coal

Katie Myers

Bennett Quillen walks through a late August downpour check on his fall crop, and sees that his greasy beans are coming ripe. He learned how to farm from his father, and he’s determined to model environmental stewardship for his community.

“I believe in taking care of the land,” Quillen says. “I want to leave the land better than I found it.”

Quillen’s story is pretty common in  this part of Eastern Kentucky.  His grandfather was a coal miner, his father was a coal miner, and he was too.  Now, Quillen is retired.  He lives with his wife in a house in Deane, Kentucky that his years underground paid for.

He grows vegetable and fruit crops on his acres of land. But hidden beneath his pastoral life are constant reminders of the legacy costs of the coal industry — both in his lungs and in the land around him.

Kate Howard

Environmental and consumer groups have pushed for the early closure of a 50-year-old coal-fired power plant in West Virginia that serves electricity customers in both West Virginia and Kentucky.

They have an unlikely ally: Kentucky’s Republican attorney general, Daniel Cameron.

In a filing last week with the Kentucky Public Service Commission, Cameron recommended the commission reject Kentucky Power’s request for $67 million in upgrades for the Mitchell Plant in Marshall County, West Virginia, paid for by its customers with a surcharge on their monthly bills.

Instead, Cameron said Kentucky Power, which owns a 50% share of the plant with Wheeling Power, should let it close in 2028. Both are subsidiaries of Ohio-based American Electric Power.

J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider a lower court ruling that allows a federal agency to set emission standards.

Cameron filed a brief Friday asking the court to review a D.C. Circuit ruling in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency concerning the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. 

The EPA under the Obama administration sought to curb coal emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The D.C. court ruling allowed the EPA to continue issuing those standards for the nation’s power grid. 

In the brief, Cameron argues that Congress should instead be in charge of policy decisions that could impact the nation’s power plants.

Kayrros

Appalachian coal mines emit more than a million tons of methane a year, and overall the region is the largest U.S. source of the potent greenhouse gas, according to new research.

The region was the source of 3 million tons of methane in 2019, 1.1 million tons of it from coal mining, according to European satellite data analyzed by Kayrros, a company focused on climate risk

In 2020, the region’s methane emissions declined to 2.4 million tons as the coronavirus pandemic lowered energy demand, but coal’s share of total emissions held to 1 million tons.

  

Jeff Young

Kentucky coal production and employment fell by the smallest amount in nearly two years, according to new data.

The state’s coal mines produced 6.5 million tons in the first three months of 2021, according to the Energy and Environment Cabinet, a decline of 9.6% from 2020.Total employment fell by 14.6% to 3,983 workers.

Western Kentucky continued to outpace Eastern Kentucky in production, with 4.3 million tons mined in the west and 2.3 million tons mined in the east.

One western Kentucky county, Union, produced more coal than the entire eastern coalfield.

Total employment remained higher in the east, with 2,366 workers. Western Kentucky mines employed 1,617 workers.

Updated May 18, 2021 at 1:07 PM ET

Enough rhetoric, it's time to act: that's the gist of a new report from the International Energy Agency, which says the world must bring about "a total transformation" of its energy systems if it hopes to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and minimize the worst effects of climate change.

Courtesy of the office of Sen. Manchin

On Earth Day, President Joe Biden convened world leaders for a climate summit, where he laid out an ambitious goal for U.S. policy on climate change.

“The United States sets out to cut our global warming emissions in half by the end of the decade,” Biden said. “That’s where we’re heading as a nation.”

But Biden has 50 votes in an evenly divided Senate, and unless he can persuade a Republican to cross the aisle, he can’t get anything done without West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin.

As Biden attempts to cut carbon emissions and clean up the electric power sector, Manchin can shape energy legislation to help Appalachian coal communities that have lost jobs.

DOE

On Thursday — Earth Day — President Joe Biden announced an ambitious goal to fight the climate crisis: The country will cut by half its global warming emissions by 2030. Such action will require a massive reduction in the use of fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, long a bedrock of the economy for Ohio Valley and Appalachian communities, and some regional politicians have already voiced opposition to the president’s plan.

But Biden’s Energy Secretary, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, said in an interview with the Ohio Valley ReSource that the region could gain jobs as a result of action against climate change.

“I don’t mean to be a Pollyanna, I understand this issue of transitioning is hard,” she said, “but I want to give people hope that this administration is really interested in helping to lure businesses, and diversify existing businesses that are there to be able to take advantage of what is going to be a massive market opportunity if we do this right.”

Jeff Young

United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts said he’s been hearing the term “just transition” tossed around for more than 20 years as part of the long-running, nearly Sisyphean discussion about climate change, clean energy, and coal country. 

Simply put: he’s not a fan.

“I ask anybody who has been uttering those two words over the last 30 years — point to one, one ‘just transition’ in this country,” Roberts challenged. “And you can’t.” 

The West Virginia native is the UMWA’s second-longest serving leader, behind only the legendary John L. Lewis. But unlike Lewis, who served during the coal industry and union’s height of power and influence, Roberts’ tenure coincides with an epic decline in coal production and employment in the U.S., and now, what could be the closing chapter for coal.

Brittany Patterson

In Central Appalachia an estimated 538,000 unplugged oil and gas wells and 853,393 acres of abandoned mine lands sit unreclaimed, often polluting the air and water, and presenting public safety threats.

But according to two new reports from the regional think tank Ohio River Valley Institute,  these sites that now pose serious health risks to residents could be providing thousands of jobs for the region. The group’s findings indicate that, should the federal government take the risk seriously and invest in mitigation, not only would environmental risk be reduced, but thousands of well-paying jobs could potentially be created.

Katie Myers

Elaine Tanner lives with her life partner, Jimmy Hall, at the head of Mill Creek in Letcher County, Kentucky. Jimmy is a sixth-generation Letcher Countian, and the land is his family land. Together, they like to roll around on their property on their ATV. But lately, Tanner’s spent more time searching for signs of damage than having fun. That’s what she was doing on Thursday morning — investigating her mountain. 

“A few days ago,” she said, “the rains came and the mountain busted open.”

After the March 28 rainstorm, Tanner was dismayed to find the hillside looking even less stable than usual. Boulders had shifted downslope. Trees were leaning, she said, almost like they were drunk. Even though the head of the hollow is too high to flood, Tanner, like many who live on higher ground, found herself facing another problem: landslides.

 

  

For decades now, rhetoric around action on climate change has been about things like saving the planet, or saving polar bears. Just think: How many times have you seen an image of ice crashing into the sea from a melting glacier, or a sad-eyed seal atop a floe, as part of a climate change message?

But Gina McCarthy — the veteran environmental policy maker President Joe Biden has picked as his top climate advisor — is making a very different case for climate action.

“I want people to know that this isn’t about a planet. This is about our people. This is about our families,” McCarthy said in our recent interview. 

Forget about polar bears and seals. McCarthy wants to talk about plumbers and steelworkers and the other blue-collar Americans who could play a part in greening the country’s infrastructure and economy.

Steven Rotsch

Monday marks 11 years since the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster in Raleigh County, West Virginia, where 29 miners were killed on April 5, 2010.

Federal mine safety investigators determined that a buildup of methane gas and coal dust led to the explosion at the Massey Energy-owned mine. It was the worst mine disaster in 40 years.

Massey CEO Don Blankenship was convicted in December 2015 of conspiracy to violate mine safety and health standards.

He served one year in prison and paid a $250,000 fine. Other Massey executives and mine officials were convicted and sentenced to prison for their roles in the disaster.

Adelina Lancianese | NPR

Doctors hired by coal companies in black lung cases are far less likely to diagnose the disease in X-rays than are independent doctors or those who are hired by coal miners, a new study has concluded, pointing to conflicts of interest in the system that sick miners use to receive assistance.

The doctors who worked for coal companies to read the chest X-rays of miners found an absence of the disease nearly 85% of the time, according to the authors of the study, published Friday by the University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health’s Division of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences. In contrast, the doctors whose clients were coal miners found an absence of black lung a little more than 51% of the time.

“The more frequently a physician is hired by the employer/mine-operator to provide a medical opinion related to workers compensation cases for black lung disease, the more likely that physician will not identify black lung disease on a chest X-ray,” the study concluded. “The opposite is true too.”

World Coal

The U.S. Department of Labor announced Wednesday stronger coronavirus safety guidance intended to keep coal miners safe from COVID-19 in the workplace. However, the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration stopped short of issuing an emergency standard — as the mine workers’ union had requested — and instead kept to voluntary guidelines.

“This updated guidance provides U.S. mine operators with important recommendations for protecting miners from coronavirus,” Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Jeannette Galanis said in a statement. 

The guidance includes a hazard assessment of mines, measures to control viral spread, and company policies that do not punish miners who speak up about potential hazards or those who must miss work in order to quarantine.

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