coal

Sydney Boles/Ohio Valley ReSource

Coal miners and family members of miners who have died from black lung disease gathered Sunday in Whitesburg, Kentucky, to dedicate a new memorial to miners who perished from the workplace disease. 

While Appalachian coal country has several memorials to mining disasters, this is believed to be the first memorial to remember the thousands of men and women who died from black lung.

The engraved black stone memorial stands at Riverside Park in Whitesburg and will list the names of some 200 Letcher County coal miners who died of the disease.

Sydney Boles

The nearly two-month blockade of a Kentucky railroad track is coming to an end as unpaid coal miners end their protest in order to take new jobs, start classes, or move away from their coal-dependent communities.

  The Burgess family received Greg’s owed wages late last week, but is still waiting for the check to clear a bank hold. Blackjewel’s bad check created a series of challenges. The first few unemployment checks the family received went straight to the bank to get the account out of the red. In total, Christina said Blackjewel’s bankruptcy has cost her family about $3,000 in penalties and fees. Greg quickly found new work after the Pax Mine closed and the family had some money saved in preparation for a downturn in the local industry.

While ‘Zombie’ Mines Idle, Cleanup And Workers Remain In Limbo

Sep 6, 2019
Mark Olalde

The sound of metal banging against metal broke the calm on the high mesa separating Colorado’s Paradox and Big Gypsum valleys. An old rusted headframe marked the entrance to an abandoned uranium mine that, from a distance, looked as if its workers were simply off on a lunch break.

On Labor Day, Miners Mark Historic Union March

Sep 3, 2019
Emily Allen

Ninety-eight years ago, thousands of pro-union miners marched toward West Virginia’s Logan County, to protest abuses by coal operators in what was then a largely anti-union territory.

The marchers were met at Blair Mountain in Logan County by an army of men, fighting on behalf of anti-union mine guards and local law enforcement. The battle was so heated that then-president Warren Harding called in Army troops to restore order.

This Labor Day, present-day members of the United Mine Workers of America marched from Marmet in Kanawha County to Racine in Boone County, to commemorate what they say was one of the greatest events in the nation’s labor history.


Curren Sheldon

Curtis Cress at in the gravel beside a railroad track in Harlan County, Kentucky. Tall and thin with a long, black beard, Cress is every bit a coal miner, or, he was until a month ago.

UPDATE FULL TWO-PART AUDIO, Extended web text. WEKU/Ohio Valley ReSource Exclusvive

“It’s part of my heritage, you know? My dad and papaws had always done it,” he said. “And I’m proud of that heritage.”

Cress had been at these railroad tracks for days, with little sleep. Not far down the rails sat a row of hopper cars filled with coal from his former employer, Blackjewel Coal.

Blackjewel Miners Continue Protest As Bankruptcy Hearing Looms

Aug 5, 2019

 

Miners left unpaid by the bankrupt Blackjewel coal company say they are prepared to keep up their protest on railroad tracks in Harlan County, Kentucky, where they are blocking delivery of a load of coal. As their protest grows and gains attention, a bankruptcy court hearing on Monday could determine whether and when the miners get their paychecks.

The blockade began simply enough Monday when five out-of-work miners organized via social media to block a coal train leaving one of the Blackjewel facilities.

Jeff Young/Ohio Valley ReSource

Declining coal tax revenues place coal-reliant counties in Appalachia at risk of fiscal collapse, according to new research from the centrist Brookings Institution and Columbia University. Policies designed to prevent further climate change would accelerate that decline, the report found, but could also provide a new stream of revenue to help communities rebound from coal’s demise.

The report published by Brookings and the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia quantified how much of a coal-producing county’s budget came from coal, via severance taxes, property taxes, and contracts such as royalties and lease bonuses. Then authors analyzed what it might mean for those county governments if the U.S. instituted a modest price on carbon emissions. The report found that under such a policy, counties that are reliant on coal would be at risk of defaulting on bonds, failing to provide basic services such as waste removal or infrastructure maintenance, and even bankruptcy.


Jeff Young/Ohio Valley ReSource

Kentucky's Attorney General said on Friday he is investigating complaints from miners who say they are not receiving pay following the fast-moving bankruptcy negotiations for Blackjewel mining, which employs some 1100 people in central Appalachia.

Attorney General Andy Beshear said in a statement he has received "numerous troubling complaints" related to the company, "ranging from clawed back paychecks to child support issues.

"I have therefore instructed my office to use all of its powers and resources to seek answers for those who have been harmed," Beshear said. 

Coal companies controlled by the family of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice have agreed to a settlement covering millions of dollars in overdue property taxes in four eastern Kentucky counties: Harlan, Knott, Magoffin, and Pike.

Checks totaling $1.2 million from Justice entities began rolling in last week, county officials said. According to state officials, the checks cover half the delinquent debt owed. Counties will receive the remaining amount in payments over the next six months.

Dylan Lovan/AP

The Kentucky Coal Association says former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s $500 million pledge to close every coal-fired power plant in the U.S. would “essentially send us back into the Dark Ages.”

 

Coal consumption in the U.S. is in decline, but Kentucky remains reliant on the fuel for jobs and energy. About 75 percent of the state’s electricity comes from coal power.

Howard Berkes

  Harold Sturgill was disabled by black lung disease when he was 58 years old. Now he advocates for disabled miners.

 

“When it comes to the mining companies, and it comes to the worker, it’s still all about production,” Sturgill said. “They could care less about me, how much dust I suck in, or how long I’m going to live, because somebody else is there to take my place.”

Sturgill worries that without meaningful action to protect miners, his son, who is also a miner, will contract the same illness. “A man’s gonna feed his family whether it kills him or not,” he said.

MSHA

 This year, under the Trump administration, MSHA decided to remove POV status for the Affinity mine in an agreement with the company that resolved litigation on the matter, despite a continued record of spotty safety performance at the mine.

Sydney Boles/Ohio Valley ReSource

On a cool but clear November day about a dozen residents from eastern Kentucky’s coal mining region crowded into the lobby of an office building in the small town of London, Kentucky. That’s where Kentucky’s powerful senior senator, Mitch McConnell, has his local field office.

McConnell’s staff let the local advocates for black lung treatment into the office a few at a time to make their case for funding the federal Black Lung Disability Trust Fund.

 

EPA Rule Rollback Aimed at Boosting Coal Plant Development

Dec 5, 2018
OVR

  The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce it is rolling back Obama-era regulations that required newly-built coal plants to strictly limit carbon emissions.

Industry advocates argued the rule made it nearly impossible to build new coal plants because it required the installation of expensive carbon capture technology.

But experts say it’s unlikely that the EPA’s rollback will reverse the trend.

Sydney Boles

The rain started around 10:30 p.m. By midnight, the creek in front of Elvis and Laura Thackers’ house had swelled to a mighty flood, uprooting trees, moving boulders and surging right up to the couple’s front steps. The Thackers decided to abandon their home. But when they got into their Jeep, they found the flood had washed the road away, leaving them trapped.

“Water was everywhere,” Laura Thacker remembered. “I said, ‘You don’t know how big it’s going to get.’”

Courtesy the office of Sen. Sherrod Brown.

Retired coal miners and coal community activists are on Capitol Hill this week urging action on two important issues for miners: pensions and black lung benefits. Advocates say funds supporting both pensions for retired miners and the federal benefits for those sickened by black lung disease are at risk if Congress does not act. 

Pension Problem

Stephen George/WFPL

Lexington Engineer Steven Gardner has more than four decades of experience working with and advocating for the mining industry. 

He also had the backing of President Donald Trump, Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan in his bid to run the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement. 

But on Thursday Bloomberg News reported Gardner withdrew his nomination to head the agency responsible for protecting society and the environment from the adverse effects of coal mining. 

Vice.com

At the heart of this case are contract disputes between a paper company called WestRock and two coal companies controlled by the Justice family.

WestRock and Southern Coal Corporation have for years been fighting in court over a coal supply agreement for a paper mill in Florida.

The parties had settled, but after making three payments, Southern Coal stopped. This year, a federal court awarded WestRock a settlement totalling just over one-million-dollars.

Kara Lofton/WVPB

When President Trump wants to talk coal, he comes to West Virginia. So it was not surprising that the president visited Charleston just hours after his administration unveiled a long-awaited overhaul of the Obama administration’s signature climate change regulation, the Clean Power Plan.

“We’re cancelling Obama’s illegal, anti-coal-destroying regulations. The so-called Clean Power Plan,” Trump told the cheering crowd.

In Ohio Valley Visits, Trump Administration Pushes Policies Supporting Mining And Metals

Aug 23, 2018
Kara Lofton/WVPB

In back-to-back events this week President Trump and his commerce secretary visited the Ohio Valley to tout administration policies aimed at propping up two of the region’s traditional but faltering industries — metals and mining.

The president used a Tuesday rally filled with West Virginia coal miners to unveil a new plan to ease pollution requirements on coal-burning power plants.

 

Trump Touts Coal Industry Comeback At W. VA. Rally

Aug 22, 2018
Kara Lofton/WVPB

Hours after the head of the EPA unveiled a more industry-friendly version of power plant regulations, President Trump used a rally in West Virginia to claim that his policies have revitalized the coal industry.

 “And it is really happening. We are back. The coal industry is back,” Trump told the clapping and cheering crowd. 

But industry statistics reveal a muted job recovery in coal, at best.

White House Video

President Donald Trump’s desire to help boost the Ohio Valley’s energy industry and bring back mining jobs could be stymied by the administration’s escalating trade battle with China and other trading partners across the globe.

White House

President Donald Trump last week told the Department of Energy to “prepare immediate steps” to stop the closures of coal and nuclear power plants in the Ohio Valley region that are no longer economical to operate.

But a number of energy analysts say the administration’s unprecedented effort to prop up struggling utilities will do little to solve their underlying problems and will likely end up costing consumers more.   

FirstEnergy Emergency Request Could Be A Last Chance To

Apr 17, 2018
Glynis Board/Ohio Valley ReSource

Ohio-based utility FirstEnergy Solutions made waves last month when it asked the Department of Energy to grant it an emergency order to help keep coal and nuclear plants operating across the Ohio Valley.

The request even hit the president’s radar. Speaking earlier this month at a roundtable event in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Donald Trump said the administration was examining the utility’s request.

“We’ll be looking at that 202, you know what a 202 is, we’ll be looking at that, we’re trying,” he said.

Peabody Energy, Inc., via Wikimedia Common

Kentucky Power customers expressed frustration with proposed rate increases.
Mimi Pickering/WMMT

One evening this past November, angry customers and public officials filled a high school auditorium in Hazard, Kentucky, and took turns pleading with three members of the state’s public service commission.

Angie Hatton, a state legislator representing Letcher and Pike counties, presented the situation in historical terms. “This community that for two centuries has been powering our nation, we’re now struggling to keep our own lights on.”

 


From C-Span Video

Glynis Board/Ohio Valley ReSource

A group of about 30 coal miners in work apparel complete with hardhats sat in one of the three hearing rooms to hear their boss, Bob Murray. Murray is CEO of the Ohio-based coal company Murray Energy, and a leading opponent of the Clean Power Plan. He applauded EPA’s decision to repeal the regulation.

“God bless President Trump, and you coal miners,” Murray said. “I love you, fellas. God bless you.”

MHSA

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


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