coal

Rebecca Kiger

Danny Ferguson didn’t like what he saw happening in Lincoln County, West Virginia, where he grew up. The downturn in the coal industry had hit hard, and young people had few job options beyond some fast food places.

“We don’t have nothing else for them to be employed,” Ferguson said. “Lincoln County is in bad shape and Coalfield seemed like the only one willing to take a chance in that area.”

That’s the Coalfield Development Corporation, where Ferguson now works as a crew chief to mentor and train young people in carpentry and other skills. Trainees earn pay while getting experience as they reclaim old buildings, restore furniture, and install solar energy stations. Ferguson said the program offers hope in an otherwise bleak situation.

“The coal is dead, but they’re trying to find something for these kids to go do instead of nothing.”

Erica Peterson

Monday night at his rally in Louisville, President Donald Trump repeated a campaign promise, telling the crowd he would revive Kentucky’s beleaguered coal industry.

“As we speak, we are preparing new executive actions to save our coal industry and to save our wonderful coal miners from continuing to be put out of work,” he said. “The miners are coming back.”

But Trump didn’t offer any details about what those executive actions could be. He has already used the Congressional Review Act to roll back the Stream Protection Rule — which tightened environmental restrictions on surface mining, and had been in effect for less than a month — and has hinted in the past that the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan carbon dioxide regulations will be on the chopping block as well.

Kentucky Lawmakers OK Bill to Reduce Coal Mine Inspections

Mar 14, 2017
flickr/Creative Commons

Kentucky lawmakers have agreed to loosen inspection requirements for underground coal mines.

The Kentucky Senate gave final approval to House Bill 384 on Tuesday. It would give the Department of Natural Resources commissioner discretion to replace up to three safety inspections with a mine safety analysis visit. It would also let the commissioner reduce the number of electrical inspections from two to one.

The bill would not affect federal mine inspections. Supporters say the bill would give the state flexibility to focus on other safety measures.

But others were reluctant to vote for a bill that would reduce inspections. Former coal miner and Democratic state Sen. Robin Webb voted against the bill, saying she worried fellow miners' blood would be on her hands if an accident occurred.

becca schimmel

Congressional Democrats say they won’t allow a vote on President Trump’s nominee for U.S. trade representative unless lawmakers pass a bill helping coal miners.

The Miner’s Protection Act includes healthcare and pension benefits for coal miners and their families. World Trade Online reports that Robert Lighthizer cannot be confirmed as U.S Trade Representative without a waiver, because of his representation of foreign governments in the 1980s. Senate Democrats say they’ll support the waiver only if it moves out of committee alongside--or after--the miner’s bill.

Southwings and Vivian Stockman

Congress is enacting a little-used provision this week to turn back Obama-era regulations on coal mining near streams. The House of Representatives is expected to vote Wednesday on legislation that would block the Stream Protection Rule, and the Senate is expected to do the same Wednesday evening or Thursday.

House and Senate Republicans are targeting the Stream Protection Rule using the Congressional Review Act, which allows lawmakers to block new rules that aren’t passed by Congress within 60 days of them going into effect. The Obama Administration spent eight years writing the rule, which is an updated version of a Bush-era regulation, but it wasn’t finalized until late December.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The billionaire Wilbur Ross is headed for Senate confirmation hearings as President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of the Department of Commerce. Ross made it to ultra-rich status in part by salvaging coal and steel assets in Appalachia and the Rust Belt.

His business dealings leave a mixed legacy in the Ohio Valley region, from rescued steel mills to the site of a searing workplace disaster, and raise questions about the leadership he would bring to the president’s cabinet.

Picturing The Future: A Coal Community’s Comeback

Jan 2, 2017
Rebecca Kiger

Can a photograph help a community grow? One photographer is shedding some light on ongoing efforts in a region looking for some new ways to sustain itself.

Rebecca Kiger is a documentary and portrait photographer born and raised in West Virginia. The images she captures are often exceptionally emotionally evocative. She says it takes a lot of patience, and a little faith in both her process and her subjects.

“You have to imagine anything’s possible,” Kiger said while mousing over some of her recent images at her studio in Wheeling, West Virginia. “It allows these magical things to happen in the frame.”

Erica Peterson

Residents of Kentucky’s coal counties are holding out hope that next year will bring the passage of the RECLAIM Act — legislation meant to free a billion dollars from the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to help spur economic development in communities hurting from the downturn in the coal industry.

The original RECLAIM Act was introduced in February by Kentucky Congressman Hal Rogers and 27 other representatives. But despite its bipartisan support, the bill never moved out of committee. Now, another version has been introduced in the Senate.

Kentucky Public Radio

Federal investigators have concluded that a worker crushed to death by a machine at a Kentucky coal mine wasn't wearing an emergency shut-off device, and that his managers had not provided a way to securely attach it.

Citing a U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration report, the Lexington Herald-Leader says managers at Webster County Coal's Dotiki Mine knew about the problem but didn't address it, potentially exposing the company to a higher fine.

Thirty-six-year-old Nathan Phillips was pinned to a wall while trying to move a continuous-mining machine in January. The report said his transmitter, designed to shut off the machine if he got too close, had been on the floor of the mine for about a half-hour before he was killed.

Benny Becker | Ohio Valley ReSource

At the age of 38, a coal miner named Mackie Branham Jr. was diagnosed with progressive massive fibrosis, a debilitating and terminal form of an illness that was supposed to be a disease of the past — black lung. But Branham is among many miners afflicted by a resurgence in the disease, and officials are just beginning to realize the scope of the problem. A review of health clinic records shows roughly a thousand such cases, many times more than federal officials had thought existed.

Driving into Pike County, Kentucky, the welcome sign tells you that you’ve entered “America’s Energy Capital.” Sheer rock walls line the highway, evidence of a community that’s extremely skilled at cutting through mountains.


Kentucky Coal Association Names New President

Nov 22, 2016
U.S. Energy Information Administration

Kentucky's coal industry advocacy group has named a new president.

J. Tyler White has been named president of The Kentucky Coal Association beginning next month. White, a Kentucky native, is a district director for Republican Congressman Andy Barr. White also led Barr's recent re-election campaign.

White says he's honored to have the opportunity to advocate for the industry and workers whose lives have been impacted by what he says is over-regulation and failed policy.

White says with the right policies in place, the sagging industry can be revitalized.

White replaces Bill Bissett, who left to take a job in his home state of West Virginia.

Two of the Republican Party's top leaders have hesitated to support a bill that would preserve the pensions and health care benefits for thousands of retired union coal miners.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump are both popular in Appalachian coal communities. But McConnell in the past has blocked a bill that would rescue the pensions and health benefits of more than 13,000 retired coal miners in Kentucky.

Trump has been silent on the bill, which Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has endorsed.

The miners say the federal government owes them pension and health care benefits, stemming from a promise made by former President Harry Truman in the 1940s to end a costly strike.

McConnell says he hopes "we can find a way forward" after the election.

Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

The Democratic candidate for governor in West Virginia has never held public office. Jim Justice is instead running on his record as a businessman. He runs coal mines, farms, and a luxury resort, and according to Forbes, he’s also the wealthiest person in the state, worth $1.56 billion.

A review of records by NPR and the Ohio Valley ReSource shows that his coal companies owe more than $12 million in overdue county, state, and federal taxes, as well as over $2 million for mine safety violations. Add a lengthy list of environmental violations and damaged mine sites, and a pattern emerges: Justice’s business liabilities have in many cases become public liabilities, and the costs often fall hardest on already cash-strapped communities in the Appalachian coalfields.

Kenn W. Kiser, morgueFile.com

Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia were among the 27 states challenging the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, in oral arguments Tuesday before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.  

The CPP aims to reduce by about a third the power plant emissions of CO2, a greenhouse gas that scientists have identified as a major cause of climate change. The pollution reductions would come in phases over a little more than two decades.

In an unusual move that reflects the importance of the case, all of the court’s 10 judges heard a full day of arguments, rather than the usual panel of three. 

Supporters say the EPA plan would spur investment in clean energy technology. Opponents, including West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito, say it will drive up the price of electricity and hurt an already ailing coal industry.

Becca Schimmel

A bill to protect health care and pension benefits for about 120,000 retired coal miners and their families has moved forward in the Senate.

The Senate Finance Committee approved the measure Wednesday, with a vote of 18 to 8.

 

Six Republicans, including Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, joined all 12 Democrats in endorsing the bill. The office of Indiana Republican Senator Dan Coats released a statement explaining his opposition to the bill.

Senator Coats has great sympathy for coal retirees, many of whom live in Indiana, and the senator will continue fighting the Obama Administration’s War on Coal, which has put retired miners in this terrible position. The senator does not support federal bailouts of private pensions, especially when many pension plans across the country are underfunded by trillions and could ask for their own bailout. Senator Coats does not believe that Congress should expose taxpayers to trillions in liabilities, especially when our debt is climbing to dangerous levels and the largest retiree benefit plans for taxpayers – Social Security and Medicare – are headed for bankruptcy themselves.

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