coal miners

MSHA

The U.S. Senate voted along party lines Wednesday, 52 to 46, to narrowly confirm President Trump’s  nominee to lead the Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA. The country’s top mine safety position has been vacant since January as coal mining fatalities have risen to a two-year high. Trump’s choice to fill the post is facing opposition from congressional Democrats and safety advocates. 


Matewan (1987) Dir. John Sayles; Alexandra Kanik

Thirty years ago the premiere of a small-budget, independent film had an outsized effect on how many people in Appalachian coal country thought about their region and their past.

“Matewan,” directed by John Sayles, depicted a bloody chapter in the fight to organize coal miners in the 1920s, exploring themes of class struggle and pacifism in a style that evoked classic Western movies. The film earned an Academy Award nomination for its cinematography and helped establish some of its actors, including David Straithairn, Mary McDonnell and Chris Cooper.


Becca Schimmel

A bipartisan Congressional group from the Ohio Valley and beyond introduced a new bill to save pensions for retired union coal miners throughout the region.

The American Miners Pension Act, or AMP, would secure pensions for about 43,000 miners in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia whose retirement benefits have been undermined by the decline of the coal industry.

West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said Congress acted to protect miners’ health benefits last year but pensions got kicked down the road.


Manchin Opposes Trump’s Mine Safety Nominee

Sep 27, 2017
Courtesy office of Sen. Manchin

West Virginia Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin will not support the Trump administration’s nominee to lead the federal agency in charge of mine safety. 

Manchin said in a statement that he will not support David Zatezalo to lead the Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA. Zatezalo, a Wheeling, West Virginia, resident and former coal company executive, was named as Trump’s pick for the post in early September. 

Manchin said that after reviewing Zatezalo’s qualifications and safety record during his time in the coal industry, he is “not convinced that Mr. Zatezalo is suited to oversee the federal agency that implements and enforces mine safety laws and standards.”

MSHA

Lawmakers and union leaders are raising concerns about the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s practices amid an increase in coal fatalities.  

West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin asked MSHA for more information after receiving what he calls “alarming” reports about how the agency is implementing its new Compliance Assistance Program.

In a September 7th letter, Manchin wrote that he’s heard of miners being denied the ability to assign a representative to accompany MSHA inspectors and that those inspectors have been instructed to leave their credentials behind before inspecting a mine.


MSHA

A rash of fatal coal mining accidents in the Ohio Valley region pushed the nation’s total number of mining deaths to a level not seen since 2015, sparking concern among safety advocates.

Already this year 12 miners have died on the job in the U.S., compared to eight fatalities in all of 2016. Two miners were killed in Kentucky and six in West Virginia.

Mending Mining Country: Three Ways Trump Could Help Miners And Coal Communities

May 15, 2017
Alexandra Kanik

At a March ceremony to sign an executive order reversing Obama-era environmental regulations, coal miners were arranged on stage around President Donald Trump as he took up his pen.

“You know what it says, right?” Trump asked the miners. “You’re going back to work.”

From his campaign rallies to White House events, President Donald Trump has surrounded himself with coal miners and promised to restore their collapsed industry.

McConnell Plays Dual Role In Miners’ Benefits Saga

May 4, 2017
becca schimmel

Retired miners will not lose their health benefits, as had been feared, thanks to last-minute action from Congress. However, Congress did not act on the miners’ faltering pension benefits fund, which supports some 43,000 retired miners in the Ohio Valley region.

The health and pension benefits had been connected in legislation in Congress called the Miners Protection Act, but were split in the final push to include benefits protections in a federal spending bill.

Both the successful extension of the health benefits and the failure to act on pensions have a lot to do with one key player: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

 


Manchin Says U.S. Senate Backing Retired Miners' Benefits

Apr 26, 2017
Flickr/Creative Commons/John Karwoski

West Virginia's Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin says the Senate backs permanently extending health benefits for more than 22,000 retired miners and widows whose medical coverage is set to expire after April.

Manchin says Wednesday the permanent fix will be included in the Senate measure to continue government funding with a vote likely Friday.

He says it will cost $1.3 billion.

Republican U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito says she's confident the Senate will back a long-term fix.

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.

Becca Schimmel

Tens of thousands of retired coal miners and their families in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia face another deadline on expiring healthcare benefits and pensions. A temporary extension Congress funded late last year expires in April.

 

A regional Senate Republican and Democrat have offered competing bills to address the issue. The two measures differ sharply in the support offered for miners’ benefits and in the strings that would be attached to the funding.

 

West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin has reintroduced the Miners Protection Act with bipartisan support. The bill, which would include protections for health benefits and pensions for miners, was approved by the Senate Finance Committee last year but did not get a full floor vote before the end of the session.


becca schimmel

Congressional leaders have included short-term funding for health care benefits for retired miners in a must-pass spending bill this week. If approved that would buy some time for thousands of miners in the Ohio Valley region whose benefits would otherwise expire at the end of the year.  

Tennessee Valley Authority

The number of coal jobs in Kentucky continue to decline.  A report from the state Energy and Environment Cabinet says the number of jobs statewide dropped by 6.9 percent.

In Western Kentucky, coal jobs dropped 7.9 percent from April to June. The amount of coal produced in that region declined 12.3 percent. Production in the state’s eastern coalfield is the lowest it’s been since 1915.

Kentucky now has less miners than in 1898, before the extension of railroads allowed for explosive growth in production and jobs in Eastern Kentucky.

Analysts say there are a number of reasons for the decline, including competition for power-plant customers from cheap natural gas; tougher federal rules to protect air and water quality and the growth of renewable energy sources.

US Geological Survey, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

After a federal Court of Appeals rejected an industry-led challenge last month, a new federal rule to reduce coal miners’ exposure to dangerous dust goes into effect Monday.

In 2009, the Mine Safety and Health Administration began a campaign to end black lung disease, which is caused by breathing in large amounts of coal dust. The disease was in decline for decades but has experienced a recent resurgence.

“This disease is far from over,” MSHA Secretary Joe Main said. “Miners have suffered, families have suffered from this disease, and the time has come to fix this problem. And implementation of this rule will help us get there.”

Part of MSHA’s campaign includes federal rules to keep better track of the coal dust to which miners are exposed. Companies now have to take more dust samples, as well as sample for an entire shift. Over the next few months, coal miners working in the jobs with the most dust will have to wear small continuous personal dust monitors.

There Are Only 11,600 Coal Miners Left in Kentucky

Nov 10, 2014
Frankie Steele / KYCIR

Overall coal production in Kentucky remained steady between the second and third quarters of 2014, but that’s because losses in the eastern part of the state were offset by gains in the west.

But the quarter also brought new lows for the state in terms of coal employment, according to the state's quarterly coal report. The new employment numbers—just 11,670 coal miners working in Kentucky, and only 7,229 miners in Eastern Kentucky—represent the lowest ever recorded in the state since it began keeping track in 1927.

Coal employment in Kentucky has been decreasing fairly steadily since 1979, but the latest dramatic drop started around 2011. A number of factors have affected coal production in the Eastern Kentucky coalfields: low natural gas prices; declining reserves; power plants’ ability to easily burn cheaper, high-sulfur coal from the Illinois Basin; and stricter environmental regulations have all contributed.

The situation hasn’t been quite as dire in Western Kentucky, which traditionally employed far fewer miners and produced less coal than the east. That’s no longer true—in the first quarter of 2013, Western Kentucky production surpassed Eastern Kentucky coal. Between the second and third quarters of this year, Eastern Kentucky’s coal production dropped by 4.3 percent, while Western Kentucky’s production grew by 5.2 percent.

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