coal

Coal has long had a grip on American politics. That's why politicians worry about its fate. They tout the fossil fuel's contribution to the U.S. economy, but lately they've also been trying to find a way to clean up coal's image.

Office of Sen. Manchin

Congressional leaders are cautiously optimistic that a budget deal could protect health benefits for retired miners.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, said the Senate will back permanently extending health benefits for more than 22,000 retirees and beneficiaries.

Manchin said he spoke Wednesday with President Trump who said he supports the miners. Without Congressional action, miners benefits will expire at the end of the month.

At a press event in Washington, West Virginia’s Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito also called for a permanent fix, but she’s not declaring victory yet.

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.

Coal-State Lawmakers Push To Extend Retired Miners’ Benefits

Apr 24, 2017
Creative Commons

Lawmakers from coal-mining states are pushing to extend health benefits for more than 22,000 retired miners and widows whose medical coverage is set to expire at the end of April.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and other coal-state Democrats threatened to shut down the government over the issue in December, but they retreated after winning a four-month extension that preserves benefits through April 30.

As lawmakers return to the Capitol following a two-week recess, Manchin says the time for extensions is over.

“We will use every vehicle we can, every pathway we can, to make sure we do not leave here … until we have our miners protected,” he said in a speech on the Senate floor before the break.

Kevin Butt's job is to find cleaner ways to power Toyota. One of the hardest places to do that is at the automaker's sprawling plant in central Kentucky, a state where nearly 90 percent of electricity still comes from coal.

Butt points out a new engine assembly line, where a conveyor belt moves in a slow circle. He says it was specially designed with a more efficient motor. There are also enormous fans overhead and LED lights, all changes that save millions.

How Asian Politics Could Affect U.S. Coal

Apr 12, 2017
Peabody Energy, Inc., via Wikimedia Commons

With Australia coping with the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie and China turning back imports of coal from North Korea this week as apparent punishment for missile tests, U.S. coal exporters are hoping for a boost. But analysts aren’t predicting a coal comeback.

After banning imports of North Korean coal in late February, China started turning shipments away this week. Reuters reports that millions of tons of coal were sent back to North Korea. Largely, these were shipments of anthracite coal, typically used in steel production. S&P Global Market Intelligence’s coal reporter Taylor Kuykendall is skeptical that this event will produce significant effects here in the US.

“[Anthracite coal] is a really small part of our market and not produced that many places in the United States outside of Pennsylvania,” Kuykendall said.


Benny Becker

Federal health researchers are visiting health clinics and medical schools in the Appalachian coalfields to recruit allies in the fight a resurgence of black lung disease. The worst form of the disease may affect as many as 5 percent of experienced working miners in the region, and the researchers fear that rate could be even higher among retired miners. 

Medical students filled an auditorium at the University of Pikeville, Kentucky, to hear the latest on this scourge of coal communities, a disease many think should be history by now.

If we come to your town there’s generally something bad going on there,” said Dr. Scott Laney, an epidemiologist with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH. He was part of a research team that identified a resurgence in the worst form of black lung disease in a study published late last year. 

Courtesy CVI

When President Donald Trump visited Kentucky for a recent rally he returned to a common theme from his campaign: environmental regulations are job-killers.

“I have already eliminated a devastating anti-coal regulation,” he said, referring to a measure he recently signed overturning a Department of Interior stream protection rule. “And that is just the beginning,” the president continued, pledging to turn the Environmental Protection Agency “from a job killer into a job creator.”

But in parts of coal country environmental regulations aren’t killing jobs, they’re creating them. Stream restoration made possible under the Clean Water Act is a multi-billion dollar industry and some former coal miners are finding work thanks to this revenue stream.

Howard Berkes/NPR

A bipartisan group of legislators has asked President Donald Trump to make more money available for black lung health clinics as they face an increase in cases of the disease among coal miners.  

More than 20 clinics would benefit from the $3.3 million increase lawmakers are requesting. The clinics provide miners with health screenings, medical care, and assistance in securing black lung benefits.

The lawmakers wrote in a letter to the president and the White House budget director that the level of funding for clinics has been frozen for the past five years.  

Creative Commons

An accident at a southeastern Kentucky surface coal mine killed a 33-year-old miner, the state's second mining death this year.

Joseph W. Partin of Williamsburg, died early Thursday morning when a section of exposed rock fell on him at a mine in Whitley County. Partin was doing maintenance work on an auger when the 15-foot-tall rock section fell.

Kentucky's second mining death matched the state's total from last year. A release from Kentucky's Energy and Environment Cabinet said mining operations were shut down at the site and officials remained on the scene Thursday morning.

Trump Undermines Obama's Clean Power Plan

Mar 29, 2017
Kenn W. Kiser, morgueFile.com

Coal country’s economic woes took center stage at the Environmental Protection Agency as President Donald Trump signed an executive order to undo parts of President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy.

The president was flanked by coal workers and industry figures and defenders, such as West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Ohio-based coal operator Bob Murray, filled the room during the signing ceremony.

Trump’s executive order asks the EPA to rewrite the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan — a rule that limits carbon emissions from power plants and requires states to reduce emissions by almost a third by 2030.


Defunding Appalachia: Coal Communities Resist President’s Budget Cuts

Mar 27, 2017
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.

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