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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.

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Can Coal Ever Be Clean?

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

James River Coal files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

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.

 Read article at http://www.marketwatch.com/story/james-river-coal-files-for-chapter-11-bankruptcy-2014-04-07-18485718?link=MW_latest_news

NC judge rebuffs Duke Energy request to shield coal ash records during criminal investigation

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.

 Read article at http://www.usnews.com/news/business/articles/2014/04/04/nc-judge-denies-duke-motion-to-seal-coal-ash-docs

US Senator: Coal Boss Has ‘Blood on His Hands’

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.

 Read article at http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/us-senator-coal-boss-don-blankenship-blood-hands/story?id=23162460

NC regulators cite Duke Energy for crack in dam

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.

 Read article at http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/ap_news/us/article_08fb76c6-ec66-563b-9580-593dcf869efc.html

Court declines to hear Arch Coal mining permit case

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

http://sblog.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Mingo_121613NAHBAmBr_SCOTUS_20140203124759.pdf

 

U.S. House advances bill putting curbs on EPA power plant rules

March 6, 2014

The U.S. Congress passed House Resolution 3826, The Electricity Security and Affordability Act, which would block the EPA’s first-ever national carbon pollution limits of America’s power plants. The bill would curb limits on coal production and passed in the House by a vote of 229-183.

The impact of this bill if it is to be passed in the Senate and not vetoed by President Obama would essentially paralyze the EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act by creating a massive loophole that allows America’s power plants to continue releasing unregulated amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

 Read article at http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/06/usa-congress-powerplants-idUSL1N0M31AR20140306

Coal Firm to Pay Record Penalty and Spend Millions on Water Cleanup in 5 States

March 5, 2014

Alpha Natural Resources, and 66 of its subsidiaries have been fined $27.5 million, the largest civil penalty ever for violations of the Clean Water Act associated with over 6,000 coal related violations in five states ranging from 2006 to 2013. Additionally, Alpha will pay $200 million under a consent decree to alleviate pollution from their coalmines in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Some people have regarded these penalties as not specific enough since these penalties do not address the fundamental problems of high pollution associated with the coal mining techniques such as mountain top removals in the Appalachians. Many would like to see that the E.P.A. stop issuing permits that coal companies simply are unable to comply with. The concern is that levying fines after the pollution occurs does not protect the communities and waterways that are already harmed.

 Read article at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/06/us/coal-firm-to-pay-record-penalty-and-spend-millions-on-water-cleanup-in-5-states.html?src=twrhp&_r=0

 

Virginia coal miner pinned by machine, killed

February 21, 2014

A 24-year-old coal miner from Virginia was killed while working at the Dominion Coal Corp. Mine No. 30 in Southwestern Virginia. The mine is owned and operated by SunCoke Energy.

Arthur David Gelenster was operating a machine called a continuous miner to extract coal when he was pinned by the machine and subsequently died as a result of his injuries. This is the second recorded coal mining fatality of the 2014 calender year.

Read article at http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/feb/21/virginia-coal-miner-pinned-by-machine-killed/

 

 

Officials: Unsafe levels of arsenic from Duke Energy coal ash dump pouring into river

February 18, 2014

Officials in North Carolina reported that high levels of arsenic are polluting groundwater flowing into the Dan River from a Duke Energy coal ash dump. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources ordered Duke Energy to halt the hazardous flow coming out of the coal ash dump. It is being reported that the water being released from the coal dump contains arsenic levels up to 14 times higher than what is safe for human contact.

This leakage of unacceptably high levels of arsenic is located in the same area of the Dan River where a massive spill occurred on February 2nd.  The Dan River contains two federally listed endangered species, the Roanoke logperch fish and the James spinymussel. The effects of coal ash are devastating for aquatic life, which clogs gill tissues and buries aquatic life and their access to food.

 Read article at http://www.cbsnews.com/news/officials-unsafe-levels-of-arsenic-from-duke-energy-coal-ash-dump-pouring-into-river/

 

Court declines to hear Arch Coal mining permit case

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

http://sblog.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Mingo_121613NAHBAmBr_SCOTUS_20140203124759.pdf

 

BLM Could Enhance Appraisal Process, More Explicitly Consider Coal Exports, and Provide More Public Information

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

New study examines mountaintop removal’s potential impact on mental health in Appalachia communities

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.

 Read article at http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/2013/10/22/new-study-examines-mountaintop-removals-potential-impact-on-mental-health-in-appalachia-communities/

 See document at http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1089/eco.2013.0029

Citizens Object To State Of Kentucky’s Backroom Deal With Coal Company

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.

Read article at http://appvoices.org/2013/02/01/citizens-object-to-state-of-kentucky%E2%80%99s-backroom-deal-with-coal-company/

See document at  http://appvoices.org/aww/Frasure_OAH_Settlement_Objections.pdf

The Impact of Coal on the Virginia State Budget

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.

Read article at http://appvoices.org/2012/12/12/coal-industry-costs-virginians-millions-of-dollars-every-year/

See document at  http://www.downstreamstrategies.com/documents/reports_publication/ds_impact_of_coal_on_virginia_state_budget_final_12-10-12.pdf

A Field-Based Aquatic Life Benchmark for Conductivity in Central Appalachian Streams – EPA – 2011

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.

/documents/a-field-based-aquatic-life-benchmark-for-conductivity-in-central-appalachian-streams-epa-2011

Final Memorandum: Improving EPA Review of Appalachian Surface Coal Mining Operations, EPA 2011

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.

/documents/final-memorandum-improving-epa-review-of-appalachian-surface-coal-mining-operations-epa-2011

MSHA announces results of April impact inspections

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

MSHA Internal Audits, Region 1, 2010

Reports from MSHA Office of Accountability reviews of MSHA inspectors in region 1.

/documents/msha-internal-audits-region-1-2010

MSHA Internal Audits, Region 2, 2010

Reports from MSHA Office of Accountability reviews of MSHA inspectors in region 2.

/documents/msha-internal-audits-region-2-2010