Coal Tattoo

Friday roundup, June 15, 2012

Spanish coal miners talk as they spend their twenty-third day underground in a mine as part of a strike in Santa Cruz del Sil, Spain, Tuesday June 12, 2012. Strikes, road blockades, and mine sit-ins continue as 8,000 mineworkers at over 40 coal mines in northern Spain continue their protests against government action to cut coal subsidies.(AP Photo/Juan Manuel Serrano)

Over in Kentucky, the Herald-Leader had an editorial this week encouraging the Obama EPA to “hang tough”  in the coalfields:

Our so-called leaders would rather blame President Barack Obama for what competition from cheaper, cleaner natural gas is doing to demand for Appalachian coal than engage in an honest discussion of how to mine without ruining water.

That dynamic was on full display in Kentucky last week at public hearings in Frankfort and Pikeville that the Beshear administration requested from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

At issue are 36 surface mining permits being blocked by the EPA on what the Beshear administration and industry contend are invalid grounds. (For perspective, there are 355 active, pre-final reclamation surface mining permits in effect in Eastern Kentucky right now; the EPA has not shut down mining.)

Rather than providing a forum for discussing standards for protecting Kentucky’s water from the toxic fate of the Pike County pre-schooler’s well, Kentucky pols just wanted to beat up the EPA on the coal industry’s home court.

So much lame vitriol was spewed against the EPA and those who want to drink clean water it’s hard to know where to start. One of the zaniest has to be House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s assertion that the burial of hundreds of miles of mountain headwaters by the coal industry is justified by this newspaper’s failure to protest the burial of a creek in downtown Lexington more than a century ago.

Dig through all the chest-pounding, and you arrive at the central question: Can Kentucky’s state government be counted on to enforce coal industry compliance with clean water and other environmental laws.

Decades of evidence tell us the answer is no.

Also from Kentucky, James Carroll of the Courier-Journal wrote in his column about the prospects for new federal mine safety legislation:

Exactly six years ago this coming Friday, then-President George W. Bush signed into law a mine-safety package passed by Congress after 19 miners died in three accidents at Kentucky Darby No. 1 Mine in Harlan County, and at West Virginia’s Sago Mine and Alma No. 1 Mine.

Many of the changes focused on helping miners survive after an accident. Safety advocates pointedly noted that more needed to be done to prevent mining accidents.

But subsequent legislation to do that has not moved. There are myriad reasons for that: mining industry opposition to some provisions, ideological differences between Democratic and Republican lawmakers over how much additional power the federal government should have to regulate coal-mine safety, the desire to collect more research on safety issues, and a crowded legislative agenda where there are always other, urgent issues to address.

And let’s be blunt: coal-mine safety is not a national issue in the way that, say, consumer protections or food safety is. Mine safety is a concern only in places where coal is being mined.


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Friday roundup, June 8, 2012

A Filipino environmental activist dances with a bag of charcoal during a protest outside the Asian Development Bank in Pasig, east of Manila, Philippines on Thursday, June 7, 2012. The group called on the ADB and the Department of Energy to pursue renewable energy and abandon coal powered projects which are said to produce toxic emissions and worsen climate change.(AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Here in West Virginia, we certainly see a lot of public relations and advertising aimed at promoting the notion of “clean coal” and the Obama administration’s “war on coal.” So a guest post on Climate Progress (reprinted from the Penn State Climate Ethics blog) by Donald Brown is Associate Professor of Environmental Ethics, Science and Law at Penn State University called The Ethics Of ‘Clean Coal’ Propaganda was especially interesting:

For over a decade the coal industry has funded campaigns designed to convince Americans that coal can be burned without adverse environmental impacts. These campaigns raise troubling ethical issues. In fact, as we shall see, these campaigns have often been misleading and deceptive in several different ways.

This deception is classic propaganda because propaganda presents facts selectively to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information presented. Although many entities on both sides of an issue who are trying to persuade the general public to think a certain way will frequently resort to the use of propaganda, as we shall see, deceptive propaganda is particularly morally odious when it engages in lying or lying by omission. A lie by omission occurs when an important fact is left out in order to foster a misconception. The clean coal propaganda has frequently engaged in propaganda that must be understood as lying by omission, if not outright lying. It is also lying by omission about something which is potentially very harmful, making the lies even more morally abhorrent.

Meanwhile, my buddy Jeff Goodell at Rolling Stone posted an interview he did with Maria Gunnoe about the previously covered “bathtub photo” incident in Washington, writing:

Gunnoe is one of the toughest people I’ve ever hung out with. The first time I met her, back in 2001, she gave me a tour of her home in Boone County, West Virginia, which had recently been devastated by floods caused by run-off from a mountaintop removal mine above her home. Then she tucked a silver .32 caliber pistol under her belt and took me on a hike up through blasted rubble into the mine. Protection from bears? “Or angry coal miners,” she told me.

Gunnoe knows how rough things can get in the coalfields. I’ve been with her when she stared down a six-foot-tall miner at a gas station who clearly wanted to hurt her. Coal trucks have tried to force her car off the road, her brake lines have been slashed, and her family dog, a Rottweiler named Chaos, wound up dead at her son’s bus stop, shot in the chest – a clear warning to back off.

But Gunnoe, 44, who is part Cherokee and whose roots in West Virginia go as deep as any oak tree, has not backed off. She speaks around the country about the devastation being wrought by mountaintop removal mining in the coal country of Appalachia – a place most Americans care little about. She is blunt, authoritative, and, with her long dark hair, telegenic. The media loves her (the fact that her brother and her son both work in deep mines only adds to her credibility). Big Coal hates her, of course.

The story made it into the Washington Post this week, with a little bit of context about Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn’s politics:

What seems like a minor dustup could actually be a fine media play all the way around. Here’s how.

For Gunnoe and photographer Falkenberg, the dispute is bringing plenty of publicity to their anti-mining cause.

Most of Lamborn’s constituents, on the other hand, are likely to take his side. The Republican, represents a district centered in Colorado Springs, home of Focus on the Family, commentator Michelle Malkin  and a host of other conservative personalities and causes. The 5th Congressional District is so conservative that there’s not even a Democrat running there this year.

But Lamborn is facing a tough primary challenge on June 26 from Robert Blaha, a businessman who’s pouring plenty of money into his campaign and criticizing Lamborn as ineffective in Congress. The race is a nasty one, with both sides lobbing accusations against each other.

Publicity that shows Lamborn leading a congressional subcommittee and standing up to “inappropriate” images of naked children (though they were supposed to be looking at the bath water) potentially plays well in the 5th CD.

And it seems, as the Colorado Spring Gazette explained, that Rep. Lamborn has problems of his own:

The Pueblo District Attorney’s office has been appointed to investigate a formal complaint that a political ad by Congressman Doug Lamborn’s campaign broke the law when it criticized a bank co-founded by Lamborn’s political opponent.

At the center of the complaint is Integrity Bank and Trust, which was co-founded by Robert Blaha, Lamborn’s opponent in the Republican primary for the 5th Congressional District. Lamborn’s campaign accused Integrity in a campaign ad of being below average, which the bank says is not true.


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Friday roundup, June 1, 2012

Pakistani Saima Khadim, 5, carries remains of coal that she collected from a brick factory, on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday, May 28, 2012. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

Given this week’s troubling news about safety problems at Alpha Natural Resources, it’s worth taking a look at this report from the Courier-Journal in Louisville:

Kentucky coal-mining operators owe the federal government $29.2 million in delinquent fines — more than any state in the nation, an analysis by The Courier-Journal shows.

Those fines make up 40 percent of the nearly $73.6 million that coal companies owe the federal government.

D & C Mining Corp. of Harlan County alone owes more than $2.1 million in unpaid fines, while Murriel-Don Coal Co. Inc. of Knott and Floyd counties racked up $970,526 in fines.

In an editorial, the Courier-Journal commented:

A mine-safety bill pending in the U.S. House would allow MSHA to shut down mines that are late paying fines. Mine safety advocates who consider the current unpaid fines outrageous, think that’s a fine idea.

But the Republican-controlled House does not. The bill remains stalled in the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections — ironically sent to that committee more than a year ago on May 20, the anniversary of the fatal Darby mine blast.

It’s time for Congress to enact laws that allow MSHA to collect fines for safety violations and block the deadbeats from continuing to mine coal until they pay money owed the government.

Maybe Congress could do that before another mine disaster anniversary rolls around.

And if that’s not enough, here’s another piece the Courier-Journal reported this week:

Federal inspectors staging a surprise safety blitz at a Harlan County coal mine two weeks ago found violations serious enough to warrant a nine-day shutdown of the operation, which is owned in part by former operators of another Kentucky mine where an explosion killed five miners in 2006.

Documents that The Courier-Journal obtained from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration show that the May 16 blitz of K and D Mining Inc.’s Mine No. 17 in Highsplint found little or no ventilation where miners were working, thick accumulations of coal dust that can cause black lung and explosions, a broken methane gas warning light, conveyor belts covered in coal dust as deep as 9 inches and rubbing against metal, creating a potential fire danger, and a mining machine with 22 electrical hazards and clogged water sprays.

“This is really serious stuff,” MSHA chief Joseph Main said in an interview this week. “These are the kind of conditions that lead to mine explosions.”

And the kicker:

The Courier-Journal reported in April that Napier and North also have not paid nearly  $700,000 in civil fines and interest fees for  safety violations at Kentucky Darby. K and D Mining, which began operating its mine in February 2010, was the subject of two previous MSHA safety blitzes before this month’s surprise inspection.

In another mine safety story this week, the AP reported this sad story:

The families of 29 men killed 18 months ago when an explosion ripped through a New Zealand coal mine say they are abandoning their campaign to get the remains returned.

Since the explosion, the families have lobbied both the government and successive owners of the Pike River mine to mount an operation to recover the entombed bodies.

Bernie Monk said Wednesday that an assessment by new mine owners Solid Energy indicates the old mine shaft remains dangerously full of methane. He said the families don’t want to risk any more lives in a recovery operation, and are coming to terms with the bodies remaining in the mine.


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Friday roundup, May 25, 2012

A miner gestures next to a burning barricade in Montico, Spain, Thursday, May, 24, 2012.  Eight Spanish coal miners are staging a protest underground as part of nationwide strike action by unions opposed to cuts in government subsidies to the sector. General Workers Union mining spokesman Victor Fernandez said some 8,000 workers took part Wednesday in the first of four strike days this month to protest subsidy reductions from euros300 million to euros110 million. Spain is applying across-the-board cutbacks as part of an economy overhaul aimed at slashing its swollen deficit and reducing the country’s near 25 percent unemployment rate(AP Photo/Juan Manuel Serrano)

I’ve got just a few highlights of coal news and commentary from the last week to run through, folks …

First, folks here in the Appalachian coalfields should start paying more attention to the discussion around coal exports and climate change that is brewing out in the Pacific Northwest. David Roberts at Grist explains why this matters:

A couple of weeks ago, I explained the situation the U.S. coal industry is in: domestic electricity use has leveled off, utilities are switching to cheap natural gas and wind, and the EPA is finally cracking down on dirty old coal plants. All that leaves U.S. coal in a pinch. Their main hope for the future is to increase coal exports. That’s why the fight over coal export terminals matters.

Arguably, though, the coal-export fight is secondary. From a climate-hawk point of view, it would be better just to leave the damn coal in the ground.

Is that even within our power as concerned U.S. citizens? As it happens, yes, it is, because we own much of the coal! The coal that companies like Peabody are itching to export comes from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana. And most of the land in the Powder River Basin is owned by the federal government — that is to say, it’s owned by you and me.

The federal Bureau of Land Management leases the land to coal companies at bargain-basement prices, so they can strip-mine it and export the coal at a profit. Does that sound like good public policy to you?

No matter where you stand on that, this is an issue worth learning more about.

Meanwhile, the Climate Progress blog took a look at the issues surrounding the “war on coal” discussion here in Appalachian, and here’s what they found:

… With the number of coal jobs in key coal states actually on the rise since 2009, it’s more like peacetime prosperity than war in coal country. The War on Coal is nothing more than a new shiny object, designed by big polluters to distract Americans from the real war – the polluters’ attacks on their health – and the truth.

They also report:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has promulgated or proposed new clean air standards for smog, acid rain, mercury, air toxics, and carbon pollution that will save lives, create jobs and protect public health. For example, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard alone could prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 130,000 asthma incidents, and 540,000 lost work days every year. This would provide at least $59 billion in economic benefits.

The Economic Policy Institute projects that the mercury standard will actually have a “positive net impact on overall employment – likely leading to the net creation of 84,500 jobs between now and 2015.” The jobs created by the standard, however, would not just be limited to certain industrial sectors. EPI’s study projects that “8,000 Jobs would be gained in the utility industry itself,” along with the over 80,500 jobs that would be created to build pollution control equipment.  While dirty coal companies claim that the mercury standard will cause massive unemployment, EPI notes that “only 10,600 jobs would be displaced due to higher energy costs.” Richard Morgenstern, a former Reagan and Clinton EPA official, predicts that the new standard will have “no net impact” on employment.

Bill Howley has another great post today on his blog, The Power Line, taking to task a Daily Mail editorial:

I’ve just read the Charleston Daily Mail’s editorial this morning on APCo’s plans to buy out Ohio Power’s shares in the Amos and Mitchell plants.  I am astounded by how wrong the Daily Mail’s editorial board got this one.

First, they try to blame everything on “the government” (read “war on coal”) for forcing AEP to switch from coal to …. “wind turbines.”  What???  Here in the real world, electric companies are switching from coal to natural gas fuel and electric rates in many areas of the US are falling as a result.  Of course, because they never mention natural gas, the Daily Mail editors also miss the important fact that natural gas power generation is much more compatible with the rapid growth of clean, but intermittent, wind power, because gas plants can be ramped up or scaled back much more quickly than coal-fired plants.  But the Daily Mail editors are much more interested in pushing their “government” bashing agenda than looking at reality.

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Friday roundup, May 4, 2012

Pakistani Ghull Mohammed, 69, breaks coal as part of his daily work in a brick factory, during May Day, on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan, Tuesday, May 1, 2012. May Day is being marked across the world Tuesday. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

The last word I had from China was:

Five workers remain trapped underground in Wednesday’s coal mine flood accident that has killed nine miners in Hegang, Northeast China’s Heilongjiang province.

As of noon on Thursday, 800 cubic meters of floodwater had been pumped out of the pit, as 350 rescue workers continued to search for the trapped miners.

Sun Qiang, the deputy head of the Xing’an district in Hegang, who was in charge of work safety in the district, was removed from office after Wednesday’s accident, according to the local Party committee.

Lu Shouxiang, director of the district’s coal mine safety supervision bureau, was also removed.

The accident is the deadliest in the city since 2009, when a gas explosion in another local coal mine killed 108 people.

Also internationally, Brad Plumer writes for The Washington Post’s WonkBlog (citing a Grist piece by David Roberts):

Large U.S. mining companies such as Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources have seen their share prices tumble of late. They’re resting their hopes on six new export terminals in Oregon and Washington, which, once built, will enable the Pacific Northwest to ship more than 150 million tons of coal to Asia. In essence, we’d be exporting our carbon pollution overseas.

… A deluge of coal from the United States will, in the end, cause Asia to use more coal. Countries like China will have less incentive to develop alternative energy sources or become more efficient. And that, in turn, will mean more heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere than there otherwise would be. To put this in perspective, 150 million tons of coal produces about as much carbon dioxide as 60 million cars.

That’s why many environmentalists are looking for ways to, as Roberts puts it, “Keep the damned coal in the ground.” Blocking U.S. export terminals in the Pacific Northwest is one such strategy. Of course, coal-mining firms like Arch and Alpha, now struggling to keep their stock prices aloft, aren’t likely to sit idly by while this happens.

And in a somewhat related story:

Two environmental groups filed suit yesterday against the U.S. government to halt four coal leases in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.

The Sierra Club and WildEarth Guardians filed suit in federal court in Washington, D.C., over the four leases, which together hold nearly 2 billion tons of coal, citing the environmental damage caused from burning the coal.

“Our clean water, the air we breathe, the safety of our communities; they all depend on reversing the impacts of global warming and restoring a safe climate,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director, in a news release. “In spite of this, the Interior Department is signing off on more coal and more greenhouse gases than ever before. This has to stop.”

The four leases include the South Hilight, North Hilight, South Porcupine and North Porcupine coal leases. The leases, which were offered for sale last year by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management, expand Arch Coal Inc.’s Black Thunder mine and Peabody Energy Corp.’s North Antelope Rochelle mine.

The two environmental groups claim the BLM violated federal law by not considering the air pollution emissions and climate change caused by the coal, most of which is burned in coal-fired power plants in the Midwest and Texas.


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Friday roundup, April 27, 2012

In this photo taken March 12, 2012, coal miner Joackim Myhrvang gestires in Mine 7, Svalbard, Norway (AP Photo/Scanpix Norway, Berit Roald)

It’s always interesting to see photographs and news stories from the coalfields around the world, like the photo above and like the terrible events described in this short piece from AP out of China:

A Chinese city government says villagers with sickles and clubs protesting against mining activities in the southwest attacked police, killing one officer and injuring 15 others. The Lijiang city government in Yunnan province said late Friday that the violence erupted on Wednesday as villagers were gathered at a township government office to express concern that activities at a coal mine could trigger geological disasters.

 Or, this Christian Science Monitor piece out of Mozambique:

On a recent morning in western Mozambique, a group of 500 families in the district of Moatize fed up with Brazilian mining giant Vale do Rio Doce gave up on writing letters to the government and erected blockades instead. They hauled logs across the railroad and piled stones on the highway, halting the flow of Vale’s coal.

The families are among several thousand people displaced by mining activities in the region, recently discovered to hold the world’s largest untapped reserves of coking coal, which is used in steel manufacturing. Vale, they said, had not honored its promises: their new houses had been poorly built, and the area where they were resettled was isolated and unsuited to agriculture.

Doesn’t what happened in this story from Canada sound familiar:

Environment Canada weakened a draft version of regulations to crack down on pollution from coal-fired power plants following pressure from the industry, newly-released federal records have revealed.

Briefing notes prepared by the department in September said the proposed regulations offered the equivalent of an 18-month deferral on enforcement of the regulations “because of the interventions made by ATCO,” an Alberta-based energy company.

The regulations, if finalized, are slated to come into force by July 1, 2015, but ATCO was seeking the deferral “to the end of 2016,” to protect its existing “Battle River 3” generating unit.

“ATCO’s views had an influence on the proposed regulations as published,” said the briefing note, produced a few weeks after Environment Minister Peter Kent unveiled his plan.

A few other examples:

Chinese workers who are exposed to silica dust in mines, and pottery and gemstone factories suffer not only from respiratory illnesses, but are at higher risk of contracting heart and infectious diseases and cancer, researchers in China have found.

— The three major companies involved in a project aimed at reducing Alberta’s carbon footprint have dropped out, striking a major blow to the province’s efforts to combat fierce international criticism over oil sands emissions, according to this report.

And of course, we know too well this story from New Zealand:

Stuart Mudge dreamed of learning the art of mining on the Pike River coalface.

But it was a passion which ultimately claimed the life of the 31-year-old resident of Runanga, a township 10km northwest from Greymouth.

And as a Royal Commission of Inquiry investigates the cause of the tragedy – as well as a raft of issues relating to the mine’s safety procedures, design and the actions of former management – Mudge’s parents have gone public with an aborted plan to have the mine closed down.

Just weeks before the initial explosion at Pike River on November 19, 2010, a group of Pike River miners and contractors – including Mudge – voiced their shared concerns over the mine at a private barbecue.

“They were all talking about safety at Pike River. Stu said something like, ‘The gas levels are terrible, she is going to blow . . . we should be doing something about it’,” Mudge’s mother, Carol Rose, told the Sunday Star-Times.

Stu’s father, Steve Rose, added: “They said, ‘OK, we will do it. We will go in on Monday morning and shut the mine down.’ “

But the concerned delegation of Pike River miners never made it to the Labour Department.

Steve said that the day following the barbecue, the men realised such a move could end their mining careers. “It was like, ‘S—, we will be blacklisted, we will never get another job in mining, no one will ever touch us,’ ” he said.


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Friday roundup, April 20, 2012

In this photo taken Sunday, April 15, 2012, rescuers search for victims of a landslide from a strip coal mine in Thai Nguyen province, Vietnam. An official said the landslide from the coal mine’s dump killed one person and left five others missing and presumed dead in northern Vietnam.  (AP Photo/Vietnam News Agency, Thao Nguyen)

There was bad news this week from Vietnam:

Ten houses were buried in a rockslide that occurred in the early morning of April 15, at an earth and rock dump near a coal mine in Thai Nguyen Province, northern Vietnam.

Thousands of cubic meters of earth and rocks suddenly fell onto the ten houses, which were located right beneath the tip where the materials, dug out from the Phan Me coal mine, have been dumped for years. By the end of the day, five people were still buried under rock and soil.

Mr. Ha Van Thang, who luckily got out of danger, says that at around 3am, he and his wife got up to take care of their newly-born pigs. They suddenly heard a big explosion from the mount behind their home. Smoke rose from the nearby transformer station. Seeing rock and waste from the mount falling, he shouted and ran out of the house with his wife and his son.

However, his parents could not get out of the house. His father, Ha Van Xuan, 90, was quickly transported to a hospital and is still alive, but his mother, Vu Thi Hong, 85, was dead because of suffocation.

Meanwhile, there’s been tons of media attention this week about the two-year anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. One of the most interesting pieces is this op-ed in the New York Times by my buddy Abrahm Lustgarten, a ProPublica reporter and author of the new book, “Run to Failure: BP and the Making of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster.” Abrahm observes:

Sure, there have been about $8 billion in payouts and, in early March, the outlines of a civil agreement that will cost BP, the company ultimately responsible, an additional $7.8 billion in restitution to businesses and residents along the Gulf of Mexico. It’s also true that the company has paid at least $14 billion more in cleanup and other costs since the accident began on April 20, 2010, bringing the expense of this fiasco to about $30 billion for BP. These are huge numbers. But this is a huge and profitable corporation.

What is missing is the accountability that comes from real consequences: a criminal prosecution that holds responsible the individuals who gambled with the lives of BP’s contractors and the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico. Only such an outcome can rebuild trust in an oil industry that asks for the public’s faith so that it can drill more along the nation’s coastlines. And perhaps only such an outcome can keep BP in line and can keep an accident like the Deepwater Horizon disaster from happening again.

Coal Tattoo readers no doubt remember that the Deepwater Horizon exploded just two weeks after Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine blew up, killing 29 miners in the worst U.S. coal-mining disaster in nearly 40 years. The criminal investigation of the individuals responsible for Upper Big Branch continues, and there are some hopeful signs that U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and his team might — perhaps for the first time in coalfield history — really move up the corporate ladder here. But prosecutors have also had setbacks, and the recent revelations about MSHA (see here and here) could be trouble for the government in future cases. Stay tuned.

Earlier this week, we blogged about a WyoFile story regarding how Wyoming and some other jurisdictions continue to spend money intended for abandoned coal-mine cleanups on other things. And thanks to our friend Sam Petsonk for pointing out this similar piece in the Wall Street Journal:

When the University of Wyoming needed an extra $10 million for renovations to its basketball arena last month, state legislators turned to an unlikely source: a federal fund for cleaning up abandoned coal mines.

The fund was set up to pay for things like sealing up old mine shafts and dealing with collapsed tunnels and abandoned surface mines. But, as allowed under law, the university plans to use the money to fix up its Arena-Auditorium, where its Cowboys play, providing an exterior face lift and rotating the court 90 degrees.

 Meanwhile, the New York Times had this interesting story from Oregon:

A new link in the world’s future energy supply could soon be built here on the Columbia River, and it would have nothing to do with the vast acres of wind turbines or the mammoth hydroelectric dams that give this region’s power sources one of the cleanest carbon footprints in the nation.

Instead, Boardman is pursuing one of the oldest and dirtiest of fossil fuels: coal. The question is not whether to use it to produce new energy but whether to make what some say would be tainted new profits.

Even as coal-fired power plants are being phased out in Oregon and Washington, Boardman, an agribusiness outpost across the river from vineyards owned by the Columbia Crest winery and where the Department of Energy recently awarded $25 million to an innovative biofuel producer, is among at least half a dozen ports in the region weighing whether to ship millions of tons of coal to Asia from the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana.

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Friday roundup, March 23, 2012

Indian laborers load coal onto trucks at a coal depot on the outskirts of Jammu, India, Friday, March 23, 2012. India’s scandal-plagued government lost hundreds of billions of dollars by selling coalfields to companies without competitive bidding, according to a leaked audit report that the auditor itself called misleading. Angry lawmakers blocked proceedings in Parliament on Thursday, March 22, 2012, after the findings by India’s Comptroller and Auditor General were printed by The Times of India newspaper. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)

There’s a fascinating story this week out of India, summarized this way by The Associated Press:

NEW DELHI – India’s scandal-plagued government lost hundreds of billions of dollars by selling coalfields to companies without competitive bidding, according to a leaked audit report that the auditor itself called misleading.

Angry lawmakers blocked proceedings in Parliament on Thursday after the findings by India’s comptroller and auditor general were printed by The Times of India newspaper.

Outraged opposition party leaders demanded an explanation from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of why about 155 coalfields were sold to select private and state-run companies without competitive bidding, resulting in an estimated loss of nearly $210 billion.

“The coal scam is very serious. It’s more serious than the 2G spectrum scam,’’ said Prakash Javadekar, a spokesman of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

You can read the Times of India’s coverage of the situation here.  The AP story was dispatched along with an incredible series of photos of coal scenes from around the country, including this one:

An Indian laborer helps another load a tub filled with coal on his head to transport onto a truck at a coal depot on the outskirts of Gauhati, India, Friday, March 23, 2012. India’s scandal-plagued government lost hundreds of billions of dollars by selling coalfields to companies without competitive bidding, according to a leaked audit report that the auditor itself called misleading. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)

Meanwhile, there’s been another coal-mining disaster in China:

Chinese rescue workers battled Friday to free 17 miners trapped for more than 48 hours in a northeast colliery following a gas blast that left five dead, a local government official said.

The explosion on Thursday, in a coal mine in Liaoning province, killed five workers and injured a sixth, the official, surnamed Liang, told Agence France Presse.

“Family members of the victims are on their way to the mine, but the name list of victims can’t be disclosed for now,” he said.

The official Xinhua news agency reported Friday that rescue workers had managed to locate the 17 workers, who are believed to have gathered at a work platform underground.

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Friday roundup, March 16, 2012

A plane flies in the distance above the Soviet-era Monument to Coal Miners in the central Kazakhstan city of Karaganda, Thursday, March 15, 2012. The economy of Karaganda, an industrial city of around 470,000 inhabitants, is heavily dependant on nearby coal mines operated by Luxembourg-based mining company ArcelorMittal. (AP Photo/Peter Leonard)

The good folks at the Rural Blog were among those who made mention of the latest news from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which reported:

In December, only 39 percent of the electricity produced in the U.S. came from burning coal, according to preliminary data from the Energy Information Administration. It marked the first time in more than 34 years that coal’s share of monthly generation fell below 40 percent. Three years ago, it was just under 50 percent.

“A combination of mild weather (leading to a drop in total generation) and the increasing price competitiveness of natural gas relative to coal contributed to the drop in coal’s share of total generation,” EIA reports. Gas accounted for 26 percent of December generation, up from 22 percent in the previous December. Nuclear (to 22% from 20%) and hydro (to 7% from 6%) made up the rest of the shuffle. Other sources, including wind and solar, accounted for 6 percent.

See also Joe Romm’s take on this over at Climate Progress:

It’s a tad ironic that warming weather, driven in part by coal-fueled emissions, contributed to the drop in coal use.

This news is particularly interesting given the findings of a new report out this week in Kentucky from the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development and the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.  Erica Peterson at WFPL News reported:

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would designate some coal severance tax money to scholarships for coalfields residents; the measure has already passed the House. But a report by a non-profit group warns that Kentucky needs to think about the long-term future of the state’s coal severance fund.

Coal producers pay a tax of four and a half percent value of coal that’s sold into the state’s coal severance fund. Half of that money goes to Kentucky’s general fund, and the other half goes to various programs in coal-producing counties.

Last year, the state’s coal severance tax generated more than $295 million. But the Energy Information Administration has predicted a steep decline in Appalachian coal over the next several decades, and that also will eventually mean declining coal severance revenue for Kentucky.

Jason Bailey is the research and policy director for the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, and one of the report’s authors. He says the coalfields scholarship lawmakers are considering may be a great idea. But:

“No matter what programs we come up with, as coal declines, if it declines as the official projections say it will, there’s going to be less money to spend on whatever we think is the most important investment,” he said.

Meanwhile, our old friend Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers, had an op-ed published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, stepping up his union’s previous criticisms of the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce air pollution from coal-fired power plants:

The UMWA agrees with the “all of the above” approach for developing America’s energy resources. For instance, there is no good reason, with oil prices above $100 a barrel, why we are not utilizing our coal resources to produce gasoline and other fuels at prices well below what Americans now pay at the pump.

But America cannot afford “some of the above” policies that effectively prevent the deployment of advanced clean-coal technologies while encouraging a rush to natural gas. If “all of the above” is to be more than a political slogan, the Obama administration needs to reconsider EPA rules that stifle rather than encourage advanced coal technologies.

Singing from the same hymnal this week — in between the network’s Friends of Coal ads — was our friend Hoppy Kercheval over at West Virginia MetroNews who built a commentary around Cecil’s letter and the recent stuff from The Economist criticizing EPA and other U.S. regulatory efforts:

The Economist reports, “reduced mercury explained none of the purported future reduction in deaths, heart attacks and asthma, and less than 0.01% of the monetary benefits. Instead, almost all the benefits came from concomitant reductions in a pollutant that was not the target of the rule: namely, fine particles.”

However, the fine particles are already regulated, and the Obama Administration’s office of Information and Regulatory Affairs liberally interprets the benefits from cutting those emissions further.

“The EPA routinely claims additional benefits from reducing those concentrations well below levels that current law considers safe,” said The Economist. “That is dubious: a lack of data makes it much harder to know the effects of such low concentrations.”

Questionable, or down right misleading assumptions are not unique to the Obama Administration. Presidents routinely manipulate data coming out of their administration to reinforce their particular argument.

In the case of the mercury rule, however, it appears President Obama’s EPA is wielding its considerable power to make it so difficult for utilities to burn coal that they’ll give up altogether, abandoning any future plans to build coal-fired power plants.

The Obama Administration consistently talks about an “all-of-the-above” approach to the country’s energy policy. But the mercury rule, as well as other actions by this administration, makes it clear that coal is a notable exception.

Fortunately, we have the Center for Progressive Reform to debunk this stuff for us:

The Economist has industry’s back, dedicating one of its articles to arguing that the federal agencies have been over-stating the benefits of their proposed rules. Exhibit A: the EPA’s “Utility MACT,” which will put limits on certain pollutants for coal-fired power plants, and save literally thousands of lives every year. In reality, the Utility MACT perfectly refutes The Economist’s premise: it is actually an example of an agency underestimating, not overestimating, benefits.

The magazine is upset that in the EPA’s calculation of $37 to $90 billion each year in health benefits for the rule (compared with $9.6 billion in costs), “less than 0.01% of the monetary benefits” came from reductions of mercury pollution. The monetized benefits came from reductions in particulate matter and other harmful pollutants, but not from the mercury that was the prime target of the rule. This is an argument we’ve heard ad nauseam from the coal power industry and its allies. It’s nonsense: the quantified mercury benefits are low because EPA didn’t calculate them. Putting an exact monetary value on not poisoning our children with neurotoxins that stunt their mental development is difficult and there’s no right number; the EPA just left it out, relying on the benefit calculations for the reduction of other pollutants. The case is a prime example, in fact, of how agency analyses usually underestimate regulatory benefits. Likewise, independent studies have shown the agency projections of costs of regulations to be too high.

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Friday roundup, March 9, 2012

Coal miners march outside Petrosani, Romania, Thursday, March 8, 2012. Several thousands coal miners have marched in western Romania, refusing to go down the mines for the fourth day in row to protest over low salaries and work conditions, they were threatening to continue to Bucharest, but were stopped by riot police who blocked a bridge out of the city. The state-owned coal mining company in Petrosani has seven mines and employs 7,800 people. Romania is expected to lay off 3,300 mining employees by 2018, as part of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Huge protest by thousands of coal miners in Romania this week.  As Reuters reports:

The miners’ unions were were a potent political force in the early 1990s, when the state-owned industry employed almost half a million people, and many blamed violent miners’ riots in Bucharest for the slowness of Romania’s transition to democracy after the 1989 anti-communist revolution.

The miners’ influence has shrunk considerably since the industry restructured in the late 1990s, leading to largescale layoffs, rampant unemployment, poverty and environmental degradation from which the Jiu valley region is still suffering.

The Jiu valley mines are managed by the state-owned National Hard Coal Company (CNH), a loss-making, highly subsidised firm that now employs just under 8,000 people. It is expected to lay off more staff under Romania’s 5 billion euro aid package led by the International Monetary Fund.

The protests began on Monday when the miners demanded that the newly appointed government of Prime Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu enforce a pay protocol signed by the previous economy minister. The protocol included a rise in the bonus for miners working in dangerous conditions.

“We are deeply concerned over an imminent triggering of an extreme situation, which is why we are urging you to intervene and … find solutions,” the miners said in a letter to Ungureanu, according to a union leader quoted by the state news agency Agerpres.

Coal fires more than 40 percent of Romania’s power plants, but most of it is lignite, which is softer than hard coal and is dug in open pits. Romania extracts about 3 million tonnes of hard coal and 33 million tonnes of lignite a year.

The government aims to merge the remaining viable hard coal mines with two generating plants that burn hard coal this year to create a new electricity holding company, and to close three outdated hard coal mines by 2017.

Closer to home, Taylor Kuykendall over at The State Journal followed up on the MSHA internal report on Upper Big Branch with a story on the status of congressional mine safety reform proposals in Washington. He reported:

When 29 miners died in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, it lit a fire of rhetoric in West Virginia – and the nation’s capital. Nearly two years later, two mine safety bills remain stalled in Washington.

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This May 12, 1998 file photo shows exhaust stacks at the San Juan Generating Station northeast of Shiprock, Ariz.  (AP Photo/Gallup Independent, Guy Jacobs, File)

Here’s the first sentence of the news release issued yesterday by the International Energy Agency:

Without a bold change of policy direction, the world will lock itself into an insecure, inefficient and high-carbon energy system, the International Energy Agency warned as it launched the 2011 edition of the World Energy Outlook (WEO). The agency‟s flagship publication, released today in London, said there is still time to act, but the window of opportunity is closing.

IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said:

Growth, prosperity and rising population will inevitably push up energy needs over the coming decades. But we cannot continue to rely on insecure and environmentally unsustainable uses of energy … Governments need to introduce stronger measures to drive investment in efficient and low-carbon technologies. The Fukushima nuclear accident, the turmoil in parts of the Middle East and North Africa and a sharp rebound in energy demand in 2010 which pushed CO2 emissions to a record high, highlight the urgency and the scale of the challenge.

The IEA outlines some scary scenarios, even if governments get a move on in deployment cleaner energy systems:

In the New Policies Scenario, cumulative CO2 emissions over the next 25 years amount to threequarters of the total from the past 110 years, leading to a long-term average temperature rise of 3.5°C. China‟s per-capita emissions match the OECD average in 2035. Were the new policies not implemented, we are on an even more dangerous track, to an increase of 6°C.

“As each year passes without clear signals to drive investment in clean energy, the „lock-in‟ of highcarbon infrastructure is making it harder and more expensive to meet our energy security and climate goals,” said Fatih Birol, IEA Chief Economist.

The WEO presents a 450 Scenario, which traces an energy path consistent with meeting the globally agreed goal of limiting the temperature rise to 2°C. Four-fifths of the total energy-related CO2 emissions permitted to 2035 in the 450 Scenario are already locked-in by existing capital stock, including power stations, buildings and factories. Without further action by 2017, the energy-related infrastructure then in place would generate all the CO2 emissions allowed in the 450 Scenario up to 2035.

Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.

Regarding coal, the IEA said:

The use of coal – which met almost half of the increase in global energy demand over the last decade – rises 65% by 2035. Prospects for coal are especially sensitive to energy policies – notably in China, which today accounts for almost half of global demand. More efficient power plants and carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology could boost prospects for coal, but the latter still faces significant regulatory, policy and technical barriers that make its deployment uncertain.

Interestingly, the IEA pointed out:

Renewables increase from 13% of the mix today to 18% in 2035; the growth in renewables is underpinned by subsidies that rise from $64 billion in 2010 to $250 billion in 2035, support that in some cases cannot be taken for granted in this age of fiscal austerity. By contrast, subsidies for fossil fuels amounted to $409 billion in 2010.

Here’s a link to the Associated Press account of this report and more on the issue from Joe Romm’s Climate Progress blog.

Here’s the latest from The Associated Press:

BEIJING (AP) — Hundreds of rescuers were working Thursday to save 23 Chinese coal miners trapped underground by a gas leak that killed 20 others.

It comes less than a week after dozens of miners were pulled safely from a cave-in at another Chinese coal mine. Eight died in that accident.

Thirty firemen, 100 rescuers and 300 medical workers were on site at the Sizhuang Coal Mine, the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing Yunnan province’s emergency response office.

The accident happened about 6:30 a.m. at the mine in the city of Qujing in Yunnan, southwest China. Conditions inside the mine were unknown.

An initial investigation found that the gas leak occurred at one platform inside the shaft, and the gas later spread to another platform, trapping 43 miners working on both platforms, Xinhua reported.

More information on the accident and rescue attempt was not available as local authorities could not be reached by phone Thursday afternoon.

China’s coal mines are the deadliest in the world, although the industry’s safety record has improved in recent years as smaller, illegal mines have been closed. Annual fatalities are now about one-third of the high of nearly 7,000 in 2002.

Last week, 52 miners were rescued from a mine in Henan province after a cave-in.

The rescue was the biggest in the country since April 2010, when 115 miners were pulled out alive after being trapped for eight days in a mine in northern China.

52 miners saved, but 8 dead in Chinese blast, cave-in

In this photo released by China’s Xinhua news agency, a rescued miner is carried out of a coal mine after being trapped underground for more than 30 hours at the Qianqiu Coal Mine in Sanmenxia City, in Henan province, Saturday Nov. 5, 2011. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Zhu Xiang)

Some rare good news from the coalfields of China … according to China Daily:

Rescuers had pulled all 52 survivors to safety by Saturday morning, nearly 40 hours after a massive cave-in destroyed a mineshaft in Central China’s Henan province.

The death toll rose to eight after four more victims were identified late on Friday.

The accident took place in the Qianqiu Coal Mine in Yima city, in western Henan.

The mine’s operator Yima Coal Mine Group, a major State-owned mine group in the province, said earlier that there were 75 miners in the shaft at the time of the explosion, and only 14 managed to escape to the surface immediately.

However, Wu Yulu, board chairman of the company, told a news conference on Saturday that 15 workers had escaped, citing a “counting error” resulted from the limited time during the rescue.

Continue reading…

7 miners injured, 50 trapped in China

Rescuers move an injured miner at the Qianqiu Coal Mine in Yima city in central China’s Henan province Friday, Nov. 4, 2011. Rescuers pulled seven injured miners to the surface Friday and were trying to reach 50 others trapped after a rock explosion in a coal mine in central China, state media reported. (AP Photo)

More troubling news from China:

BEIJING (AP) — Rescuers pulled seven injured miners to the surface Friday and were trying to reach 50 others trapped after a cave-in at a coal mine in central China, state media reported.

Four miners were killed when the cave-in blasted rock into the mine shaft Thursday evening and 14 managed to escape, the official Xinhua News Agency said. The rock explosion happened just after a small earthquake shook near the mine in the city of Sanmenxia in Henan province.

State broadcaster CCTV showed rescuers with helmets and oxygen tanks carrying the seven found alive Friday afternoon from a mine elevator as waiting officials applauded and medical staff rushed to attend to them.

The rescued miners lay on stretchers, wrapped with blankets with their eyes covered by towels to prevent them from being damaged by the sudden exposure to light after hours of being trapped.

Xinhua said six had minor injuries but one was seriously hurt.

At least 200 workers were digging a small rescue tunnel about 1,650 feet (500 meters) deep to try to reach the trapped miners, the People’s Daily newspaper said. There have been no reports of communication with the trapped miners.

The mine belongs to Yima Coal Group, a large state-owned coal company in Henan, the State Administration of Work Safety said on its website.

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Friday roundup, Oct. 21, 2011

In this undated photo, changing water levels and sediment deposits leave their mark on mud flats and sand bars on the Conejohela Flats in Manor Township, Pa. The darker material is deposited coal dust. The Conejohela Flats, a string of low-lying floodplain alluvial islands between Columbia and Turkey Point, is undergoing a major facelift. (AP Photo/Intelligencer Journal, Ad Crable)

For the climate deniers and skeptics among Coal Tattoo’s readership, this is a tough week … just look at the news:

— The Economist reported:

Marshalled by an astrophysicist, Richard Muller, this group, which calls itself the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature, is notable in several ways. When embarking on the project 18 months ago, its members (including Saul Perlmutter, who won the Nobel prize for physics this month for his work on dark energy) were mostly new to climate science. And Dr Muller, for one, was mildly sceptical of its findings. This was partly, he says, because of “climategate”: the 2009 revelation of e-mails from scientists at CRU which suggested they had sometimes taken steps to disguise their adjustments of inconvenient palaeo-data. With this reputation, the Berkeley Earth team found it unusually easy to attract sponsors, including a donation of $150,000 from the Koch Foundation.

Yet Berkeley Earth’s results, as described in four papers currently undergoing peer review, but which were nonetheless released on October 20th, offer strong support to the existing temperature compilations. The group estimates that over the past 50 years the land surface warmed by 0.911°C: a mere 2% less than NOAA’s estimate. That is despite its use of a novel methodology—designed, at least in part, to address the concerns of what Dr Muller terms “legitimate sceptics”

… the Berkeley Earth study promises to be valuable. It is due to be published online with a vast trove of supporting data, merged from 15 separate sources, with duplications and other errors clearly signalled. At a time of exaggerated doubts about the instrumental temperature record, this should help promulgate its main conclusion: that the existing mean estimates are in the right ballpark. That means the world is warming fast.

The Guardian says:

The world is getting warmer, countering the doubts of climate change sceptics about the validity of some of the scientific evidence, according to the most comprehensive independent review of historical temperature records to date.

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, found several key issues that sceptics claim can skew global warming figures had no meaningful effect.

The Berkeley Earth project compiled more than a billion temperature records dating back to the 1800s from 15 sources around the world and found that the average global land temperature has risen by around 1C since the mid-1950s.

This figure agrees with the estimate arrived at by major groups that maintain official records on the world’s climate, including Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa), and the Met Office’s Hadley Centre, with the University of East Anglia, in the UK.

— And as described by The Daily Climate:

… As the impacts of climate change become apparent, many predictions are proving to underplay the actual impacts. Reality, in many instances, is proving to be far worse than most scientists expected.

“We’re seeing mounting evidence now that the scientific community, rather than overstating the claim or being alarmist, is the opposite,” said Naomi Oreskes, a science historian with the University of California, San Diego. “Scientists have been quite conservative … in a lot of important and different areas.”

Meanwhile, there was more bad news this week from China, as Reuters reported:

A blast at a coal mine in southwestern China has killed 13, state news agency Xinhua said on Wednesday, in the latest disaster to hit the accident-prone industry.

The explosion happened on Monday at the colliery in Chongqing when 16 miners were working underground, the report said, citing a government statement.

Three miners managed to escape, and police have detained six people in connection with the incident, Xinhua added.

Continue reading…

Friday roundup, Oct. 14, 2011

Family members of workers who are trapped in a coal mine sit nearby in Dasht, 35 kilometers (22 miles) north of Quetta, Pakistan on Thursday, Oct 13, 2011. Five miners were killed and many more were trapped as the mine collapsed after gas caused explosions, mine official said. (AP Photo/Arshad Butt)

Another coal-mining disaster this week, this one in Pakistan. As reported by the Dawn Media Group:

Five miners were killed and three others injured by a gas explosion in a coal mine in Zarkhu area of Mastung district on Thursday.

Chief Inspector of Mines Iftikhar Ahmed said the blast in the Degari mine was caused by accumulated methane gas.

He said a fire broke out after the blast, killing and injuring the workers who were in the mine.

Readers may recall another coal disaster in Pakistan just a few months ago.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported this sad story:

After his dramatic rescue from a mine last year, Jimmy Sánchez traveled the world, cruising the Greek islands, visiting Britain, Israel, Los Angeles, Disney World — all paid for by people who were moved by the Chilean miners’ story of courage and perseverance.

But today Mr. Sánchez, like many of the 33 miners who survived 69 days nearly a half-mile underground, is jobless and at wits’ end. Twice a month, he boards a bus to Santiago, Chile’s capital, traveling 11 hours each way for a short visit with a psychiatrist. He is one of nine miners receiving sick-leave pay for prolonged post-traumatic stress; a handful of others say they are seeing private therapists.

“Most of us are in the same place with emotional and psychological problems,” said Mr. Sánchez, 20. “It was the fear that we would never again see our families, that we were going to die. We just can’t shake those memories.”

One year after their globally televised rescue, after the worldwide spotlight faded and the trips and offers have dwindled, the miners say that most of them are unemployed and that many are poorer than before.

Only a handful of them have steady jobs, they say. Just four have returned to mining. Two others, Víctor Zamora and Darío Segovia, are trying to make ends meet by selling fruits and vegetables, one from a stall, the other out of his truck.

“They made us feel like heroes,” said Edison Peña, another miner, who is now in a psychiatric clinic. “In the end, we are selling peanuts. It’s ironic, isn’t it?”

Continue reading…

Friday roundup, Oct. 7, 2011

In a Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011 photo, police, firefighters and railroad personnel investigate a coal train derailment in Charleston, WV. No injuries resulted when 15 cars of the 102-car CSX coal train derailed. (AP Photo/The Charleston Gazette, Rick Steelhammer)

China had another mine disaster this week, with this one claiming the lives of 17 miners, as China Daily reported:

The death toll rose to 17 miners on Wednesday after a massive buildup of gas and coal hit a colliery in Southwest China’s Guizhou province, adding to a rash of deadly mine accidents this year in the coal-rich province.

The accident took place at 7:53 am on Tuesday and trapped 28 miners working underground at the Anping Coal Mine in Libo county, local authorities said.

Rescuers pulled 14 miners out of the shaft on Tuesday and rushed them to hospital for treatment, according to the rescue headquarters.

Interestingly, the article noted:

The mine began its trial production in June, Min said, and police took three people running the mine into custody.

Experts and provincial departments reached a preliminary conclusion that safety rules at the mine had been breached and adequate measures had not been taken to prevent the buildup of gas and coal, the Guizhou Daily reported on Wednesday.

And following up on the disaster last month in Wales, a site called BSNews had an interesting piece called “The Price of Coal,” reporting:

The deaths of four miners at the Gleision Colliery in the Swansea Valley are a tragic reminder that even in our high-speed, high-tech society it is still possible for men to lose their lives doing dangerous manual labour. And it doesn’t come more dangerous than mining, which is why, in Britain in 2011, four men have died in a dark tunnel underground, hewing coal from the bowels of the earth.

Garry Jenkins, 39, Philip Hill, 45, David Powell, 50, and Charles Breslin, 62, have joined the roll of honour of the hundreds killed in mine disasters in Wales since the green valleys were first torn open in the search for the black stuff. These catastrophes have successively rocked close-knit communities, devastating families and causing unimaginable grief. Who can conceive of what the wives and children, as well as all the other family members and friends, of these men are suffering? And this after the agony of waiting for news.

Closer to home, there’s sad news out of Kentucky today:

State mining officials are investigating a mining fatality in Letcher County in Eastern Kentucky.

The state Energy and Environment Cabinet says 23-year-old Richard Coots Jr. was killed about 2 a.m. EDT Friday while repairing a conveyor chain that had broken. The state says Coots crawled under a mobile bridge that fell, pinning him underneath.

Coots was an electrician/repairman who worked for Owlco Energy LLC.

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Friday roundup, Sept. 23, 2011

Image released by South Wales Police on Thursday Sept 15 2011 of emergency workers at the scene in Gleision Colliery near Swansea, South Wales. Four workers died. (AP Photo/ Carl Ryan/South Wales Police)

Like some of you probably did, I spent part of the morning listening to the House “debate” the latest Republican effort to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from protecting public health with new air pollution rules.

Here’s some coverage from The Hill. The legislation passed 249-169, with Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., joining the Republicans in voting for it.  The National Mining Association issued a statement praising passage of the bill:

The House took responsible action today against a significant threat to jobs and the economy by requiring the administration to assess the true cost of two major rulemakings before imposing them on a fragile economy and a weak job market. We urge the Senate to promptly pass the TRAIN Act.

John Walke of the Natural Resources Defense Council has called the legislation “the worst air pollution bill ever to reach the House floor“:

… The bill’s lengthier minimum periods of delay (15 & 19 months) would result in up to 33,450 premature deaths. The real toll likely will be much higher since the legislation allows indefinite delays in these vital public health safeguards.

While the initial version of the TRAIN Act was bad, the version the House is scheduled to vote on this week is indefensible. It will sacrifice tens of thousands of lives, pollute the air we breathe, and expose our children, families, and communities to toxic air pollutants that cause illness and developmental disorders.

If you missed it previously, I wanted to be sure to pass on this great profile of Scott Howard, the brave Kentucky coal miner who continues to stand up for his rights to a safe workplace.  Dave Jamieson wrote the story (and took the photo) for The Huffington Post:

Having worked in the mines for three decades, he’s been disciplined, fired, and otherwise branded a troublemaker for speaking out about unsafe conditions. His troubles have all sprung from the simple but rigid code that he works by: He refuses to do anything that he believes may endanger himself or his fellow miners. Under the relentless pressures to produce coal, upholding such a code comes with great personal risk.

“There’s no other miner like him in the United States,” says [Howard’s lawyer Tony] Oppegard, who’s been representing Appalachian miners against coal companies for more than 20 years. “He’s done things that no one else has done.”

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Monday update, Sept. 19, 2011

Rescue workers arrive at the Gleision Colliery near Swansea, south Wales as a second body is located in the flooded mine Friday Sept. 16, 2011. British rescue workers have found the body of a second miner dead while searching a flooded coal mine in south Wales. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland/PA Wire)

Sorry to drop out there for a couple of days last week folks. I was unexpected out of pocket. There were a few major stories I wanted to update and we’ll have a more traditional “Friday roundup” after we see what this week brings …

First, most of you probably followed the story — with another sad ending — of the four workers who died in the Gleision Colliery accident in Wales last week. As I said, I was out of pocket, and would therefore appreciate any links to interesting coverage of this disaster.

I did see this interesting piece from the BBC:

An expert says the rising price of coal is behind the reopening of small mines such as Gleision in the Swansea Valley, where four men died after it flooded.

Robert Murray Willis says the anthracite in such drift mines is high value as a dense smokeless fuel.

The former mining safety officer and engineering consultant said small mines tended not to have technological advances as they employed few people.

One Associated Press story I saw had this interesting bit of background:

South Wales was long synonymous with coal mining, as immortalized by Richard Llewellyn’s novel “How Green Was My Valley,” whose film version won the 1941 U.S. Academy Award as best picture. Cardiff, Wales’ main port city, once led the world in coal exports.

However, Britain’s Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher shut down the mines following a yearlong showdown in 1984 with the miners’ union. In the year of the strike, there were 196,000 miners working in Britain; now there are about 6,000.

The worst mining accident in British history was in 1913, when 439 miners were killed in a gas explosion at the Senghenydd colliery in South Wales. In a 1966 disaster that shocked the world, an avalanche of coal sludge buried a school in the village of Aberfan, killing 116 children and 28 adults.

Seven people have been killed in mining accidents in Britain since 2006, according to Health and Safety Executive statistics.

Continue reading…

Friday roundup, Sept. 9, 2011

This undated photo provided by Westech shows a truck with Westech’s Flow Control Body holding 447 tons of coal at Peabody Energy’s North Antelope Rochelle coal mine, north of Douglas, Wyo. Guiness World Records recently awarded the body’s manufacturer, Mills-based Westech, a certificate for its custom-built unit designed for a Wyoming mine. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Westech via Casper Star-Tribune)

You can read more about what is apparently the world record load of coal here:

By any measure, it’s a big, big truck.

The truck can haul 447 tons of coal. That’s enough coal to fill more than 4 1/2 railroad cars. That’s enough coal to fill an average-sized house from floor to ceiling. That’s enough coal to fuel a power plant for an entire day.

And now, Guinness World Records recognizes the three-story truck’s ability to haul that much coal.

While the huge haul truck is a standard but still large design, its custom-built body —the tipping back portion of the truck that carries the coal — is what got Guinness’ attention.

From China this week, we have more bad news:

The bodies of two more miners trapped in a flooded coal mine in Northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province over two weeks ago have been recovered, bringing the death toll to three, said rescuers Thursday.

While in New Zealand, there’s news on the investigation of the Pike River Mine Disaster that might sound familiar to folks who have followed the story of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster:

Pike River survivor Daniel Rockhouse failed to share his safety concerns with his father, because he feared it would ruin his career.

Former Pike River coal mine safety and training manager Neville Rockhouse has today resumed giving evidence at the royal commission of inquiry into the November 2010 disaster, in which 29 men were killed.

His son Daniel Rockhouse is one of only two men to survive the mine explosions. His younger son Ben Rockhouse, 21, did not survive.

Under cross-examination by Nigel Hampton, lawyer for the Engineering Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU), Rockhouse said he now knew the men working underground had safety concerns that were not reaching him.

“My son and I had a rather large argument over it because I was very upset that there were unsafe acts and unsafe practices occurring underground and he didn’t come and tell me, or felt peer pressured not to do that.”

Closer to home, Jim Carroll of the Courier-Journal offered this take on the MSHA proposal to require proximity detection devices in underground coal mines:

Bobby Smith Jr. was an experienced miner, with 12 years in the industry, but on June 24, 2010, he was killed when he was pinned by a mining machine he was operating in Perry County.

Smith, 29, was cleaning up loose coal on the floor of Leeco Inc.’s No. 68 mine, using what is known as a continuous-mining machine. Operating the machine by remote control, he got caught between the equipment and the mine wall and suffered fatal injuries.

Smith’s was one of two deaths in 2010, along with one so far this year, in which miners were struck, crushed or pinned by continuous-mining machines. Since 1984, 31 miners have been killed and 220 injured in such accidents, according to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Now MSHA is proposing a new rule requiring that the machines — which by one estimate are used in 45 percent of underground U.S. coal production — carry devices to detect the presence of miners or other equipment and shut off when they are dangerously close.

Continue reading…