV), author of the bill to restrict EPA’s ability to regulate coal ash, reported over $185,000 in political donations from mining and electric power interests, including both PAC and individual totals. More than a third of that comes from corporate or individual donations from four coal mining companies: MEPCO ($34,700); Alpha Natural Resources ($11,000); the International Coal Group ($15,900); and Patriot Coal ($10,000).

Rep. McKinley, of course, serves on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Environmental Integrity Project notes:

This week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to vote on two bills, both supported by heavy contributions from electric power and coal mining interests. The so-called “TRAIN” bill would require EPA and federal agencies to aggregate the cost of all pending regulations to reduce pollution from coal-fired power plants, as part of a broader attack on those standards. The second would limit federal oversight of state coal ash disposal standards, and make it virtually impossible for EPA to take enforcement action against polluters who violate those requirements.

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I was starting to think that maybe my good friend Sen. Joe Manchin was on vacation … I mean, hours and hours went by after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced its final rules to combat cross-state air pollution, and Sen. Manchin hadn’t issued a news release yet.

So I was relieved when the release from Manchin’s overactive press office finally reached my inbox at nearly 7 p.m. last evening:

“The continued jobs-destroying overreach of the EPA is outrageous, and it’s incomprehensible that in these difficult economic times, the Administration would be so callous as to arbitrarily impose onerous rules that they know will cost countless American jobs and raise the daily costs of life for so many struggling families,” Senator Manchin said. “Once again, the EPA is taking aim at the coal industry, small businesses and the hardworking families who help power and build this nation.

“As I have said before, it’s time the EPA realizes that it cannot regulate what has not been legislated. Our government was designed so that elected representatives are in charge of making important decisions, not bureaucrats. That principle is even more true today when the American people see the consequences of the EPA making rules that affect our whole country and could hurt our fragile economy.”

Sen. Manchin never fails to disappoint … but come on now. Arbitrarily impose onerous rules? EPA can’t regulate what hasn’t been legislated? I wonder if Sen. Manchin doesn’t need to get some better staff work done, or if he’s just trying to misstate things in his zeal to show his allegiance to the coal industry.

Maybe Sen. Manchin disagrees with EPA’s rationale for this final rule. But he doesn’t offer one bit of evidence to support his allegation that it’s being arbitrarily imposed. EPA officials outlined their reasoning pretty clearly right here on the agency’s website. And trying to regulate what hasn’t been legislated? Seriously? Perhaps Sen. Manchin needs to go back and actually read the Clean Air Act.

Congress already gave EPA authority under the Clean Air Act’s “good neighbor” provision to to cut down interstate pollution that interferes with the attainment and maintenance of the national ambient air quality standards protecting public health. That’s in section 110(a)(2)(D)(i)(I) of the law, Senator. It’s one thing if Sen. Manchin wants to discuss or disagree with the actual way in which EPA is writing these rules, but he’s not doing that — he’s making incorrect statements about what authority EPA has and doesn’t have under laws already passed by Congress.

And that leads me to EPA, and that agency’s administrator, Lisa P. Jackson. While reading Sen. Manchin’s statement, I couldn’t help but think about the brief discussion I had with Administrator Jackson earlier yesterday during a press conference call about those EPA air pollution rules.

When EPA issued its initial press release, this part of it jumped out at me:

“No community should have to bear the burden of another community’s polluters, or be powerless to prevent air pollution that leads to asthma, heart attacks and other harmful illnesses. These Clean Air Act safeguards will help protect the health of millions of Americans and save lives by preventing smog and soot pollution from traveling hundreds of miles and contaminating the air they breathe,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “By maximizing flexibility and leveraging existing technology, the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule will help ensure that American families aren’t suffering the consequences of pollution generated far from home, while allowing states to decide how best to decrease dangerous air pollution in the most cost effective way.”

Now wait a second, I thought … another community’s polluters“? Now, in this case,  that means at least partly all of the coal-fired power plants that line the Ohio River Valley … in places like Moundsville and New Haven in West Virginia. Missing from EPA’s statement was any recognition that those power plants aren’t there just so that the evil coal companies and utilities and arbitrarily send pollution over to big cities or suburbs on the East Coast. Those power plants are there to give those city folks electricity to run their iPhones and their air conditioners.

So it seemed to me that the folks enjoying the benefits of that “cheap electricity” from coal aren’t exactly powerless to do anything about the pollution that drifts their way from the coalfields. One thing they could do, for example, is to demand from that their political leaders push for other, cleaner forms of energy. Of course, some folks in those communities are doing that.

And Lisa P. Jackson is a smart, educated and very capable woman. So it surprised me when she repeated almost that same statement from EPA’s press release in her conference call with the media. I perhaps foolishly assumed that Administrator Jackson understood the connection between coal-fired power plant pollution and the “cheap electricity” she and her neighbors to our east take advantage of every day.

When it came my turn to ask a question, I decided to put this issue on the table, and see what she had to say. My question went something like this:

… As you know a lot of this pollution that this rule is aimed at is produced generating electricity and other goods and services for people who don’t live where the pollution is actually produced. And I’m wondering what your agency is doing to follow up on its promise that it would work with areas like the coalfields of Appalachian to provide alternative economies and alternative jobs to replace those that might be impacted by these sorts of rules.

I was amazed when Administrator Jackson responded by telling everybody on the call that I didn’t understand the issue at hand. She said:

Just to clarify for everybody … this is a rule that talks about upwind and downwind air pollution. So it’s actually sort of the opposite of what you asked, with respect to air, what we’re trying to do is ensure is that someone who is generating pollution upwind isn’t causing a place downwind to be out of attainment for ozone or SO2, and therefore making people unhealthy in a state that has no ability through their permit process to do anything about it.

She went on:

Now, there are other forms of local pollution, and since I know your issues are … you know, water pollution, or land pollution from waste disposal, those are being addressed separately.

Actually, Administrator Jackson, if your staff ever show you a copy of Coal Tattoo or of the Gazette, you’ll see we are concerned about quite a lot of issues about the coal industry … We’ve covered your agency’s efforts regarding greenhouse gas emissions and the recent proposal to for the first time regulate air toxics from coal-fired power plants. And we understand what you’re up to with the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.

But it’s also clear from statements put out by folks like Sen. Manchin that your agency has a tough fight on its hands from the coal industry’s powerful political friends. And the folks who work at coal mines and power plants in places like Mingo and Mason counties in West Virginia have a right to straight talk from you and others in the Obama administration about how cleaning up coal pollution will affect their lives, including their jobs.

We’ve tried on this blog and in our newspaper to explain to readers in West Virginia the downside of coal, and all of the ways that EPA’s regulatory proposals might help to curb the negative impacts of this industry.

But it’s also true that your agency, on behalf of your boss, President Obama, made a very clear promise to the people of the coalfields two years ago:

Federal agencies will work in coordination with appropriate regional, state and local entities to help diversify and strengthen the Appalachian regional economy and promote the health and welfare of Appalachian communities.

Sure, that promise was made in the context of EPA’s announced crackdown on mountaintop removal permits. But it clearly is a commitment that must go beyond that, to helping communities — places that helped for generations to make our country strong — that are likely to see job losses from new air pollution, water pollution and greenhouse gas limits on coal. These aren’t separate issues. They’re all connected, and I’m sure that Lisa Jackson knows and understands that.

Administrator Jackson did go on to talk about the notion of “green jobs” a bit in response to my question:

In terms of what the administration is doing to try to help communities justly transition to cleaner forms of energy, I can just repeat the fact that this administration, this president has from the beginning said that there is great opportunity in greener, cleaner forms of energy. It’s better for our health, it’s better for our security, it’s better for our environment. He has shepherded and stewarded everything form the recovery act which had tens of billions of dollars in investment in cleaner form of energy, including a carbon capture and storage project right in West Virginia at, I think it’s an AEP plant, Mountaineer. So you know, whether it’s the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, whether it’s been work through our clean water programs to help communities finance and deal with water pollution, whether it’s working with labor unions and others, boilermakers and others who will get work when plants have to control their pollution and do it here in America. I think this administration has policies that make good on what we’ve all talked about, which is we should invest in our energy infrastructure just like we invest in our other infrastructure. It makes our country cleaner, it makes our economy stronger, and it makes our people healthier, and as you can see from these estimates, we’re not talking about small amounts of health improvements. We’re talking about saving lives, and literally changing people’s ability to enjoy the life they have.

But you’ll notice that the one West Virginia example she mentioned is one in which the work is meant to help keep the coal industry viable in a carbon-constrained world — not one aimed at helping transition folks who might lose coal-based jobs into something else with more of a future.

It’s been two years since the crackdown on mountaintop removal was announced. We’re half-way through the third year of President Obama’s term. Perhaps it’s time for someone like Lisa Jackson to visit West Virginia, and tell us more about exactly how the coalfields can join in the clean, green energy future she keeps talking about.

Coal compliance dropping in Kentucky

My friend Jim Bruggers over at the Courier-Journal in Louisville had an interesting piece over the weekend, reporting that:

The Kentucky coal industry’s compliance with U.S. surface mining regulations dropped sharply from 2008 to 2010, while the environmental impact of the violations has worsened, federal records show.

A U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement report analyzing state enforcement of the federal surface mining and reclamation law shows the industry’s compliance rate in Kentucky dropped from 87 percent of surveyed mining sites in 2007 and 2008 to 65 percent in 2010.

The story appears to be based on part of the OSMRE annual report on Kentucky’s program, available here.  That report says:

For EY 2010, OSM found that 211 of the 325 (65 percent) mine sites in Kentucky were in full compliance with all performance standard categories.

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New report out on longwall damage in Pennylvania

The Citizens Coal Council has a new report out today detailing the damage from longwall mining in Pennsylvania:

Key among the Schmid & Company findings is the disproportionately large number of damaging impacts from the longwall mining method compared to the room-and-pillar technique. Longwall mining removes far more coal than the room-and-pillar method and causes intentional surface subsidence.

The DEP’s review indicates that 38,256 acres were newly-undermined in Pennsylvania between 2003 and 2008. But although the longwall and room-and-pillar mining methods each undermined approximately the same number of acres, properties and structures, longwall mining was responsible for almost all of the damage.

Schmid & Company did the report based on a Pennsylvania DEP review of underground mining damage under the state’s “Act 54.” The DEP review itself is available here and here, and I’ve posted a copy of the Citizens Coal Council report below:

Sen. Rockefeller loses again on EPA bill

The U.S. Senate just voted down — by a count of 88-12 — the latest effort by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., to delay any EPA action to deal with global warming.

Sen. Rockefeller’s office issued this statement just before the vote:

I’m convinced that my approach to stopping the EPA in its tracks is the best idea on the table to protect the mining industry. We need a timeout on EPA regulations right now, and I don’t understand why Republicans are saying they will block what we’re trying to do just to score a point against the White House. If that happens, it’s a shame. The plan I have for blocking the EPA will protect West Virginia, allow miners to keep their jobs, and is reasonable enough that it can become law. None of the other plans have any chance of that. We ought to put aside bickering and agree on a plan that offers real solutions and good outcomes.

As we’ve discussed before here on Coal Tattoo, Sen. Rockefeller’s version of these events is that the coal industry and utilities need more time to perfect and deploy carbon capture and storage equipment … but there’s plenty of evidence that what is really keeping CCS from moving forward is the lack of a comprehensive climate and energy plan that puts a price on greenhouse gas emissions by requiring cuts in those emissions.

See previous posts here, here, here and here.

Trial starts in Marsh Fork Elementary case

Testimony began yesterday in a civil lawsuit that alleges hundreds or Raleigh County children should get medical monitoring to determine if they’ve been made sick by exposure to coal dust from the Massey Energy coal loading and storage operation adjacent to Marsh Fork Elementary School.

The Associated Press has this report on yesterday’s proceedings:

A jury of seven women heard opening statements from lawyers who brought the class-action lawsuit on behalf of an unknown number of current and former pupils at Marsh Fork Elementary against Richmond, Va.-based Massey and several subsidiaries.

The plaintiffs claim Massey improperly built the silo 235 feet from the school, which allowed dangerous levels of coal dust to enter the building and put children at risk of black lung disease and asthma.

“Massey owes a duty to do no harm,” plaintiffs’ lawyer Kevin Thompson said. “Massey could have built the silo further away. The wrong is building the silo next to the school.”

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CONSOL to pay $5.5 million in Dunkard Creek deal

Federal and state regulators will announce in a few hours that they’ve reached an agreement for CONSOL Energy to pay $5.5 million in civil penalties for pollution violations related to the huge fish kill in the fall of 2009 in Dunkard Creek along the West Virginia-Pennsylvania border.

A press conference is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at Mason-Dixon Historical Park outside Morgantown.

But federal government lawyers just a few moments ago filed in U.S. District Court in Clarksburg this complaint against CONSOL and this consent decree to resolve that lawsuit.

The settlement also describes requirements for CONSOL to complete a new, $200 million water treatment system to better control pollution discharges from its active and former mining operations in the area.

UPDATED:  CONSOL just issued this news release (nearly 90 minutes before the press conference), describing the settlement as a “Ground Breaking Clean Water Act Agreement … promoting environmental stewardship that will set the highest standard for mine water treatment.”

According to the release:

Working with the regulatory authorities, CONSOL Energy was able to outline an efficient, flexible path forward to implement additional clean technologies and best practices at its operations. The agreement will allow CONSOL Energy to treat mine water discharges from four mines on the order of 3,500 gallons per minute, removing 95-98 percent of the pollutants through the use of a state of the art centralized Reverse Osmosis/Zero Liquid Discharge (RO/ZLD) facility. CONSOL Energy is making an investment of $200 million as part of this commitment. This facility, together with a similar $100 million water treatment facility that CONSOL Energy is currently in the process of commissioning at its Buchanan Mine in Virginia, puts the company at the forefront of environmental stewardship.

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Coal’s impacts: New study sorts out good and bad

Studies about the costs and benefits of coal are always a topic that generates heated discussion here on Coal Tattoo (see here, here and here).

But understanding these costs and benefits is increasingly important, and whether any one particular study is perfect is less important than the fact the we’re all asking these questions and seeking good answers.

With that in mind, there’s a fascinating study out today in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. It’s called “Estimating the Global Public Health Implications of Electricity and Coal Consumption.”

The study starts with the notion that some serious environmental and public health problems related to contaminated water and poor sanitation improve with access to a reliable energy source. And, access to electricity also reduces in-home burning of inefficient and polluting fuels such as coal, wood and animal dung.

But, depending on how electricity is generated, new health hazards can be created, including exposure to particular matter, sulfur oxides, nitrous oxides, volatile organic compounds, and carbon monoxide emitted during power generation.

In this study, researchers used models to examine 40 years of data on infant mortality, life expectancy, electricity use, and coal consumption in 41 countries. They found that electricity use improved infant mortality rates, but only in countries where rates were relatively high in 1965. Also, life expectancy did not appear to be affected by electricity use, but increasing coal consumption was associated with reduced life expectancy and increased infant mortality.

Lead author Julia M. Gohike said:

As we negotiate energy and climate policy, teasing apart the complex relationships between energy consumption and health will help us to identify those policies that may be particularly health promoting. This study is a starting point.

The Boston Globe’s GreenBlog has an item out today about a new study from the Harvard Medical School’s Center for Health and the Global Environment. Here’s how reporter Beth Daley summarizes it:

By now, we all know coal’s climate change reputation: Power plants that burn it release enormous amounts of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.

But a new report released today by the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School looks deeper at the full cost of coal, following its life cycle from exploration, through transportation, processing, and burning to estimate that coal is costing the U.S. one-third to over one-half a trillion dollars annually. The report was released aboard the Arctic Sunrise at Rowe’s Wharf, Greenpeace’s chartered icebreaker.

The report, being published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, notes that fully accounting for these costs would double to triple the price of electricity from coal, thus making wind, solar, and other forms of renewable energy far more competitive.

I’ve posted a summary of the Harvard study here.

A different take on coal pollution

We talk a lot on this blog about the impacts coal causes because of our addiction to using it to fuel our industrial society here in the United States. But every once in a while a story out there catches my eye that reminds of coal’s importance — and impacts — in other parts of the world.

Yesterday was such a day … when I read this:

Children raised in homes using indoor coal for cooking or heating appear to be about a half-inch shorter at age 36 months than those in households using other fuel sources, according to a report posted online today that will appear in the June print issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

“Use of coal for indoor heating is widely prevalent in some countries, exposing millions of people to indoor air pollution from coal smoke,” the authors write as background information in the article. “Coal combustion emits chemicals such as fluorine, selenium, mercury, arsenic, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide into the indoor air, and these chemicals may form residues on household surfaces and food. Often, exposures are prolonged owing to inadequate ventilation.”

A Reuters report said:

Roughly half the world’s population burns coal, dung, wood or crop wastes for heating or cooking, according to the World Health Organization. Indoor air pollution causes up to 1.6 million deaths a year, the group has estimated.

Coal smoke is known to cause lung damage, but the new study “is significant because it indicates there’s some systemic effect” on the entire body.”

The study found:

Prenatal exposure to pollutants has been linked to restricted growth in utero, shorter length at birth, smaller head circumference and early-childhood cognitive deficits. To determine whether exposure to coal byproducts in the years following birth—a period marked by rapid development—also may adversely affect development, Rakesh Ghosh, Ph.D., of University of California, Davis, and colleagues tracked 1,133 children in the Czech Republic from birth to age 36 months. Data was gathered from questionnaires filled out by mothers and from medical records.

Among households in the study, 10.2 percent used coal for indoor heating or cooking and 6.8 percent used wood; 46.8 percent of wood users and 22.4 percent of coal users also used other fuel sources. At age 36 months, boys in coal-burning households were about 1.34 centimeters (0.52 inches) shorter than boys in households using other fuels, and girls raised in homes that used coal were about 1.3 centimeters (0.52 inches) shorter than girls in other homes.

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Judge Chambers issues formal selenium ruling

U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers today issued his written opinion and order in a ruling we’ve discussed before — where he ordered Patriot Coal to clean up its selenium discharges.

I’ve posted a copy of the judge’s opinion and order here. Remember that this decision could have huge implications for the coal industry.

New legal action targets Ky. mine pollution

A coalition of environmental groups late this morning announced the start of new legal action that alleges three Kentucky mining companies violated important provisions of the Clean Water Act.

Lawyers for Appalachian Voices, Water Keeper Alliance, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and Kentucky Riverkeeper issued formal notices of intent to sue International Coal Group’s ICG Knott County and ICG Hazard and Trinity Coal’s Frasure Creek Mining. They allege the companies exceeded pollution discharge limits, consistently failed to conduct required monitoring of their discharges, and — in many cases — submitted false monitoring data to the state agencies charged with protecting the public.

I’ve posted copies of the three notice of intent letters here, here and here. The citizen groups are represented by the environmental law clinic at the Pace University School of Law and its co-director, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and by the Appalachian Citizens Law Center.

In their news release, the groups cite more than 20,000 instances of pollution limit violations, failing to submit reports or falsifying required monitoring data. They say the violations could result in fines exceeding $740 million.

Donna Lisenby of Appalachian Voices said:

The sheer number of violations we found while looking over these companies’ monitoring reports is astounding. It shows a systematic and pervasive pattern of misinformation. These companies are making a mockery of their legal responsibility under the Clean Water Act and, more troubling, their moral obligation to the people of the state of Kentucky.

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AP report: Old-style coal plants expanding

In this photo taken Wednesday, April 28, 2010, Jon LaCour, manager of the Wygen III coal-fired plant, looks over pollution control equipment built onto the recently completed $247 million plant in Wyodak, Wyo. Utilities across the country are building dozens of old style coal plants that will cement the industry’s standing as the largest industrial source of climate changing gases for decades. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

Here’s a story just out by Matthew Brown of The Associated Press:

WYODAK, Wyo. (AP) — Utilities across the country are building dozens of old-style coal plants that will cement the industry’s standing as the largest industrial source of climate-changing gases for years to come.

An Associated Press examination of U.S. Department of Energy records and information provided by utilities and trade groups shows that more than 30 traditional coal plants have been built since 2008 or are under construction.

The construction wave stretches from Arizona to Illinois and South Carolina to Washington, and comes despite growing public wariness over the high environmental and social costs of fossil fuels, demonstrated by tragic mine disasters in West Virginia, the Gulf oil spill and wars in the Middle East.

The expansion, the industry’s largest in two decades, represents an acknowledgment that highly touted “clean coal” technology is still a long ways from becoming a reality and underscores a renewed confidence among utilities that proposals to regulate carbon emissions will fail. The Senate last month scrapped the leading bill to curb carbon emissions following opposition from Republicans and coal-state Democrats.

“Building a coal-fired power plant today is betting that we are not going to put a serious financial cost on emitting carbon dioxide,” said Severin Borenstein, director of the Energy Institute at the University of California-Berkeley. “That may be true, but unless most of the scientists are way off the mark, that’s pretty bad public policy.”

In this photo taken Wednesday, April 28, 2010, Marty Snell with Black Hills Power monitors a bank of computer screens used to track operations of the Wygen III power plant in Wyodak, Wyo. Utilities across the country are building dozens of old style coal plants that will cement the industry’s standing as the largest industrial source of climate changing gases for decades. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

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Hearing set on Marsh Fork coal dust case

This just in from Vicki Smith at The Associated Press:

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — A Raleigh County judge will hold a hearing later this month on a medical monitoring lawsuit claiming hundreds of children were exposed to toxic coal dust from a Massey Energy Co. processing plant and silo next to Marsh Fork Elementary School.

Williamson attorney Kevin Thompson is suing Virginia-based Massey and three subsidiaries over alleged exposure from the silo that sits about 235 feet from the school near Sundial.

Judge Harry L. Kirkpatrick III granted class-action status to the case in December, but it fell into limbo because his ruling went to an incorrect address and was returned to the courthouse in Beckley. Thompson said he only learned of the ruling after filing a supplemental motion with the court in June, then calling to follow up.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Woodrow and Elva Dillon and their two children, accuses Massey and subsidiaries Goals Coal Co., AT Massey Coal Co. and Massey Coal Services Inc. of negligence and creating a public nuisance.

It demands unspecified punitive damages, as well as a court-administered medical monitoring program.

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In case you missed it, SMCRA turned 33 yesterday

The Black Thunder Strip Mine, one of the largest coal mines in the United States. Photo: Plains Justice.

Yesterday was the 33rd anniversary of the day President Jimmy Carter signed into law the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, the federal law that governs strip mining.

On its Web site, the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement is touting the law’s accomplishments and the new measures being taken by the Obama administration to fulfill the law’s promise:

OSM has taken the lead in finding innovative ways to regulate coal production, reclaim abandoned and inactive coal mines, explore new technologies, and provide technical assistance to its state and tribal regulatory partners. As OSM positions itself to fulfill SMCRA’s promise of a cleaner environment and safer communities, its goal is to do so collaboratively, with its state and tribal partners, as well as its sister federal agencies. While we reflect on what we have accomplished under SMCRA, we realize there is still work to be done – and that work has begun.

But the Citizens Coal Council is hardly impressed … In its own statement yesterday, the council said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the White House are not serious about protecting coalfield residents and the environment from the adverse impacts of mining:

Aimee Erickson, Executive Director of Citizens Coal Council, said “Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is working to undercut the federal law by promoting weaker regulations and has ignored citizens’ pleas to fully enforce SMCRA.”

“The White House and Secretary Salazar refused to even think about improving environmental enforcement at the Minerals Management Service until an oil company’s terrible performance killed people and damaged our wetlands, Gulf Coast fisheries and beaches,” said Erickson.

“Irresponsible coal mining companies have already killed people, poisoned rivers, destroyed families’ homes, left communities without drinking water, and caused devastating floods. But the White House and Secretary Salazar have created a regulatory environment that lets the most irresponsible companies violate federal and state laws with impunity,” Erickson continued.

Citizens Coal Council Acting Chairman John Wathen said “When citizens met last year with Interior officials to encourage consideration of other nominees to run the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), because President Obama’s choice, Joseph Pizarchik, had let the coal industry get away with destructive practices in Pennsylvania, we  were told not to worry. We were told that the Administration and Secretary Salazar would set the policy. A year later, Secretary Salazar’s policy continues to keep OSMRE’s record of subservience to the worst lawbreakers in the coal industry. Interior also continues to green light strip mine permits where full reclamation under SMCRA is highly unlikely to be achieved. While the OSMRE has increased meetings with citizens, the agency reduces enforcement resources and allows states to fail to even meet the minimum required number of inspections under SMCRA.”

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A new report out this week from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends major improvements in the way state regulators across Appalachia review water-pollution permit applications from the coal industry.

The report, available here, documents EPA’s findings in a review of Appalachian state agency handling of Clean Water Act permits for surface coal-mining operations.

While EPA officials concluded that state agencies “do an effective job” at implementing effluent limits, the agency also found some serious problems:

— EPA could find little evidence that state regulators conduct “meaningful water quality impact assessments” when they issue water pollution authorizations through general permits. (Kentucky and Ohio use general permits).

— Incredibly, state regulators generally do not assess whether actual or proposed discharges from surface mining operations have a “reasonable potential” to cause or contribute to excursions of water quality standards.

— State records either do not clearly document, or provide little documentation, regarding ambient and effluent data, or data from similar mines, used to assess water quality impacts and the potential for new permits to harm water quality.

— Most Appalachian states do not currently have numeric limits for conductivity, total dissolved solids and sulfates. Instead, states rely on “narrative” water quality guidelines, but generally do not implement those in a way that deals effectively with conductivity, TDS and sulfates.

Groups seek air pollution limits for coal mines

Orange cloud at Jacobs Ranch Coal Mine in Powder River Basin of Wyoming. Photo taken from nearby Thunder Basin National Grassland.

A coalition of environmental groups is calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to for the first time impose air pollution limits on coal mines.

That’s right … EPA has adopted air pollution standards for gravel mines, coal-fired power plants, coal processing plants, and dozens of other sources. But currently, no national limits exist for the air pollution from coal mines.

Hoping to change that, the groups WildEarth Guardians, Center for Biological Diversity, the Environmental Integrity Project and the Sierra Club filed this petition with EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. The groups are represented by attorneys from Earthjustice.

Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, said:

It’s time to finally hold coal mines accountable to our health, safety, and environment. With mines spewing methane, dust, toxic orange clouds, and other dangerous gases, we need a national response that puts clean air before coal.

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Yesterday afternoon, just as I was settling in to watch the Senate hearing on coal-mine safety, a fascinating “tweet” from the National Mining Association’s Mining Fan (that’s their logo above) popped onto my computer screen:

Yale professor debunks bogus studies on the health effects of Appalachian surface mining.

Wow … sounds like something worth checking out right away … apparently, I thought, a professor at a respected university has “debunked” the work of West Virginia University’s Michael Hendryx and concluded the Hendryx studies were “bogus.”

Well, it turns out, not so much — the statement, which was repeated on a National Mining Association Facebook page — was so out of line that NMA officials have pulled it from the Internet, taken back, if you will.

So what are we talking about? Well, Coal Tattoo readers certainly recall the work of WVU’s Hendryx, who has published a series of peer-reviewed studies that pointed to increased illnesses and premature deaths among Appalachian residents living near coal-mining operations and questioned whether the costs of those health impacts are greater than the industry’s economic benefits to the region.

As you can imagine, the coal industry was none too pleased about these studies. My buddy Roger Nicholson at International Coal Group wrote an op-ed piece attempting to debunk Hendryx. The National Mining Association went a step further, hiring Yale’s Jonathan Borak to take a closer look at the Hendryx studies.

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I just got done reading a fascinating new paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Technology.

It’s a real eye-opener about the relationship between mountaintop removal coal mining and global warming. The paper, Terrestrial Carbon Disturbances from Mountaintop Mining Increases Lifecycle Emissions for Clean Coal, is available online here. A subscription is required to read the whole thing, but you can see the abstract (a summary) for free.

Written by James F. Fox of the University of Kentucky and J. Elliott Campbell of the University of California, Merced, the paper leaves no doubt that, even if CCS works and is widely deployed, questions will remain about the climate change impacts of mountaintop removal.

How so? Well, Fox and Campbell attempted to quantify the carbon dioxide released by the huge land disturbance involved in blowing up a mountaintop to get at the coal underneath. They concluded:

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the life-cycle emissions of coal production for MCM [Mountaintop Coal Mining] methods were found to be quite significant when considering the potential terrestrial source.

In fact, this paper reports that mountaintop removal’s life-cycle carbon dioxide emissions are 17 percent greater if you include carbon dioxide from sources other than the actual burning of the coal — emissions from cutting down and burning forests, potential release of carbon previously locked up in the soils of the mountains, and from mining and transportation equipment.

That’s the potential high-end of those emissions if you assume coal is burned in a conventional power plant.

If the industry switches to CCS-equipped plants that capture most of the emissions from coal-burning, then these other carbon dioxide sources would actually account for nearly twice the emissions of coal burning.

As the paper explains:

Notwithstanding the importance of CCS efforts to improve the imprint of coal burning on the environment, the life-cycle emissions also should be further investigated and quantified to determine their significance under coal production scenarios.

In both cases, the current combustion practices and future CCS goals, the terrestrial carbon storage impacted by the disturbance of MCM is shown to be significant. It is argued here that the terrestrial carbon impact be included in the ongoing discussion of coal mining life-cycle emissions and be considered when discussing energy production and environmental sustainability.

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In this April, 1981, file photo, U.S. Bureau of Mines’ John Stockalis, right, and Dan Lewis drop a thermometer through a hole on Main Street in Centralia, Pa., to measure the heat from a shaft mine blaze that burns under the town.

Last month, I posted an AP story on Coal Tattoo with the headline “The Fire Still Burns:  Centralia’s Last Days.” But now, we have the following AP story about a legal effort to save the town:


The Associated Press

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Centralians have long believed the government’s demolition of their beloved town in the 1980s was part of a plot to swipe the mineral rights to anthracite coal worth hundreds of millions of dollars — and not, as state and federal officials said, the solution to an out-of-control underground mine fire that menaced the town with toxic gases.

Now, in a last-ditch effort to save their homes from the wrecking ball, the few holdouts who remain in the Pennsylvania town are taking their claims of a conspiracy to court.

In a filing late Monday, four property owners and the borough of Centralia said a “massive fraud” forced the needless relocation of more than 1,000 residents and the destruction of more than 500 homes. The property owners asked a state appeals court to stop Pennsylvania officials from kicking them out and finishing off the town 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

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