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Coal Report for February 27, 2015

Coal Report for February 27, 2015

a portion of the aftermath of the Buffalo Creek Flood, which happened 43 years ago this week in Logan County, W.Va.

Another American coal miner has been killed on the job, this time in Pennsylvania.  The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that miner Todd Trimble was killed at the Rosebud Mining Company’s Heilwood Mine in Indiana County.  According to MSHA, he was re-positioning roof mesh and was caught between the roof of the mine and the top of the drill canopy when a piece of the roof collapsed onto him.  He became the second coal miner in the US to die on the job this year.  Both fatalities have happened in Pennsylvania.

In other coal news, for the first time since the early 1900’s, there are no union coal miners left working in Kentucky.  WFPL Radio reports that the last union miners in the state lost their jobs on New Year’s Eve when Patriot Coal idled the Highland Mine in Western Kentucky.  In some ways, the decline of the UMWA parallels the decline of labor all over the country since the Reagan Administration—in 1983, 20% of all workers in the US belonged to a labor union, but in 2014, that number had decreased to just 11%.  But the UMWA has declined even more sharply than many other unions, like the steelworkers or auto workers.  The Kentucky Coal Association said that unions aren’t needed like they used to be, but mine safety advocate Tony Oppegard said that miners are still safer in union mines, because they are more free to speak out against unsafe working conditions and have more personal protections if something does go wrong.

A Wise County mine was given 31 citations by federal regulators after a January inspection, WVVA-TV reports.  MSHA said it was investigating the Mill Branch Coal Company’s Osaka Mine as part of its impact inspections program, which focuses on mines with a long history of health and safety violations.  Investigators said they found violations at Osaka that increased the risk of fires and explosions, and that increased their miners’ risk of developing black lung disease and other respiratory problems.

Duke Energy is now facing federal criminal charges in the wake of last year’s coal ash spill, The Charlotte Observer reports.  In February of 2014, a pipe ruptured beneath a coal ash pond owned by Duke Energy near the North Carolina/Virginia border.  Some 39,000 tons of toxic coal ash spilled into the Dan River.  And these new criminal charges say that Duke “negligently” violated the law when it came to maintaining the ash pond where the spill happened at the Dan River Power Plant.  Federal prosecutors also charged Duke with criminal negligence in maintaining ash ponds at four other power plants in North Carolina.  Duke said it has already agreed to a settlement to resolve these charges, in which it would pay $68.2 million in fines and $34 million for community service and on the ground mitigation projects.  And this money would not come from customers, but company shareholders.  This settlement still must be reviewed by a federal judge before it’s final.

And finally, February 26th marked the 43rd anniversary of the Buffalo Creek Flood, when a coal slurry dam burst in Logan County, West Virginia.  Some 132 million gallons of coal sludge tore through Buffalo Creek Hollow, killing 125 people, injuring over 1,100 more, and leaving over 4,000 people homeless.  The Pittston Coal Company said the slurry impoundment failing was an act of God, but a citizens’ commission investigation found that the disaster was actually man-made, and that Pittston knew of the potential hazards in the weakness of the dam before the flood, but failed to do anything about it.  Pittston eventually settled a lawsuit with some 600 survivors, which set a legal precedent by paying claims for psychic impairment along with wrongful death & property damages.  (for more on Buffalo Creek, click here to hear a special WMMT program commemorating the disaster, or click here to see clips from the Appalshop film The Buffalo Creek Flood: An Act of Man).

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]