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Coal Report for July 16, 2014

the scene of a fatal accident--found to be the company's fault--that took the life of miner Richard Coots in Letcher County, Ky. in 2011. Richard's brother Jeromy was fired earlier this year one day after speaking out about safety issues at a Harlan Co. mine // photo from MSHA via http://www.msha.gov/FATALS/2011/FAB11c16.asp

A coal miner in Harlan County was fired this Spring, just one day after he spoke out about unsafe working conditions, the Huffington Post reports. The story starts back in October of 2011, when coal miner Richard Coots, who was just 23, was killed at a Letcher County mine in a machinery accident that was found to be caused by coal company negligence. Richard’s little brother Jeromy Coots was with him in the mine when he was killed. Jeromy is now 22, and earlier this year, he was working at Arch Coal’s Clover Fork No. 1 mine in Harlan County as a roof bolter. But conditions at that mine were also found to be unsafe. Jeromy was asked to work without an Automated Temporary Roof Support System, or ATRS, which helps protect roof bolters in case of rock falls. Working without one is illegal and dangerous. Jeromy’s attorney, Tony Oppegard, said “For a company to require miners to bolt without the ATRS is really playing Russian Roulette with that miner’s life.” And Jeromy was hit by falling rocks several times while working. Eventually, he spoke up, telling his foreman that after what happened to his brother, he had to say something about the unsafe conditions. He was reportedly told the company didn’t want to use the ATRS safety system because it took too much time. And the next day, Jeromy was fired. Arch Coal, the company that fired him, is the second-largest coal producer in America.

Many politicians have accused the EPA of overreach when it comes to coal regulation. But according to the Charleston Gazette, a federal appeals court has ruled that the EPA was actually right when it sought to reduce pollution in streams near Continue reading Coal Report for July 16, 2014

Coal Report for July 9, 2014

graphic from the latest edition of Kentucky Coal Facts, found at http://energy.ky.gov/Coal%20Facts%20Library/Kentucky%20Coal%20Facts%20-%2014th%20Edition%20(2014).pdf

For the first time since 1911, Western Kentucky produced more coal last year than Eastern Kentucky did.  And according to a new report from the state (Kentucky Coal Facts 2014), they did it with fewer miners.  Western Kentucky production fell by 2.8 percent last year, to 40.9 million tons.  But production in Eastern Kentucky, fell by 19%, to 39.8 million tons.  In terms of employment, eastern Kentucky has lost 38% of its coal jobs since mid-2011, and by the end of 2013 the region was down to 7,436 jobs in total.  By contrast, coal employment in Western Kentucky was relatively stable and stood at 4,449 by the end of the year.  So in all, last year Western Kentucky produced more coal than Eastern Kentucky, with nearly 3,000 fewer employees.  The report also said that Kentucky power plants remained the largest market for Kentucky coal in 2013, but that the value of Kentucky coal exports to foreign countries did increase by 21.5 percent last year to a record high of $87.3 million.

In this year’s state budget, Kentucky’s General Assembly slashed the state’s mine safety budget from $15 million to $10 million, and details have now emerged on where the cuts are coming.  The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that Kentucky’s mine safety staff will be cut from 142 employees overall to 88.  Specifically, the work that had been done by 69 Continue reading Coal Report for July 9, 2014

Coal Report for July 2, 2014

the proposed route of the Coalfields Expressway; 26 miles of the route is said to have been altered for coal mining interests, prompting the federal gov't to order a new environmental impact study

More coal mine layoffs have hit central Appalachia.  These latest layoffs have nothing to do with power plants or the EPA, though—they’re happening at mines that produce metallurgical coal, which is used to make steel.  Met coal prices have plummeted in the last couple years, and many coal operators with met coal operations are either downsizing or closing mines entirely.  In particular, Alpha Natural Resources announced that it will permanently shut down the Cherokee mine near Haysi in Dickenson County, Virginia.  The West Virginia State Journal said that over 120 people will ultimately lose their jobs.  The mine will be totally shut down by the end of September.

And this news came just after layoffs were announced at three other metallurgical mines in the region.  The State Journal also reports that Cliffs Resources Incorporated announced it will idle the Pinnacle Mine in Wyoming County, West Virginia for up to six months.  And the same week, Patriot Coal announced that it has laid off a total of 75 workers at two metallurgical mining complexes in Boone County, West Virginia: the Wells complex in the town of Wharton and the Corridor G complex near Danville.  The layoffs and closures are all a reflection of how depressed the global met coal market currently is.

In other news, the Federal Highway Administration has ruled that Virginia must conduct a full Environmental Impact Continue reading Coal Report for July 2, 2014

Coal Report for June 25, 2014

part of Cloud Peak Energy's Spring Creek Strip Mine in Montana, site of a recent fatal coal accident // photo via http://cloudpeakenergy.com/operations/spring-creek-mine/

Another coal miner has been killed on the job, this time in Montana.  The Billings Gazette reports that on Monday, June 23rd, a 230-ton truck crashed through a berm at the Spring Creek strip mine near the town of Decker in southern Montana.  The driver of the truck was killed, but there were no other injuries.  The mine is owned by Cloud Peak Energy, and this is the first fatal accident there since 2006.  There have now been eight coal miners killed at work in the US this year.

In other accident news, SNL Energy reports that a coal operator has been found guilty of “more than ordinary negligence” in a fatal accident in Illinois this past November.  Miner Dallas Travelstead was killed at the MC-No. 1 mine in Franklin County, Illinois, when a large piece of coal became detached from a longwall underground and fell on top of him.  Another miner was killed at the very same mine in May, and the mine has a history of rock falls.  MSHA found there had been loose rock in the Continue reading Coal Report for June 25, 2014

Coal Report for June 18, 2014

a surface mine in Perry County, Ky. // photo by Shelly Biesel

In a landmark decision, a federal judge has ruled that the state of Kentucky improperly granted a permit for a coal company to surface mine, because the company did not receive permission from all of the owners of the land.  The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that for decades, state and federal officials have granted surface mine permits if any owner of a property gave consent—even if that owner owned as little as 1 percent of the land.  In this case, a 400-acre hollow in Pike County was split up between 8 heirs, two of which sold their stakes to a land company, giving it a 25% interest.  Despite being just a minority owner, the land company then gave the Premier Elkhorn coal company permission to strip-mine the property, and the state granted them a permit.  5 of the heirs to the property then together filed a lawsuit to stop the strip mine.  One of them, a retired coal miner named Phillip Johnson, said “there’s a lot of sentimental value to this holler.”  The judge ruled in their favor, saying that according to federal law, every owner of a piece of land must give permission before surface mining can start, and he issued a temporary injunction to stop the mining while the permit gets re-inspected.  It was the first time a federal judge took up the issue.

Even though some politicians say recently proposed carbon emissions regulations are part of what they call a “war on coal,” the Bloomberg news service reports that the way the rules are written, some states, including Kentucky, could actually get to increase their carbon emissions.  The proposed rules say that by 2030, nationwide carbon pollution would need to be 30% less than it was in 2005.  But this would only happen on average–each state would have a different reduction target it would need Continue reading Coal Report for June 18, 2014

Coal Report for June 11, 2014

photo by Rhonda Simpson from the Appalshop film project "Coal Bucket Outlaw"

Residents of Clevinger Branch in Pike County recently blocked off a road they say is being ruined by coal trucks, reports the Appalachian News-Express (see also here).  On June 5th, the group left a pickup truck in the middle of the road to block coal trucks from using it. The road is not a coal haul road, and residents say that regular use by loaded coal trucks has not just damaged the road but also adjoining properties.  One resident said the road is so torn up that he has to dig up broken asphalt just to leave his driveway.  The coal company responsible is not named in the article, but Pike County officials asked them to use another route.  They also asked the company to come up with a proposal to restore the Clevinger Branch road or upgrade it into a coal haul road.  As of June 11th, they say they still had not heard from the company, so they’re considering a weight limit that would keep coal trucks off the road. Assistant County Attorney John Doug Hays said he’s still open to working with the company but “if they don’t want to work with us, that’s the only way I know to address the problem.”

While new carbon emissions regulations recently proposed by the EPA have caused the value of some US coal producers’ bonds to decrease, the coal industry is hurting from far more than just regulations, reports the Reuters news service.  Particularly, many coal companies invested heavily in metallurgical coal back in 2011 when met coal prices were Continue reading Coal Report for June 11, 2014