Appalachia is the historical center of the coal mining industry in the United States, providing much of the fuel for the industrial revolution . Today it produces a far smaller fraction of the country’s coal but still has more active mines than any other region in the United States. Older mines tend to be traditional underground mines, which employ large numbers of miners and leave the surrounding area relatively intact. However, many of the newer mines are what are referred to as “mountaintop removal”, which literally disassembles a mountain to retrieve the coal inside. While far more efficient than a underground mines, their environmental impacts are much greater. Much of their efficiency results from the fact that they can mine coal with a fraction of the workers when compared with an underground mine.
ilovemountains.org has done a tremendous effort cataloging the effects that mountaintop removal has had on the Appalachian mountains, as well as the link between electricity usage and enviromental impacts.
June 19, 2012
A bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives aims to put a halt on new or expansion mountaintop removal coal mining permits until further health studies can be conducted.
The bill was introduced by 13 members of Congress led by Reps. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and Louise Slaughter, D-New York. It calls for a moratorium on new mountaintop removal coal mines until science “demonstrates the mines will not cost local families their lives and health.”
If passed, the bill would prevent new permits until the Secretary of Health and Human Services published a determination that mountaintop removal presents no human health risks.
The representatives point to studies showing elevated levels of birth defects, groundwater contamination and air pollution as a result of mountain top removal coal mining.
Read article at http://wvgazette.com/News/201206190104
April 10, 2012
In 2011, U.S. coal exports reached their highest level since 1991, according to statistics from U.S. Department of Energy. Increasing demand in Europe and Asia are driving the energy resource abroad.
The statistics revealed that the nation exported 107 million tons of coal valued at $16 billion last year, which is double where it stood only five years prior.
According to the AP, U.S coal is going to,
The surge in Japan’s need for coal is seen as a result of its difficulties with its nuclear and electrical grid following last year’s earthquake and tsunami. Other top destinations for American coal were China, Brazil, Britain, Italy, and the Netherlands.
Read article at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=150359891
February 29, 2012
The Southern District of West Virginia Judge Irene Berger sentenced former Massey Energy security director, Hughie Elbert Stover, 60 to three years in prison on Feb.29 for lying to investigators and trying to destroy evidence in an on-going investigation of one the worst coal mining disasters in U.S. History.
Stover also received two years’ probation and was fined $20,000.
Seeking a 25-year sentence, prosecutors alleged Stover’s now two convicted felonies played a central role in the 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch mine. However, Judge Berger stated there was little evidence to support linking Stover’s crimes to the miner’s deaths.
The charges against Stover came after federal Mine Safety and Health Administration investigators disclosed his role in a Massey practice of warning workers of impending safety inspections, which played a major role in the mine disaster, according to investigators.
Read article at http://wvgazette.com/News/201202290125
February 13, 2012
U.S. coal production increased in 2011 by 0.4% from its 2010 level, driven mostly by exports as domestic coal-fired electricity fell due to the affordability of natural gas, according to the U.S.’s Energy Information Administration’s weekly coal report. Of the total coal consumed in 2011, about 93% was used in the electric power sector. Much of the coal that was not used by utilities was exported from U.S. seaports. Due to flooding in Australia, the world’s largest coal exporter, the U.S. increased coal exports in 2011 to India, Japan, and South Korea. United States exported a total of 107 million tons of coal in 2011, the most since 1991 and up 31% from 2010.
Western coal production declined 1.2% to 584 million tons in 2011 while the eastern Appalachian region increased its coal production by 0.6% for a total of 338 million tons. The increase in this region’s production is mainly due to expanding export markets for metallurgical coal which reached record levels in 2011, about 70 million tons. Production from the interior of the United States rose 6.4% to 166 million tons.
Read report at http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=4970
February 13, 2011
The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) will likely receive a slight budget cut from the Obama administration for the 2013 fiscal year, as the organization refocuses its resources on safety and health enforcement.
In its budget proposal Monday Feb. 14, the White House recommended reducing overall funding by $1 million for the Administration making their total budget $372 million for 2013. Under the proposal, MSHA would reduce spending for non-enforcement branches that focus on education and training, information resources and program administration. The agency would also cut spending on its newly combined office that handles penalty assessments and collections, special investigations that look for potential criminal violations and reviews of how well MSHA is doing its job. MSHA’s overall staffing would down to 2,336 from 2,365.
Read article at http://wvgazette.com/News/montcoal/201202130135
December 6, 2011
Federal officials have announced a settlement with Alpha Resources over the company’s liability for the April 2010 explosion in the Upper Big Branch Coal Mine that killed 29 miners. Alpha will have to pay $200M in total covering safety improvements, payments to the families of victims, and other related items; in exchange Alpha will not have to plead guilty to any of the corporate charges and the federal government has agreed to never bring such charges against Alpha.
However, there is no such indemnity agreement covering individuals within the now-defunct Massey Energy organization which owned the mine at the time of the disaster. U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said resolution of issues with Alpha allows prosecutors to focus their resources on potential cases against such individuals. This is a dramatically different outcome than the result of the investigation following the fire at Massey’s Aracoma Mine which killed two miners in 2006; in that case, the settlement barred the government from pressing charges against the company or any of its employees.
Read article at http://www.wvgazette.com/News/201112060055
December 3, 2011
As federal investigator begin to wrap up their investigation into the causes of Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, one remaining question is how much Massey Energy board members knew about safety issues before the explosion. An explosion in the Upper Big Branch Mine killed 29 miners on April 5, 2010. Investigations since by multiple agencies as well as Massey have been working ever since to identify what caused the explosion and what could/should have been done before it to prevent it.
In the year before the explosion Massey administrators were warned by experts at least three times that the mine was not properly cleaning up the explosive coal dust that detonated in the explosion. But safety reports from the administrators to the board seemed to downplay those warnings, calling the results of the audits “positive and compliance was generally good”. Other summaries to the board omitted some of the information about rock-dusting compliance and included statements saying managers “have systems or plans in place to effect changes and improvements in compliance levels.”
Read article at http://wvgazette.com/News/montcoal/201112030091
October 27, 2011
While the coal industry tries to open up deep-water coal terminals on the Pacific coast of the United States to increase the export of coal to Asia, and the environmental movement tries to stop those ports developing, some of the impacts of the ports being built might be what neither side expects. On the one hand, environmentalists fear that the selling coal to China will just feed an increase in the total carbon emissions world wide, accelerating global warming. All the currently planned ports could only address 3% of China’s needs, and the sale of that coal could dramatically raise coal prices in the United States, forcing American utilities to phase out coal in favor of natural gas and renewables, which in turn may decrease US carbon emissions.
But the coal industry might also be in for a surprise: the last time coal prices spiked through international demand, Portland made a huge investment to become a coal export terminal, only to find that the international market crashed before a single ton of coal was shipped through the port, leaving the city with a very large unpaid bill.
October 26, 2011
The Obama administration is floating a plan that would merge the two most significant regulatory bodies in coal mining: the Office of Surface Mining, which regulates and monitors the coal industry for safety, and the Bureau of Land Management, an office that handles many tasks including the responsibility for promoting coal mining through the leasing federal lands in the West.
While government officials say that such a merger will strengthen the Abandoned Mines program as well as mining regulations by combining the two tasks into a single office. However, others feel that the action would essentially kill the oversight capabilities of OSM. “I am concerned that OSM will be diluted, or denuded, and will not serve as the same repository of coalfield residents’ concerns,” said Nick Rahall (D-WV), the last legislator still in office who was present in Congress when the OSM was created in 1977.
Read article at http://wvgazette.com/News/201110260182
September 22, 2011
Thomas Harrah of Seth, WV has been sentenced to 10 months in prison for faking the foreman’s licence that he used at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine and the lying to investigators about it. Harrah had previously pled guilty to faking a foreman’s license and using it from January 2008 to August 2009 at the Upper Big Branch mine, but said that he had lied when he told to investigators that Massey officials had helped him get the fake license.
While Harrah performed key safety inspections at UBB during the time he pretended to be a foreman, he was transferred to another mine eight months before the April 5, 2010 explosion; federal officials have not claimed that he was responsible for that explosion. The only other person to face criminal charges in the wake of the disaster is security director Hughie Elbert Stover, who is accused of trying to divert government agents investigating the disaster. He is scheduled for trial in October.
Read article at http://wvgazette.com/News/201109221802
National Center for Environmental Assessment, Ofﬁce of Research and Development, EPA/600/R-10/023F, www.epa.gov/ncea, March 2011
This report describes a method to characterize the relationship between the extirpation (the effective extinction) of invertebrate genera and salinity (measured as conductivity) and from that relationship derives a freshwater aquatic life benchmark. This benchmark of 300 µS/cm may be applied to waters in Appalachian streams that are dominated by calcium and magnesium salts of sulfate and bicarbonate at circum-neutral to mildly alkaline pH.
Improving EPA Review of Appalachian Surface Coal Mining Operations Under the Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and the Environmental Justice Executive Order. Published July 21, 2011.
May 31, 2011
The results of the April 2011 MSHA “impact” inspections have been announced, resulting in a total of 161 citations and orders being issued against eight different coal mining operations. All cited mines were in the eastern region of the US, including Shoemaker and Randolph in West Virginia, the No. 2 and #68 mines in Kentucky, as well as one mine in each of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee and Alabama.
Among the worst offenders in the sweep were the Vision Coal’s No. 2 mine, which received 37 citations and orders that documented (among other things) that Vision wasn’t properly drilling bore holes to test for methane, and that it was creating a risk of a collapse by not following its ceiling reinforcement plan. Inman Energy’s Randolph mine received 25 citations, 21 of which were the most serious “S&S” citations indicating an immediate danger to the mining crew. The impact inspections grew out of an increased enforcement push by MSHA after the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine. Impact inspections target mines that have a history of violations.
Read article at http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/2011/05/31/msha-announces-results-of-latest-inspection-sweeps/ and http://www.wfpl.org/2011/06/01/two-kentucky-mines-cited-in-msha-inspections/. Read MSHA press release at http://www.msha.gov/MEDIA/PRESS/2011/NR110531.asp See the list of inspected mines at http://coaldiver.org/documents/master-inspection-list-targeted-enforcement-msha-april-2011
Reports from MSHA Office of Accountability reviews of MSHA inspectors in region 1.
Reports from MSHA Office of Accountability reviews of MSHA inspectors in region 2.
Reports from MSHA Office of Accountability reviews of MSHA inspectors in region 5.
Reports from MSHA Office of Accountability reviews of MSHA inspectors in region 6.
Reports from MSHA Office of Accountability reviews of MSHA inspectors in region 7.
Reports from MSHA Office of Accountability reviews of MSHA inspectors in region 11.
The following documents are a leaked draft proposal for new coal mining rules to try and help decrease mining’s environmental impacts. Obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by Ken Ward, Jr. of the Charleston Gazette, they provide a very early glimpse at what the rules might be.