coal

Coal jobs in Kentucky declined sharply in the first quarter of this year, according to the state’s latest quarterly coal report.

As of April 1, there were an estimated 10,356 people employed at Kentucky coal mines. That’s a decrease of 1,230 jobs—or 10.6 percent—from Jan. 1. And the job losses weren’t limited to Eastern Kentucky, where market conditions and power plant retirements have hit hardest. Western Kentucky coal mines shed 13.7 percent of coal jobs during the quarter, while the Eastern Kentucky coal workforce decreased by 8.7 percent.

And these numbers will likely decline further. Division for Energy Development and Independence Assistant Director Aron Patrick said there are several hundred layoffs pending that will likely be reflected in the next quarterly report.

Coal production in both basins decreased too. Kentucky mines produced only about 16.6 million tons of coal in this quarter. For Eastern Kentucky, production is only a third of what it was in 2008.

For the first time in about a century, there are no working union coal miners in Kentucky. The state’s few remaining union coal miners were laid off New Years Eve when Patriot Coal’s Highland Mine in Western Kentucky shut down.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Erica Peterson of WFPL reports that the union is struggling to appeal to younger coal miners, but others feel organized labor still has a role to play.

Kentucky’s coal production and employment dropped only slightly in 2014, but sharper declines are likely in the future.

The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet released its quarterly coal report for the fourth quarter of 2014 today. Preliminary data suggest the state produced 3.7 percent less coal in 2014 than in 2013. Coal employment declined by 2.8 percent over the same time period.

The declines are less stark than they were a year ago. In 2013, the Energy and Environment Cabinet estimated that the state had lost 2,300 coal jobs. In 2014, 317 jobs were lost. But these losses add to the troubles the coal industry has faced recently. The fourth quarter of 2014 is the 14th consecutive quarter where coal employment has declined in the state, and Eastern Kentucky’s coal production in 2014 was only about 41 percent of what it produced as recently as 2008.

Alliance Corporation

An Alliance coal mine in Hopkins County is set to close in early 2016 as the Elk Creek site runs out of coal. But Madisonville-Hopkins County Economic Development Corporation President Gerald Cook says the closure will likely have a minimal impact on the community.

“Some of the other areas they have ramped up and are doing well in their other locations and actually expanding in some of those areas,” he said.

Cook says the announcement was a surprise, but not unusual.

Nearly 370 people work at the Elk Creek mine.

“If those employees are transferred to some of their other operations around here, and there are a lot of operations going on around here now, if they’re transferred into the others well there’s going to be a negligible impact to the community.”

Mine officials would not say if any layoffs are expected.

Chao Steps Down From Bloomberg Charity Over Coal Issue

Jan 21, 2015
Alix Mattingly

Elaine Chao has resigned from the board of Bloomberg Philanthropies as the foundation revs up its commitment to its clean energy initiative.

Chao was Secretary of Labor in President George W. Bush’s cabinet and is also the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. She stepped down from the board Wednesday after the philanthropic  group announced $48 million in clean energy grants.

Patriot Coal will idle two large coal mines in Western Kentucky, beginning today. As many as 650 workers could be affected.

Patriot warned layoffs could be coming earlier this month, when it issued WARN notices to employees at its Highland and Dodge Hill mines. 

EPA Sets First National Standard For Coal Waste

Dec 19, 2014

The Obama administration has set the first national standards for waste generated from coal burned for electricity. The regulation treats it more like household garbage rather than a hazardous material.

Environmentalists had pushed for the hazardous classification, citing the hundreds of cases nationwide where coal ash waste had tainted waters. The coal industry wanted the less stringent classification.

The rule issued Friday ends a six-year effort that began after a massive spill at a power plant in Tennessee.

The EPA said that the regulation addresses the risks posed by coal ash sites and that the record did not support a hazardous classification.

The rule does not require all sites failing to meet the standards to close. Sites at shuttered power plants also are not covered.

Four-and-a-half years after they were first announced, the Environmental Protection Agency plans to finalize the nation’s first federal rules on the handling of coal ash this month.

Jack Blankenship was pinned facedown in the dirt, his neck, shoulder and back throbbing with pain.

He was alone on an errand, in a dark tunnel a mile underground at the Aracoma Alma coal mine in Logan County, W.Va., when a 300-pound slab of rock peeled away from the roof and slammed him to the ground. As his legs grew numb, he managed to free an arm and reach his radio. For two hours, he pressed the panic button that was supposed to bring help quickly.

Abbey Oldham

Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell has made no secret of his plans should he win re-election next month and should he become Senate Majority Leader.

The latter will happen if McConnell defeats Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes and Republicans win a net of six Senate seats in November. McConnell has told audiences and reporters that, if he became Senate Majority Leader, he would seek to defeat President Obama’s legislative agenda by adding language to spending bills that would strip funding from projects the President supports.

In an interview with WKU Public Radio Wednesday, McConnell was asked specifically which programs he would seek to defund.

WKU Public Radio: What specific programs or initiatives would you seek to block if you were to become Senate Majority Leader?

Sen. Mitch McConnell: Well, my first choice, obviously, is to see what the President is willing to do with us. We need to do comprehensive tax reform. It’s been 30 years since we scrubbed the code. The President says he wants to do trade agreements. That’s a big winner for Kentucky agriculture. So I think you would anticipate kind of a mix of things, hopefully working on things we can agree on together.

But there are some things we would differ on. The initiatives that the President has carried out through the regulatory side have been quite burdensome to the economy. And we would indeed seek to reign in the regulators, and a good example of that is the war on coal, which has created a depression in eastern Kentucky.

The most severe form of black lung disease is at levels not seen since the early 1970s, according to new data from the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety.

NIOSH has been testing underground coal miners in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia for the disease for 40 years.

In the data letter published today in a scientific journal, researchers say there has been a startling resurgence of complicated black lung.

This is despite federal laws that were supposed to control dust in coal mines and eradicate the disease. 

Evan Smith is an attorney with the Appalachian Citizens Law Center in Whitesburg.

Hal Heiner campaign

Republican gubernatorial candidate Hal Heiner says he isn’t sure whether burning fossil fuels like coal contributes to climate change.

 Heiner spoke to Kentucky Public Radio at the Kentucky Farm Bureau’s country ham breakfast last Thursday, saying that he’s on the fence when it comes to climate science.

“I don’t have a scientific position, on contribution or not, but what I do know is … if we’re going to stay economically competitive in a global marketplace, we have to burn coal,” said Heiner.

Heiner recently attacked his primary opponent, Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, over comments he made last year that the state needs to move “beyond coal.”

TVA

State lawmakers were once again briefed Friday about the effects  of proposed federal regulations on carbon dioxide emissions from  Kentucky’s coal-fired power plants.

Kentucky Energy and Environment Secretary Len Peters told an  energy subcommittee in Frankfort that if the changes cause utility companies to increase their rates high enough, the state’s economy could suffer.

“I think the rate increases that are being talked about right now probably on the side it’s five percent," said Peters. "It could be as much as 25 percent. And if it gets into the 25 percent range, we have done some separate studies that clearly show that has a major impact on our manufacturing industry.”

Under the proposed guidelines, Kentucky will have to reduce its CO2 emissions by about 18 percent by the year 2030.

WKU PBS

A trade group representing Kentucky's coal industry is defended Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell after a published report that his wife is a board member of an organization that has spent $50 million to close coal-fired power plants.

Yahoo! News reported Friday that Elaine Chao sits on the board of Bloomberg Philanthropies. Former New York Mayor and media mogul Michael Bloomberg founded the charity.

The Kentucky Coal Association says Bloomberg's contribution was made before Chao joined the board in April 2012.

The eastern Kentucky coalfields have lost 7,000 coal-related jobs since January 2012. That's an issue at the center of McConnell's re-election bid against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.

The Kentucky Coal Association says McConnell has done everything possible to protect the coal industry.

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear announced Wednesday that 34 fiscal courts in the Commonwealth will receive refunds from mining permit and acreage fees.  Eight counties in our region will receive refunds totaling $58,377.

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