Whistleblower Gets His Day: A federal judge ordered a West Virginia coal company to allow Charles Scott Howard to return to his mining job and also pay a $30,000 fine for discriminating against a whistleblower. Cumberland River Coal Co. and its parent company, Arch Coal, reportedly fired Howard for reporting unsafe conditions at a Cumberland River mine. The ruling marks the third time that Howard, known for reporting safety violations, has been reinstated to his job by the courts.
All Fired Up: Despite statewide resistance, Dominion Power’s Wise County coal plant in St. Paul, Va., fired up in July after four years of construction. According to Dominion, the 585-megawatt plant is one of the “cleanest U.S. coal-fired power stations in terms of air emissions with one of the nation’s strictest air permits.” Grassroots pressure during the permitting phase of the plant resulted in stricter emissions limits, including a 94 percent reduction in mercury emissions and 82 percent reduction in acid-rain producing sulfur from Dominion’s original proposal. The plant is allowed annual greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the emissions of nearly one million cars.
Nearly Fatal Failure to Communicate: Following a surprise federal MSHA inspection that uncovered enough violations to shut down a Harlan County, Ky., mine for nearly a week and a half this spring, a state inspector was reprimanded for finding no problems at the same mine in nearly 30 inspections during the two and a half years leading up to the federal review. The inspector reportedly failed to cite the mine for potentially fatal violations including a non-working fire suppression system, an unsupported roof and potential fire hazards.
It’s Hard Being the Alpha: For the second time this year, environmental organizations headed by the Sierra Club have filed suit against subsidiaries of coal giant Alpha Natural Resources over selenium pollution. The latest suit targets nine surface mines in West Virginia and is asking for fines up to $37,500 per day of violation, some of which date back to 2007, as well as monitoring and cleanup. A similar lawsuit targeting two other mines was launched in May, and last December Alpha settled a case with the same groups that called for $50 million in cleanup efforts and fines.
In another blow for the massive coal company, the Office of Surface mining overturned a West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection decision to retroactively extend a 2,000-acre mountaintop removal permit along Coal River Valley eight months after the three-year limit had expired. WVDEP is currently undergoing an audit by the state.