The Coal Report

Controversy over Coal Jobs, Mercury Poisoning and Liquid Coal

By JW Randolph

The often slow pace of progress in Washington D.C. hasn’t stopped the Obama Administration—or a divided Congress—from continuing an uproarious debate about coal, carbon and climate in the first half of 2011.

In May, a House of Representatives subcommittee held a two part hearing on “mining issues,” titled “EPA mining policies: Assault on Appalachian Jobs.” Water Resources Subcommittee Chairmen Bob Gibbs invited nine witnesses, only one of whom represented the EPA. The other eight witnesses, many of them representing large donors to Gibbs’ election campaign, all held pro-mountaintop removal positions. No impacted citizens, regional scientists, or Appalachian economists were invited to speak on the panel.

Nevertheless, Appalachian citizens who oppose mountaintop removal came and filled the hearing room on both occasions, wearing buttons that said “I Love Mountains” and “Stop Mountaintop Removal.” Citizens were able to speak directly with Chairman Gibbs and other members after the hearing to express their displeasure at being excluded from the public process.

Despite a decades long decline in mining jobs across central Appalachia and a recent national recession, Appalachian mining jobs have actually grown in the last four years—largely due to the fact that central Appalachian coal operators are using a larger percentage of deep-mining to get their coal. Deep mining currently provides 50 percent more jobs than surface mining in Appalachia.

In other news, the EPA is currently taking comments on the regulation of mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants.

As little as one gram of mercury falling on a 20-acre lake over the course of a few years is enough to make fish unsafe for human consumption. Despite this fact, 48 tons of poisonous mercury are emitted by coal-fired power plants in the U.S. every year, falling into lakes and rivers through rain. The effects of mercury ingestion range from headaches and skin rashes to severe neurological damage.

The comment period is open until June 5th.

In addition, a group of Representatives recently introduced legislation to incentivize the production and use of liquid coal for fuel. Increased domestic gas prices have brought this controversial topic back to the Hill. There has been no word on whether legislation will pass, or when it would move.

TVA Retires 18 Power Plants

By Jeff Deal

On April 14, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) announced its intention to retire eighteen of its oldest, most polluting coal-fired power plants. By the end of 2017, the TVA will have retired 2,700-megawatts (enough for between one and three million homes) of coal-fired electricity generation. The TVA says it plans to replace this generation with “low-emission or zero-emission electricity sources, including renewable energy, natural gas, nuclear power and energy efficiency.”

An agreement between the TVA, the EPA, three U.S. states and three environmental advocacy groups stipulates that the TVA spend $350 million dollars to develop energy efficiency and environmental restoration projects. The TVA also agreed to protect TVA customers from the long-term risks of any single fuel source.

Appalachia Rises For Blair Mountain

By Jillian Randel

On the week of June 4-11, citizens will march, rally and participate in a day of action to preserve Blair Mountain, abolish mountaintop removal, strengthen labor rights and demand investment in sustainable job creation in Appalachian communities.

This summer’s Appalachia Rising event will commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Blair Mountain. In 1921, 10,000 miners rose against coal operators to demand the basic right to live and work in decent conditions.

The event will kick off with a celebration concert to honor the life and legacy of West Virginia music legend Hazel Dickens on Sunday, June 5 at 7 p.m. at the Culture Center in Charleston, W.Va. All proceeds benefit the March on Blair Mountain. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at

UBB Disaster Was “Preventable”

By Jeff Deal

Tasked with discovering the cause of the disaster that killed 29 Appalachian miners on April 5, 2010, the West Virginia Governor’s Independent Investigation Panel found, “the disaster at Upper Big Branch was man-made and could have been prevented had Massey Energy followed basic, well-tested and historically proven safety procedures.”

The disaster was the result of a failure to comply with three basic underground coal mining safety practices: maintaining a proper ventilation system, following federal and state rock dusting standards and maintaining the safety systems of coal mine machinery. Over 14 mine employees and high level managers of Massey Energy declined to provide information for the independent review of the disaster.

Newsbites from Coal Country

Destruction is Not Development

A recent study by the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies found that just over half (56%) of the jobs promised by six new coal plants were actually created.
Peer-Reviewed Report Questioning Climate Change Earns an “F”: The 2008 report came under question when sections of the federally funded study were found plagiarized from the Internet Encyclopedia, Wikipedia and student textbooks.

Tennessee Mountain Lovers Seek to Keep Their Cumberland Mountaintops

The state of Tennessee filed a “Lands Unsuitable for Mining” petition on October 1, 2010 in an effort to keep the lands and ridgelines within the Cumberland Plateau designated for public use free from surface mining. The petition is now under review by the U.S. Department of Interior.

Coal Gets School House Rocked

The educational materials provider, Scholastic, recently came under fire for their fourth-grade lesson packet entitled “The United States of Energy”, produced primarily with funds from the American Coal Foundation. Critics note that the educational piece failed to address any of the detrimental effects of coal use such as air and water pollution, human illness and environmental degradation from coal mining.

West Virginians Meet with Coal Operator, Alpha Natural Resources

Residents asked Alpha to consider safer blasting and to switch to a dry method of coal processing, abandoning the wet process that creates coal slurry that poisons nearby drinking water. In a surprise ending, Alpha’s CEO requested a follow-up meeting in July.

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  1. sandra on June 24, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    We love jobs too, which is one the reasons we love the renewable energy/ energy efficiency sector, which is creating many more new jobs with much more potential for more than the dead man walking that is coal. That is one of the most misleading arguments, this false dichotomy of jobs and environmental protection. Those things go hand in hand- Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act actually stimulate the economy.

    Production of steam coal (the coal used for electricity generation) is scraping the bottom of the barrel. Appalachian steam coal is staying in the US, while metallurgical is going to China, but at a very good cost ($300 a ton).

    We are fighting the Surry coal plant and there are reports showing how Old Dominion Electric Cooperative could get all the electricity demand met through energy efficiency efforts (not conservation, which is different). You can read more on that here; Economists: Clean Energy beats Dirty Coal in the South

    Hope this helps- let me know if you have any other thoughts. Thanks so much!

  2. Joey Williams on June 20, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    Wow! At first reading this I was happy the government for once was taking charge of shutting down coal plants but when I thought about it more they are doing the opposite of what they have promised for years…making jobs! By shutting down 18 coal plants ( that provide reliable electric power sources )that puts thousands of people out of work and while it helps reduce our carbon foot print it does little to help our struggling economy. Coal is our number 1 energy production in the US but we sell most of it to China when it be cheaper to just keep it here and use it ourselves as an electric power sources. It costs us less that 5 cents to run a microwave for 1 hour off coal power but we’d rather send the coal to China for the money they offer.It doesn’t make since to close plants when your opening new ones like the surry coal plant right by my house of all places. Good article with knowledge and facts but disappointing for those losing their jobs and a safe electric power sources even though it will help out the environment.

  3. Kris Collett on June 17, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    Hi, all. Thanks for noting the campaign against Scholastic for their distribution of coal-industry supported curriculum. If you’re interested in the details, you can read more about the problems with the curriculum and the campaign here:

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