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.
May 28, 2014
A potential indicator of the future of coal can be seen in Salem, Massachusetts where a 720-megawatt coal and oil fired plant that has been open since 1951 will be shutting down permanently on June 1st. The plant will be demolished and replaced with a 674-megawatt gas plant with one-third the footprint. There are also plans for construction of operations for a future offshore wind farm.
This coal-fired plant is just one of hundreds set to close nationwide by 2020, according to the Department of Energy. As the gas boom continues throughout the United States and tight restrictions are imposed on carbon emissions, the future of coal appears to be facing some tough roads ahead.
May 13, 2014
Two coal miners working for Patriot Coal died Monday evening while working at Patriot’s Brody Mine No. 1 in Boone County, West Virginia. This brings to the total of five coal miners dying nationwide on the job so far this year.
Eric D. Legg, 48 and Gary P. Hensley, 46 were both “retreat mining” in that they remove coal pillars in the mine that hold up the roof. In this instance, the roof collapsed on top of both workers and neither coal miner survived.
Read article at http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140513/GZ01/140519765/1419
May 5, 2014
Over 8,000 tons of coal derailed in Bowie, Maryland last Thursday morning. This is the third major Mid-Atlantic spill for the CSX railroad in under a week. The incident highlights the dangers of transporting fossil fuels over rail lines that can have devastating and hazardous consequences on humans and wildlife.
April 29, 2014
The Supreme Court today upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to place regulations on pollution caused from coal-fired power plants that are emitted from 27 Midwestern and Appalachian states. This is a major victory in reducing power plant pollution and highlights a decade long battle by the EPA to find a way to limit smog pollution that has been plaguing the eastern seaboard.
This ruling will require coal power plants to reduce their smokestack pollution in an effort to clean up air quality for downwind states. The EPA stated that this ruling would prevent more than 30,000 premature deaths and hundreds of thousands of illness each year.
April 24, 2014
After the devastating February 2nd spill that released toxic sludge for over 70 miles on the Dan River, Duke Energy is under pressure to remove all coal ash that borders North Carolina’s rivers and lakes. Environmental groups are citing the need for Duke Energy to remove all of their coal ash to lined landfills in order to avoid the environmental degradation that occurred on the Dan River.
Duke Energy is alleging that this removal of coal ash would cost over $10 billion dollars and take decades to clean up. Furthermore, Duke Energy has stated that the majority of these costs for paying for coal ash clean up would come from its electricity customers.
April 10, 2014
National Geographic discusses the argument that clean coal is nothing more than a myth. The article discusses the idea of capturing the CO₂ and how long can these deposits actually store the carbon dioxide.
There is evidence from leading Geophysicists that often, the injection of the carbon dioxide is put into reservoirs with brittle rock. This leads to small earthquakes, which cause cracking in the overlying shale rock and leads to CO₂ leaking from the storage facilities.
Read article at http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2014/04/coal/nijhuis-text
April 8, 2014
Richmond, Va-based James River Coal filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in order to restructure and save the Coal company’s declining business. The company has secured a $110 million dollar bankruptcy loan.
James River Coal stated that this decline for both James River and coal companies in the central Appalachian region is directly attributable to the new natural gas boom associated with fracing. The change to natural gas has led to a decline in the coal industry including mine closures and layoffs throughout Appalachia.
April 4, 2014
Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway of North Carolina denied Duke Energy’s motion to shield records associated with groundwater pollution that has been leaking from 33 coal ash dumps throughout North Carolina. A criminal investigation is continuing involving Duke’s February coal ash spill that spanned 70 miles of the Dan River.
Duke Energy lawyers were concerned that these records of leaching coal ash from company dumps could present the company in an unfavorable manner and thereby influence grand jury members involved in the criminal proceeding.
April 2, 2014
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia publically accused former Massey Energy CEO Donald Blakenship of having “blood on his hands” associated with the Upper Big Branch mine in which 29 coal workers were killed in an explosion in April 2010. Senator Manchin was the governor of West Virginia at the time of the Upper Big Branch tragedy.
Allegations have been made that high ranking officials within Massey Energy including Blankenship encouraged and employed practices of warning mine workers ahead of time that a safety inspector would be coming to the mine. Investigators are claiming that the tragedy in which 29 coal workers lost their lives could have been avoided if the mine had followed proper mine safety protocol.
March 28, 2014
The North Carolina state Department of Environment and Natural Resources recently cited Duke Energy with a notice of deficiency for a crack in a dam located at the Cape Fear River plant coal ash pit.
Allegations have been made that Duke Energy illegally pumped over 61 million gallons of contaminated water from the coal ash pit located at the Cape Fear River plant.
March 24, 2014
Arch Coal suffered a set back today when the United States Supreme Court declined to hear their challenge to the Obama administration’s blockage of an environmental permit for the Spruce No. 1 mining project in West Virginia.
The EPA in an unprecedented move vetoed a permit for Arch Coal despite the fact that the Army Corps of Engineers had given approval for the mine. The permit would have allowed Arch Coal to discharge coal associated waste into local waterways. The case will now be returned back to the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.
Read article at http://www.cnbc.com/id/101519586
See document at
February 4, 2014
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released findings related to coal leasing and the need for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to enhance the appraisal process. GAO found that the BLM consistently failed to explain the rationale for accepting bids for coal leasing on federal land that at least initially were far below the actual fair market value presale estimates.
The report stated that the state offices of the BLM did not allow independent review of these leasing agreements with coal companies. Additionally, GAO cited that the BLM failed to take advantage of an independent third party appraisal within the Department of the Interior (Office of Valuation of Services). Lastly, GAO was highly critical of the BLM’s failure to provide even limited information to the public on federal coal leasing.
Read article at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-140
See document at http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/659801.pdf
October 22, 2013
Michael Hendryx of West Virginia University recently released a report that highlights the severe emotional toll that the coal industry’s practice of mountaintop removal takes on the people living where these extraction tactics take place.
The study released showed that of 8,591 adults living in Central Appalachia, 17% of respondents in mountaintop removal mining areas suffered from major depression. This was compared with 10% of respondents diagnosed with major depression in non-mining areas.
See document at http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1089/eco.2013.0029
January 31, 2013
Citizen’s groups in Kentucky recently rose a public objection to what they claim is the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet making back-room deals with Frasure Creek Mining. The agreement is to determine fines levied against Frasure Creek mining for hundreds of water pollution violations. The citizens groups are claiming that the state of Kentucky is allowing Frasure Creek Coal’s threat of forfeiture to get off the hook for $440,000 of the $660,000 penalties for intentional polluting of Kentucky waterways.
This is just another example of citizen groups alleging that they are being excluded from all negotiations while the coal industry is being allowed to settle pollution violations through private, non-public negotiations.
See document at http://appvoices.org/aww/Frasure_OAH_Settlement_Objections.pdf
December 12, 2012
According to a report released by Downstream Strategies, the state of Virginia in 2009 lost an estimated $22 million in revenues as a result of the coal industry. The coal industry was the largest expenditure to the state of Virginia and is said to receive over $37 million a year in tax breaks within the state.
This article emphasizes the need for reform in the tax structure associated with the coal industry and the drain these tax breaks are taking on local economies. Downstream Strategies also discusses the decline of coal production in Virginia and the rising costs associated with coal mining expenses.
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.