coal miners

Adelina Lancianese

Lynn Estel Stanley was the kind of coal mine foreman who wanted to know if there was a safety problem, and would always be the one to go fix it himself. He was also the kind of miner who refused to slow down, even when his men told him he was overexerting himself. But when he was 69, his doctor told him it was time to stop for good.

Stanley wasn’t surprised. He knew he was getting sick. “It kept getting progressively worse and harder to breathe to the point where I just couldn’t do my job, I didn’t have enough oxygen,” he said.

He had watched coal-miner relatives die of black lung, a form of lung disease caused by breathing in coal and rock dust. Particulates lodge in the lungs, causing the tissue to harden and restrict the amount of oxygen that can enter the bloodstream.


Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

Officials with the Mine Safety and Health Administration met for the first time with miners’ health researchers Wednesday in a new partnership designed to discuss ways to better protect coal miners from the dust that causes black lung disease. In future meetings, representatives from the two agencies will discuss recommendations made by the National Academy of Sciences in a 2018 report on monitoring underground coal dust exposure. That report said the coal mining industry needs a “fundamental shift” in the way it controls exposure to coal and rock dust.

“A common theme that occurred throughout the National Academy recommendation is the need for an industry, labor, academia, manufacturers and government to work together on an investigation, training and solution related to respirable coal mine exposure,” said MSHA Director of Office of Standards, Regulations, and Variances Sheila McConnell. “This partnership comes directly from those recommendations.” 

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.


Adelina Lancianese

A new report from the nonpartisan budget watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense says that an expired coal tax is effectively a taxpayer subsidy for the coal industry. The analysis reflects a growing concern about the fiscal health of a federal fund that supports tens of thousands of disabled coal miners.

The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund was established in 1969 to pay health care expenses for certain disabled coal miners and their dependents. It is supported by coal companies, which pay a limited tax on each ton of coal they remove from the ground. Early this year, Congress allowed the tax to decrease by more than 50 percent. The Government Accountability Office found the move would leave the fund $15 billion in debt by 2050, and would likely require a bailout by taxpayers.


Vivian Stockman and Southwings

Appalachian surface coal miners are consistently overexposed to toxic silica dust, according to new research from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and surface mine dust contains more silica than does dust in underground coal mines. 

The research released Tuesday is the first to specifically analyze long-term data on exposure to toxic silica dust for workers at surface mines. The work reveals that while attention has been trained on a surge in disease among underground coal miners, surface miners are similarly at risk of contracting coal worker’s pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease. 

 


Adelina Lancianese

The comment period has closed for the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s proposed rule on respirable silica, a major contributor to skyrocketing rates of lung disease among coal miners. The 49 relevant comments included a striking testimony from an anonymous coal miner sharing details of the ways in which current mine operators cheat on dust monitoring protocols.

MSHA issued the request for comment following an NPR/PBS Frontline investigation that found the agency had failed to adequately protect miners despite knowing that silica dust was contributing to an epidemic of black lung disease. Silica is a component of coal mine dust, and is released when miners cut into rock layers surrounding seams of coal. Particulates lodge in miners’ lungs for the rest of their lives, hardening lung tissue and preventing them from getting enough oxygen.


Curren Sheldon

West Virginia employees of coal operator Blackjewel LLC have received their final paychecks more than two months after the company declared bankruptcy on July 1.

In an agreement reached last week between the Department of Labor and the company, Blackjewel cut paper checks for all owed wages to a few dozen employees working at the company’s Pax Mine in Fayette County, West Virginia.


screenshot from Amy McGrath for Senate YouTube

Two retired coal miners have sent a cease and desist letter to the U.S. Senate campaign of Amy McGrath. The retirees were shown in a campaign ad for the candidate.

Randy Robbins and Albrow Hall say they didn’t know a video of them would be used for a political attack advertisement until after it was already being broadcast.

The ad featured a reenactment of a 10-hour bus ride to Washington D.C. by coal miners advocating for black lung benefits.


On Labor Day, Miners Mark Historic Union March

Sep 3, 2019
Emily Allen

Ninety-eight years ago, thousands of pro-union miners marched toward West Virginia’s Logan County, to protest abuses by coal operators in what was then a largely anti-union territory.

The marchers were met at Blair Mountain in Logan County by an army of men, fighting on behalf of anti-union mine guards and local law enforcement. The battle was so heated that then-president Warren Harding called in Army troops to restore order.


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.


Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet

Search and recovery efforts have been suspended for a worker involved in an explosion at a Muhlenberg County mine. 

Richard Knapp is presumed dead following the blast last week at the Paradise Mine in Bremen.  He was a 62-year-old welder and iron worker from West Frankfort, Illinois. 

John Mura, a spokesman for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, told WKU Public Radio that crews worked for two days to lower the methane levels so a camera could be dropped into the mine.

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