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Coal Report for May 3, 2017

Coal Report for May 3, 2017

Image courtesy of dan at
Image courtesy of dan at

The water infrastructure bill which was passed last year through Congress allowed for states to set up their own systems for issuing coal ash disposal permits. However, critics of the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards have said that the regulations have made it more costly and difficult to handle waste from the burning of coal at coal fired power plants. Monday, head of the EPA under President Trump, Scott Pruitt issued an advisory to states saying the the administration was working on plans that would give the states more flexibility in determining how they dispose of coal ash.

Pruitt said (quote) “Through the authority granted by Congress in the [Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation] Act, EPA is issuing this guidance to promote the swift submission and review of state permit programs, make state and federal management of coal ash more consistent, and place enforcement in the hands of state regulators – those who best know the needs of local communities.” (end quote) Coal ash is used in a number of products for the building industry, such as drywall, bricks and concrete. Without the changes, the states would be subject to civil litigation from environmental groups as the only enforcement mechanism.

United Mine Workers retirees are celebrating a permanent fix for their health benefits in the spending agreement Congress reached over the weekend. But as Becca Schimmel reports for Ohio Valley ReSource, miners are still fighting to shore up their pensions… Coal retirees have been fighting to secure benefits for nearly five years. The omnibus spending bill secured healthcare funding for more than twenty two thousand retirees and beneficiaries. Without congressional action miners would have lost their health and pension benefits at the end of April. Phil Smith is the communications director for the UMW. “It feels indescribable to those retirees who are on the verge of losing their benefits that these things have been preserved and will go forward in the future.” Smith says they are are working on solutions to the pension problem and hope to have something by the end of the year. There are eighty nine thousand retirees depending on UMW’s pension program. Shoring up health benefits will cost one-point-three billion dollars and likely come from a fund established to use fees from the mining industry to pay for reclamation of abandoned mine lands. For the Ohio Valley ReSource, I’m Becca Schimmel in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

While the Trump administration’s roll back of Obama era environmental regulations in regards to mining coal have coincided with an uptick in employment in the industry, the increase has been small. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there was only a net increase of 100 coal jobs in all of March, and 1700 since September. At the same time, many of the largest coal companies that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year have emerged. Two of those companies Peabody Energy and Alpha Natural Resources awarded their executives stock bonuses in the range of 10s of millions of dollars. From 2004 to 2016 the pay for executives in the coal industry rose 5 times faster than the pay for the lower wage positions in the industry like construction or heavy equipment operation. Pay for these industry executives rose faster in comparison to their counterparts in other industries as well. It is thought the increase in pay is an incentive for executives to stay at the helm as the industry declines and becomes obsolete. With only 2.5% of coal jobs unionized in 2017, coal workers are competing for lower wage jobs that are temporary and carry few benefits. Carlos Combs, a 3rd generation coal miner from Harlan County, Kentucky told the New York Times (quote)“These small outfits, if you didn’t produce, you were gone. You couldn’t say nothing. You had to take what they gave you.” (end quote)

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]

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