Coal Tattoo

The Sago Mine Disaster, Jan. 2, 2006

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It was 9 years ago this morning that an explosion ripped through International Coal Group’s Sago Mine in Upshur County, W.Va. Twelve miners died and another barely got out alive.

Miner Randal McCloy Jr. survived, and the miners killed were:

Tom Anderson, Terry Helms, Marty Bennett, Martin Toler, Marshall Winans, Junior Hamner, Jesse Jones, Jerry Groves, James Bennett, Jackie Weaver, Fred Ware, and David Lewis.

Investigators said the deaths were avoidable, and a report by Davitt McAteer’s team had plenty of blame to spread around.

Merry Christmas from Coal Tattoo

Happy Thanksgiving from Coal Tattoo

This just in this morning:

Jeff KesslerSenate President Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall) is calling on residents and leaders of this great state to envision a revitalized southern West Virginia.

President Kessler announced today he is forming a Senate task force as part of the SCORE initiative.  SCORE, Southern Coalfields Organizing and Revitalizing the Economy, aims to give southern West Virginia much-needed opportunities to diversify the economy and strengthen our families and communities.

“Southern West Virginia has become a region stricken with a lack of opportunity and hope,” says Kessler. “It’s time to change our way of thinking so that it can once again become a region that offers our children and grandchildren opportunities for a better future. It is not impossible to envision a renewed Southern West Virginia.”

SCORE was inspired by Kentucky’s SOAR initiative which stands for Shaping our Appalachian Region.  The goal of SOAR is to revitalize Eastern Kentucky, an area facing many of the same challenges as Southern West Virginia.

“Layoffs and mine closings have become almost routine events,” says Kessler. “This is a time when communities need and deserve serious attention and action from our government officials.  It’s one thing to say that we care about these communities. It’s something else to push for a new way of thinking in order to address the issues facing them.”

Topics for consideration by the SCORE initiative include:

  • Increase funding for tourism advertising and development
  • Education and workforce development and retraining initiatives
  • Dedicating monies for viable redevelopment projects
  • Agribusiness and rural development opportunities
  • Increase Broadband access
  • Expanding and supporting intermodal transportation
  • Explore development of coalbed methane reserves
  • Support clean coal research and development

Continue reading…

Happy Labor Day

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Ukrainian coal miners sit on a bus after finishing their shift at a coal mine outside Donetsk, Ukraine, Tuesday, May 20, 2014. While steel workers in Mariupol joined anti-separatist actions supported by the management of the plants, miners refused to take part in a planned protest against the Donetsk People’s Republic. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Jay Rockefeller

Here’s the statement just issued by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., regarding today’s EPA proposal on carbon pollution from power plants:

The EPA announced today a major step in reducing carbon emissions, and I support its goal of safeguarding the public’s health.  Strengthening West Virginians’ health and well being has always been at the heart of my career in public service.

I understand the fears that these rules will eliminate jobs, hurt our communities, and drive up costs for working families.  I am keenly focused on policy issues that affect West Virginians’ health and their livelihoods.  However, rather than let fear alone drive our response, we should make this an opportunity to build a stronger future for ourselves.  West Virginians have never walked away from a challenge, and I know together we can create a future that protects our health, creates jobs, and maintains coal as a core part of our energy supply.  Already, we’ve seen successes with clean coal technology in West Virginia, and countries around the world are innovating to reduce carbon emissions from coal.  We have the brightest minds and the competitive spirit to solve this challenge – but achieving this goal means finding the political will to invest real federal dollars in clean coal technology rather than continuing to rely solely on the private sector.

The threat that climate change and unhealthy air pose to all of our futures cannot be understated.  And, the costs of inaction are far greater than the costs of action.

Monday roundup, May 12, 2014

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In a Thursday, April 30, 2014 photo, Lake Michigan Carferry SS Badger Capt. Jeff Curtis exits the 410-foot boat, in Ludington, Mich. When the SS Badger sets sail May 16, the venerable and historic carferry will sport new combustion controls that will enable it to burn coal more efficiently. That should result in less coal being burned and less ash being produced by the Badger.  (AP Photo/Ludington Daily News, Jeff Kiessel)

 One of the biggest coal stories of the last week is the move by Stanford University to divest its endowment of stocks from the industry. Here’s the report from the L.A. Times:

Stanford University announced Tuesday that it would join the growing cadre of U.S. campuses moving to sell off its investments in fossil fuel companies because of concerns about climate change.

The Stanford Board of Trustees approved a resolution pledging not to directly invest in companies for which coal extraction is their primary business and will divest any current holdings in such companies, the university said.

Stanford is the largest and most prestigious school to join a national campaign to divest in fossil fuel stock as a result of pressure from student activists. Pitzer College, San Francisco State and two community college districts in Northern California are among about a dozen schools nationwide that are divesting out of concern that the burning of fossil fuels is damaging the environment and causing climate change.

“Stanford has a responsibility as a global citizen to promote sustainability for our planet, and we work intensively to do so through our research, our educational programs and our campus operations,” said Stanford President John Hennessy. “Moving away from coal in the investment context is a small, but constructive, step while work continues, at Stanford and elsewhere, to develop broadly viable sustainable energy solutions for the future.”

You can read the Stanford press release here, and NPR News has more about the story here.

Over at SNL Financial, Taylor Kuykendall reported:

In the first quarter, federal mine safety officials issued 59 violations to 29 coal operators that resulted in “high-dollar” assessments. The proposed penalty assessments averaged more than $19,500 per violation … In the first quarter, 29 of the coal mine violations with assessments of $10,000 or more were issued to operators in West Virginia. High-dollar citations were also issued to mine operators in Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, Maryland, Utah and Colorado.

SNL Financial’s Darren Epps and Neil Powell reported:

Average compensation for CEOs of the major public coal companies increased to $4.3 million in 2013, according to an SNL Energy analysis of proxy and annual report data filed by 11 coal producers and coal-landholding companies, up from less than $4.2 million among the same companies in 2012.

Seven of the 11 CEOs received a double-digit percentage increase in option adjusted compensation in 2013 compared to 2012 in another challenging year for coal markets. James River Coal Co., which filed for bankruptcy protection April 7, did not file a proxy statement and was not included in the analysis. CONSOL Energy Inc. Chairman and CEO J. Brett Harvey remained the highest-paid coal company executive in 2013, receiving much of his compensation in the form of restricted stock awards.

Continue reading…

UMWA withholding judgment on new black lung rule

Miners Public Employees Rally

United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts is seldom one to not have anything to say … But it’s been two day snow since the Obama administration announced a new rule that the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration says will help protect coal miners from deadly black lung disease. And here’s all the mine workers have to say at this point:

The UMWA has long been the leading advocate of erasing the scourge of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, or black lung, from our nation’s mines. After the recent uptick in black lung cases among working miners, it became clear to us that either the allowable dust limits were too high, operators weren’t following the law, or the law wasn’t being enforced stringently enough. I have said previously that it is probably a combination of all of those factors.

The respirable dust rule issued yesterday by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is long, detailed and complex. We want to make sure we fully understand not just the theory behind the rule, but how it will be put into practical application in an actual working environment.

We will have representatives participating in today’s stakeholders meeting that MSHA is holding, at which we hope to get many of our questions answered so that we can make the most informed decision we can about this rule.

You can read our Gazette story about the new MSHA rule here, and we’ve posted a copy of the rule here.  There’s also coverage here from NPR’s Howard Berkes and here from the Center for Public Integrity’s Chris Hamby, who won a Pulitzer Prize this month for his great expose about how lawyers and doctors work to keep miners from getting black lung benefits.

Updated: Also be sure to read this Pump Handle blog post from former MSHA staffer Celeste Monforton, who explains, among other things:

The new rule, however, is not as protective as the one that MSHA proposed in October 2010. It:

— Does not reduce the PEL to 1.0 mg/m3 which is the level recommended in 1995 by NIOSH. MSHA is adopting a 1.5 mg/m3 PEL despites its own data which shows the 1.0 mg/m3 is feasible. The decision is perplexing. For some key mining tasks, including dusty jobs like roof bolting, more than 50 percent of samples collected by MSHA are already at levels at or below 1.0 mg/m3.

— Does not offer the highest level of protection based on what is feasible. MSHA estimated that 20 coal miners out of 1,000 would develop progressive massive fibrosis (PMF) (the most severe form of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis) if it set the PEL at 1.0 mg/m3. The agency’s decision to set the PEL at 1.5 mg/m3 increases that estimate to 50 cases of PMF for every 1,000 coal miners. For emphysema, the risk estimate jumps from 61 cases per 1,000 (with 1.0 mg/m3 PEL) to 99 cases per 1,000 (at the 1.5 mg/m3 PEL.) Again, MSHA’s own data indicates the 1.0 mg/m3 standard is feasible.

— Does not eliminate the requirement that mine operators take their own respirable dust samples that will be used for enforcement. This provisions, which has been roundly criticized in all corners, is akin to driving over the speed limit and sending a notice to the police so they can send you a ticket.

Overall, the new rules are a step in the right direction to better protect miners’ health. Some will say a giant step, others might call it a regular step. Now that the new rules are on the books, they must be diligently followed and enforced. If they are, a couple of decades from now we’ll see the size of the difference they made.

Patriot Coal warns of potential layoffs

Here’s the news announced this morning by Patriot Coal:

Patriot Coal Corporation today issued WARN Act notices at its Wells mining complex located near Wharton, West Virginia, and also at its Corridor G mining complex located near Danville, West Virginia.  The Wells complex, which includes the Black Stallion Mine, CC10 Mine, and Wells preparation plant, employs 450 people and produced 1.4 million tons of metallurgical coal in 2013.  The Corridor G complex, which includes the Hobet 21 Mine and Beth Station preparation plant, employs 397 people and produced 2.3 million tons of thermal coal in 2013.

Pursuant to the WARN Act, the Company today gave 60-day notice of potential layoffs to all employees that could be affected. 

“These actions are an unfortunate but necessary step to align Patriot’s production with expected sales,” said Patriot President and Chief Executive Officer Bennett K. Hatfield.  “Both metallurgical and thermal coal markets continue to be challenging, with pricing at levels well below production costs at many Central Appalachian mines.  Despite the savings we achieved in our reorganization, the production costs of these mines exceed today’s depressed prices, necessitating these actions.”

During the 60 day period, mine management at both locations will be evaluating operations and staffing to assess their ability to produce coal at a cost below projected sales prices.  The scope of the anticipated downsizing will be communicated at the conclusion of that process. 

Another coal miner dies on the job

Mine Explosion

Today’s sad news comes from Indiana, where a coal miner was killed earlier this week at the Gibson Mine owned by Alliance Resource Partners. Here’s the preliminary report from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration:

On Tuesday, March 25, 2014, at approximately 1:45 a.m. (CDT), a mechanic trainee was fatally injured while working on an Auxier Welding Inc. belt feeder located on the No. 4 working section. The victim was in the process of cutting through the inner left-side side plate, and when the cut was completed, the cat frame pivoted upward, pinning the victim between the cat track and frame of the feeder. The side plates connect the hopper jack assembles to the cat frame.

That makes three U.S. coal miners killed on the job so far in 2014.

Remembering the Buffalo Creek Disaster

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(A dog sits in Buffalo Creek hollow in the aftermath of the 1972 coal-slurry dam disaster in this photo by longtime Gazette photographer Lawrence Pierce)

Forty-two years ago today, a series of poorly designed, badly constructed, and weakly regulated coal slurry dams failed on Buffalo Creek in Logan County.  What followed was nothing less than a disaster:

A wall of sludge, water, and debris stormed down the hollow from Saunders to Man. By the time the Feb. 26, 1972, flood was over, 125 people had been killed. Another 1,100 were injured, and about 4,000 were left homeless.

For folks who want to read more today, I’d recommend going back to our 1997 Gazette series, Voices of Buffalo Creek, which is available online here. It’s also worth reading my friend Dr. Paul Nyden’s dissertation chapter about Buffalo Creek, which is online here. Part of the official state report on the disaster is online here. If you happen to be in the Morgantown area, the WVU College of Law is continuing today to host a seminar on Buffalo Creek. The schedule for the rest of the events is here.

Over the last weeks, there’s again been a renewed focus on these types of issues, in the wake of the Freedom Industries chemical spill that contaminated the drinking water source for 300,000 West Virginians.  That incident alone is likely responsible for the increased media and public attention given to a coal-slurry spill in eastern Kanawha County.  And once again, another coal-ash spill — this one in North Carolina — has been making national news.

It was just last year, in another annual remembrance post,  that I wrote the following:

It’s always worth remembering that problems with coal-slurry dams are far from a thing of the past, something found only in our history books.  Only in December, a United Mine Workers member was killed when part of a slurry dam at CONSOL Energy’s Robinson Run Mine collapsed. Two weeks ago, the federal government came in to try to force the closure of an unsafe slurry dam up in Barbour County.  Coal industry lobbyists and public relations agents — along with their friends among West Virginia’s political leadership — would rather the public not know about ongoing problems with coal slurry dams around the state.  But recent reports remind us of the dangers, and show again why a strong federal oversight of the coal industry is needed.

But as I’ve said before, maybe the best thing to read today is Disaster on Buffalo Creek: A Citizens’ Report on Criminal Negligence in a West Virginia Mining Community, which concluded:

Survivors’ accounts, journalists’ unanswered questions, and the disappearance of the mining company official most directly involved — together with the remembrance of past disasters — brought a stunned citizenry to its feet. The public was jolted from the depths of sorrow and anguish to a sense of outrage and anger that continues to burn.

For the Buffalo Creek disaster, like the recent coal mine fire tragedies at Farmington, West Virginia, and at Hyden, Kentucky, could have been prevented — it need not have happened. Clearly and simply, people living downstream from the Buffalo Mining Company’s coal refuse dam at Saunders were the victims of gross negligence.

In Appalachia — sometimes known as “the last white colony of western civilization” — absentee owners of the region’s vast energy resources and their subservient homebred and imported politicians time and again are to blame for mass death and destruction. Time and again, those most at fault throw up smokescreens to obscure their responsibility.

Following the fire and explosion at Consol #9 Mine in 1968 which killed 78 men, Governor Hulett Smith shrugged apologetically declaring, “This is one of the hazards of mining.” Smith did not add that the Consolidation Coal Company was guilty of numerous violations of the mine safety laws in this mine. Another governor, Cecil Underwood, performed so well for the Island Creek Coal Company following its Holden # 22 mine disaster 5 in 1960 that he was elevated to the position of executive vice president of the company immediately upon leaving the governorship.

Aside from the attempted whitewashing of the more spectacular mass murders, our governors never decry the terrible fact that more than 120,000 coal miners have been killed in the coal mining industry since its beginning, that one out of every ten coal miners is injured each year and that an estimated one-half of the coal mining work force becomes crippled or incapacitated by the insidious black lung disease.

In this deadly drama the coal operators’ script — placing profits before people — has been followed line-by-line by some of our political leaders. In the case at hand, the center stage characters are behaving true-to-form.

– Thus, officials of the company called the disaster an “act of God” because God put all that water behind a dam that wasn’t designed to hold it.

– Thus, Assistant Secretary Hollis Dole of the Interior Department, testifying before a sub-committee of Congress, doubted whether the refuse dam was “hazardous” and subject to regulation by the Bureau of Mines.

– Thus, Governor Arch Moore, taking charge of relief operations, said the lethal dam had a “logical and constructive” purpose. According to the image-conscious Governor, “The only real sad part is that the state of West Virginia has taken a terrible beating that is worse than the disaster.”

Given the enormity of the avoidable destruction of human lives and values wrought by the man-made Buffalo Creek flood, and the public outcry for justice it aroused, such performances by official-dom will no longer be tolerated. They are recognized for what they are — smoke screen tactics. They have served, at least in this one case, to reinforce the citizens’ determination that such an event shall not ever happen again — anywhere.

MEM

4th Circuit rules against miner in black lung case

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Longtime miner Gary Fox underground with the roof bolting machine he operated, driving rods into the mine’s ceiling to prevent a cave-in. Courtesy of Mary Fox and the Center for Public Integrity.

Just out today is a ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Gary Fox, a deceased coal miner whose black lung benefits claim has been at the heart of a controversy over the handling of black lung cases by the Charleston law firm Jackson Kelly.  Readers will recall the comprehensive stories by Chris Hamby and the Center for Public Integrity, which we’ve discussed on this blog before.

In its decision today, the 4th Circuit concluded that the conduct of Elk Run Coal Co. in the case, “while hardly admirable, did not, under clear Supreme Court and circuit precedent, demonstrate the commission of a fraud upon the court.” We’ve previously summarized the key dispute in the case this way:

Fox’s widow, Mary, is pursuing the case because her husband was denied black lung benefits after Jackson Kelley lawyers withheld reports from two pathologists who had concluded Fox did indeed have black lung.

The 4th Circuit said today:

While Elk Run’s conduct over the course of this litigation warrants nothing approaching judicial approbation, we are unable to say that it rose to the level of fraud on the court.

UPDATED: Al Karlin, a lawyer for Mary Fox, had this to say about the 4th Circuit’s ruling:

Although we are disappointed that the Court did not conclude that Jackson Kelly’s conduct rose to the level of ‘fraud upon the court,’ a heightened legal standard for reopening older cases, we note that the Court did not endorse the firm’s conduct nor did it consider or resolve the more important question as to whether the firm committed common law fraud. We are surprised that the Court failed to appreciate the difficulty that Mr. Fox and so many other miners have in getting competent counsel in federal black lung claims to protect them from litigation tactics that undermine the pursuit of the truth.

UPDATED 2:  Here’s a statement issued by Jackson Kelly:

Jackson Kelly is pleased that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of our client, and held that our client had no obligation to turn over reports from non-testifying consultants. As the Court noted, under our legal system, parties on all sides of a dispute are entitled to effective representation. As the Court acknowledged, the federal black lung program is intended to be adversarial. We have always believed that the actions of our attorneys were lawful. For nearly 200 years, Jackson Kelly has represented clients across West Virginia and the nation, and we have always been known as strong and able advocates and we believe our conduct in this case was consistent with our duty to represent our client.

Read the decision below:

Blankenship vs. Hoppy: More of the same on UBB

Mine Explosion Congress

Maybe it sounded like a good idea at the time. A “joint friend” hooked Hoppy Kercheval up with former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship for an interview on the MetroNews statewide “Talkline” program. They’d take the show’s second full hour. Hoppy would get to grill Blankenship for the first 30 minutes, asking him about mine safety and the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster. Then Blankenship would get the second half-hour to talk about whatever he wanted to talk about.

hoppyI guess Hoppy thought this would be some big “get” for him. Perhaps he missed that the big WOWK-TV “exclusive” interview with Blankenship really didn’t produce any news. Or maybe he thought he was a more skilled interviewer and would trick Blankenship into revealing something important and new.  Or maybe Hoppy even thought that, given enough rope, Blankenship would show more of himself than he really wanted to — or at least more than his lawyers would like, as the federal criminal probe of Massey’s safety practices continues forward. Of course, Hoppy might have just thought having Blankenship on would be the talk-radio equivalent of link bait — which it certainly turned out to be.

But surely Hoppy never expected what he got out of Blankenship yesterday morning. After Hoppy dared to ask Blankenship a couple of perfectly reasonable — but really fairly restrained — questions, Blankenship went after Hoppy, with the whole thing eventually degenerating into Blankenship making the laughable suggestion that somehow Hoppy Kercheval and West Virginia MetroNews have been helping President Obama with his “war on coal.” Blankenship went so far as to lump Hoppy in with the Gazette in a media conspiracy to destroy the coal industry.

If you really want to, you can listen to the whole thing for yourself here, but there are a couple of points that need to be made following what really amounted to little more than a nice bit of West Virginia media and political theater.

First, Blankenship tries to assert that the growing number of safety violations cited by federal inspectors at the Upper Big Branch Mine in the months prior to the April 5, 2010, explosion that killed 29 miners were simply the result of an overzealous U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration. MSHA inspectors, according to Blankenship’s theory, were writing up Massey in an effort to do their part on the “war on coal”. They were going after Massey especially hard, this theory says, because Blankenship had been a strong political opponent of Obama and of MSHA chief Joe Main’s former employer, the United Mine Workers of America.

The obvious problem with Blankenship’s theory is that Massey’s safety problems date back to long before anybody ever heard of the Upper Big Branch Mine.  MSHA data shows the number of violations cited at Massey mines was on the rise prior to Obama taking office, and long before Joe Main took over at MSHA.  And as we’ve documented before, it’s not like the UBB Disaster is the first time Massey’s behavior and safety practices were so bad that they prompted federal criminal charges.

Continue reading…

2 miners killed, 20 hurt at Colorado gold/silver mine

There was terrible news over the weekend out of Colorado, where an apparent explosives incident of some sort killed 2 miners at sent at least 20 others to area hospitals.  As the Denver Post reports:

The two miners who were killed Sunday in Ouray died from carbon monoxide poisoning, authorities said. An explosion was ruled out as the immediate cause of the incident that sent 20 other miners to Western Slope hospitals.

The source of the poisonous gas, however, is under investigation. At a press conference Sunday night authorities said they were are looking at whether a small explosion in the mining process on Saturday might have been the source of the carbon monoxide.

The miners who were killed were identified as 34-year-old Nick Cappano of Montrose and Rick Williams, 59, of Durango. The other miners were expected to be OK, said Rory Williams, the operations manager for Denver-based Star Mine LLC.

There’s more on this from a local newspaper, The Watch, and there’s also this from NPR News:

The Revenue Virginius has had a troubled safety record since re-opening in 2011, after being closed for decades. The publication Mine Safety and Health News says the accident rate at the mine is 115 percent higher than the national average, and that its safety “violations-per-inspection-day” rate is nearly three times the national average for underground mines, reflecting 25 violations since August, 2012.

Hospital seeks injunction against MTR protesters

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Over in Huntington, W.Va., the folks at the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition thought it was a little strange that an area hospital would be hosting an event to promote the coal industry, given the growing body of studies that show residents living near the region’s mountaintop removal mining operations are at increased risk of serious illnesses and death. So, OVEC put together a protest, to be held outside St. Mary’s Medical Center, where the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce is hosting Robert M. “Mike” Duncan, president and CEO for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

But now, as the Huntington paper reports, lawyers for St. Mary’s are seeking a court injunction against the protesters:

A hearing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, in Cabell Circuit Judge Paul Farrell’s courtroom regarding a petition for a restraining order filed by St. Mary’s Medical Center against a rally planned outside the St. Mary’s Conference Center Tuesday afternoon.

A spokeswoman for St. Mary’s said hospital is seeking the restraining order mostly to prevent interference with the daily services that go on at the facility, also home to the St. Mary’s School of Nursing.

You can read the hospital’s court filing here.

UPDATE: Judge Farrell has denied the request for a temporary restraining order.

 

Changes at WVDEP’s mining division

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Here’s the announcement that was sent to all West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection employees:

Effective December 1, 2013, Tom Clarke (ab0ve) will be reassigned new duties as an Executive Assistant to the Agency Head where he will deal with environmental matters related to energy development.  Tom will conduct research and report to the Cabinet Secretary on matters ranging from extraction to consumption to renewables.  Some of these issues have occupied much of Tom’s time since he was appointed Mining Director.

Harold Ward will be Acting Director until a permanent replacement is named.  Harold has 24 years’ experience in the mining program and will provide for a seamless transition in the program’s leadership.

 

Remembering the Jim Walter Mine Disaster

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UMWA miner Ricky Rose, who survived the 2001 disaster, showed me his truck — decorated to honor his fellow miners who were killed — during a visit to Brookwood, Ala., a few years ago.

Twelve years ago today, a series of explosions rocked the Jim Walter Resources No. 5 Mine near Brookwood, Ala., killing 13 coal miners.  At the time, it was the worst coal-mining disaster in the U.S. in 17 years.

Unfortunately, since then we’ve had Sago, Aracoma, Kentucky Darby, Crandall Canyon and Upper Big Branch.  During a visit to Brookwood in 2006, I attended a memorial service for those who died at No. 5, and I certainly recall what Darryl Dewberry, vice president of Alabama’s UMWA District 20, told the crowd:

The legacy of Brookwood remains unfinished.  It can happen again without constant vigilance.

Longview Power, MEPCO file for bankruptcy

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Here’s today’s news from Longview Power and MEPCO:

Longview Power, LLC today announced that it and certain of its affiliates, including Mepco Holdings, LLC and its affiliates, commenced Chapter 11 proceedings in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. Both Longview and Mepco intend to operate their businesses as they continue to negotiate a chapter 11 plan with their lenders to de-risk their balance sheet. 

Longview, of course, operates a fairly new coal-fired power plant outside of Morgantown. And MEPCO’s CEO is James Laurita Jr., the chairman of the West Virginia Coal Association. There’s more background here.

Updated: I’ve posted a copy of their initial bankruptcy filing here, a copy of their list of creditors here, and an affidavit from Longview CEO Jeffrey Keffer here.

Continue reading…

UMWA says it’s reached a deal with Patriot Coal

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Here’s the announcement just out from the United Mine Workers of America:

The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) today announced that the union has reached a settlement with bankrupt Patriot Coal on new terms and conditions of employment that makes significant improvements over what federal Bankruptcy Judge Kathy Surratt-States ordered on May 29, and what Patriot implemented on July 1.

 “After several weeks of nearly around-the-clock negotiations, I believe we have reached something that can be taken to the membership for ratification,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said. “We have been able to restore, or at least improve upon, many of the most drastic changes that the Judge ordered, including in the area of wages, health care benefits, paid time off, pensions, and more. In addition, we have negotiated a mechanism that will allow retiree health care benefits to continue.”

 The vote will take place on Friday, Aug. 16. Some 1,800 active or laid-off members in West Virginia and Kentucky are eligible to vote. The union will not release details of the settlement until after those members have had a chance to hear its terms.

UPDATED: And here’s a statement from Patriot Coal:

Patriot Coal Corporation (OTC: PCXCQ) today announced that its signatory subsidiaries have reached a consensual agreement with the United Mine Workers of America regarding their collective bargaining agreements and the provision of healthcare benefits for UMWA-represented retirees.

“This represents the successful conclusion of a difficult negotiation in which both the UMWA leadership and Patriot management have invested many long days.  Both parties want to preserve jobs and protect healthcare benefits for retirees by keeping Patriot on track for reorganization – and not liquidation,” said Patriot President and Chief Executive Officer Bennett K. Hatfield.  “We appreciate the cooperation of the UMWA leadership and the sacrifices of all of our employees and retirees as we work to restore Patriot to viability.”

The UMWA will be reviewing the terms of the agreement with its membership this week as it prepares for a ratification vote. The Company will also be filing a motion with the Bankruptcy Court in St. Louis seeking authorization to enter into this agreement.

1 dead, 2 hurt in Kentucky coalfields

Mine Explosion

Here’s the sad news out of Kentucky, via WFP’s Erica Peterson:

Fifty-six year old Lenny D. Gilliam of Appalachia, Virginia died this afternoon at the Huff Creek Mine in Harlan County. The mine is operated by Lone Mountain Processing, a subsidiary of Arch Coal.

The Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing says:

Preliminary reports indicate the side of a coal pillar burst as the continuous miner machine was operating, causing the miners to be trapped.

Two other coal miners were injured in the accident; their condition is still unknown.

Two other miners–Terry Scott and Johnny Nantz–were injured in the accident; their injuries don’t appear to be life-threatening.

This is Kentucky’s second mining-related fatality this year, and the nation’s 12th coal mining death.

The Associated Press points out:

The death occurred a day after federal officials cited a drop in the number of underground mining fatalities attributed to roof and wall collapses. From 2003 to 2007, 28 miners died in underground roof or wall collapses, compared with 19 between 2008 and 2012, according to a release Monday from MSHA.

MSHA said 377 miners nationwide were injured in roof or wall collapses last year.

 

Continue reading…