Coal Tattoo

Here’s an important story out today from Greenwire (subscription required) about problems with Kentucky’s strip-mining reclamation program:

The Office of Surface Mining, the federal government’s top coal mining regulator, is threatening a partial takeover of Kentucky’s regulatory program for abandoned mine reclamation.

The main issue is whether Kentucky is properly calculating the cost of reclaiming a mine and requesting enough in financial assurances or bonds from coal companies in case they go bust.

Greenwire cites this letter from OSMRE Director Joe Pizarchik, and says:

OSM and Kentucky regulators have been discussing bonding issues for years. Several studies have shown Kentucky bonding requirements have fallen short.

“One of the problems with the bonding protocols in Kentucky is that they have not changed since 1993,” OSM spokesman Chris Holmes said in an interview.

“We have conducted several studies on bond forfeitures in Kentucky,” Holmes said. “And the last five studies discovered that 77 percent of forfeited permits did not have sufficient bonds to complete reclamation.”

Under a partial federal takeover, Kentucky risks losing the ability to set bond requirements for mines in the state. Millions of dollars in grants and abandoned mine funding distributed by OSM are also at stake.

Pizarchik’s letter sets a process in motion codified by the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. Steps include meetings between federal and state regulators and a possible public hearing.

 

It seemed like it was going to be a slow Friday afternoon … then into my email inbox popped this release from our friends at the United Mine Workers of America:

“The comments from WWVA-AM on-air personality David Bloomquist about coal miners, their wives and the nature of coal miners’ jobs demonstrate a shocking ignorance about the work coal miners do and the highly-technical skills required to mine coal in modern America coal mines.

“Operating the intricate machinery in a coal mine requires a degree of knowledge that I suspect far exceeds Mr. Bloomquist’s capabilities. The equipment miners use everyday underground must be operated with precision and care. If Mr. Bloomquist hits the wrong button in his studio, the worst that can happen is that the wrong advertisement is aired. If someone in an underground coal mine hits the wrong button, people can die.

“I am especially troubled by his equating the work of coal miners to what ’13-year old kids do” in third world countries. Mr. Bloomquist may not be aware of the painful and long struggle coal miners and the UMWA fought to end child labor in the nation’s mines and elsewhere, but we have not forgotten. I am appalled that Mr. Bloomquist thinks child labor anywhere is OK, and suggesting that we should go back to those days in this country.”

Wow. Now, I’ll admit right off, I had never heard of this Bloomquist fellow — apparently he goes by the handle “Bloomdaddy” — until I saw this press release. So I clicked on the link the UMWA provided and saw this:

If I see one more sticker that says “Proud Wife of a Coal Miner” I’m gonna go crazy!!!!! Hey ladies…congratulations. I’m sure you’re proud of him….but I don’t care….and I doubt anyone else does either.

Congratulations….you’re married to a guy who works a job that nearly every other walking…talking..breathing human being….this side of Stephen Hawking….COULD DO!!!!!!!!! Now I know this is going to come off as harsh….but I don’t care because it needs said. There is nothing special about being a coal miner! Period. IS IT TOUGH…DEMANDING….HONORABLE WORK? ABSOLUTELY!!!! But it’s not up there with Navy SEAL…astrophysicist…or host of the Today Show. It’s not like someone with a GED…2 arms and 2 legs couldn’t do it. With that said…could I do it? No…because I’m allergic to manual labor and I’m soft….so there ya go.

But seriously…quit bragging that your old man is doing something 95 percent of the world’s population could do! As a matter of fact…..I believe coal mining is done in most third world countries by 13 year old kids….so there ya go….and I swear to God the day I see a “Proud Wife of a Stay at Home Dad” sticker…..I’m gonna run somebody off the road.

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While the rest of West Virginia’s political leaders are busy bashing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, here’s what Sen. Jay Rockefeller had to say about the EPA’s proposed greenhouse gas emissions limits:

We have known since the 2007 Supreme Court ruling that greenhouse gas emissions would be cut to meet environmental standards, and we know that coal faces intense competition from other energy sources, as investments are increasingly moving to cheaper natural gas.  In the near-term, EPA has exempted all coal-fired plants that are operating today or under construction.  But for the future, the key question is whether the new emissions standard is set so high that even the best known clean coal technologies can’t meet it, which would be bad for coal and bad for the environment.

CCS and other new technologies hold real and important potential for cleaner coal in the U.S. and across the globe, but the utility industry needs to have certainty for financing and deploying these technologies on a commercial scale or we won’t achieve new targets.  We need to grab hold of our own future by working together to drive clean coal technology forward.

Judge ‘outraged’ by Crandall Canyon plea deal

Here’s the story from my buddy Mike Gorrell, the great coal reporter at the Salt Lake Tribune:

U.S. District Judge David Sam said Wednesday he felt “outrage” that a Murray Energy Corp. subsidiary will pay only $500,000 to settle a criminal case stemming from the 2007 Crandall Canyon mine disaster that claimed the lives of nine Utahns.

But he accepted the argument from the U.S. attorney for Utah that two misdemeanor counts of violating mine safety laws were the most serious charges that could be brought against the company, given the way the law is written.

As we reported in Saturday’s Gazette-Mail, this plea agreement for coal operator Bob Murray’s (above) company is getting a lot of criticism:

The settlement drew harsh criticism from the United Mine Workers union, members of Congress and independent safety advocates.

It highlighted what mine safety reformers say is a major flaw in federal law: Criminal violations of safety and health standards are misdemeanors that carry less jail time. And, safety advocates said, the case emphasized the importance for prosecutors to look beyond mine safety laws to other criminal offenses such as conspiracy as they try to build a case to hold corporate officials responsible for mining deaths.

Interior Dept. to move forward with OSM merger

Here’s the announcement just out from the U.S. Department of Interior:

The Department of the Interior today announced that the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) will pursue administrative and program consolidations with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that are expected to generate savings and efficiencies, while continuing to operate as an independent bureau within Interior. The path forward, outlined in a report to the Secretary made public today, is the result of a months-long consolidation initiative to identify how Interior can most efficiently and cost-effectively deliver services to the American people.

The OSM Director will continue to report to the Secretary through the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management, and OSM’s coal-related regulatory functions will remain separate from the BLM’s coal-leasing responsibilities.

Today’s announcement stems from recommendations made by a senior leadership team charged by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to evaluate the feasibility of consolidating some functions of OSM and the BLM for greater efficiency.

The senior leadership team – which included Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes, Acting Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Marcilynn Burke, OSM Director Joseph Pizarchik and BLM Director Bob Abbey – gathered, and took into account, extensive input of employees, members of Congress, states, tribes, industry, representatives of communities affected by coal production and other interested parties in developing their report.

“After extensive consultation with employees and stakeholders and a comprehensive review by our senior leadership, it is clear that there are significant efficiencies to be gained by consolidating duplicative administrative functions in these bureaus,” said Salazar. “Implementing these actions will free up savings and management time that can be used to strengthen OSM’s capacity to oversee surface coal mining operations, while maintaining the agency’s independence. We remain committed to making government work better to further strengthen our regulatory, reclamation and stewardship responsibilities, and we will do this by building on the strengths of both OSM and BLM to get the most out of our limited resources.”

“It is neither necessary nor cost-effective for OSM, one of the smallest bureaus in the Department, to replicate administrative services that other, larger bureaus can more efficiently provide,” said OSM Director Pizarchik. “These recommendations spell good government, and they will ensure OSM’s independence under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.” The Act allows OSM to use, on a reimbursable basis, other federal agencies to administer the provisions of the legislation as well as to assume some functions of other bureaus, provided those activities relate to OSM’s mission.

“BLM stands ready to provide a variety of support services to OSM more cost-effectively, thereby freeing up some OSM management time to focus more on their core regulatory mission,” said BLM Director Abbey. “Many internal stakeholders recognized the potential advantages of consolidating these redundant administrative functions based on successful shared services arrangements between other bureaus within the Department.”

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We’ve just posted online a copy of the federal criminal charges filed a few minutes ago against Genwal Resources, the Murray Energy company that operated the Crandall Canyon Mine where six miners and three rescue workers died in that terrible disaster back in 2007.

Federal prosecutors in Utah charged Genwal in a two-count information, a document that typically indicates the company has reached a plea agreement with the government. Prosecutors have also filed in federal court a statement from the company confirming such a plea agreement, and noting that Genwal has agreed to pay the maximum penalty of a total of $500,000 in fines. Under the deal, federal officials also agreed not to bring any criminal charges against any individual mine managers or corporate officers.

The two charges are: Failing to report a previous mine “bump” at Crandall Canyon, and violating the mine’s MSHA-approved roof control plan.

 

 

Yency Munoz, left, wife of dead miner Victor Bustamante, and a relative, cry outside the “El Desespero” coal mine in Angelopolis, Colombia, Thursday March 8, 2012. Victor and his brother Robinson are among 9 miners who were killed when water flooded and collapsed the small mine on Wednesday.  (AP Photo/Luis Benavides)

Here’s the latest AP dispatch from Colombia:

‘BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Colombian authorities say they have recovered the bodies of all nine victims of a coal mine collapse.

Regional disaster response coordinator Gilberto Mazo says the last was removed from the El Desespero mine early Friday.

The government mining agency says it is considering whether to permanently close the small mine about 150 miles (245 kilometers) northwest of the capital, Bogota. Twenty-two people worked there.

Agency officials say they have not yet determined the cause of Wednesday’s accident, though Mazo says a survivor testified that miners hit a seam of water that flooded and collapsed the mine.

A miner speaks to a paramedic outside “El Desespero” coal mine in Angelopolis, northern Colombia, Thursday, March 8, 2012.   (AP Photo/Luis Benavides)

This just in from Alpha Natural Resources:

On February 27, 2012, Cumberland Coal Resources, LP (“Cumberland”), a subsidiary of Alpha Natural Resources, Inc., received an imminent danger order under section 107(a) of the Mine Act due to methane levels detected at the Cumberland Mine (the “Mine”), located near Waynesburg, PA, and requiring withdrawal of the miners, except those needed to conduct required examinations and maintain water pumps in the Mine.  On February 28, 2012, the order was modified to release all areas of the Mine other than the longwall section. No injuries occurred as a result of the cited condition.

Methane levels in the Mine have been reduced, and the order has been terminated.

Update on Blair Mountain mining activities

In the absence of any additional information — any information, actually — from the folks at Arch Coal, I thought I would pass along a report just in from Brandon Nida at the Friends of Blair Mountain. Here it is:

Developments at Blair Mountain (Feb. 13 2012)

This report is a write-up of the most current observations. It concentrates on only two permits. It does not cover the Camp Branch permit owned by Alpha Natural Resources. It is important to realize there is a distinction between the National Register Battlefield Boundaries (NRBB) [See here for copies of maps], and the actual battlefield area. The NRBB is an arbitrary line that initially encompassed 20,000 acres, then 3200 acres, and now has been scaled back to 1600 acres. It excludes many of the property owners in Blair, and does not fully encompass the areas where combatants maneuvered. In reality, the Camp Branch, Left Fork, and Bumbo No. 2 permits are operating at different stages and irrevocably impacting the Blair Mountain battlefield.

Left Fork (S508187):

At the Left Fork surface mine permit, Arch Coal has completely cleared and begun blasting and coal removal on the 50.3 acre addition that was granted in May 2011. This area is directly adjacent to and within the viewshed of the National Register boundary. This permit addition was strongly protested by the WV State Historic Preservation officer, the letter of which can be seen at this link. Even against this strong objection, the DEP approved this permit without mitigating or researching the archaeological resources.

This area has not had thorough archaeological work performed, and so any information about the role this section played in the overall battle dynamics is lost. Both historical and limited archaeological work indicate that the Left Fork vector was a major vector of miner movement, and firefights occurred on the battle line along the section of the ridge leading to the Left Fork.

Bumbo No. 2 (S504991)

Upon investigation, Arch Coal is currently conducting blasting operations on the Bumbo #2 permit, and preparation work for further blasting has been clearly seen. There is currently no evidence that coal extraction is beginning on Bumbo #2. The current blasting would not be a logical beginning to large scale activity. The overall mining plan calls for operations to begin near the mouth of Wolfpen Branch on the north side of Bumbo #2 permit. No evidence of activity was seen in that area. But, it seems this highwall reclamation is one step in the process for operations to be able to begin.

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Breaking: FirstEnergy to close 3 W.Va. power plants

Here’s the announcement just out this morning:

FirstEnergy Corp. (NYSE: FE) announced today that its Monongahela Power Company (Mon Power) subsidiary will be retiring three older coal-fired power plants located in West Virginia by September 1, 2012. The decision to close the plants is based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which were recently finalized, and other environmental regulations.

The following plants will be retired: Albright Power Station, Willow Island Power Station, and Rivesville Power Station. In total, 105 employees will be directly affected.

The total capacity of these regulated plants is 660 megawatts (MW), about 3 percent of FirstEnergy’s total regulated and competitive generation portfolio. Recently, these plants served mostly as peaking facilities, generating, on average, less than 1 percent of the electricity produced by FirstEnergy over the past three years.

Mon Power recently completed a yearlong study of its older, unscrubbed regulated coal-fired units to determine the potential impact of significant changes in environmental regulations. It was determined that additional investments to implement MATS and other environmental rules would make these plants even less likely to be dispatched. As a result, the decision was made to retire these West Virginia plants rather than continue operations.

This follows FirstEnergy’s announcement last month that its competitive generation subsidiaries would retire six older, coal-fired power plants located in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland by September 1, 2012.

“The high cost to implement MATS and other environmental rules is the reason these Mon Power plants are being retired,” said James R. Haney, regional president of Mon Power and president of West Virginia Operations for FirstEnergy.

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WVDEP ‘clarifies’ Prenter water study findings

Following up on a tip from a Coal Tattoo reader, I passed a question on to state officials about the W.Va. Department of Environmental Protection’s study of the water in the Prenter area of Boone County … here’s a press release that resulted from that reader’s careful eye:

Triad Engineering has confirmed an error in a study it conducted for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection on water supplies in the Prenter area of Boone County.

The study, which included the sampling of 33 domestic wells, was released on Tuesday and did not reveal evidence of widespread mining-induced impacts to groundwater quality in the study area. However, Triad said one laboratory sample of a domestic well exceeded the primary drinking water standard for lead.

Although the agency and Triad Engineering staff carefully reviewed the data, this parameter was accidentally overlooked by both.

“While this does not change the overall scope of the study, exceeding the drinking water standard for lead is serious and we are glad this error was found,” said Randy C. Huffman, cabinet secretary for the DEP.

A citizen who read the study pointed out the error.

The owner of the well with the elevated lead value lives in an area served by public water. The DEP is trying to reach the owner to make him aware of the finding and will investigate the cause of the elevated lead levels.

None of the other 32 wells sampled in the study area exceeded the primary drinking water standards for metals.

“We have reviewed the domestic well data once again and confirmed that no other values exceeded the primary drinking water standards in the domestic wells.  The value was not highlighted on the spreadsheet and not called out in the report due to human error,” said John Meeks, lead geologist with Triad Engineering.”

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration today announced that federal inspectors issued 321 citations and orders during special impact inspections conducted at 10 coal mines and three metal/nonmetal mines last month. The coal mines were issued 174 citations and 19 orders, while the metal/nonmetal operations were issued 112 citations and 16 orders.

These inspections, which began in force in April 2010 following the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine, involve mines that merit increased agency attention and enforcement due to their poor compliance history or particular compliance concerns, including high numbers of violations or closure orders; frequent hazard complaints or hotline calls; plan compliance issues; inadequate workplace examinations; a high number of accidents, injuries or illnesses; fatalities; and adverse conditions such as increased methane liberation, faulty roof conditions and inadequate ventilation.

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AFL-CIO’s Trumka calls for talk about future of coal

Here’s a speech my old buddy Rich Trumka, the former United Mine Workers president who now heads the national AFL-CIO, gave today about climate change (and he talks a fair amount about coal too):

Good afternoon. I am honored to be here with all of you. And thank you, Denise (Napier), for that kind introduction and all your work to protect the pensions of public employees of the state of Connecticut. I also want to express the thanks of the labor movement to Tim Wirth and the United Nations Foundation, and to Mindy Lubber and her team at CERES, not just for organizing this event, but for all you’ve done to focus investors on the opportunities for investment in addressing climate change as well as the risks of failing to address climate change.

Today, as we meet together, scientists tell us we are headed ever more swiftly toward irreversible climate change—with catastrophic consequences for human civilization. We must have a stable climate to feed the planet, to ensure there is drinking water for our cities but not floodwaters at our doors. A stable climate is the foundation of our global civilization, of our global economy—the prerequisite for a profitable investment environment.

And to those who say climate risk is a far off problem, I can tell you that I have hunted the same woods in Western Pennsylvania my entire life and climate change is happening now—I see it in the summer droughts that kill the trees, the warm winter nights when flowers bloom in January, the snows that fall less frequently and melt more quickly.

Even so, some will ask, why should investors or working people focus on climate risk when we have so many economic problems across the world? The labor movement has a clear answer: Addressing climate risk is not a distraction from solving our economic problems. My friends, addressing climate risk means retooling our world—it means that every factory and power plant, every home and office, every rail line and highway, every vehicle, locomotive and plane, every school and hospital, must be modernized, upgraded, renovated or replaced with something cleaner, more efficient, less wasteful.

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‘One death in our mines is one death too many’

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin speaks Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012 during his state of the state address at the Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)

Here is what Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said in his State of the State speech to summarize his promised mine safety reform legislation:

Just as we must continue to mine coal, we must make certain that our miners are safe. We have created a new rock dusting laboratory. We have increased the number and the salaries for our mine inspectors. We are re-checking our rescue chambers to make sure that they are safe. And, we have diligently worked to determine the causes of the Upper Big Branch disaster to make sure a disaster like that never happens again!

To build on this progress, I will submit legislation designed to improve mine safety. This legislation will enhance rock dusting standards, protect whistleblowers, mandate methane sensors at long walls, and increase pre-shift reviews. We will prohibit mines from announcing that an inspector is coming, and we will provide more training for self-rescuers. We will also begin a year-long study on the training of our inspectors, our foreman, and our miners. Coal mining is a dangerous profession, but we can make it safer. One death in our mines is one death too many.

Finally, now is the time to make sure that our mines are drug free. Much like Virginia and Kentucky, we will implement our own drug-testing program. No workplace can tolerate a person impaired by drugs, particularly in our mines.

Here’s what West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin had to say in tonight’s State of the State address about his efforts to help stop any tougher regulation of the coal industry:

Let me now speak very directly about one of my problems with Washington.

As long as I am Governor I will continue to fight this administrations war on coal! A few months ago, a federal court agreed with our lawsuit and ruled that the federal EPA had in fact overstepped its authority. I will keep fighting until Washington recognizes that one of the keys to America’s future is the use and promotion of our natural resources. It is a fight from which I will not shrink, and one that I fully expect to win!

Attacking EPA II: What Jackson really said this time

We wrote last week about how West Virginia political leaders who don’t like EPA were misquoting agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson in their continuing efforts to discredit federal environmental regulators.

Well, EPA critics are at it again, according to this story from Politico:

Republicans are in an Internet uproar over an erroneous media report quoting EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson as calling them “jack-booted thugs” during a speech at the University of California at Berkeley.

Trouble is, Jackson didn’t level the term at Republicans. Instead, she used it to refer to her own employees, jokingly borrowing language that the EPA’s critics have used to describe the agency’s workers.

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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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Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. and ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, just delivered this speech on the floor of the House of Representatives:

Mr. Speaker, last week, the United Mine Workers of America released the results of their investigation into the deadliest coal mine tragedy in four decades. The report describes the conditions on April 5, 2010 at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine that led to a colossal explosion killing 29 miners.

It confirms the findings of two other independent investigations. In short, Massey’s failure to eliminate explosive coal dust throughout the mine converted an otherwise manageable methane fire into a catastrophic explosion.

The force of this explosion traveled more than seven miles underground, destroying everything in its path. Miles of coal belts were decimated. Rail road tracks were twisted like pretzels. And massive mining equipment was tossed underground like lawn furniture during a hurricane.

The report noted that in the 15 months before the explosion, the mine was cited 645 times for violations of mine safety laws. They faced $1.2 million in potential fines. However, rather than improving safety, Massey challenged three-quarters of the fines.

And in the month before the explosion, miners had asked that the accumulation of explosive coal dust be addressed 560 times. However, management only responded 65 times.

The Upper Big Branch Mine was literally a powder keg.

The mine workers’ investigation concluded that 29 miners died because of a corrupt corporate culture that put production ahead of human life.

Massey Energy’s top management was well aware of the conditions at the Upper Big Branch Mine. They knew of the mountain of citations for dangerous conditions. But all they had to do was to file an appeal to get federal safety officials to back off.

Massey also obstructed mine safety inspections by alerting operations of an inspector on the property so they can cover up any noticeable problem

And, management knew workers were complaining about conditions below ground. But all Massey had to do was remind these miners that they were free to find other employment if they continued to speak up.

Corporate officers didn’t mince words when it came to production over safety. In a “RUN COAL” memo from CEO Don Blankenship in 2005, he told workers that their only concern was to produce coal.

The message was clear from the very top: Produce coal, disregard safety problems or find another job. Miners of Upper Big Branch and other Massey mines have told Congress and investigators similar stories.

To enforce their perverse philosophy, the top management demanded reports every 30 minutes on how much their mines were producing.

It is clear that Massey Energy management actively disregarded their workers’ health and safety. Unfortunately, the knowing violation of a mandatory health and safety standard is only a misdemeanor, no matter how many miners are killed.

This kind of conduct needs to be made a felony, but efforts to increase sanctions have been stifled by the mining industry’s lobby.

Instead of being held accountable for decisions that caused 29 deaths, Massey Energy executives got a massive $195 million payout when they sold off their company, according to the United Mine Workers report.

Even though Don Blankenship was forced to resign following the Upper Big Branch tragedy, he pocketed $86 million in a golden parachute when 29 of the miners under his jurisdiction and responsibility were killed.


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UMWA set to release Upper Big Branch report

This just in:

The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) will release its report on the Apr. 5, 2010 disaster at the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine at a press conference on Tuesday, Oct. 25, in Charleston, W. Va.

“Our charge is different from any other party to this investigation,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said. “We don’t have operational policies from which to divert attention. We don’t have regulatory enforcement actions-or inactions-to explain away. We don’t have lawsuits to defend against.

“All we have are the surviving miners, their families and most of all, the families of the victims,” Roberts said. “More than anyone, they deserve to know the entire truth about what happened to their loved ones and their co-workers. That’s what we will report on Tuesday.”

The UBB mine was a nonunion mine, however shortly after the explosion miners working there designated the UMWA as their representative in this investigation.

EPA loses first round in mine permit crackdown case

Breaking news just in:

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has ruled with the coal industry — and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection — in the first phase of a lawsuit challenging the Obama administration’s crackdown on mountaintop removal mining.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton ruled that the federal Environmental Protection Agency has overstepped its authority when it began a much more intense review of individual Clean Water Act permits normally handled by the Army Corps of Engineers.

I’ve posted a copy of the judge’s ruling here, and we’ll have more on this online in a bit and in tomorrow’s Gazette. Still to be decided in the case is the challenge to EPA’s new water quality guidelines for coal mining operations in Appalachia. Arguments on that portion of the case are set for late October. have been delayed until next June.

UPDATED: Here’s a link to today’s Gazette print edition story.