coal

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.

 


Becca Schimmel

United Mine Workers retirees are celebrating a permanent fix for health benefits secured in the federal spending agreement Congress reached over the weekend. However, the deal left them with more work ahead to shore up faltering pension funds.

Coal retirees have been fighting to secure benefits for nearly five years. With benefits set to expire at the end of April, the omnibus spending bill agreed upon by Congressional negotiators secured healthcare funding for more than 22,000 retirees and beneficiaries.

UMWA communications director Phil Smith called it a huge relief.

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.”

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