Coal Tattoo

Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin reacts to crowd support during the Democratic primary election party Saturday, May 14, 2011 in Charleston, W.Va. Tomblin will represent the Democrats during October’s special gubernatorial election. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)

On Saturday night, sometime between the time the AP called the Democratic gubernatorial primary for Earl Ray Tomblin and when Tomblin’s victory celebration kicked into gear, a family in his native Logan County was getting some terrible news.

According to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration:

This evening at about 8:15 EDT, a surface miner was killed at the Guyan Mine, Apogee Coal, after being pinned underneath the counter weight on the rear of a 992G loader. The miner was crushed by counter weight. A 103j Order has been issued and an inspector was dispatched to the mine. An investigation will be conducted.

State officials later identified the miner as a Mr. Richard L Young, 37.

While acting as governor, Senate President Tomblin hasn’t shown a lot of interest in coal-mine safety.  He’s among the West Virginia political leaders who tries to convince the public that preventing disasters is something only the good Lord can do. As most politicians do, he likes to pose with fancy emergency vehicles, but he’s shown little taste for pushing any sort of reforms of mine safety laws and enforcement that leave West Virginia with among the worst safety and health records in the country.

(Not for nothing, but Earl Ray Tomblin has been in the Legislature since 1975 and he’s been Senate President since 1995 … His home county of Logan is consistently one of the state’s largest coal producers. At the same time, the county has a median household income that’s about one-third lower than the national average. One-quarter of the county’s residents live in poverty).

Republican Bill Maloney touts his involvement in last year’s successful mine rescue in Chile, but his campaign is being promoted by some of the same political consultants who thought former Massey Energy Don Blankenship was an ideal leader for West Virginia (See here, here and here). And does anyone really think that Mr. Maloney is going to seek out ways to bring West Virginians together to solve problems like the inevitable decline of Central Appalachian coal production, the continued concerns about mine safety and health for coal workers, the serious damage being done by mountaintop removal or the challenge of dealing with global warming?

No, it’s looking like this campaign — at least as far as the two major party candidates and coal issues goes  — will be a fight to see who can argue that they’re a bigger backer of the coal industry and a bigger opponent of President Obama, the U.S. EPA, and anyone who cares about protecting the environment or trying to address the climate crisis.

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EPA, Democrats respond to coal industry attacks

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure‘s interrogation of EPA acting water chief Nancy Stoner seems to be winding down, as the GOP and the coal industry continue their efforts to discredit the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce the impacts of coal mining on Appalachian communities.

Testimony from the first panel of witnesses was about what you would expect, given last week’s initial day of this two-part hearing, dubbed, “EPA Mining Policies: Assault on Appalachian Jobs.”

David Sunding, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, warned lawmakers that Clean Water Act Section 404 permits are a big deal — involving projects for more than $220 billion in investments economy-wide every year — and questions about EPA’s review of them for mining could ripple through other industries.

Reed Hopper, a lawyer with the Pacific Legal Foundation (a group that generally attacks all government efforts to protect the environment or public health), testified that his group believes EPA’s decision to veto Arch Coal’s permit for the Spruce Mine was an abuse of power that erodes the rights of all citizens.

Mike Carey, president of the Ohio Coal Association, told committee members that the Obama administration’s “war on coal” makes Appalachia “ground zero for the fundamental overreach of the Obama regulatory agenda.”

Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, testified that his organization believes “the denial and revocation of 404 permits has already threatened our economy and our workforce.”

Today’s hearing went a little different from last week’s in some respects, though.

First of all, someone from EPA was actually given the chance to speak and explain the agency’s policies. Of course, the GOP committee leadership, contrary to long-standing protocols for congressional hearings, made EPA acting water chief Nancy Stoner follow the panel of industry witnesses. Traditionally, officials from administrative agencies usually appear first at such hearings.

Stoner made a strong statement about what EPA’s trying to do:

Appalachian families should not have to choose between healthy watersheds and a healthy economy — they deserve both.

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Photo by Vivian Stockman, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

When the Gazette published the answers candidates in Saturday’s West Virginia gubernatorial primary election  gave to questions submitted to them by the newspaper, a few readers were pretty upset that a specific question wasn’t asked about mountaintop removal (see here and here).

Frankly, it seems pretty forward-thinking to me for the paper to ask the candidates about climate change and about diversifying the economy in our coalfield counties … but since readers wanted more information about the candidates on mountaintop removal, my friend Alison Knezevich sent the candidates a couple of questions on the issue. Updated: Here’s a link to Alison’s Sunday story summarizing the candidates’ answers.

Candidates were asked:

The scientific consensus continues to grow, based on peer-reviewed paper after peer-reviewed paper, that mountaintop removal is causing widespread damage to our water quality, our forests, and the coalfield communities near these mining operations. What specifically, if anything, would you do to change this, and start reducing the impacts from large-scale surface mining in West Virginia?

Would you support a phased-in ban on mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia? Explain why or why not.

The responses are below.

Republicans

Clark Barnes:

Reports based on scientific evidence do not support your question (which is really a statement), particularly reports provided by the West Virginia Division of Forestry. I would need to take the time to review the reports you have made reference to in order to determine their viability to the issue. There are many (so-called) scientific reports which are without fact, scientific proof or valid data. I would be happy to review the reports to which you refer and evaluate the evidence provided.

(We provided Mr. Barnes several citations to scientific papers, including the January 2010 article in the journal Science, but he did not provide a follow-up response with his further thoughts)

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Friday roundup, May 6, 2011

Relatives mourn next to the coffin containing the body of miner Francisco Reyes before a mass at a church in San Juan de Sabinas, Coahuila State, Mexico, Wednesday, May 4, 2011. (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini)

The news isn’t good out of Mexico,  where Reuters reports:

Rescuers pulled a seventh body from a collapsed coal mine in northern Mexico on Friday as families gave up hope of finding seven other trapped workers alive after an explosion earlier this week.

Weary miners took turns round the clock to dig away rubble in the shallow mine shaft that collapsed on Tuesday after a methane gas explosion outside the town of Sabinas in the desert state of Coahuila bordering Texas.

“I’ll bring up my son’s body in pieces if I have to,” said miner Adolfo Gonzalez as he rested after an exhausting spell underground reinforcing and ventilating a tunnel to try to reach the remaining bodies. “I just want my son’s body,” said Maria Antonia Rios, reflecting a sense that no one survived.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, there’s this:

A landslide at a opal mine in the small western Mexican town of Hostotipaquillo left three miners dead, officials said.

An emergency-management and firefighters’ spokesperson in Jalisco state informed Efe Thursday that one of the bodies had been recovered at the Pata de Gallo mine, while the other two men were confirmed dead early Friday.

Closer to home, West Virgina Public Broadcasting had a lengthy interview with NPR’s Howard Berkes about his continuing coverage of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster.

Meanwhile, both Massey Energy and Alpha Natural Resources released their latest earnings statements, and the Motley Fool had some commentary about the proposed combination of the two companies. Also, the New York Times Dealbook blog had a piece about Wilbur Ross of International Coal Group and Arch Coal’s purchase of ICG:

It took seven years and it was a bumpy ride at many times, but the International Coal Group’s $14.60-a-share, $3.4 billion sale to Arch Coal is validation of Wilbur L. Ross’s bet on the industry.

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We’ve just posted some breaking news on the Gazette’s website: MSHA has released to family members transcripts of more than two dozen mine rescue team members who took part in the effort at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine.

The story is posted here, and this is what we’re reporting:

Mine rescue teams from the federal government clashed bitterly with Massey Energy officials about how to safely search the Upper Big Branch mine for potential survivors in the hours after a huge explosion in April 2010, according to previously confidential records obtained by the Gazette.

U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration rescuers were worried about the lack of backup teams as they combed the sprawling underground mine, amid concerns about the possibility of additional blasts and other dangerous conditions.

But MSHA supervisors overruled their own rescue experts at the insistence of Massey officials, according to testimony those MSHA rescue teams provided during closed-door interviews with state and federal investigators.

“They could’ve … they could’ve killed every one of us,” said Jerry Cook, one of the top MSHA mine rescue team members. “At that time, we were expendable that night, that’s my opinion. They didn’t care what they did with us.”

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UPDATED:   Here are the enforcement orders issued by MSHA.

This just in from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration:

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration today announced that federal inspectors issued 20 withdrawal orders and five citations to Randolph Mine in Boone County, W.Va., during an impact inspection conducted in April. Eleven of the orders were issued for violations of the ventilation plan at the underground coal mine owned by Massey Energy and operated by Inman Energy.

On April 29, six MSHA inspectors arrived at Randolph Mine during the afternoon shift, capturing the phones at both the guard shack and mine office to prohibit mine personnel from notifying miners underground of their presence. The inspectors visited four of the operation’s mechanized mining units during the inspection and observed the following conditions and practices:

Two sets of mining equipment were simultaneously and illegally engaged in cutting, mining and loading coal and rock from working places within the same working section, and neither set of mining equipment was on a separate split of intake air. This condition exposed miners to respirable dust hazards that could result in permanently disabling injuries such as black lung and other respiratory diseases.

Combustible materials in the form of loose coal, coal dust and float coal dust were allowed to accumulate in active workings, which can contribute to a mine explosion.

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Search continues for worker at Idaho silver mine

A sign for the Lucky Friday Mine is posted outside the mine in Mullan, Idaho, Saturday, April 16, 2011. An official with the Hecla Mining Company says a rescue operation is under way Saturday at the mine in northern Idaho. One miner reportedly is missing. (AP Photo/KHQ-TV)

MULLAN, Idaho (AP) — Mining company officials brought in a remote-controlled digging machine Sunday to help try to reach a worker missing since a tunnel collapsed deep inside an Idaho mine.

The special digger must be disassembled before being taken more than a mile below the surface, where it will be put back together, according to Hecla Mining Company officials.

Officials said the machine should be underground by Sunday evening, but it was unclear how soon the process of reassembling the device would be finished or when rescuers would be able to put it to work.

The roof of a tunnel at the Lucky Friday Mine collapsed Friday as two brothers were working, trapping one of the men but the other was able to escape, according to officials and family members.

Officials have not had contact with 53-year-old Larry Marek, a 30-year mining veteran, since the collapse and his condition was unknown. The brother who escaped, whose name wasn’t immediately available, wasn’t injured.

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More on Massey execs moving to Alpha

While I was busy on Friday evening scrambling to read more of the MSHA internal audits that Joe Main dumped on us late in the day (see our print story from today’s paper for details), NPR’s Howard Berkes was putting together a piece about the Massey Energy officials who are apparently moving into important positions with the combined Massey-Alpha Natural Resources Company.

We touched on that in this blog post Friday night, but Howard has a more detailed account:

A top Massey Energy executive who presided over the company while it compiled some of the most criticized safety records in the coal mining industry will jointly manage the main safety program at Alpha Natural Resources if the two companies merge as expected.

Massey Chief Operating Officer Chris Adkins will “spearhead the implementation” of Alpha’s main safety program, which the company refers to as “Running Right.” Adkins will share that role with an existing Alpha executive.

“I cannot think of two better individuals to lead this effort,” Alpha CEO Kevin Crutchfield said in a letter to Massey and Alpha employees.

… Adkins was COO at Massey during 2009, for example, when four of the company’s coal mines had injury rates more than double the national average and 10 had higher-than-average rates of injury, according to an NPR analysis of federal records.

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Meetings, leadership set for Alpha-Massey deal

The Associated Press is reporting on a joint Alpha Natural Resources-Massey Energy news release that announces:

Alpha Natural Resources Inc. and Massey Energy Co. say Alpha’s proposed takeover of Massey could be completed within seven weeks.

The companies said in a joint news release Friday that special stockholder meetings will be held on June 1. If approved, the companies expect to promptly complete the acquisition.

April 27 is the date for determining the holders of common stock who will be entitled to vote at the special meetings.

Also of interest, though, is this new SEC filing from Alpha, which outlines the management team for the new, combined company.

There are a lot of interesting names — key people from Massey — that will have major roles in the new entity … including Baxter Phillips, Shane Harvey, Chris Adkins, Charles Bearse, Mark Clemens, Mike Snelling … and I’m sure I’m missing others … take a look.

MSHA puts two mines on ‘pattern of violations’

This just in from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration:

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration today announced that it has issued a notice of a pattern of violations to two coal mining operations under Section 104(e) of the federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. Bledsoe Coal Corp.’s Abner Branch Rider Mine in Leslie County, Ky., and The New West Virginia Mining Co.’s Apache Mine in McDowell County, W.Va., are the first mines in the history of the Mine Act to be subject to the full effect of this enforcement action, which targets mines with chronic and persistent health and safety violations.

Last November, the agency put 13 mines on notice that each had a potential pattern of violations. A 14th mine received similar notification in December, after an agency audit revealed that the mine operator had failed to report a dozen injuries. All 14 mines that received potential POV notices implemented corrective action programs to reduce their significant and substantial, known as S&S, issuance rates.

Subsequent to the potential POV notifications, two of the 14 mines were temporarily idled. One ceased production. One has not completed the evaluation process. Between Jan. 3 and March 21, 2011, MSHA conducted inspections of the 10 remaining mines. Of those, eight met the prescribed S&S goals, and the two operations now receiving the POV notices failed to meet their goals by a significant margin.

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UPDATED: EPA has reposted the reports on its website here and here.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has sent its water quality guidance for Appalachian coal-mining permits to the White Office Office of Management and Budget for further review (See here and here).

But, EPA officials have finalized two key studies about mountaintop removal.

One report is EPA’s most recent assessment of the impacts of mountaintop removal mining, in a report called The Effects of Mountaintop Mines and Valley Fills on Aquatic Ecosystems of the Central Appalachian Coalfields. It concludes that mountaintop removal is causing five major impacts to watersheds in the region:

(1) springs, and ephemeral, intermittent, and small perennial streams are permanently lost with the removal of the mountain and from burial under fill, (2) concentrations of major chemical ions are persistently elevated downstream, (3) degraded water quality reaches levels that are acutely lethal to standard laboratory test organisms, (4) selenium concentrations are elevated, reaching concentrations that have caused toxic effects in fish and birds and (5) macroinvertebrate and fish communities are consistently degraded.

The other report is called A Field-Based Aquatic Life Benchmark for Conductivity in Appalachian Streams. It set a conductivity benchmark of 300 micro Siemens per centimeter.

UPDATED: In an interesting development, EPA has pulled these reports from the agency’s official website. They were posted earlier today on this section of EPA’s website,  where the agency inventories recent scientific papers and documents. I saw them there and downloaded them, but very soon after that, they disappeared EPA’s site. The links where they were went dead. I asked EPA’s press office for an explanation and this is what I was told by press officer Brendan Gilfillan:

EPA inadvertently posted reports on mountaintop mining and conductivity today. These reports are going through Agency review and will be posted when the review is complete.

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McAteer proposes reforms based on UBB probe

Special investigator Davitt McAteer is revealing some preliminary recommendations based on his investigation at the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, as part of a discussion on the disaster at Wheeling Jesuit University’s International Mining Health and Safety Symposium. These are proposals the McAteer team is making for broad application in the coal inudstry:

— Make it a felony for mine operators or anyone else to provide advance notice for federal mine safety and health inspections.

— Require mechanized rock-dusting in all portions of underground mines, as well as special “passive barriers” that will help stop ignitions from turning into large explosions, as investigators believe occurred at Upper Big Branch.

— Give MSHA subpoena power for its investigations, and also mandate public hearings and more transparent practices in general during mine safety investigations.

— Force coal operators to use real-time, continuous monitoring for explosive methane gas in underground mines.

McAteer also responded to remarks earlier this week by some state political leaders, who suggested that all mining disasters couldn’t be prevented — and said it’s up to coal operators, government inspectors and safety experts to do more to prevent the next disaster:

Disasters are not an inevitable part of the mining cycle. We can mine coal safely.

There are not preordained numbers of miners who have to perish to produce the nation’s energy. The fate of these miners is not in the hands of god, but in the hands of the mining community.


GOP leader Kline statement on mine disaster

Rep. John Kline, R-Min., and chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, issued this statement today:

One year ago, the community of Montcoal, West Virginia was forever changed when the explosion at Upper Big Branch Mine took the lives of 29 miners. The tragic events of last April still weigh heavily on the hearts of Americans everywhere, and our prayers remain with the families affected by this tragedy.

As we honor those whose lives were lost, we must also remember the thousands of miners continuing to work every day to help meet the energy needs of homes and businesses across the country. These miners accept the risks of this inherently dangerous profession, and deserve our appreciation and unwavering commitment to their health and safety.

Toward that end, we will continue working to ensure federal law provides strong mine safety protections and that those protections are enforced to the fullest extent of the law.

Alpha, Massey make buyout announcement

Interesting piece of news announced yesterday by Alpha Natural Resources and Massey Energy:

ABINGDON, Va. and RICHMOND, Va., April 2, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — Alpha Natural Resources, Inc. (NYSE: ANR) (“Alpha”) and Massey Energy Company (NYSE: MEE) (“Massey”) announced today that the waiting period under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976, as amended, has expired in connection with Alpha’s previously announced agreement to acquire Massey. Alpha and Massey also confirmed that they have received required foreign antitrust approvals and that all antitrust conditions to closing have now been met.

The closing of the transaction is also subject to other customary closing conditions, including the effectiveness of Alpha’s Registration Statement on Form S-4, which was initially filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on March 17, 2011, and stockholder approval of both companies. Subject to the satisfaction of these other conditions, the transaction is expected to close in mid-2011.

In this March 8, 2011 photo, Gary Quarles points to a map of a coal mine where his son Gary Wayne Quarles was found dead a year ago, in Naoma, W.Va. Gary Wayne Quarles and 28 other men died deep inside Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine on April 5, 2010 near Montcoal. It was the deadliest U.S. coal mining accident since 1970, and remains the target of civil and criminal investigations. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)

Here’s a new story out from the AP’s Vicki Smith:

NAOMA, W.Va. (AP) — Gary Quarles kneels on his living room carpet and unrolls the 4-foot-long map that he’s studied so many times, trying to understand why his son died in the Upper Big Branch mine.

As a coal miner with 34 years underground, Quarles explains how things worked before the Massey Energy mine in Montcoal exploded a year ago Tuesday.

He sees the pace of the longwall cutting machine, the places it was forced to slow down. And he sees where his 33-year-old son Gary Wayne Quarles was working with crewmates Grover Skeens and Joel Price, and their supervisor, Rick Lane.

They are identified on paper as Victims 9-12.

And they’re not where they were supposed to be.

They were, Gary Quarles believes, running for their lives, trying to escape after something went wrong near the end of their 10½-hour shift.

But no matter how often he looks at the map, no matter how many meetings he attends or how many investigators he talks to, he still has questions.

The explosion killed 29 men in all. It was the deadliest U.S. coal mining accident since 1970, and it remains the target of civil and criminal investigations. But a year later, there are still questions.

Federal investigators believe the explosion started when teeth on the mining machine Gary Wayne had been running created a spark that ignited a small amount of methane gas. They theorize highly explosive coal dust that had been allowed to accumulate in the mine mixed with the methane to create a blast so powerful it turned corners and rounded a 1,000-foot-wide block of coal, packing the power to kill men more than a mile away.

Virginia-based Massey denies any wrongdoing, blaming a sudden inundation of natural gas that overwhelmed all safety systems.

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The American flag and the Massey Energy Co. flags are seen at half staff, Friday, April 9, 2010, in Rock Creek, W.Va. The flags were lowered for those killed in an explosion at Massey Energy Co.’s Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W.Va. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)

In case any Coal Tattoo readers missed it, we ran a lengthy story in today’s Sunday Gazette-Mail about the environmental and worker safety problems in Massey Energy’s history — and about the way regulators, prosecutors and policymakers have responded to those problems:

Despite years of environmental problems and dozens of mining deaths, Massey and its corporate officials — including now-retired CEO Don Blankenship — have mostly escaped any serious, direct punishment.

... long before 29 miners died in an explosion a year ago Tuesday at Raleigh County’s Upper Big Branch Mine, Massey had its share of run-ins with the law. Inspectors doled out thousands of citations, and agencies levied millions in fines. Widows and injured miners sued. Citizens filed pollution complaints. In the past decade alone, at least four Massey subsidiaries have pleaded guilty to workplace safety or environmental crimes.

Still, regulators have almost always cited one of Massey’s maze of operating subsidiaries or independent contractors. Prosecutors squeezed section foremen or fire bosses into guilty pleas. Even personal injury lawyers who represented the families of miners killed at Massey operations generally ended up in court against a subsidiary several layers from Massey, or against one of the firm’s insurance carriers.

“Enforcement doesn’t reach into the boardroom,” said Davitt McAteer, a longtime mine safety advocate who ran the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration during the Clinton administration and is conducting an independent investigation of the Upper Big Branch disaster.

The full story is here.

Just before the close of business yesterday, a fascinating news release showed up in my email inbox from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration:

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration today announced that the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission has upheld civil penalties assessed against Stillhouse Mining LLC for four flagrant violations of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. The violations were found during a Dec. 3, 2006, inspection of the company’s Mine No. 1 operation near Cumberland, Ky.

Of particular interest to me were these words from MSHA chief Joe Main:

No miner should be subjected to the kinds of conditions that were found at Stillhouse Mining. Although the case was not resolved for more than four years, we are extremely pleased with the judge’s decision and will continue to use this important enforcement tool in our ongoing efforts to keep mine operators accountable.

That line really caught my attention, in large part because I had already filed this story for this morning’s Gazette, reporting:

Despite escalating safety concerns prior to the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, federal regulators never hit the Massey Energy operation with one of their toughest tools: fines of up to $220,000 each for “flagrant” safety violations, officials confirmed this week.

Now, the MSHA press release reported:

Since the passage of the MINER Act, MSHA has assessed 142 citations and orders as flagrant violations, 92 of which are currently in contest.

And it quoted Joe Main saying:

As this most recent case suggests, some mine operators still aren’t getting the message. As long as they continue to put their miners at risk of serious injury or death, we will continue to use all the enforcement tools we have at our disposal.

But as we reported in today’s Gazette story:

After the Obama administration took office in January 2009, MSHA’s assessment of flagrant penalties appears to have dropped off significantly, from 70 such assessments in 2008 to 19 each year in 2009 and 2010, according to agency data. So far in 2011, MSHA has issued three flagrant violations to coal operations, the data shows.

None of the Obama administration’s flagrant violations were issued to coal-mining operations inspected by MSHA’s District 4 office in Southern West Virginia, agency records show.

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Senate set to vote on blocking EPA climate action

There should be some interesting action today in the U.S. Senate, where lawmakers will be considering a variety of efforts to block the Obama administration from pursuing actions to try to curb global warming.

UPDATED: It looks like votes on this issue may not come until Thursday.

West Virginia’s Sen. Jay Rockefeller is a key player in the drama, with his amendment — to an unrelated small business bill — to block any U.S. Environmental Protection Agency action on greenhouse gas emissions for two years.

Sen. Rockefeller is trying to portray himself as a moderate in this debate, noting that he isn’t supporting all-out efforts to dismantle EPA and the Clean Air Act altogether. And in fact, he’s been under attack in an advertising campaign by a group called “The Committee for Truth in Politics“:

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With Friday’s target date approaching for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to issue its final water quality guidance for Appalachian surface coal mines, our old friend Rep. Nick J. Rahall is at it again …

The West Virginia Democrat issued this press release, to let us know he’s again asking the White House to intervene in the matter:

U.S. Representative Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) Tuesday appealed to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) to examine EPA’s Clean Water Act Guidance Memo affecting coal mine permitting in Appalachia before the April 1 deadline when the guidance is slated to be finalized.

“There are many regulatory actions underway – at the EPA, OSM, and elsewhere – that would hurt coal miners and local communities in southern West Virginia,” said Rahall. “All of those efforts, under executive orders in place long before President Obama took office, are subject to review by OIRA before they take effect. I am hopeful that OIRA will bring some additional oversight and help to check the EPA’s more abusive actions.”

Rahall met earlier this year with Cass Sunstein, Administrator of OIRA, regarding EPA regulations. In a letter to Sunstein on Tuesday, Rahall renewed his request for OIRA to intercede before the EPA finalizes its guidance on water permits for surface mining, which is scheduled to happen Friday. The EPA issued a Guidance Memo on April 1, 2010, establishing new criteria for the issuance of Clean Water Act permits for surface mining in Appalachia. Contrary to statutory and executive requirements, those guidance documents were not reviewed by OIRA or subject to public comment and participation before they took effect.

The White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is responsible for overseeing regulatory actions at Federal agencies, including at the EPA. It is charged with ensuring that agency regulatory actions are consistent with applicable law and the efficient functioning of the economy, promoting productivity, employment, and competitiveness. OIRA can clear regulatory actions with or without change, return them to the agencies for reconsideration, or encourage the agencies to withdraw them.

“The EPA is stretching its statutory authority to the limits, and doing so in a way that circumvents the rights of the affected communities to comment on how these proposed actions will affect jobs and their economic health and well being. I am asking the White House regulatory office to review the EPA actions before they are finalized, and to reverse guidance policies that circumvented the proper regulatory review and procedures,” said Rahall.

Obama officials inflate Wyo. coal lease benefits

The deal sounded pretty good for the federal government when the Obama administration first announced it earlier this week. According to the Casper Star-Tribune:

Nearly 758 million tons of Wyoming coal will go up for sale in the coming months, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Tuesday.

… The sale of the leases announced Tuesday could produce up to $21.3 billion when factoring in bonus bids and royalty payments, Salazar said. Just more than half of the total would go to the federal government, with the state getting the rest.

But … well, according to this follow-up story by the Star-Tribune’s Jeremy Fugleberg:

nterior Secretary Ken Salazar apparently vastly overstated the economic benefits of coal lease sales announced earlier this week.

On Tuesday Salazar announced lease sales of 758 million tons of Powder River Basin coal and said the sales would add between $13.4 billion and $21.3 billion to government coffers over the life of the leases — numbers repeated by media outlets worldwide.

The likely total is far lower, or the amount you get if you move the decimal point over one spot to the left.

“That was off by a factor of 10,” said Marion Loomis, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association.

Loomis said he also accepted the Salazar numbers at face value until they struck him as wildly inaccurate.

He said the proceeds from 758 million tons of coal would more likely produce approximately $2 billion, nearly half of which flows to state coffers.

The Obama administration’s explanation:

An Interior Department representative referred the Star-Tribune to a Bureau of Land Management spokesman, who didn’t respond to several calls Thursday. A spokeswoman for the Wyoming BLM office said the office was looking into the numbers.

The Bureau of Land Management, an agency under the Interior Department, manages federal coal leases.