Coal Tattoo

Appeals court again rejects MTR health studies

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There was an interesting ruling earlier this month out of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, in which citizen groups were again blocked in their efforts to litigate against a mountaintop removal mining permit using the growing body of science about mining’s public health effects.

The Jackson Kelley law firm, which represented the mining company in this case, summarized the results this way in a post on its blog:

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has unanimously upheld the Army Corps of Engineers’ issuance of a Clean Water Act § 404 permit to Raven Crest Contracting, LLC, a subsidiary of White Forest Resources, Inc.

On August 10, 2012, the Corps issued a § 404 “dredge and fill permit” to Raven Crest for its Boone North No. 5 Surface Mine in Boone County, West Virginia. The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Coal River Mountain Watch, and Sierra Club filed suit, claiming that the Corps had violated the Clean Water Act and NEPA by not considering a series of studies allegedly linking mining to adverse health impacts.

I’ve posted a copy of the 4th Circuit decision here, and also posted the citizen group brief, the coal company brief, and the Corps’ brief.

Readers may recall that this issue came up before in other cases, one in which U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers refused to consider these health studies and another in which the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Corps and the coal industry.

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UMWA reaches new deal with Murray

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Miners Public Employees Rally

UPDATED:  The UMWA rank-and-file rejected this contract proposal.

Here’s the news announced this morning by the United Mine Workers of America:

The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) announced today that it has reached a new tentative collective bargaining agreement with the Bituminous Coal Operators Association (BCOA) that will be submitted to its membership next week for ratification.

 UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said, “This tentative agreement comes six months before the expiration of the current agreement, however the rapidly deteriorating status of the American coal industry means that it is important to lock in the best terms and conditions we can before things get any worse. We believe this proposal does that, but it is up to the UMWA members who will vote on this agreement to make the final determination.”

 UMWA Local Unions will explain the proposal to members over the weekend and the ratification vote will take place next Tuesday, June 28. Details of the proposed agreement will not be released until after the ratification vote is tallied.

The BCOA, once the major negotiating group for the coal industry, now is made up mostly of Murray Energy operations. Here’s a statement issued this morning by Murray:

Murray American Energy, Inc. (“Murray American”) announced today that the Bituminous Coal Operators Association, Inc. (“BCOA”) and the United Mine Workers of America (“UMWA”) have reached a tentative labor agreement which, if ratified, will run from June 30, 2016 to December 31, 2021.

Mr. Robert E. Murray, the Chief Executive Officer of Murray American and Chairman of BCOA, said “We are pleased that the BCOA and UMWA have reached this very important tentative agreement, which will go a long way in ensuring that Murray American’s UMWA-represented employees are able to continue working, even in this very depressed coal marketplace. Indeed, over the past several years, the United States coal industry has been absolutely destroyed by policies of the Obama Administration and by the increased use of natural gas to generate electricity. Coal markets and prices have generally been cut in half. This tentative agreement provides the BCOA and UMWA with a path forward, even in these extremely difficult times.” The tentative agreement is subject to ratification by the members of the UMWA.

Murray American subsidiary companies which are members of the BCOA, include: The Ohio County Coal Company, which operates the Ohio County Mine; The Marshall County Coal Company, which operates the Marshall County Mine; The Marion County Coal Company, which operates the Marion County Mine; The Harrison County Coal Company, which operates the Harrison County Mine; and The Monongalia County Coal Company, which operates the Monongalia County Mine. Murray American currently has over 1,500 UMWA-represented active employees. The Ohio Valley Coal Company and The Ohio Valley Transloading Company, which together have over 200 UMWArepresented active employees, will also be voting on the tentative agreement with the UMWA.

 

Will Congress protect retired coal miners?

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Photo by DYLAN LOVAN / AP — United Mine Workers of America president Cecil Roberts speaks to about 4,000 retired members at the Lexington Center in Lexington, Ky., last Tuesday. Roberts urged members to push for legislation that would protect pensions and health care benefits for retirees that have been put in jeopardy due to a downturn in the coal industry.

There’s been a growing public push for Congress to take action on legislation to rescue the troubled health-care and pension funds that provide for tens of thousands of retired United Mine Workers and their families across our nation’s coalfields.

Last week, the UMWA held a huge rally in Lexington to try to drum up more support for the bipartisan legislation. As the Associated Press recounted:

United Mine Workers president Cecil Roberts told the gathering in Lexington of about 4,000 members from seven states that miners spent their lives working in dangerous places to provide the nation’s electricity and steel. The miners, some of whom arrived in wheelchairs, don’t deserve having their benefits put in jeopardy, Roberts said.

“What do they want these people to do, get out of their wheelchairs and go back to the mines?” Roberts remarked after the rally.

(The AP, for reasons passing understanding, felt compelled to comment in its report that, Cecil Roberts “is popular among the union membership for his fiery oratorical style.”)

That rally followed a series of Senate floor speeches last month by Democrats, calling for action on the bill, and a letter by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and others urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (whose role in blocking the measure was documented by the Washington Post) to act on the legislation prior to the summer recess.

In West Virginia, Republican Rep. David McKinley has been a strong supporter of the bill, and just yesterday, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., delivered a floor speech on the issue:

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The looming coal cleanup crisis

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Photo by Vivian Stockman, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

Earlier this week, The New York Times had the latest of the recent national stories to take a stab at explaining the impending crisis regarding the cleanup of decades of pollution problems related to coal mining. The Washington Post had its own version of this story a few months ago.

Here’s a couple of the “nut graphs” from the Times piece:

Regulators are wrangling with bankrupt coal companies to set aside enough money to clean up Appalachia’s polluted rivers and mountains so that taxpayers are not stuck with the $1 billion bill.

The regulators worry that coal companies will use the bankruptcy courts to pay off their debts to banks and hedge funds, while leaving behind some of their environmental cleanup obligations.

The industry asserts that its cleanup plans — which include turning defunct mines back into countryside — are comprehensive and well funded. But some officials say those plans could prove unrealistic and falter as demand for coal remains weak.

The Post summarized the situation in a similar way:

A worsening financial crisis for the nation’s biggest coal companies is sparking concerns that U.S. taxpayers could be stuck with hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in cleanup costs across a landscape of shuttered mines stretching from Appalachia to the northern Plains.

Worries about huge liabilities associated with hundreds of polluted mine sites have mounted as Peabody Energy, the world’s largest publicly traded coal company, was forced to appeal to creditors for an extra 30 days to pay its debts. Two of the four other biggest U.S. coal companies have declared bankruptcy in the past six months.

Under a 1977 federal law, coal companies are required to clean up mining sites when they’re shut down. But the industry’s plummeting fortunes have raised questions about whether companies can fulfill their obligations to rehabilitate vast strip mines in Western states — many of which are on federally owned property — as well as mountaintop-removal mining sites in the East.

It’s great that these issues are getting national attention. But this attention is long overdue. And one thing that is a bit worrisome is that there is a tone in the stories that sometimes makes it seem like this all came out of nowhere — that no one possibly could have imagined this crisis.

That’s just not true.

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Another coal miner killed on the job

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Here’s the sad news today out of Illinois:

A death investigation is under way after a miner was killed at the New Era Mine in Saline County on Monday, June 7, 2016.

Captain Bill Paterson with the Illinois Department of Mines and Minerals says the man suffered fatal injuries when he was pinned beneath a piece of equipment. Another miner was also hurt and is recovering in the hospital. The names of both of the miners are being withheld until family is notified.

New Era Mine is owned by American Coal.

The New Era Mine is controlled by Murray Energy, and here’s the press statement that company provided today:

The American Coal Company (“American Coal”) confirms that an accident occurred at its New Era Mine, this afternoon, in which an employee of a contractor, David Stanley Consultants, LLC, was pinned beneath a piece of equipment on which he was working. The name of the individual is being withheld pending notification of family members.

UPDATE: The contractor employee is Mr. Robbie E. Clark, thirty-four (34) years old, of Eldorado, Illinois.

This matter is currently being investigated, and we will continue to work closely and diligently with appropriate authorities. American Coal is committed to ensuring that safety remains the absolute highest priority across all of our operations.

Our employees and management are deeply saddened by this tragic event. During this very difficult time, we send our sincerest condolences and prayers to the family and to all those affected by this loss.

This is the fifth coal-mining death listed by MSHA so far this year in the U.S.

UPDATED:  Here’s a statement from MSHA —

Two miners were working with a diesel scoop. They lowered the bucket and put downward hydraulic pressure on the bucket to raise the middle of the scoop up. Both men crawled under the scoop to look at something. The hydraulic pressure slowly released, allowing the scoop to lower onto and trap the two men under it. An examiner heard them yelling and came to the scoop and saw them under it. He put downward hydraulic pressure on it again by lowering the bucket. He got the survivor out and then they got the victim out. CPR was started but the victim could not be revived. 

Jim Justice

West Virginia billionaire businessman Jim Justice announces that he is running for governor of West Virginia as a Democrat in 2016 in White Sulphur Springs , W.Va., Monday, May 11, 2015. (AP Photo/Chris Tilley)

There was troubling news out of the coalfields of Kentucky over the last few days about billionaire coal operator Jim Justice, the Democratic candidate for governor here in West Virginia. Here’s the Courier-Journal report from my friend Jim Bruggers:

Kentucky environmental regulators spent the weekend and Monday investigating a mudslide at a Pike County surface mine owned by West Virginia coal baron Jim Justice that they say contributed to local, damaging flooding last week.

State officials Monday confirmed their investigation was centered on Justice’s Bent Mountain mining operations, which had significant reclamation deadlines last year and are the subject of ongoing enforcement activities.

As the C-J explained, the local Appalachian News-Express reports that:

… Water suddenly came rushing out of a hollow, damaging several homes in the community of Meta, late Thursday, about eight miles outside Pikeville.

This all comes in the wake of one report in the C-J that Justice’s required mine reclamation projects in Kentucky are missing cleanup deadlines and a second story that — shockingly — Justice needs more time to finish reclamation at Kentucky operations, including at least through the end of the year to fix a major, three-mile-long “highwall” in Pike County.

All of this undoubtedly provides more fodder for the Republican campaign this fall in support of Justice’s GOP opponent for governor, current Senate President Bill Cole. Whether Justice and the Democrats like it, this stuff is fair game, especially since Justice’s major argument for electing him is that he’s such a successful businessman. If he wants voters to believe he would run the state the way he runs his mining operations, then it’s reasonable for the campaign to include a focus on exactly what Justice’s business model looks like.

At the same time, if the Cole campaign and its supporters want to go down this road, it’s also worth asking them about their own views for regulating the coal industry to stop incidents like the one over the weekend in Kentucky.

 

 

Election Day in coal country: A race to nowhere?

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A group of coal miners wave signs for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as they wait for a rally in Charleston, W.Va., Thursday, May 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

A group of coal miners waive signs for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as they wait for a rally in Charleston, W.Va., Thursday, May 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Across West Virginia, the polls have opened. Primary Election Day 2016 has begun.  Now we vote.

Some things are likely decided already. It’s all but certain that Republican Donald Trump will face Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential race in November. The GOP candidate for governor in the fall will be Senate President Bill Cole. By the end of tonight, we’ll know who Cole will face from the three-candidate Democratic field.

It’s hard to imagine the primary election results providing much progress in addressing the serious problems communities face in the ongoing decline of the mining industry. In many ways, the discussion here is mired in the same place it was four years ago, when I wrote a post called “Before tomorrow: Election Day in coal country” on the day of the 2012 General Election.

Today’s primary doesn’t free us of campaign signs and pollster calls. It just sets us up for more of them between now and November.

Importantly, though, the candidates who will carry on to the General Election will in many ways set the tone for the political discourse and community discussion about what we collectively should be trying to do to make the coalfields a better place to live, work, and raise families.

It’s clear that the presidential race will feature Trump’s pandering efforts to convince West Virginia coal miners that they’ll all be back to work soon enough, after he eliminates the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and all those nasty rules and regulations. Secretary Clinton offers at least some hope that she will try to focus coalfield voters on huge problems that loom, such as the financial crisis with the United Mine Workers of America’s health-care benefits and pension plan — and just as important a dose of realism about the need to ramp up efforts to diversify coalfield economies.

Unfortunately, the Clinton campaign has already given Trump and its friends in the coal industry the only soundbite they really need. We’ll be hearing it over and over and over and over. And one danger is that Secretary Clinton will buckle under on this, and start talking more and more about “clean coal” and carbon capture — catchphrases that only generate the same false hope that has the Trump campaign so popular with some of our state’s coal miners.

Whether Clinton has a chance in West Virginia — and whether West Virginia will turn out to be important at all in the national election for president — really is less important in the context I’m talking about than what the focus and tone of the campaign does to broader discussions about where the coalfields are headed.

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Bob Murray on Donald Trump

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Last week’s  very flattering New York Times profile of Murray Energy CEO Bob Murray had a little tidbit about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump:

The day after his coal-mine visit, Mr. Murray delivered a lecture at West Liberty University, a small public college in nearby West Virginia. There, about 150 students packed a hall to earn extra credit for their business class.

Mr. Murray came with a five-page speech titled “The Ongoing Destruction of a Major American Industry,” which, among other things, described the “regal, outlaw Obama administration.” But once he reached the lectern, the speech was forgotten. Instead, Mr. Murray spoke extemporaneously.

He warned the students about government bureaucrats (“They are rejects compared with people in the private sector”); about Bernie Sanders (“The problem with socialists is that they eventually run out of other people’s money,” paraphrasing Margaret Thatcher); about the leading Republican presidential candidate (“I’m not sure about Donald Trump”); and about Ivy League schools (“These schools are lousy”).

He announced that he was organizing a fund-raiser for Ted Cruz, though he pointed out that he was not endorsing him.

That fundraiser occurred back in early April, and of course Sen. Cruz has since dropped out of the race. So I asked Murray spokesman Gary Broadbent for an update on Mr. Murray’s thinking on the election and here’s the statement he gave me:

Mr. Robert E. Murray has not, as yet, formally endorsed any Presidential candidate.  It appears likely, however, that Mr. Donald J. Trump will become the Republican nominee for President.  If nominated, we hope that Mr. Trump defeats Hillary Clinton, who has stated that, if elected President, she is “gonna put a lot of coal miners and coal companies outta business.”  Mr. Murray is seeking for Mr. Trump to make the same very large and significant commitments to support the United States coal industry, which Senator Cruz has made.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump puts on a miners hard hat during a rally in Charleston, W.Va., Thursday, May 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump puts on a miners hard hat during a rally in Charleston, W.Va., Thursday, May 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Last evening at the Charleston Civic Center, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump certainly had a lot to say about coal miners. As the Gazette-Mail’s David Gutman reported:

The backdrop behind Trump was filled with men in miner’s stripes and hard hats waving “Trump digs coal” signs, and Trump peppered his remarks with his admiration for coal miners.

“I’ll tell you what folks, you’re amazing people,” Trump said. “The courage of the miners and the way the miners love what they do, they love what they do.”

“If I win we’re going to bring those miners back,” he said.

Then there was this:

Trump said he has “always been fascinated” by mining, “the engineering that’s involved and the safety and all that’s taken place over the last number of years.”

“All of it’s getting safe and as it gets safe they’re taking it away from you in a different way,” Trump said. “These ridiculous rules and regulations that make it impossible for you to compete, so we’re going to take that all off the table folks.”

As Gutman also reported, Trump is offering no real plan for how he’s going to reverse the downward spiral of the Southern West Virginia coal industry, though he (like West Virginia Democratic front-runner Jim Justice) is making bold promises — promises — in the face of just about every credible projection or analysis of where coal is actually headed (see here, here and here).

Just as important, though, is another issue that Trump didn’t talk about at all:  The growing crisis facing the pension and health-care funds that cover thousands upon thousands of United Mine Workers of America retirees and their families.

In the most recent UMWA Journal, union Secretary Treasurer Daniel Kane called this “the most important political issue facing the union right now. UMWA President Cecil Roberts told a U.S. Senate Committee in March:

… Today, there is a looming health care tragedy unfolding in the coalfields, with potentially devastating human effects. In many cases, the loss of health care benefits will be a matter of life or death. In all cases, it will be a financial disaster that the retired miners, who live on very meager pensions, will not be able to bear.

These are real people we are talking about. They live on small pensions, averaging $530 per month, plus Social Security. They rely very heavily on the health-care benefits they earned through decades of hard work in the nation’s coal mines … They spent decades putting their lives and health on the line every single day, going into coal mines across this nation to provide the energy and raw materials needed to make America the most powerful nation on earth. And they did that even though they knew they would pay a physical price for it.

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W.Va. Coal Association endorses Trump

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FILE - In this Sunday, May 1, 2016 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reacts to a song during a campaign rally at the Indiana Theater in Terre Haute, Ind. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

In this Sunday, May 1, 2016 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reacts to a song during a campaign rally at the Indiana Theater in Terre Haute, Ind. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Here’s the latest from West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney:

The membership of the West Virginia Coal Association today announced it is endorsing Donald Trump, Republican of New York, for the office of president of the United States in this year’s election.  The unanimous decision was made at a membership meeting in Charleston earlier today.

“Donald Trump has been firm and clear throughout his campaign in his commitment to rebuild America’s basic industries – the industries that made this country great – such as coal, steel and manufacturing” said Bill Raney, WVCA president, in announcing the endorsement. “Trump has said he will reverse the Democratic regulatory assault that has cost the coal industry more than 40 percent of our production and jobs since 2008.”

“In contrast, Hillary Clinton’s proposals essentially double-down on the job killing Obama policies,” Raney continued. “West Virginia can’t afford that and neither can the nation.”

“We believe that with the leadership team of Donald Trump in the White House and Bill Cole as Governor, West Virginia will begin to rebuild what we have lost to the Obama War on Coal and also look to the future once again with confidence.”

FILE - In this Tuesday, April 26, 2016 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a primary night news conference, in New York. Trump's highly anticipated foreign policy speech will test whether the Republican presidential front-runner known for his raucous rallies and eyebrow-raising statements can present a more presidential persona as he works to coalesce a still-weary Republican establishment around his candidacy. Trump's campaign says his speech Wednesday will focus on "several critical foreign policy issues" such as trade, the global economy and national security. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)

In this Tuesday, April 26, 2016 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a primary night news conference, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)

By sometime early this evening, West Virginians will get to see first-hand whether presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump can give Democratic gubernatorial front-runner Jim Justice a run for his money in the category of pandering to coal miners.

Justice, of course, is falsely telling our state’s hardworking miners and their families that if they will just elect him governor, West Virginia will end up “mining more coal … than has ever been mined before.” Justice told Hoppy Kercheval to “mark it down.” While Justice was blustering, two of his companies were on trial in Wyoming County, facing a suit from 15 families who say one of his mining operations contaminated their drinking water wells. (UPDATED: The jury in the Wyoming County case ruled in Justice’s favor.)

Trump, meanwhile, had this to say the other night after winning the GOP primary in Indiana:

… And West Virginia. And we’re going to get those miners back to work. I’ll tell you what. We’re going to get those miners back to work … we’re not going to be Hillary Clinton, and I watched her three or four weeks ago when she was talking about the miners as if they were just numbers and she was talking about she wants the mines closed and she will never let them work again.

Let me tell you, the miners in West Virginia and Pennsylvania which was so great to me last week and Ohio and all over, they’re going to start to work again. Believe me. You’re going to be proud again to be miners.

The Associated Press has a pretty decent “fact check” item out on the subject of Trump and Appalachian coal. The AP concludes:

Trump, however, has yet to explain exactly how he will revitalize Appalachia’s coal industry. To pull it off, he will have to overcome market forces and a push for cleaner fuels that have pummeled coal.

Coal’s slump is largely the result of cheap natural gas, which now rivals coal as a fuel for generating electricity. Older coal-fired plants are being idled to meet clean-air standards.

Another hurdle for reviving coal mining in Appalachia: less coal. Reserves of coal still in the ground are smaller than in western states like Wyoming, the leading coal producer.

The story goes on:

It is unclear what Trump would do to increase mining jobs. He has long criticized the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency, saying that its proposals to tighten emission standards on coal-burning power plants are killing American jobs. A Trump adviser said that a Trump administration would review many EPA regulations including those affecting the coal industry.

While the requirements have raised the cost of operating coal-fired plants, experts say a bigger factor in coal’s decline has been cheaper natural gas. Drilling techniques such as fracking have sparked a boom in gas production, driving down prices and prompting utilities to switch from coal.

As recently as 2008, about half the electricity in the U.S. came from burning coal and one-fifth from burning natural gas. Today, each accounts for about one-third — nuclear, hydroelectric and renewables like solar and wind make up most of the rest. Weak economic growth has hurt demand for Appalachian coal used in making steel.

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Hillary Clinton on Blankenship

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Photo by Daniel Desrochers – Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship stands outside the Hillary Clinton event in Williamson on Monday.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign has issued a statement late this morning about the appearance of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship among the protesters outside Clinton’s event yesterday in Williamson. Here’s the statement from Clinton West Virginia State Director and Huntington Native Talley Sergent:

It was a pretty outrageous sight to see Don Blankenship, of all people, apparently rallying against Hillary Clinton’s plans and commitment to help our coal communities. As President, Hillary Clinton will prioritize federal legislation to make sure the likes of Don Blankenship can never again get away with showing such blatant disregard for our miners and their safety.

Our campaign is proud not to have Don Blankenship’s endorsement. If Donald Trump wants to accept his support, then he owes a serious explanation to the families of our miners we lost at Upper Big Branch and the people of West Virginia.

Coal miner Chris Steele holds a sign supporting Donald Trump outside a Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton event in Williamson, W.V., Monday, May 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Coal miner Chris Steele holds a sign supporting Donald Trump outside a Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton event in Williamson, W.Va., Monday, May 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

You’ve got to give Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton some credit, I guess. It would have probably been easier — especially at this stage of the campaign — to ignore places like Mingo County, West Virginia.

There’s plenty of media coverage already about the Democratic Party’s problems in the coalfields. What’s the upside to basically giving your opposition — not only in the November presidential race, but in races for control of Congress, state legislatures and governor’s offices — a handy pep rally?

Maybe the Clinton people have some polling that suggests they have some kind of shot to win here in the general election, though most people who follow such things seem to think otherwise. Maybe, as Sen. Joe Manchin was pitching the last few days, the Clintons really just care about showing their face in places that might otherwise think they’re just being left behind.

And maybe the Democrats generally really want to put some force behind the various plans — President Obama has one, so does Secretary Clinton and so does Sen. Bernie Sanders (so do Republicans like Reps. David McKinley and Evan Jenkins, by the way) — to try to deal with some of the coal industry’s massive legacy liabilities as part of a broader effort to find some path forward for communities whose main industry is in a steep decline.

It’s good to keep plugging those proposals. The huge financial problems facing the health-care and pension plans of the United Mine Workers of America have to be dealt with for anything good to happen in the coalfields. Finding a way to pump more money from the federal Abandoned Mine Land program to coal-mine cleanups would help improve the environment and public health here, while spurring job creation.

But aren’t the Democrats missing something? Shouldn’t they even just once in a while make a larger point that life with coal as your only industry isn’t as rosy as some of the revisionist histories make it sound? Mines blow up. Slurry dams collapse. Workers die a slow, agonizing death from black lung. Pollution of the air, land and water makes people sick.

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Unwanted: The Clintons and the coalfields

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Photo by Chris Dorst – Trump supporters protest across from Logan Middle School, Sunday, before Bill Clinton’s arrival for a rally.

For the last four or five years, one of the rally cries among the “War on Coal” crowd has been that it was unfair for the Obama administration to be putting in place new environmental rules on coal-fired power plants without coming to the coalfields to hear from people whose “way of life” might be affected.

On this blog, I’ve actually made this point myself — and agreed that Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., was right to push for a visit and a public hearing by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy.

So naturally, when the leading Democratic presidential candidate’s campaign plans a visit to Logan, the local establishment puts out the word that former President Bill Clinton isn’t welcome in their town.  And local supporters of Republican front-runner Donald Trump show up to put their best foot forward in seeing that the region’s economic concerns get a fair hearing.

Of course, one of the major problems here is the flawed notion that if the EPA just dropped its efforts to do something about climate change, the coal industry would suddenly rebound.

Interestingly, reporting from yesterday’s events by the Gazette-Mail’s David Gutman showed that while some in Logan County cling to this hopeless idea, others are more thoughtful about the situation their community finds itself in:

Kevin Stone works for National Armature and Machine, a motor and water pump service business in Holden, Logan County.

“They think this is just hurting the coal jobs, but it’s killing everyone,” he said. “My family’s lived in West Virginia for generations, I’ve been a Democrat all my life and now I’m never voting for a Democrat.”

Arnold Killen, of Harts in Lincoln County, held a Trump sign outside the Logan rally. Did he think Trump would bring back the coal industry?

Killen shrugged, “Well, he didn’t say he was going to destroy it.”

Inside the cafeteria, where the crowd ultimately drowned out protests, there was far more Clinton support.

“I think she’s good for women and children,” Marsha Bryant, of Holden, said. “I happen to be a woman and I think it’s time.”

Anita Weyenberg, Bryant’s sister and another Clinton supporter, noted that they were both daughters of a coal miner.

“Daddy hated the fact that his kids wanted to go in the mines,” she said. “The mines are gone. They’re not coming back. I think it’s time to move on.”

Continue reading…

mtrphoto2

A recent study — another in a long line of them — about mountaintop removal’s public health impacts is making the rounds on social media.

My apologies for missing this when it was originally posted online (apparently in February), but here’s the link, and the study is called, “Lung and Bronchus Cancer Deaths in Boone County, WV, Before and After Mountaintop Removal Mining.”

Basically, the study found that:

Lung and bronchus cancer [LBC] death rates have increased significantly since the introduction of MTR in Boone County (all genders, ages, corrected for age). All site cancer death rates have likewise increased significantly over time. There were significantly more deaths from LBC in MTR counties than in non-MTR counties of WV. The Boone County deaths could not be completely accounted for by smoking cigarettes  … Occupation had no effect on deaths from LBC for males, however, for females; homemakers had a significantly elevated risk of death than their working counterparts.

The study concludes:

The population in Boone County has decreased over time. Other sources of air pollution and routes of contaminant exposure may have contributed to these increases but if so their nature and source(s) are not known. In the absence of other sources of exposure, the data suggest that the introduction of mountaintop removal mining could have affected mortality in Boone Co., WV.

Blankenship: Waiting on the 4th Circuit

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Mine Explosion

Last evening, the defense team for former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship filed the last of its arguments in its effort to keep Blankenship from having to begin serving his prison sentence while an appeal of his conviction is being considered.

I’ve posted a copy of the defense’s latest filing with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals here. Blankenship’s original argument to the 4th Circuit that he be allowed to stay free on $1 million bond pending his appeal is here, and the government’s response is here.

The defense’s new filing from last night argues, as did their original brief, that Blankenship’s appeal of his conviction raises at least four significant issues:

— That U.S. District Judge Irene Berger gave the jury an incorrect definition of what constitutes a “willful violation” under federal mine safety laws.

— That the indictment against Blankenship was legally insufficient because it alleged safety violations without identifying the safety standards Blankenship conspired to violate.

— That Judge Berger refused to allow the defense a second shot at cross-examining former Massey official Chris Blanchard.

— That the judge wrongly gave the jurors a definition of “reasonable doubt.”

For the 4th Circuit to stay Blankenship’s sentence pending his full appeal, the court has to be convinced that at least one of these issues raises a substantial question that, if decided in Blankenship’s favor, would warrant his conviction or sentence being overturned. Without action by the 4th Circuit, Blankenship is scheduled to report to a so-far unidentified federal prison on May 12.

Prosecutors have made clear that bond release pending appeal is supposed to be the exception in the federal system, and they added this quote from an earlier case, which explains that just because some defendants can afford better lawyers to try to raise better questions on appeal doesn’t mean that bond release should be a given in those cases:

Federal district courts and judges in the courts of appeals know very well that the Congressional policy behind the Bail Reform Act and the subject of post-conviction and sentencing detention must be wisely administered, in order to protect the criminal justice system from the wrong perception that judges have two measuring sticks, one for regular criminals and a more lenient one for the white-collar defendant.

Jim Justice doubles down on climate change denial

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Jim Justice

It’s not enough that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Justice is tossing around nonsense about how electing him will assure that West Virginia “mines more coal … than has ever been mined before.” Now, Justice is just tossing science on climate change totally under the bus. Just look at what he told the Beckley paper:

Until we have really accurate data to prove (that humans contribute) I don’t think we need to blow our legs off on a concept. I welcome the scientific approach to it and the knowledge.  I would not sit here and say, ‘absolutely now, there’s no such thing’ or I would no way on Earth say there is such a thing. I believe there’s an awful lot of scientist that say, ‘no, no, no, this is just smoke and mirrors.’ I welcome the discussion, but I don’t know, I just don’t know.

Until we have really accurate data? Smoke and mirrors? Despite what he says, it’s clear that Justice doesn’t welcome the scientific approach to this issue.

Prosecutors oppose Blankenship bail during appeal

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Mine Explosion Congress

Last night, prosecutors filed their brief with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to oppose former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship’s request to remain free on bail while appealing his conviction for conspiring to violate federal mine safety and health standards.

Here’s their summary of their argument:

A criminal defendant’s conviction and sentencing bring with them a strong presumption that he will serve his sentence without delay. By his motion to stay his sentence pending appeal, Defendant-Appellant Blankenship (“Defendant”) seeks to evade that presumption. He cites four supposed reversible errors and says his sentence should be delayed because of them. The record reveals, however, that the district court was exceptionally careful and thorough in resolving Defendant’s legal contentions both before trial and during it. Defendant’s appellate claims simply are weak, and success for him on appeal is improbable.

I’ve posted a copy of their brief here.

Also, here’s a copy of a 4th Circuit order that set the schedule for legal briefs in the appeal of Blankenship’s conviction.  Initial briefs are due May 31. Remember that, pending action by the 4th Circuit to stay his sentence, Blankenship is scheduled to report to prison on May 12.