coal - Blog - Wheeling Alternative

Go to content

Main menu:

--- Removing mountaintops and some coal history

Published by waner in coal · 28/4/2015 19:36:00
Tags: coalmountaintop
Mountaintop removal and the community



iLoveMountains.org is an invaluable resource if you care about the Appalachian mountains and what mountaintop removal is doing to them. The site is up with a new resource (with an interactive map) called "Communities at risk from mountaintop removal."

For years, it was impossible to track the spread of mountaintop removal coal mining in Central Appalachia over the course of time. Appalachian Voices has compiled 30 years of satellite imagery and other data to show how this destructive form of coal mining is gradually getting closer to communities, even as coal production in the region is declining.

Of the thousands of communities at risk, the research identified the top 50 where the adverse effects of mountaintop removal — including water pollution, increased health risks, poverty rates and population loss — is greatest.

Needless to say, West Virginia has more than its fair share in the top 50.

(image from Alternet)
(hat tip to Ken Ward, Jr. at Coal Tattoo)



April 28 -- remembering the mining disasters

It was on this day in 1914 that the second worst mining disaster in West Virginia occurred in Eccles. 183 miners perished.

And on this day in 1928 an explosion at the Benwood Mine took the lives of all 119 miners on the morning shift.


--- West Virginia and renewable energy

Published by waner in coal · 24/4/2015 16:47:00
Tags: coalrenewables
Divorcing ourselves from reality

The McClatchy News Service published an article about the growth of jobs in the renewable energy sector on Wednesday. Here's the lede:

Far more jobs have been created in wind and solar in recent years than lost in the collapse of the coal industry, and renewable energy is poised for record growth in the United States this year.

The article gets specific by citing a recently published study:

Researchers at Duke University, using data from renewable energy trade associations, estimate in a new study published in the journal Energy Policy that more than 79,000 direct and spinoff jobs were created from wind and solar electricity generation between 2008 and 2012.

That compares with an estimate of about 49,530 coal industry job losses, according to the study. While natural gas was the biggest winner in creating jobs for electricity generation, with almost 95,000 jobs created in that time, it’s clear renewable energy has been on the rise in the United States.

And what did the study say was important to the growth of renewable energy jobs?

State laws also helped drive the growth outside of Appalachia. Pratson said. Twenty-nine states specify a percentage of renewable electricity that utilities should meet, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and Kentucky and West Virginia are not among them.

“States with incentives have more growth,” said Drew Hearer, a Duke University research analyst who co-authored the study. “The Southeast is incentive-free, and there is almost no development of green energy there compared to other regions.”

West Virginia has been going backwards - you need only return to January to find the legislature make their first priority an attack on renewables even though, in this particular case, the utilities and coal companies had encouraged the law's passage in the first place:

CHARLESTON (AP) - The West Virginia House of Delegates overwhelmingly passed a repeal of an energy portfolio Thursday, which is poised to become the first bill the newly-minted GOP Legislature sends to Democrat Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

The House voted 95-4 Thursday to repeal the Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard.

The McClatchy article does suggest that there may be some geographic barriers to the widespread deployment of wind and solar alternatives in West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky. Still, the thrust of the article is that the state is being left behind.

In the last year as I've written about coal and the future of West Virginia, I've found that the more I read on the subject, the more pessimistic I've become about the state's future. Coal is more and more expensive to get out of the ground (it increasingly can't compete with natural gas and other sources of energy), it is polluting our air and water, and is the major cause of climate change. What has made me especially pessimistic is that a majority of the state's politicians and a sizable number of the citizens who voted for them believe that we can ignore reality and somehow the state will be transported (magically?) to the 1950s, long before increased mechanization, environmental awareness and cheaper alternatives took its toll on the industry. We can't go back -- the marketplace and rest of the country have decided. Instead of our conversation being about trying to find ways to transition away from coal and finding alternatives in energy and job sourcing, its about rallying the troops around a lost cause. The state's separation from reality looks like it has become a divorce.


--- Murray speaks to the St. Clairsville Rotary

Published by waner in coal · 23/4/2015 16:04:00
Tags: coalMurray
"Same As It Ever Was"
                -- the Bob Murray Wheeling Area Service Organization Tour continues 

The CEO of Murray Energy, Bob Murray, added yet another Wheeling area service club to his local speaking tour and once again a reporter for Ogden newspapers was there to cover it. From the description in Wednesday's Intelligencer, Tuesday's speech to the St. Clairsville Rotary was apparently very similar to the ones that he delivered to the Wheeling Rotary in January and the Wheeling Kiwanis in December. Like its predecessors, it featured attacks on Obama, stories about Murray's humble beginnings, attacks on the EPA, scary stories about the future cost of electricity, and, of course, more attacks on Obama. (Wisely, the Ogden newspapers sent a different reporter -- probably to insure that the story would not be exactly the same as one of the previous stories.)

Attendees also got to hear the same evidence for his assertions that previous audiences had heard. Once again Murray asserted that "every coal mining job creates 11 more jobs in a community." When I wrote about his speeches in December and January, I could not find any study that claimed 11 jobs for every mining job. What I did find was that the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis found that 4.4 indirect jobs were created, the University of Massachusetts Political Economy and Research Institute had a similar number (see chart below), and even Arch Coal only claimed seven indirect jobs. This time Murray claimed the research was done by Penn State University. Okay, I believe that I found their most recent study here but I could find nothing about 11 indirect jobs. (If it's there, it's well-hidden.) For Murray this didn't matter -- who was going to challenge him? It certainly wouldn't be a reporter from the local "newspaper."




This just in

There is a rumor making the rounds that in order to celebrate the tour and provide funds for Murray Coal's next coal mine purchase, t-shirts and a CD will be sold at the next stop on the tour. The t-shirts will have a picture of a lump of coal surrounded by the names of all the service groups on the tour. The CD will feature an eclectic mix.

Show tunes:

It's Delightful, It's Delovely, It's Bituminous (Coal Porter)

Mine Every Mountain

    Thank the Almighty -- I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm Because My Electric Bills Will Be So High        Because of Obama's War on Coal That Is If He Doesn't Bankrupt the Country First (classic remix)

Some country sounds:

The E-P-A Makes Me W-E-E-P

My Woman's Gone, My Dog Died, and Obama Just Got Re-elected

The Only Natural Gas I Like Comes From Beans

And of course, some "classic rock" covers:

Stop Making Sense

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Light My Fire (With Something Other Than Natural Gas)

In a Gadda Da Vida


--- More on coal ash

Published by waner in coal · 21/4/2015 11:17:00
Tags: coalMcKinleyashIntelligencer
This morning's Intelligencer editorial on coal ash tells us why we need local Representative David McKinley's proposal to limit the EPA's oversight of coal ash. The editorial gives the reader the impression that coal ash is a harmless byproduct of the use of coal at electric plants. (Hey, it's "used in a a variety of products, including drywall and concrete"and so it must be safe.) Nowhere in the editorial is there any mention of the harms it causes. (For descriptions of the problems caused by coal ash, simply google "harms of coal ash.") One of the best sources that I found is "Coal Ash: Hazardous to Human Health" by Physicians for Social Responsibility. Another excellent source for information on the subject is the Earthjustice website.

In addition to information, Earthjustice also produces short videos. Here is their most recent video on the topic.

Another outstanding Earthjustice video that brings the problem home is "Little Blue" which is about the harmful effects that coal ash has had on the environment in the northern-most area of West Virginia's northern panhandle. (I've referenced "Little Blue" in previous posts on this subject.)

The sad irony is that "Little Blue" is located inside McKinley's congressional district.

McKinley's bill would have major environmental effects. As Frank Holleman who is Senior Attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center has noted:

Rep. David McKinley's bill would dismantle the EPA’s recently announced coal ash protections, put public health and safety at risk by stripping the few critical safety requirements and protections included in the rule, and result in continuing coal ash contamination with no repercussions or responsibility for cleanup.

A final note/question -- the Intelligencer's editorial once again tells us the success that McKinley has had fighting the EPA: "After McKinley exposed the absurdity of the EPA's plan, the agency backed away." This is the third time in the last year that the Intelligencer has asserted this point and after considerable research I have yet to find anything that the EPA backed away from because of David McKinley. As I have asked previously, does anyone know what EPA plan the Intelligencer is talking about or is the Intelligencer giving him credit where credit isn't due?


--- More "war on coal" perspectives

Published by waner in coal · 20/4/2015 17:36:00
Tags: coal
Two weeks ago I wrote about a new book, journalist Richard Martin's Coal Wars. Late last week, two additional articles used Martin's book as a starting place for a discussion of the "war on coal."

Tim McDonnell of Grist looked at Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell's attempt to change the inevitable future in "Coal is dying all by itself ." (Note that McConnell has the same perception of reality and uses the same reasoning as our local "newspapers."):

His latest maneuver came last month when he called on state lawmakers to simply ignore the administration’s new rules, in order to resist Obama’s “attack on the middle class.”

His logic, apparently, is that if Kentucky can stave off Obama long enough, the coal industry still has a glorious future ahead. That logic is fundamentally flawed. While Obama’s tenure will probably speed up the country’s transition to cleaner energy, the scales had already tipped against coal long before he took office. Kentucky’s coal production peaked in 1990, and coal industry employment peaked all the way back in the 1920s. The scales won’t tip back after he leaves. The “war on coal” narrative isn’t simply misleading, it also distracts from the very real problem of how to prepare coal mining communities and energy consumers (i.e., everyone) for an approaching future in which coal is demoted to a bit role after a century at center stage.

Similar to this is a Friday article in Salon: "Rand Paul’s “big coal” lie: The real reason the industry is dying" by Lindsay Abrams. Abrams has another explanation for the recent local coal mining layoffs we read about in our local "newspapers:"

Hundreds of West Virginia coal workers lost their jobs Tuesday, and according to Murray Energy, the company that laid them off, they have “the ongoing destruction of the United States coal industry by President Barack Obama, and his supporters” to thank.

The layoffs — and the justification given for them — were conveniently timed to the legal battle beginning Thursday, in which Murray is one of the plaintiffs bringing suit against the Environmental Protection Agency for its proposed rule limiting carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. Regardless of what the actual reason for the layoffs might be, you can’t buy anti-regulatory propaganda like that.

Abrams notes the same causes of coal's decline that you will find discussed almost everywhere outside of coal country where the president and the EPA are your standard scapegoats: market forces (especially natural gas), increased use of technology, the "mining out" of the KY/WV coal fields and competition from western states. Abrams also references Martin on why McConnell is doing more harm than good:

“When people like Mitch McConnell stand up in the U.S. Senate and decry the Obama administration’s war on coal,” he said, “they’re not really helping their constituents. Every hour or dollar spent on fighting the war on coal is a resource that doesn’t go to really helping these people in places where the coal industry is not coming back.”

I've just ordered Martin's book. I'm sure I'll have more to say about it at a later date.


--- Time for another pro-coal/Murray Energy article

Published by waner in climate change · 16/4/2015 16:07:00
Tags: coalIntelligencerMurray
Job cuts blamed on Obama, EPA, the Sierra Club, and Michael Bloomberg

Yesterday's front page Intelligencer article, describes in the first two paragraphs that Murray Energy is cutting 214 coal jobs locally. Other than the last paragraph, the rest of the article is an attack on President Obama, the EPA, the Sierra Club, and Michael Bloomberg for his "Beyond Coal" campaign.

The article is a typical Wheeling "newspaper" article on coal:

  • It presents only one side. There are seldom any explanations for why governments, organizations, and individuals want to limit the use of coal. Beyond the ludicrous ones (the Intelligencer sometimes claims that it is a "vendetta" by Obama), the explanations that are offered seldom do justice to the arguments presented by the other side.
  • The articles never mention that most of the jobs lost in the coal industry occurred a generation ago.
  • The articles seldom deal with today's economic realities - that other sources of energy (for example, natural gas) are much cheaper.
  • The industry people quoted in the article are never asked a tough question. For example, this article's final paragraph tells us that "(t)he 214 Mountain State layoffs come as Murray announced plans last week to pay $1.37 billion for a 34 percent stake in St. Louis-based coal company, Foresight Energy." Okay, Murray Energy, if the future of coal is so bleak, why did you just pay over a billion dollars for a stake in another coal company?


--- "War on coal" interview

Published by waner in coal · 7/4/2015 19:28:00
Tags: coal
Salon has a post up that examines "What environmentalists get wrong about Big Coal."  It's an interesting article that begins:

Coal has got to go. That much is undeniable. Climate change is presenting us with a tremendous, urgent threat, and coal is the dirtiest and largest single source of the fossil fuels still pouring into our atmosphere.

But while that’s settled (among scientists, if not some particularly stubborn politicians), the conversation about how we’re actually going to transition away from coal is just getting started. And too often left out of that discussion, says journalist Richard Martin, is the human cost of the industry’s decline — how the people, and communities, built on Big Coal’s promises will be left to fare once it’s no longer in the picture.

Martin has written a book, “Coal Wars: The Future of Energy and the Fate of the Planet,” about the problem: 

This is not a book of advocacy or environmental policy or technology. The premise of the book is if we don’t do something to drastically reduce our consumption of coal, there is no hope of limiting global climate change. My view is either we shut down the coal industry, or it’s going to shut us down. What the book tries to do is take a look at the human drama and the human costs associated with this effort to transform our power system and really, if not shut down, then certainly limit our ongoing consumption of coal.

The rest of the article is an interview with him.  If you accept his biases (he's editorial director at a clean energy firm), Martin makes a number of thoughtful points.


--- Odds and ends from around the web

Published by waner in odds and ends · 23/3/2015 20:30:00
Tags: coalWV
Coal company honesty

According to Environment & Energy Publishing: "When legally liable, the companies don't dispute global warming" A sample:

U.S. coal companies that are publicly skeptical of man-made climate change acknowledge in mandatory financial disclosures the widely accepted scientific link between fossil fuel emissions and a warming planet, a Greenwire analysis has found.

Sustainable investment advocates warn that such doublespeak undermines the industry's credibility with shareholders. And scientific integrity experts are critical of the coal companies' climate communication strategy, which they argue is detrimental to the long-term health and security of the American people.


Not surprising -- WV shows a significant drop in median income over the last decade

The State Journal is reporting that:

A new study from PEW Charitable Trusts shows a decrease in America's middle class.

The analysis was conducted by Stateline, a PEW project. Researchers found through the study all 50 states experienced declines in the percentage of middle class households, even as the median income for most states declined.

The research also showed the share of a family's income going toward housing state-by-state is generally about 30 percent.

With still one of the smallest median incomes, West Virginia's share of households in the middle class in 2013 was 44.7 percent, while it was 46.7 percent in 2000.


Gun group goes after Senator Manchin with a #BootJoe initiative

While Attorney General Morissey is embracing the gun people (see "Morrisey Watch 6" below), Joe Manchin has gotten himself in deep trouble with them. The Firearms Policy Coalition, according to Ammoland, is calling him a traitor and saying he has to go:

Following West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s March 20 veto of Senate Bill 347, a move possibly inspired by U.S. Senator Joe Manchin’s fierce opposition to the civil rights proposal, gun rights supporters have renewed calls to ouster Manchin from their ranks.

Manchin, infamous for his authorship of the Manchin-Toomey gun control proposal, attacked the West Virginia civil bill in a March 12 press release.

They are taking action:

Gun owners and Second Amendment advocates can participate in the #BootJoe initiative at bootjoe.com, a website created by the Firearms Policy Coalition to urge gun rights groups to revoke the memberships of Manchin and other anti-gun politicians.


WV history

Finally, if you're interested in some WV history, Virally Suppressed has an interesting read: "Strictly Business: West Virginian Statehood & The Geography of Poverty"



--- coal news from around the web

Published by waner in coal · 10/3/2015 15:41:00
Tags: coal
Safety violations and a coal miner's death

Even the Intelligencer noted the safety violations connected to the mining death in Marshall County. It will be interesting to read their take on the Orwellian-titled "Creating Coal Jobs and Safety Act of 2015" which awaits the governor's signature. The best summary of the bill came from delegate Mike Caputo (D, Marion) who wrote:

At a public hearing on this bill held by the House of Delegates, coal miner after coal miner asked the Legislature not to repeal these safety standards. The only supporters of this legislation were coal industry representatives. Not one of those coal industry representatives cited safety of coal miners as their reason for pushing this bill. They cited profits and making coal mines more competitive.

The “Creating Coal Jobs and Safety Act of 2015” will not create jobs. The “Creating Coal Jobs and Safety Act of 2015” will not make mines safer for our miners. The most important thing to come out of a coal mine is a coal miner. I’m disappointed that many of my colleagues in the House of Delegates do not place the same value on the lives of our coal miners as they place on the profits of the coal industry.

For a personal reaction to the miner's death see Buckeye BattleCry's diary over at The Daily Kos:

So another coal miner died last night.  Sadly, it doesn't get a lot of attention when they die one at a time.

By the way, WV's Republican legislature is not the only one that is rolling back miner safety. From the Lexington Herald-Leader:

The Kentucky legislature's latest assault in its war on coal miners, House Bill 448, comes on the heels of last year's decimation of state support for mine safety.

Budget cuts mandated by the legislature forced a 38-percent reduction in state mine-safety personnel. The legislature also mandated a reduction in safety inspections per mine from six a year to four a year.

The war on coal

And then there's the "war on coal" in which President Obama gets blamed for all that has gone wrong in the coal industry since the 1980s. One of the causes of the recent decline is obviously the availability of cheaper alternatives (natural gas).  Here's an editorial in the New York Times weighing in yesterday:

Mr. McConnell has insisted for months that Mr. Obama has been waging a “war on coal,” of which the proposed power plant rules are only the latest manifestation. But the real war has been waged by the market and technology, most recently the shift to newly abundant supplies of natural gas.

And here's commentary by energybiz, a publication for "leaders in the global power industry":

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the newly installed Senate majority leader, is fond of lambasting the Obama administration for its "war on coal’’ and its impact on his Kentucky constituents. Following the latest U.N. climate change meeting in Peru in December, for example, McConnell criticized the administration for its "entire international crusade against coal jobs” and pledged that he would “continue to take the war on coal right back to the president and his EPA with laws aimed at protecting coal jobs. . .  .”
 
A review of the commonwealth’s own coal mining statistics shows that the industry has been in decline for years—driven by nothing more than market forces that punish high cost producers. The same market forces that Republicans tend to champion, at least in the abstract.

For our local "newspapers" and a majority of our legislators, market forces don't apply to the coal industry - it's all Obama's fault.

Mountaintop removal

And finally, some good news for the efforts to end mountaintop removal in the state. From an article in yesterday's New York Times:

Last week, with little fanfare, PNC Financial, the nation’s seventh-largest bank, disclosed a significant strategic shift. The bank said it would no longer finance coal-mining companies that pursue mountaintop removal of coal in Appalachia, an environmentally devastating practice that has long drawn opposition.

It was a big decision for PNC, which has been one of the largest financiers of companies that engage in the mountaintop mining of coal, which involves blasting off the summits of mountains to expose the coal beneath them and dumping the debris into valleys and rivers, which the environmental law organization Earthjustice described as “strip mining on steroids.”





--- Science deniers on the offensive 2

Published by waner in coal · 5/3/2015 16:47:00
Tags: coalMcKinley
McKinley and the Anti-Science (formerly Republican) Party

While the fossil fuel industry is harassing scientists (see below), the House of Representatives is doing its part. This week it brought back two anti-science bills that they passed last year that didn't make it through the Senate: the Secret Science Reform Act and Science Advisory Board Reform Act. As described by Think Progress:

If it became law, the “Secret Science” bill would prohibit the EPA from using science that includes private data, or data that can’t be easily reproduced. Bill sponsor Lamar Smith (R-TX) says this would stop “hidden and flawed” science from being the basis of EPA regulations, though many scientific organizations have disagreed with the characterization of their data.

Republicans are also going after a board that provides advice and info to the EPA - they want to make it friendlier to industry:

The Science Advisory Board Reform Act, would change the rules surrounding which scientists are allowed to serve on the Science Advisory Board (SAB), a group that gives scientific advice to the EPA. The SAB reviews the quality of science used to justify EPA regulations, like rules that limit air pollution from power plants. Among other things, the bill sponsored by Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) would make it easier for scientists with financial ties to corporations to advise the agency, and would make it more difficult for scientists who have applied for grants from the EPA to join the board.

Not content with stacking the deck, local representative David McKinley thought that these bills did not go far enough and so he offered an amendment to the Science Advisory Board bill. David Roberts at Grist describes McKinley's amendment:

Its sole purpose is to prohibit the EPA’s Science Advisory Board from taking into consideration, for any purpose, the following reports:

    • the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s National Climate Assessment
    • the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report
    • the May 2013 Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order No. 12866
    • the July 2014 Pathways to Deep Decarbonization Report, from the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations

So. When considering what to do about carbon pollution, EPA may not consider what America’s best scientists have concluded about it, what an international panel of scientists has concluded about it, how the federal government has officially recommended calculating its value, or the most comprehensive solutions for it. Oh, and it can’t consider Agenda 21 either. Otherwise the EPA can go nuts.

Looks like McKinley's angling to win that award for service to the coal ash industry again this year!

Here's a copy of McKinley's amendment.
        (special hat tip to Grist.com)


Older posts
Back to content | Back to main menu