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Coal Report for February 15, 2017


The Kentucky government’s Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee met Friday afternoon to consider the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet’s proposal for new regulatory changes on how utilities store and dispose of coal ash from coal fired power plants. Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration suggested changes that would eliminate the state’s public permitting process for some landfills and man-made ponds that store coal-burning waste like ash and scrubber sludge, which can contaminate groundwater and dirty the air. As reported by the Courier-Journal, representatives of the state’s utility companies say that the changes would prevent duplication of federal standards already in place. The final version of the Energy and Environment Cabinet’s proposal requires electric utilities to give the state advance notice about their plans to establish new landfills or ponds to store coal ash. However, it doesn’t require a formal review of the companies’ construction plans by state regulators or give room for any public involvement. After hearing both concerns about the proposal and support for it, committee members agreed they needed more time to review the proposed changes and delayed a vote on the matter until at least March.

Eastern Kentucky’s Own Hell has been the place of discovery by the University of Kentucky, Rice University, and the University of Oklahoma of a new enzyme that could help the antibiotic daptomycin work better. The group published its findings in a recent edition of the journal Nature Chemical Biology. The research team is calling the enzyme PriB which is a streptomyces species they are referring to as “RM-5-8” where the R and M reflects the hell in which they found the strain. Ok, I know you’re asking – say what? Eastern Kentucky’s Own Hell is another name for the Tiptop Underground Mine Fire in Bulan, Kentucky in Breathitt County that has been burning for only God knows how long. Ruth Mullins a local resident found the fire and there are at least nine opening spanning Breathitt and Perry Counties. The research team found this new helpful enzyme in the smoke vents of the fire. PriB is a soil dwelling bacterium. So, it seems that hell has some benefits for the living, despite the fact that the International Journal of Coal Geology published in 2009 that outgassing from the Ruth Mullins mine could cause unhealthy air quality in nearby towns.

The first large scale clean coal power plant has been declared operational. The Petra Nova project, not far outside of Houston, TX, captured carbon dioxide from the process of coal combustion for the first time in September 2016, and has now piped 100,000 tons of it from the plant to the West Ranch oil field 80 miles away, where the carbon dioxide is used to force additional oil from the ground. They’re calling it “the world’s largest post-combustion carbon capture system.” The United State’s second plant to try carbon capture technology is the Kemper Power Plant in Mississippi, which was to be the world’s first and largest. is millions of dollars over budget and still has not opened. The last scheduled date for it to become operational was January 31, 2017. The Kemper Plant would work opposite of the Petra Nova system which captures the carbon after the burning of the lignite coal it consumes in that it will turn lignite coal, into a gas called syngas, stripping out some carbon dioxide in the process. The syngas is burned for electricity and the CO2 is then again shipped to an oil field to aid in additional oil recovery. So, it will capture the carbon before the coal is burned. The Kemper Plant has now reached nearly $7 billion in construction costs which is double the original estimate, and when it becomes operational will be the most expensive power plant ever constructed.

Fun Fact: In 1917, a writer wrote a piece for the Lincoln Evening Journal called Looking Forward. In it, he describes 2017 as a world that is no longer dependent on coal for energy. The author envisioned a future where technology would be able to harvest energy from the sun and run it through pipes for electricity.

The Coal Report is a weekly production of WMMT. It is assembled from newspapers and press services and reports coal-related material as these sources give it. It does not represent the opinion of WMMT on the matters discussed. Our aim is to reflect both local developments regarding coal and the big picture we’re a part of. For feedback, comments, or questions, email [email protected]

Coal Report for February 1, 2017


On January 26th the first coal mining related death in the United States of 2017 happened in a small underground mine near Pikeville, Kentucky. 42 year old Ray Hatfield Jr. of Hi Hat was killed while working on a conveyor belt in the R&C Coal LLC Mine No. 2. Hatfield had 23 years of beltman experience at the time of his death. A preliminary report from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) stated that he “received fatal injuries when he became entangled in a moving belt drive roller. The victim was attempting to shovel near the belt drive when he came in contact with a tandem roller.” The small mine only employs 9 nonunion miners and Hatfield was alone at the time of his death, having not been discovered for several hours. Surviving Hatfield are his wife, a son, and two daughters. The mine has been idled and state inspectors are investigating the accident. WMMT and Appalshop give their condolences to Ray Hatfield’s family, friends, and co-workers. Thank you for your service.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky introduced a Congressional Review Act on Monday, which is a resolution blocking the Interior Department’s Stream Protection Rule, days before the House is set to vote on a similar measure. Obama officials and environmentalists have hailed the rule — which protects waterways from the impacts of mountaintop removal mining — as good for water quality and public health. But the coal industry has said it would kill mining jobs. The Lexington Herald Leader reports that McConnell said of the Stream Protection Rule (quote) “It will cause real harm to real people who support real families in real communities. This regulation is an attack on coal families. It jeopardizes jobs and transfers power away from states and local governments.” (end quote) The House is set to vote on three CRA resolutions this week undoing energy-sector regulations finalized late in the Obama administration. The resolutions target the Stream Protection Rule, a methane leak regulation, and a directive seeking more financial information from drilling and mining firms.

Tens of thousands of retired coal miners in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia face another deadline on expiring healthcare benefits and pensions. Congress funded a temporary extension late last year but that expires in April. Becca Schimmel reports on competing proposals to protect miners benefits. BS: Competing bills from a regional Senate Republican and Democrat differ sharply in support for benefits for retired miners. West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin reintroduced the miner’s protection act, which includes protections for health and pension benefits. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, offered an alternative that would only fund health benefits. And McConnell’s bill ties that funding to other changes in environmental regulations affecting coal mining.

MM: “My legislation calls on congress to work with the incoming Trump administration to repeal regulations that are harming the coal industry and to support economic development efforts.”

BS: United Mine Workers president Cecil Roberts supports the bill reintroduced by Manchin. Groups working on both labor and environmental protections are unhappy with McConnell’s bill. Retired miner Carl Shoupe is with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, which focuses on economic and environmental issues. Shoupe says McConnell is playing politics with miner’s benefits.

CS: “Everybody wants to work here in eastern Kentucky and Mitch McConnell if he just quit playing politics, direct some of his attention here to eastern Kentucky or to Kentucky for that matter he could help us become a viable state.”

BS: Shoupe doesn’t think the Trump administration will revive the mining industry. He’d like lawmakers to help out-of-work miners find jobs in the clean energy sector.

CS: “We’re figuring it out that coal is not gonna come back and a lot of us are trying to move on and move on into the 21st century,” Shoupe said.

BS: Shoupe says in order for his community to move on miners and their families need the healthcare and pension benefits they worked for and were promised by the federal government.


The Coal Report is a weekly production of WMMT. It is assembled from newspapers and press services and reports coal-related material as these sources give it. It does not represent the opinion of WMMT on the matters discussed. Our aim is to reflect both local developments regarding coal and the big picture we’re a part of. For feedback, comments, or questions, email [email protected]

Coal Report for January 25, 2017

Image courtesy of alex_ugalek at

Image courtesy of alex_ugalek at

January 9th, the Kentucky Coal Association President Tyler White announced the association is lending its support to Kentucky H.B. 165. Kentucky’s newly GOP majority in both houses of congress is taking advantage of the opportunity of a Republican governor and president to put forward a bill trying to revive a tax incentive to encourage electric utilities and industries to burn more of the state’s thermal coal. Kentucky still gets about 90% of its electricity from coal, down about 95% a few years ago. Under the newly introduced bill, a state entity consuming additional Kentucky coal would receive a state tax credit of $2 per standard ton. A utility that already purchases 100,000 standard tons of Kentucky coal annually would not get a credit. But, if it raised coal use by 50,000 standard tons, it would receive a $2 credit per ton or a $100,000 tax credit. Continue reading Coal Report for January 25, 2017

Coal Report for January 18, 2017

By Office of U.S. Senator Deb Fischer -, Public Domain,

By Office of U.S. Senator Deb Fischer –, Public Domain,

Wilbur Ross made his billions from bankruptcies. He scooped up troubled steel and coal companies with an eye to resell them later at a profit. One acquisition included a mine that had terrible safety record: Sago, in West Virginia. Soon after the purchase a lighting bolt met methane gas underground (according to the report) leaving 12 miners dead. An independent investigation found the disaster could have been prevented. Mine safety expert Davitt McAteer led that investigation. “Mr. Ross was noticeable by his absence. He didn’t show up. Though, being president of ICG, he was the ultimate responsible party.” Ross founded ICG – International Coal Group – in 2004 when he bought a bunch (16) of coal mines in KY and OH (WEB: the assets of Kentucky-based Horizon Natural Resources) in a bankruptcy auction. Ross reported to New York magazine that he’s haunted by the deaths at Sago. Now, a decade later, you’d be hard-pressed to find people in the region who even know who Ross is. “I think it’s an unreasonable expectation that he be known perhaps in any of the areas where his portfolio companies operate.”

Continue reading Coal Report for January 18, 2017

Coal Report for January 11, 2017

Image courtesy of dan at

Image courtesy of dan at

The production of federal coal (coal leases for mining on federally owned lands) accounts for more than 40 percent of all coal produced in the United States and is responsible for 10% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. While energy markets, communities, environmental conditions and national priorities have undergone major changes in recent decades, the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) handling of the federal coal program has stayed relatively static. In January of last year, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell issued a moratorium on the federal coal leasing program in order to conduct a comprehensive, public review. The results of that review were issued today, January 11, 2017 by the Department. Continue reading Coal Report for January 11, 2017

Coal Report for January 4, 2017

Photo by Thomas Biggs

Photo by Thomas Biggs

Coal mining in the U.S. ended 2016 the safest year yet at nine mining related deaths. West Virginia had four, Kentucky had two and there was one each in Alabama, Illinois and Pennsylvania. The low number can be attributed in part to far fewer coal mining jobs.  However, the chief of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, Joseph A. Main, released a statement saying that there has been an increase in industry cooperation and (quote) “the angst that mine operators have with what (violations) we cite is dissipating as well.” (end quote) Continue reading Coal Report for January 4, 2017