coal

Adelina Lancianese

Western Kentucky District U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman didn’t hide his emotion when announcing federal charges against a coal company for faking coal dust samples.

“This is one of those that just made me angry, it just made me angry to see the impact on these miners,” Coleman said.

 

Coleman unsealed indictments Wednesday against eight employees of the now-bankrupt Armstrong Energy coal company for falsifying dust monitoring samples in two of its Kentucky mines.


Still from White House video

President Donald Trump’s desire to help boost the Ohio Valley’s energy industry and bring back mining jobs could be stymied by the administration's escalating trade battle with China and other trading partners across the globe.

The Trump administration announced in June $50 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods, which are set to go into effect on Friday. In return, China has committed to its own $50 billion in tariffs on U.S. exports, which may include U.S. energy exports.


Lisa Graves-Marcucci, Environmental Integrity Project

Curt and Debbie Havens’ ranch style home is the gathering place for their family. Their two boys grew up playing in the streets in this quiet neighborhood in West Virginia’s northern panhandle. Now, their grandchildren do the same.

“They played ball, all kinds of games,” Debbie recalled during a recent interview. Family photos and knick-knacks line the walls. One heart-shaped sign reads “May love be the heart of this home.”

“Everybody wants to come to grammy’s and pappy’s,” she added.


Adelina Lancianese NPR

A new report from the National Academy of Sciences says the coal mining industry needs a “fundamental shift” in the way it controls exposure to coal and rock dust in order to prevent lung disease among miners.

Despite improvements such as an Obama-era rule to strengthen monitoring and control of dust in mines, the experts on the National Academies panel said more work is needed to address the deadly surge in cases of severe black lung disease, which is especially prevalent among Appalachian miners.


Erica Peterson

Coal-fired power plants in Kentucky continue closing even as the Trump Administration works through details on how to bail out the industry.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Monday he wasn’t ready to provide details of the plan, but even if it was implemented tomorrow, that wouldn’t stop Owensboro, Kentucky from shutting down its coal-fired power plant in 2020.

The city of Owensboro has generated much of its own electricity for more than 100 years, but that will change when the city closes Elmer Smith Station — a coal-fired power plant operating since 1964.

Erica Peterson

For decades, Kentucky’s own coal stoked the fires that generated most of its electricity. And while some of those power plants have shut down or switched to natural gas, their legacy remains today in the leftover coal ash that’s stored all over the commonwealth.

Now, new data show the coal ash buried in landfills and submerged in ponds at many of these sites has contaminated local groundwater.


Coal Ash Uncovered: New Data Reveal Widespread Contamination At Ohio Valley Sites

Jun 18, 2018
Google Earth Engine

For generations, coal power has fueled American prosperity. But for each shovelful thrown into the furnaces, a pile of ash was left in its place.

Today, as coal’s dominance in the power sector wanes, those piles of ash have grown into mountains as coal ash became one of the largest waste streams in the country, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.


Still from White House video

President Donald Trump told the Department of Energy to “prepare immediate steps” to stop the closures of coal and nuclear power plants in the Ohio Valley region that are no longer economical to operate.

But a number of energy analysts say the administration’s unprecedented effort to prop up struggling utilities will do little to solve their underlying problems and will likely end up costing consumers more.  


This story is part of a series on coal country by NPR's Embedded podcast. Episode audio is below.

On May 5, 2016, Donald Trump led a campaign rally in Charleston, W.Va.

He put on a hard hat and pretended he was shoveling coal. The crowd loved it.

Glynis Board

Ohio-based utility FirstEnergy Solutions made waves last month when it asked the Department of Energy to grant it an emergency order to help keep coal and nuclear plants operating across the Ohio Valley.

The request even hit the president’s radar. Speaking earlier this month at a roundtable event in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Donald Trump said the administration was examining the utility’s request.

"We'll be looking at that 202, you know what a 202 is, we'll be looking at that, we're trying," he said.


Updated at 8 p.m. ET

The federal agency that trains, tests and certifies the physicians who read X-rays and diagnose the deadly coal miners' disease black lung said today it was not consulted by Kentucky lawmakers in the 14 months they considered a new law that mostly limits diagnoses to pulmonologists working for coal companies.

Creative Commons

An indoor farming company plans to invest $44 million to grow produce on the site of a reclaimed mine in eastern Kentucky.

Hydroponic Farms USA says it will bring 121 jobs to the region, which has seen rising unemployment with the decline of eastern Kentucky’s coal industry.

Hydroponic Farms USA spokesman Trevor Terry said investors chose to build on the site of a former mine in Breathitt County for two reasons. First, the large, flat space the former mine provided was the perfect for a large indoor growing operation.

Rural medical clinics that are struggling to respond to an epidemic of a fatal lung disease plaguing coal miners received a 40 percent boost in federal funding with the passage of the omnibus spending bill last week.

Tre’ Sexton, courtesy Bluegrass Solar

Arlie Boggs Elementary sits between Kentucky’s two tallest mountains in a remote area that once had a booming coal economy. Ten years ago there were over a thousand coal miners employed here in Letcher county. Today, there are just 28.

“We were left with many unemployed miners,” eighth-grader Nicholas Sturgill said, as he and two classmates gave a presentation to a small crowd of students and teachers at an education summit in Pikeville, Kentucky.

“Paying bills had become a hardship for many. We wondered what we could do to reduce costs in our homes and our schools,” he said.


Erica Peterson

Add another export to the growing list of American products other countries could tax because of tariffs: met coal.

Metallurgical coal — or “met coal” — is low-ash, low-sulfur coal that’s used to produce coke, an essential fuel for steel-making.

Demand for met coal is tied to the demand for steel. It’s also an American export and a symbol President Donald Trump used often on the campaign trail to demonstrate how he would “Make America great again.”

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