coal

Union, Feds at Odds on Countering Surge in Coal Mine Deaths

Aug 3, 2017
NPR

Deaths in U.S. coal mines this year have surged ahead of last year's, and federal safety officials say workers who are new to a mine have been especially vulnerable to fatal accidents.

But the nation's coal miner's union says the mine safety agency isn't taking the right approach to fixing the problem.

Ten coal miners have died on the job so far this year, compared to a record low of eight deaths last year.

Glynis Board

Thanks to singer-songwriter John Prine, Paradise Fossil Plant might be the only coal-fired power plant that has a household name. “Paradise,” Prine’s 1971 ballad, drew on boyhood memories from the small town of Paradise, in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, to relay the environmental and social costs of our dependence on coal.

“Mr. Peabody’s coal train,” he sang, had hauled away the Paradise from his childhood.

Becca Schimmel

The Tennessee Valley Authority’s combined cycle gas plant in Muhlenberg County has produced more than one million megawatts of energy in its first three months of operation. It’s part of the federal utility’s effort to diversity its energy portfolio.

The natural gas facility in Drakesboro produces about 1,025 megawatts of electricity, or enough power for half a million homes. The cost of the project is estimated at about $850 million. Bob Deacy is a TVA senior vice president and has been building plants for more than 30 years. He said there’s a lot of fuel switching going on across the country, and having a diverse energy portfolio will save consumers money.

Jeff Young

Political leaders in West Virginia and Kentucky are joining a coalition of states threatening to sue California over a program the state is pushing that would drop investments in coal.

This week the attorney general of West Virginia joined 11 other Republican attorneys general and the governor of Kentucky in signing a letter to the commissioner of the California Department of Insurance. The department wants any insurance companies licensed in California to divest from fossil fuels – especially coal. Many of the companies licensed in California are also licensed in many other states throughout the U.S.

Gabe Bullard

A U.S. House committee has advanced a bill that would send a billion dollars for mine reclamation and economic development in coal communities.

The RECLAIM Act was first proposed in 2016 by Kentucky Rep. Hal Rogers. It authorizes the release of $1 billion over five years from the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund. The money would be earmarked for cleaning up abandoned mine sites, as well as identifying and funding economic development projects on the sites.

Rogers’ spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Erica Peterson

An economic development agency targeted for elimination by President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday nearly $16 million in funding to help diversify economies in hard-hit coal communities in seven Appalachian states.

The funding is earmarked for 18 projects in Alabama, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia, and will create or retain more than 1,700 jobs, the Appalachian Regional Commission said in a news release.

The money announced by the ARC comes from a job organization comprising the commission, the U.S. Commerce and Labor departments, and other federal agencies, and is "a blueprint for new jobs, fresh opportunities, and a robust economic future for Appalachia," ARC federal co-chair Earl Gohl said in the release.

Erica Peterson

After being name-checked in two of President Donald Trump’s recent speeches, a new coal mine opened in Pennsylvania last week.

“Next week we’re opening a big coal mine,” Trump told supporters in Cincinnati. “You know about that. One in Pennsylvania. It’s actually a new mine. That hadn’t happen in a long time, folks. But we’re putting the people and we’re putting the miners back to work.”

The mine in Somerset County, Pennsylvania is expected to employ about 70 coal miners. But while it may be cause for local celebration and useful for political rhetoric, it isn’t a harbinger of what’s to come in Kentucky.

Erica Peterson

The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet has agreed to hold off on letting electric utilities transition to the state’s new, relaxed coal ash rules until litigation is complete, except under special circumstances.

The partial settlement was reached last week in the case pending in Franklin Circuit Court. It was filed on behalf of Trimble County resident Kelley Leach by Tom FitzGerald of the Kentucky Resources Council and names the Energy and Environment Cabinet and Louisville Gas and Electric as defendants.

Becca Schimmel

Kentucky is coal country, and is heavily reliant on the dirty fossil fuel for power. A study underway at Western Kentucky University is examining the effectiveness of a water-based clean coal solution.

The coal is treated with the solution at Big Rivers power plant in Ohio County, Kentucky. WKU partnered with Big Rivers and the state’s Cabinet for Economic Development to determine if the solution reduces carbon, sulfur, and nitrogen emissions.

Researchers at WKU are taking an enzyme from a mushroom and growing it in water. That solution is then sprayed on coal as it falls down a chute. The coal then sits for a few days before it’s burned.


Blankenship Asks Trump to Resist Punishing Coal Executives

May 16, 2017
Flickr/Creative Commons/Rainforest Action Network

Former Massey CEO Don Blankenship asked President Donald Trump on Tuesday to resist attempts in Congress to enhance criminal penalties for coal executives who violate mine safety and health standards.

Blankenship, who recently was freed from federal prison, also asked the president in a letter to re-examine a federal investigation into the nation's worst coal mining disaster in four decades.

Blankenship served a year in prison for a misdemeanor conviction of conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards at Massey's Upper Big Branch mine in southern West Virginia, where 29 workers died in a 2010 explosion. Jurors didn't convict him of another conspiracy and securities fraud charges that could have extended his sentence to 30 years.

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.

LG&E/KU

Capturing carbon dioxide from power plants is, at least theoretically, a good way to reduce one of the top gases that contributes to climate change.

But in reality, it’s hard – and so far, inefficient.

Carbon capture pilot projects across the country have come and gone. But even though it’s technically over, the pilot project at one power plant in Central Kentucky remains. There, University of Kentucky researchers continue to test technology they say is cheaper and more efficient than others being tested around the country.

At Louisville Gas & Electric and Kentucky Utilities’ E.W. Brown Plant, near Danville, there’s a six-story open structure attached to one of the plant’s units. It’s a scaffolding-like maze of yellow, blue and silver metal.

Kunlei Liu stands under it, wearing a hardhat and safety glasses, ready to explain the intricate workings of the device.

Peabody Energy, Inc., via Wikimedia Commons

Can coal make a comeback? That’s the title of a new report from Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy. Researchers there analyzed the factors leading to the coal industry’s sharp decline over the past six years and assessed the Trump administration’s efforts to revive it.

The report casts doubt on the chances for a significant increase in production and employment, and downplays the role of environmental regulations and the so called “War on Coal,” a common rhetorical theme for coal country politicians and President Trump.

Trevor Houser with the economic research company Rhodium Group is a co-author of the Columbia study. His report begins with analysis of what’ was driving the dramatic decline in the coal industry since 2011.


Erica Peterson

After years of coal industry decline, Kentucky has fallen from the nation’s third largest coal producer to the fifth. Federal data released last month shows the 42 million tons of coal the commonwealth produced in 2016 was eclipsed by Pennsylvania and Illinois. Wyoming and West Virginia have long been above Kentucky in coal production.

But despite Kentucky coal’s dismal 2016, the state’s latest quarterly report is giving the industry hope that things may have steadied somewhat.

During the first three months of this year, Kentucky coal production had a barely perceptible increase — 0.56 percent.

Kentucky Coal Association president Tyler White said the fact that there wasn’t another drop in production is a good sign.

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.

 


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