Coal Tattoo

Protecting Bud Morris’ legacy, Part 2

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Last week, I wrote about a bill in the Kentucky General Assembly aimed at eliminating a new requirement that all working coal mines have at least two trained medical technicians on duty at all times.

Coal Tattoo has a special interest in following this legislation, as the requirement for two “METs” was put in place after the needless death of David “Bud” Morris, the coal miners whose photo graces this blog’s masthead. Bud’s death was part of my 2006 series on coal mine safety in America. His was one of the more heartbreaking deaths I wrote about. He died because he bled to death from not receiving adequate medical attention.

As I wrote last week, the bill to eliminate the two MET requirement Kentucky lawmaker Keith Hall, who just happens to also be Pike County coal operator.

Now, imagine my surprise to read the story in Tuesday’s Lexington Herald-Leader by John Cheves (author of a great collection of stories on U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.).

It turns out that one of Hall’s mines was shut down by Kentucky inspectors last year for violating the two MET requirement. No. Seriously.

As Cheves reports:

Hall is president and owner of Beech Creek Coal Co., which owns the underground coal reserves at Mine #1 in Phelps currently being mined on contract by Kimara Coal Co. (Another lawmaker, House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, is a paid consultant to Beech Creek Coal, giving Hall advice about coal markets.)

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Still more about Benjamin

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As the controversy grew for months over West Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Benjamin not recusing himself from a major Massey Energy case before the court, Benjamin has been pretty quiet about the whole thing. Citing judicial ethics rules, Benjamin has consistently declined to comment.

But the court’s PR staff certainly hasn’t. They’ve sent out letters to the editor defending Benjamin and urged reporters to quote liberally from the opinion in which the chief justice took 40 pages to explain why he didn’t have a conflict of interest hearing a case involving Don Blankenship’s company.

Then Monday, on the eve of the big U.S. Supreme Court oral argument in the case, the Supreme Court’s PR staff sent out a press release they said summarized Benjamain’s “dispositive voting record” in cases involving Massey or its subsidiaries.

[UPDATED — Transcript of the U.S. Supreme Court argument is available here.]

Based on this list, the press release concludes:

Overall, Chief Justice Benjamin voted against the interests of Massey Energy or its subsidiary 81.6% of the time. Most of these votes occurred before the Caperton v. Massey Energy case was decided, and involve votes in cases which were decided by unanimous and non-unanimous votes of the Court. (Of course, in the rehearing of the Caperton case, Chief Justice Benjamin appointed two of the acting Justices after the recusal of Justices Maynard and Starcher and those two circuit judges split their decision, one voting for Massey and one voting against Massey.) According to information which was in the file or which was referenced in local news reports, all votes by Chief Justice Benjamin represented votes against the financial interests of Massey Energy of approximately $317 million.

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More on the Capitol Power Plant

One of the major backers of the big anti-coal protest Monday in Washington, D.C., is author Bill McKibben.

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McKibben has a commentary in Sunday’s Washington Post about the protest. Here’s a bit of what he had to say:

Washington has seen its share of big protests over the years, and most of them center on the White House, the Mall or the Capitol. That will change tomorrow, when the first big protest of the Obama era — and the first mass civil disobedience against global warming in this country — will take place against the not-very-scenic backdrop of the Capitol Hill Power Plant, a dirty symbol of the dirtiest business on Earth, the combustion of coal.

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(Cross posted from Gazette’s Sustained Outrage blog)

benjamin08.jpgThere’s been plenty said and written about whether West Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Benjamin has a conflict of interest because of the millions of dollars Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship spent helping him get elected in 2004.

The whole thing comes to a head this week, when the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments on Tuesday.

The Gazette’s own Paul J. Nyden has covered the controversy extensively, and the issue has been the subject of recent stories in The New York Times and USA Today.blankenshipx1.jpgMore than one commentator has noted the similarities with John Grisham’s thriller, The Appeal. The American Bar Association Journal published a lengthy piece on the matter, and it has been covered in The Economist.

The National Law Journal also has a new analysis of the case.

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West Virginians at D.C. coal protest

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Vivian Stockman at the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition reports that a number of West Virginians are headed to Washington, D.C., this weekend for the big protest on Monday over climate change and the coal-fired Capitol Power plant. (See Coal and our Capitol)

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Obama, Manchin and coal

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(President Barack Obama talks with W.Va. Gov. Joe Manchin following a White House dinner with the nation’s governors. AP photo)

The Associated Press had a story the other day about a letter that the governors of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming sent to President Barack Obama, urging the president to fund development of so-called “clean coal” projects in western coal states.

It struck me as a little odd, because West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin is buddies with Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, and the pair have worked together before on coal issues that affect the two states. But Manchin wasn’t part of this letter to Obama.

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Byrd on coal

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The industry group Friends of Coal is distributing a letter  to its members from Sen. Robert C. Byrd about the “many myths written about coal.”

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What happened to Manchin’s power line tax?

Writing a quick story for the Gazette Web site and our print edition about a recent ruling in the TrAIL power line case  reminded me of something that was clearly missing from Gov. Joe Manchin’s State of the State address last week.

The governor talked a lot about energy, but did not mention one word about his promise to introduce a “transmission tax” on new high-voltage power lines such as TrAIL. The governor had initially announced this idea last May, but repeated his promise in August, just after the Public Service Commission issued its ruling approving TrAIL.

Manchin had said he hoped to use part of the revenue from the tax to offset electricity rate hikes that fund construction of such projects, and to provide new revenue for the state and for counties where the TrAIL line would be located. Manchin even went so far as to warn Allegheny Energy and other utility companies to get behind his plan, or face his opposition to their projects.

But none of that came up last week, when Manchin announced his plans for this legislative session.

I asked Matt Turner, the governor’s communications director, about the transmission tax, and this is what he said:

He still plans to introduce it.

Don’t have a specific date — they’re working on it.

Manchin and the 4th Circuit

Last year, Gov. Joe Manchin caused a big stir when he filed a “friend of the court” brief in DuPont Co.’s appeal of a nearly $400 million jury verdict against the company in a case brought by residents of the town of Spelter, W.Va.

In the wake of Friday’s big victory for the coal industry at the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., I thought I’d remind readers that Manchin also weighed in on this case — on the side of Massey Energy (whose permits were at issue) and the coal industry as a whole.

I wrote a story about this at the time, back in December 2007, when the Manchin administration brief was initially filed. Essentially, the Manchin brief argued that U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers ruling for more scrutiny of mountaintop removal permits would cripple the state’s mining industry:

The legality of coal mining, as has been practiced in West Virginia since the [Clean Water Act] was passed in 1972, is now subject to question. In short, coal mining is vital to the economic survival of West Virginia — the eradication of this industry would cause devastation to thousands of West Virginians, shortfalls in general revenue, a constriction of state and local services, and the destabilization of the economy.

As a result of this case and the others which have preceded it, those who desire to obtain environmental permits in West Virginia have been forced to meet greater requirements than for the same federally based regulatory programs in any other state. The difficulties responsible mine operators are having in obtaining permits to mine West Virginia coal, due to litigation, [are] becoming a threat to the state’s ability to continue to provide the nation with a stable source of energy and contribute to national security.

I’ve posted a copy of the Manchin brief here for anyone who is interested.

All About Benjamin II

benjamin08.jpgThe weekend papers brought two very different versions of what Massey Energy President Don Blankenship’s goal was in spending millions of dollars on the 2004 West Virginia state Supreme Court race.

First came a New York Times interview — played on the front page of their print edition –  with Blankenship. The Massey executive repeated the standard line in the company’s U.S. Supreme Court briefs: That he wasn’t trying to help Republican candidate Brent Benjamin win the election; he was just trying to make sure that Democrat Warren McGraw lost.

Blankenship told the Times:

 “I’ve been around West Virginia long enough to know that politicians don’t stay bought, particularly ones that are going to be in office for 12 years. So I would never go out and spend money to try to gain favor with a politician. Eliminating a bad politician makes sense. Electing somebody hoping he’s going to be in your favor doesn’t make any sense at all.”

But then, in the Charleston Sunday Gazette-Mail, my buddy Paul Nyden reported that  campaign spending reports filed by Blankenship said otherwise.  According to Nyden:

The report allows the contributor to choose whether he was spending money to support or oppose a certain candidate.

In each of six filings reporting his personal expenditures, Blankenship stated his purpose was to support Brent Benjamin – not oppose Warren McGraw.

Under “itemized expenditures”, Blankenship states repeatedly money was spent for “communications, distribution-flyers, etc. supporting Benjamin.”

No anti-McGraw language can be found in the reports.

Interestingly, Benjamin has made the same argument that Massey has: That Blankenship wasn’t really supporting him in the election, and was just opposing McGraw.

Waiting for Obama

Mountaintop removal opponents may be licking their wounds for some time, after the smack down they got on Friday from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.

Sure, there’s at least one other major case over Army Corps of Engineering permit practices pending. Citizen groups are waiting for U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin to decide that one, which focuses on the corps’ use of nationwide permits to approve mountaintop removal valley fills.

But what environmental groups — and the coal industry, for that matter — are really waiting for now is to what, if anything, President Barack Obama decided to do about mountaintop removal.

One press release issued by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups noted that Obama, during a campaign stop in Kentucky in August 2007, had said: “We’re tearing up the Appalachian mountains because of our dependence on fossil fuels.”

Pressed for more during the campaign, Obama aides said little. The new president may indeed be against mountaintop removal. But he certainly hasn’t said what exactly he plans to do to stop it. And whatever actions Obama might take would certainly be fought hard by the industry, and opposed in Congress by Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va.

Still, environmental groups remain hopeful.

“It’s not a time to despair, but a time to redouble our efforts and try to get the administration to recognize the  problems here and try to do something about it,” said Joe Lovett, director of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment.  “It’s up to this administration to decide if it wants to protect these mountains, or destroy them forever.”

Coal as alternative fuel?

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I’ve been reading through Gov. Joe Manchin’s energy bill again,  and wanted to make it clear to everyone exactly how the legislation gets to the point of coal being considered an “alternative” fuel.

The bill (draft is posted here)  defines “alternative energy resources” as

any of the following resources, methods or technologies for the production or generation of electricity:

(1) advanced coal technology;

(2) coal-bed methane;

(3) fuel produced by a coal gasification or liquefaction facility; [WARNING NOTE: This is the big loophole for coal-to-liquids technology that produces twice as much greenhouse gases as traditional petroleum fuels…I’ll blog more about this later]

(4) synthetic gas;

(5) integrated gasification combined cycle technologies;

(6) waste coal;

(7) tire-derived fuel;

(8) pumped storage hydro-electrical projects; or

(9) any other resource, method or technology certified as an alternative energy resource by the Public Service Commission.

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Early thoughts on Manchin’s energy plan

manchin1.jpgWest Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin had been hinting for months that he planned to introduce major energy legislation aimed to encouraging more “alternative” and “renewable” electricity production in the Mountain State.

But it comes as no surprise that Manchin has carefully crafted (and named) his proposal so that it protects the coal industry. I’ve posted the draft text of Manchin’s “Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard” legislation  here.

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In his State of the State address tonight, Gov. Joe Manchin just proposed for West Virginia to create what he calls an “Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard.”

The proposal is carefully named and crafted to include coal. Under the proposal, a broad variety of coal projects could quality in helping utilities to meet Manchin’s standards.

More on this soon..

[UPDATED} —

Here’s the text of the portion of Manchin’s speech dealing with this proposal:

One of the world’s most-pressing issues is a growing demand for energy. Our nation needs West Virginia’s energy resources to climb out of this recession. The opportunity for us to take the world stage in new energy development is now. Companies from around the globe are prepared to invest in West Virginia to make this kind of development a reality.

 

If we want to be a leader in renewable resources, we must commit to investing in the energy sources of the future. Throughout our history, our state has powered this nation. West Virginians know energy better than anyone. We must build upon our past successes and uncover even more efficient and cleaner energy sources.

 

That means not just coal, but natural gas, and renewable resources, including wind, solar, hydro and biofuels.

 

Tonight, I am introducing a bill, called the Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Act, which will put West Virginia at the forefront of new energy development. It sets a realistic timeframe for us to develop alternative and renewable energy resources.

 

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Manchin on coal

dsc_4261-sos192x240.JPGIt’s not that surprising that coal mining has played a role in each of Gov. Joe Manchin’s previous four State of the State addresses. Coal remains a big part of West Virginia’s economy, though concern about mining’s impact on our land, water and climate (not to mention the safety of the workers who mine it) continue to grow.

With the governor preparing to deliver the first State of the State of his second term Wednesday evening, I thought coal watchers might want to revisit what Manchin has had to say about the industry during his previous annual messages to lawmakers and state residents.

2005: 

In Manchin’s first State of the State, coal got just a quick mention:

As many of you aware, there are power companies are looking to build clean coal technology plants somewhere in the east, and I will fight to make that expansion happen in West Virginia.

2006:

Manchin’s second State of the State was  delivered just seven days after the Sago Mine disaster, and the governor focused much of his attention on mine safety:

It has been a difficult week in our state. Just seven short days ago, we lost 12 hard-working and brave West Virginians; men who left their homes each day knowing the inherent difficulty and danger of the jobs they performed and men who were proud to provide for their families, proud to be a West Virginian and proud of the energy they produced to keep America strong.We cannot know the purpose of this tragedy – but I assure you we will discover the cause. I am committing every resource available to me to aid in the investigation – not only to determine what happened inside the Sago Mine that caused this terrible accident, but also how the information received outside of the mine regarding the condition of the miners could have been so horribly wrong. Families should never be put through such a heartbreaking, emotional nightmare. Even more important, I rededicate myself and the State to the task of making our mines the safest in the country so that we can avoid future tragedies like the one we have just experienced.

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Byrd talks coal with Obama team

 byrd_1501.jpgSen. Robert C. Byrd is trying to make  “Friends of Coal” out of some of President Barack Obama’s top advisers

The West Virginia Democrat met separately earlier this week (in HIS office) with new Energy Secretary Steven “Coal is my worst nightmare” Chu and with new EPA adminstrator Lisa Jackson.

Byrd appeared to be signaling that Obama should rethink any plans to bypass Congress and have EPA try to set binding limits on carbon dioxide emissions through new regulations.

According to a press release from Byrd’s office:

In his meeting with Secretary of Energy Chu, Byrd told the Secretary that he wanted to “feel comfortable” that the Secretary recognized the importance of coal to our energy future, noting that “coal supplies half our nation’s electricity needs,” and it is not going anywhere anytime soon. Byrd’s comments were directed to Secretary Chu in light of Chu’s previous statement that coal was his “worst nightmare” and his questioning of the feasibility of clean coal technology.

Byrd’s office said that Chu committed to support the $4.6 billion for so-called clean coal technology that was inserted into the economic stimulus package that is currentlymaking its way through Congress.

As for EPA’s Lisa Jackson, Byrd’s office said:

Byrd asked the Administrator how she would go about balancing the costs of environmental enforcement (such as job loss and higher energy rates) against the need to protect the public health. Byrd told the EPA Administrator that “we must do better than just respond to the immediate political need.” Administrator Jackson noted that “coal is vital to our country now and if we are smart, it will remain so in the future.”

Byrd apparently urged the Obama administration to “proceed with caution” as it works with Congress on climate change legislation.

Those who have followed climate change issues for a while will recall that Byrd played a major role in blocking any Senate ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty to reduce greenhouse emissions.

Byrd said, “To be successful, a national climate change effort must have broad public support, and that it cannot be achieved by the regulatory actions of an agency, and that Congress has a much broader mandate that includes protecting jobs, communities and livelihoods.”

Capito, climate and coal

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito announced today that she’s been named to a key House committee that will play a big role in energy policy and in congressional debates over global warming.

In a press release, West Virginia Republican said she will “bring a coal state perspective” to the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

“Our energy future should be at the forefront of the national discussion, and I’m excited to bring a West Virginia voice to those issues as a member of this committee,” Capito said. “From clean coal to wind energy and other alternative technology, our state has an important role to play.”

This particular committee was set up by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in early 2007 “to add urgency and resources to the commitment of this Congress to address the challenges of America’s oil dependence and the threat of global warming” according to the committee Web site

Last year, Capito flunked the League of Conservation Voters annual scorecard of congressional votes on environmental issues. As I wrote when the scorecard was published:

Capito received poor marks in part for her votes with the GOP minority against incentives for wind, solar, plug-in vehicles and other renewable energies. She also voted in favor of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

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