coal bankruptcy

Ned Pillersdorf

Environmental advocates worry a coal company liquidation plan will leave dozens of coal permits in eastern Kentucky unreclaimed, according to filings in the bankruptcy proceedings of Blackjewel L.L.C.

The bankruptcy case has dragged on since last July, when the once-mighty coal company’s Chapter 11 filing left hundreds of Appalachian coal miners suddenly without work, and without weeks of pay. Now the company has until the end of 2020 to exit bankruptcy, and to do that, it needs the court to approve the very liquidation plan that has environmentalists concerned.

Courtesy of protesters on site.

For the second time since summer, eastern Kentucky coal miners are blockading a railroad track to protest unpaid wages. The new blockade, which was started Monday afternoon by Quest Energy miners, echoes the months-long blockade by Blackjewel coal miners over the summer and speaks to a growing discontent in Appalachian coal country.

“It’s hard to go to work between two rocks and not get paid for it,” said a miner who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation. “There’s men that’s getting their power bills cut off and men’s children starving.”

The two miners called on their workmates to join them. By 7 p.m. Monday evening, an additional six men had arrived. Residents living near the blockade site in Blackburn Bottom, Pike County, provided the protesters with blankets, firewood and cases of water.


Becca Schimmel

Union coal miners and retirees breathed a collective sigh of relief after the U.S. Senate passed a spending bill that includes support for miners’ pensions, which had been at risk due to the coal industry’s downturn. 

The bill, which funds the federal government for the coming year, also includes The Bipartisan American Miners Act which secures pension and health benefits for retirees.

The United Mine Workers says that without Congressional action about 82,000 retirees and widows could have lost some or all of their retirement benefits in 2020. 


The Kanawha Forest Coalition

Environmental groups sparred with coal company Blackjewel Tuesday over damage left behind in the coal company’s ongoing bankruptcy. The group is calling attention to numerous environmental violations by Blackjewel and its related companies and urging the federal bankruptcy judge to prioritize the environment as the bankruptcy continues.

The groups identified more than 400 instances when regulators found Blackjewel mines out of compliances in Kentucky alone, and more than 200 of the more serious violations in which the company was ordered to cease operations. The groups say some of those could pose serious risks to drinking water, tourism destinations and residential properties.


Senator Joe Manchin YouTube screenshot

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin pledged Wednesday to block all legislation until pensions and health benefits are secured for coal miners. 

Manchin said no legislation will pass the Senate until he is assured that coal miners’ benefits will be in the spending bill used to fund the federal government.

The Bipartisan American Miners Act would permanently secure pensions for about 82,000 coal miners who could lose their retirement benefits by sometime next year without congressional action.


Sydney Boles | Ohio Valley ReSource

The recent bankruptcy of Murray Energy is likely to significantly increase the debt of a struggling federal trust fund that supports disabled miners’ health care expenses.

According to court filings, Murray Energy could be responsible for as much as $155 million under the Black Lung Act and general workers’ compensation, but testimony from the Government Accountability Office shows that the company only offered $1.1 million in collateral to the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. That means the struggling fund will likely have to take on at least some of that liability.


Ohio-Based Coal Giant Murray Energy Declares Bankruptcy

Oct 29, 2019
Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

Murray Energy Corp., the largest underground coal mining company in America with a substantial footprint across the Ohio Valley, has filed for bankruptcy protection.

“Although a bankruptcy filing is not an easy decision, it became necessary to access liquidity and best position Murray Energy and its affiliates for the future of our employees and customers and our long term success,” company founder Robert Murray said in a release.


Sydney Boles | Ohio Valley ReSource

Coal miners who went without pay when mining company Blackjewel declared bankruptcy this June are one step closer to receiving lost wages. The checks come weeks after some of the miners ended a long-running protest, and months after the federal Department of Labor first intervened to allege the company violated labor laws in the month before it folded.

Rumors of a deal circulated early this month, and in consent orders filed in U.S. district courts in Kentucky and Virginia, Blackjewel committed to pay more than $5 million to miners.


Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

Coal executive Bob Murray clashed Monday with federal energy regulators at a Lexington, Kentucky, energy forum over what Murray called a failure by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to sufficiently support the struggling coal industry.

“The word that I’ve been using to describe FERC is feckless,” Murray told the audience, including FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee.

Murray wanted FERC, which regulates the wholesale transmission of energy, to enact a Trump Administration proposal that would have subsidized coal-fired power plants and helped keep them competitive with cheaper natural gas. Murray Energy and other coal companies argues that without enough coal in the nation’s fuel mix the electric grid could become unreliable, posing a risk to national security.


Curren Sheldon

Curtis Cress sat in the gravel beside a railroad track in Harlan County, Kentucky. Tall and thin with a long, black beard, Cress is every bit a coal miner, or, he was until a month ago.

“It’s part of my heritage, you know? My dad and papaws had always done it,” he said. “And I’m proud of that heritage.”

Cress had been at these railroad tracks for days, with little sleep. Not far down the rails sat a row of hopper cars filled with coal from his former employer, Blackjewel Coal.


Protesting Blackjewel Miners Could Get Some Overdue Pay From Bankruptcy Sale

Aug 7, 2019
Curren Sheldon

More than a thousand coal miners left unpaid by the abrupt bankruptcy of Blackjewel mining could soon be getting some – but not all – of the money they are owed.

Dozens of miners have staged a week-long protest on railroad tracks in Kentucky’s Harlan County, blocking delivery of a load of coal from a Blackjewel mine and demanding their pay. 

A federal court overseeing the Blackjewel bankruptcy Tuesday concluded the sales of the mining company’s properties and equipment, and buyers have put money toward paying some of the roughly $11.8 million in pay and benefits due to miners in Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia, most of whom have been without pay for a month.