coal

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.

Adreanna Wills

The golden hue of the sunset shines across the sky and through the window as a woman drives down Van Meter Road in central Kentucky’s Clark County, passing by green rolling hills and hay bales.

In her social media video from early September, Adreanna Wills points out white signs in yards along the way, displaying the phrase “Industrial Solar” with a slash through the words. 

“Imagine these signs being ‘for sale’ signs in front of these properties instead of the signs demonstrating where they stand on this, because that’s probably what we’re looking at for some of these families,” said Wills, who runs the county animal shelter. 


Peabody Energy, Inc., via Wikimedia Commons

A federal bankruptcy judge has denied a petition from former Blackjewel coal executive Jeff Hoops to liquidate the company. The decision means the reorganization of the company will continue under Chapter 11 bankruptcy as former employees, creditors and state agencies seek to recover millions owed by the company.

Hoops cited “permanent negative cash flow” at his former company, which has accrued at least $80 million in administrative and other expenses since its bankruptcy filing on July 1 last year. 

The nearly 3,000-filing-long Blackjewel bankruptcy docket demonstrates an 18-month scramble by the company’s creditors to recuperate as much money as possible from a too-small pot.

Ned Pillersdorf

Allegations of financial misconduct by Blackjewel’s former CEO have surrounded the company’s bankruptcy case since it began last July. But a December 10 court filing lays out specific allegations against ousted CEO Jeff Hoops: webs of shell companies and secret royalty schemes that allegedly enriched Hoops at the expense of coal miners, the environment, and his companies.

The filing, by Blackjewel and related companies, instigates a civil lawsuit against Hoops, a major escalation in a protracted case with wide-ranging implications for the once-mighty coal industry overall.

The bankruptcy sparked a protest by out-of-work miners, who since the beginning blamed Hoops for their misfortune. A graphic often seen at miners’ months-long coal-train blockade featured a feisty Calvin, of the Bill Watterson comic “Calvin and Hobbes,” urinating on their former boss.


Ned Pillersdorf

The convoluted bankruptcy of coal company Blackjewel has hit another turn of events as the company’s former CEO moved to liquidate the company.  A federal judge granted a motion last week to convert the bankruptcy from Chapter 11 to Chapter 7.

That means that instead of exiting bankruptcy as a new company with less debt, Blackjewel L.L.C. will effectively cease to exist.

Former Blackewel CEO Jeff Hoops, who is currently under investigation for mismanagement of the company, said in a filing that Blackjewel had only $146,000 in unrestricted funds, and could not pay millions in back taxes, reclamation fees and employee healthcare expenses.

“Given [Blackjewel’s] lack of operating assets, permanent, negative net cash flow, and continuing financial losses, there is no reason to continue this proceeding as a Chapter 11 and incur the substantial and unnecessary administrative expenses attendant to doing so,” Hoops and other filers said in the November 25 motion.


Office of Sen. Joe Manchin

A group of Ohio Valley senators says a watchdog agency’s recent report shows that federal regulators must do more to protect coal miners from silica dust, an especially toxic form of dust created when mining equipment cuts into rock layers near coal seams.

In a Monday morning press release, six Democratic senators, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, called the findings in last week’s Inspector General’s report “extremely troubling,” saying the Mine Safety and Health Administration knew what it needed to do to lower miners’ exposure to deadly silica dust.

The senators’ pressure comes after the Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General found that MSHA’s standards for exposure to deadly silica dust were out of date, and that the mine safety agency’s sampling methods were too infrequent to guarantee that miners were protected.

Adelina Lancianese | NPR

The Mine Safety and Health Administration is not doing enough to protect coal miners from deadly silica dust, according to a new report from the Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General. The IG found that MSHA’s standards for exposure to deadly silica dust were out of date, and MSHA lacked the ability to issue fines when coal companies violate air quality standards. The IG also said the mine safety agency’s sampling methods were too infrequent to guarantee that miners were protected. 

The report comes after years of increased scrutiny following reporting from NPR and the Ohio Valley ReSource that found clusters of advanced black lung disease among Appalachian coal miners.

 


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