coal

TVA Votes to Close Coal-Fired Power Plant in Kentucky

Feb 14, 2019
Becca Schimmel

A federal utility board voted Thursday to close a coal-fired power plant in Kentucky, despite objections from President Donald Trump and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a move the board says will save its more than 10 million customers $320 million.

The Tennessee Valley Authority voted to retire the remaining coal-fired unit at the Paradise Fossil Plant along the Green River in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. The decision could put 131 people out of work and could affect an additional 135 people who work in nearby coal mines that supply the plant.

In his latest effort to boost the coal business — and in the process help a major supporter — President Trump has called on the Tennessee Valley Authority to, essentially, ignore the advice of its staff and keep a large coal-fired power plant operating.

The move has drawn extra scrutiny because that plant buys coal from a company headed by a large campaign donor to Trump, Murray Energy Corp. Chairman, President and CEO Robert Murray.

Coal Comeback? Coal At New Low After Two Years Under Trump

Feb 4, 2019
Kara Lofton, WVPB

It’s been two years since President Donald Trump took office and began rolling back environmental regulations on the coal industry.

At a November rally in Huntington, West Virginia, the president took credit for a coal comeback in front of a cheering crowd.

"We've ended the war on beautiful, clean coal and we're putting our coal miners back to work,” he said. “That you know better than anybody."


Sydney Boles

Nancy and Rich Potter had the kind of marriage that made other couples jealous. He’d take her on spontaneous trips. She’d wear her Daisy Dukes just for him.

Joyce Birman said her late husband, George, made a terrible first impression. It was his apology for it that made her fall for him, hard.

Vickie Salyers’ husband, Gene, loved hunting and fishing, but he loved being a father and grandfather most of all.

Potter, Birman and Salyers all married eastern Kentucky coal miners. And like countless Appalachian women before them, they each watched as their loved ones became ill.


Crews Begin Ohio River Coal Barge Recovery Operation

Jan 9, 2019
Kyeland Jackson

Crews started work Wednesday to salvage nine barges pinned against the McAlpine Dam on the Ohio River.

At a news conference detailing the operation, officials said Big River Salvage and McKinney Salvage will anchor an empty recovery barge upstream. Crews will then load coal onto the barge using two cranes.

Shawn Kenney, Assistant Operations Manager for the Army Corps of Engineers, said the operation will take weeks to finish.

“As far as expectations on the amount of time, that’s one thing that people should understand: It’s going to be a dynamic situation,” Kenney said. “[Crews] do have to move at a very measured pace to understand — make sure that they’re looking at everything closely.”

MSHA records

Just a few months ago, the U.S. coal mining industry was on track for its safest year in history. But in an eleven-day span in late December, three miners died after separate incidents, bringing the total number of fatalities in 2018 to 12, even as coal mining employment continued its decline.

“It is a reminder to enforcement agencies and companies who are responsible for miner safety that you always have to be vigilant, you can never let up your guard,” Kentucky lawyer and mine safety advocate Tony Oppegard said.


Ryan Van Velzer

A seventh barge has sunk in the Ohio River a week after a tugboat carrying coal to Trimble County hit the 2nd Street Bridge.

The incident began more than a week ago after 15 barges loaded with coal broke free from a tug boat just after 8 p.m. on Christmas Day.

The U.S. Coast Guard says the vessel’s owner, Tennessee Valley Towing, is sending in salvage teams that are expected to arrive Wednesday night.

NPR

NPR is reporting that more than two thousand coal miners are now suffering from the most severe form of black lung disease, Progressive Massive Fibrosis, or PMF. And despite clear warnings, investigative reporter Howard Berkes shows, the mining industry and government regulators did little to stop it.

Data loom large in this story: Berkes took a deep dive into 30 years of dust monitoring data from coal mines. That analysis revealed that miners were frequently exposed to toxic levels of silica dust. And a review of federal records showed that industry and regulators knew the deadly consequences long ago.


Greg Kelly's grandson, Caden, scampers to the tree-shaded creek behind his grandfather's house to catch crawdads, as Kelly shuffles along, trying to keep up. Kelly's small day pack holds an oxygen tank with a clear tube clipped to his nose. He has chairs spaced out on the short route so he can stop every few minutes, sit down and catch his breath, until he has enough wind and strength to start out again for the creek.

Sydney Boles

On a cool but clear November day about a dozen residents from eastern Kentucky’s coal mining region crowded into the lobby of an office building in the small town of London, Kentucky. That’s where Kentucky’s powerful senior senator, Mitch McConnell, has his local field office. 

McConnell’s staff let the local advocates for black lung treatment into the office a few at a time to make their case for funding the federal Black Lung Disability Trust Fund.

There was a lot of laughter and plenty of selfies, but there was tension, too. Many of these residents know miners and families affected by the deadly disease who depend on benefits from the fund, and they know the clock is ticking on a tax that has supported the fund for more than 35 years.


Ryland Barton

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says the Trump Administration’s latest regulatory rollback for coal-fired power plants will benefit Kentucky families — despite the government’s own analysis showing it will have little to no impact.

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency moved forward with plans to raise the limits on the amount of carbon dioxide new and reconstructed coal-fired power plants can emit. The EPA’s rollback will change Obama-era restrictions so that new coal plants can emit an extra 500 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour.

Sydney Boles

Jason Walker spends $50 per month on bottled water. He spends three hours each week standing by the small stream that runs near his house, pumping creek water into a thousand-gallon tank.

“You have to catch the creek at the right time, when it’s clear,” Walker said. “Whatever you pump, whatever the creek looks like, is what you’re going to pump, and that’s going to pump right into your house.”

Walker, 31, used to get water from a well he shared with his mother, Sherry Walker, who lives next door. But they noticed changes after mountaintop removal mining started nearby.


Division of Waste Management

The coal used to power our homes leaves behind mountains of ash. At one power plant in Western Kentucky, that coal ash is stored in a pair of unlined landfills that may have been polluting local groundwater for as long as 18 years.

Evidence from satellite images, state inspections and the utility’s own groundwater monitoring reports reveal mountains of ash slowly leaching pollution into the nearby environment at the D.B. Wilson Power Plant, about 40 minutes south of Owensboro.

Mine Workers Sue Federal Regulators Over Mine With Poor Safety Record

Dec 4, 2018
MSHA

The United Mine Workers of America is suing the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA, after the agency reduced its heightened oversight of a West Virginia coal mine with a poor safety record.

MSHA has the power to declare mines with a history of significant safety violations as having a “Pattern of Violations.” Known as “POV status,” the declaration is an enforcement tool that allows the agency to increase regulatory scrutiny at a mine with repeated safety issues.

Sydney Boles

The rain started around 10:30 p.m. By midnight, the creek in front of Elvis and Laura Thackers’ house had swelled to a mighty flood, uprooting trees, moving boulders and surging right up to the couple’s front steps. The Thackers decided to abandon their home. But when they got into their Jeep, they found the flood had washed the road away, leaving them trapped.

“Water was everywhere,” Laura Thacker remembered. “I said, ‘You don’t know how big it’s going to get.’”


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