coal

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.


Brittany Patterson I Ohio Valley ReSource

Coal River Mountain Watch’s history of resistance to mountaintop coal mining is plastered across the wood-paneled walls of the group’s modest office in Raleigh County, West Virginia.

Framed photos, many of demonstrators being handcuffed, dot the walls. In the back of the building, a floor-to-ceiling length tapestry depicts the “true cost of coal” as envisioned by an activist volunteer group that created it. Pollution spews from a coal-fired power plant. A stream runs dirty. Anthropomorphic creatures take the place of humans.


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. 

 


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.


Appalachia’s Strip-Mined Mountains Face A Growing Climate Risk: Flooding

Nov 22, 2019
Jack Spadaro

VARNEY, West Virginia — Pigeon Creek flows through a narrow mountain hollow along a string of coal mining communities, its water trickling under the red and yellow of the changing fall foliage.

The tranquil scene belies the devastation the creek delivered one night a decade ago as heavy rain fell on soggy soil and thousands of acres of nearby strip mines. Witnesses spoke of awakening in the dark of May 9, 2009, to the sound of rushing water like they had never heard before, entering their homes from underneath their doors.

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.


Brittany Patterson I Ohio Valley ReSource

Devin Mefford is sitting in the squat metal buggy of a modified mantrip, the train-like shuttle coal miners use to travel underground. Mefford is dressed for work, in a hardhat and a navy shirt and pants with lime green reflective stripes.

It’s a uniform his father and grandfather — both Kentucky coal miners — would be familiar with.

Mefford does go into a mine every day, but not for the coal. He’s the tour guide at Portal 31, a train ride through a once-operational coal mine in Harlan County.


EPA Proposes Changes To Federal Coal Ash, Wastewater Rules

Nov 5, 2019
Erica Peterson

Federal environmental regulators have released proposed changes to two rules related to the disposal of coal ash and wastewater from coal-fired power plants.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday announced its third round of changes to its 2015 rule regulating coal ash. Coal ash is one of the largest waste streams in the country and often contains toxic compounds like arsenic, lead, and radium. Dozens of the waste sites dot the Ohio Valley, often along rivers.

 


Aaron Payne | Ohio Valley ReSource

The recent bankruptcy of Ohio Valley coal giant Murray Energy has renewed fears about the already shaky financial foundations of the pension plan that tens of thousands of miners and their families depend upon.

The seismic collapse of yet another coal employer has lawmakers from the region renewing their push to fix the United Mine Workers pension fund, and has even raised broader concerns about pensions for a range of other trades.

Murray Energy has a substantial footprint across the region. It is also the last major employer contributing to the UMWA pension plan. In its bankruptcy filing, the company reports $2.7 billion in debt and more than $8 billion in obligations under various pension and benefit plans. More information will likely come out as the bankruptcy court takes up the matter.


City of Henderson Reviewing Plans For Solar Project

Nov 2, 2019
Duke Energy

After retiring the city-owned coal-fired power plant earlier this year, Henderson, Kentucky, is reviewing more than two dozen proposals to energize the city with solar power.

Henderson’s coal-fired power plant belonged to a vintage of older, smaller plants that went online in the 1970s. Historically it provided some of the cheapest electricity in the state, but market forces and maintenance costs eventually made plant operation unprofitable.

“Keeping the coal plant open as a coal plant was not in the financial interest of our customers,” said Henderson Municipal Power and Light General Manager Chris Heimgartner.

 


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.


Disastrous Disconnect: Coal, Climate And Catastrophe In Kentucky

Oct 28, 2019
Illustration by Joanna Eberts

This story is part of a series about the insufficient protections for vulnerable people as natural disasters worsen in a warming climate. The Center for Public Integrity and four partners – the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, High Country News, Ohio Valley ReSource and StateImpact Oklahoma – are contributing stories.

REGINA, Ky. — Todd Bentley stepped onto his porch and saw the storm swelling the creek near his home. If this kept up all night, he feared, the creek could overflow its banks and wash out his neighborhood’s road. He headed out into the rain with his teenage son to secure his mother’s trailer across the street.


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.


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