coal

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.


Ryan Van Velzer

Coal lobbyists have enlisted the help of Kentucky state utility regulators in asking federal officials to weigh in on a Trump administration plan to bail out coal-fired power plants.

The Kentucky Public Service Commission has joined five other states in writing letters to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as part of a campaign orchestrated by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. The letters were first reported by Bloomberg.


Federal Agency To Hear Comment On Silica Dust As Black Lung Epidemic Rages

Oct 16, 2019
Erica Peterson

The Mine Safety and Health Administration will host a public meeting Thursday as it considers action on regulating respirable silica, one of the major contributors to Appalachia’s skyrocketing rates of black lung disease. 

MSHA issued a request for information in response to calls for increased regulation after a 2018 investigation from NPR and PBSFrontline. That investigation found that the agency had failed to adequately protect miners despite knowing that silica, or quartz dust, was contributing to an  epidemic of black lung.

 


New Kentucky Memorial Honors Miners Who Died From Black Lung

Oct 12, 2019
Sydney Boles | Ohio Valley ReSource

Coal miners and family members of miners who have died from black lung disease gathered Sunday in Whitesburg, Kentucky, to dedicate a new memorial to miners who perished from the workplace disease.

While Appalachian coal country has several memorials to mining disasters, this is believed to be the first memorial to remember the thousands of men and women who died from black lung.

The engraved black stone memorial stands at Riverside Park in Whitesburg and will list the names of some 200 Letcher County coal miners who died of the disease.


Ned Pillersdorf

The Department of Labor and a company associated with Blackjewel agreed this week to put nearly $5.75 million toward coal miners left unpaid in the company’s chaotic bankruptcy.

The July 1 bankruptcy of one of the nation’s largest coal companies left 1,100 coal miners in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia out of work and without weeks of pay. The potential deal comes after a nearly two-month-long protest by unpaid miners, who blockaded a railroad to stop over a million dollars worth of coal from leaving Harlan County, Kentucky.


Meet The Coal Town Betting Big On Outdoor Recreation

Sep 30, 2019
Brittany Patterson I Ohio Valley ReSource

Standing on the breezy outlook at Flag Rock Recreation Area, Norton City Manager Fred Ramey is taking in the panoramic view of downtown Norton, Virginia. The brick building-lined streets are framed by the verdant, rolling Appalachian mountains. Jagged, brown scars from mountaintop mining operations can be seen in the distance, reminders of the region’s history of coal production.

“It’s a great overlook of the city, and people really are surprised when they get up here at the view,” he says. “It's truly beautiful, and it's unique. It's something that we have that not everyone else has.”


Former Blackjewel Miners End Railroad Blockade In Kentucky

Sep 26, 2019
Sydney Boles | Ohio Valley ReSource

The nearly two-month blockade of a Kentucky railroad track is coming to an end as unpaid coal miners end their protest in order to take new jobs, start classes, or move away from their coal-dependent communities. 

When coal company Blackjewel abruptly declared bankruptcy in July, it left some 1100 Appalachian coal miners in Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia without pay. On July 29, five miners blockaded a train full of coal preparing to leave a Blackjewel facility in Harlan County, Kentucky. The miners’ rallying cry was “No Pay, No Coal.” 

But after 59 days on the tracks, the protest is coming to an end.


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.


Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

In a conference hall in Pikeville, Kentucky, this September, Gov. Matt Bevin led an eager audience in a countdown. When the audience reached “One!,” a map on the screen behind the governor lit up with the promise of a high-tech future.

After years of delay and scandal, major portions of the commonwealth’s “middle mile” of high-speed internet were complete.

“There are so many negative haters, so many people who pooh-pooh things and say this can’t happen, it’s not possible,” Bevin told the crowd. “But I’ll tell you what. We’ve never quit.”


While "Zombie" Mines Idle, Cleanup And Workers Remain In Limbo

Sep 5, 2019
Mark Olalde

The sound of metal banging against metal broke the calm on the high mesa separating Colorado’s Paradox and Big Gypsum valleys. An old rusted headframe marked the entrance to an abandoned uranium mine that, from a distance, looked as if its workers were simply off on a lunch break.

Jennifer Thurston, a local environmentalist, paused at the edge of the dirt road, wondering what caused the noise. Then she walked closer, finding ample evidence of the site’s long disuse. Ore sat in a hopper, likely untouched since the mine — known as Van 4 — last produced in 1989. Any loose metal and wiring had long since been stripped from two buildings, one of which looked ready to collapse.

Sydney Boles

Kentucky’s labor secretary is defending his agency’s handling of the Blackjewel fallout.  The company abruptly declared bankruptcy in July, putting hundreds of coal miners out of work and paying them with cold checks. 

Attorney General Andy Beshear last week accused the Labor Cabinet of negligence for not enforcing a law that would have paid the miners.  Coal companies operating in Kentucky five years or less are supposed to pay a performance bond that equals four weeks of pay for its employees if the mine closes. 

Labor Secretary David Dickerson says that under existing law, the Labor Cabint can’t force a mining company to pay.  It can only issue fines, which some companies rather pay than comply with the order.  He refutes Beshear’s claims that the Labor Cabinet has been negligent in bringing other companies into compliance.


Brittany Patterson I Ohio Valley ReSource

Standing at an overlook on the top of Black Mountain — the tallest point in Kentucky —  the wooded Appalachian mountains stretch on like a sea of green for miles.

For many, this mountain is synonymous with the coal industry. It straddles the state line separating Harlan County, Kentucky and Wise County, Virginia, two communities that have long relied on mining the black gold contained in its depths.


MSHA

A new federal government report shows that mines that changed ownership had worse safety records than mines where ownership did not change. According to an audit from the Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General, mines that changed ownership during a 17-year period were nearly twice as likely to have safety violations, and five times as likely to report severe accidents in the same period. 

Mines that changed hands had on average 134 safety violations, compared with 43 safety violations at mines that did not change hands.

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.


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