Coal Industry Employment Remains in Flux and other shorts

On Nov. 27, Southern Coal announced it would recall 650 laid-off miners after entering into a multi-year contract with American Electric Power. The deal will allow Southern Coal to reopen mines that were closed earlier this year and will prevent the layoffs of another 500 workers.

Much of the complaints about a political “war on coal” during the recent election cycle were predicated on using layoff figures from Appalachian coal mines, however, the industry has kept mostly quiet about new sites and expansions.

According to the West Virginia State Journal, mining employment in the state remains far higher than most of the past decade. During the third quarter of 2012, coal employment dropped 5 percent nationwide, but remained higher than at the start of the recession. During the first three years of President Obama’s first term, the number of miners working in Appalachia rose due to increased scrutiny of mountaintop removal permits by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Lowdown on Coal Ash

By Matt Grimley

On Nov. 19, a federal judge ordered mediation between the Tennessee Valley Authority and the 872 Roane County, Tenn., residents suing over the December 2008 coal ash spill that released more than a billion gallons of the waste into the Emory and Clinch rivers.

U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan already found TVA liable in the failure of the coal ash dam, writing that the spill could have been prevented. The federal utility has estimated that the cleanup project, which is expected to continue through 2015, will cost about $1.2 billion.

Recently, testifying on proposed Senate Bill 3512, which would regulate how coal ash is stored, mine safety and environmental specialist Jack Spadaro said he is certain that the bill in its present form “will result in a catastrophic failure of a coal ash dam containment structure that will result in extensive loss of life and severe environmental damage that will be irreversible.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is still considering a rule to regulate coal ash either as hazardous waste or as solid waste. Despite pressures from environmental and other advocacy groups, the EPA has indicated that the rule is unlikely to be decided until 2014.

According to the EPA, coal-fired power plants create 136 million tons of coal ash every year.

Report Makes the Case for Coal Plant Retirements

Nearly 300 of the oldest coal-fired power plants in the United States have been scheduled for closure. A new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists identified up to 353 additional plants that are uneconomical to continue operating. In “Ripe for Retirement: The Case for Closing America’s Costliest Coal Plants,” the cost of operating individual coal-fired units is compared to alternative forms of electricity generation, including natural gas and wind generation. According to the report, Southern Co., Tennessee Valley Authority and Duke Energy are operating the most uncompetitive coal plants. Read the report at

Kentucky Cabinet Settles in Wrongful Termination Suit

A former Kentucky state official dropped the wrongful termination lawsuit he filed against Gov. Steve Beshear in 2009 after settling with the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. Ron Mills was the head of the cabinet’s Division of Mine Permits before being terminated in November 2009 after refusing to sign permits for what he called “illegal practices.” Mills claimed that, despite his objections, the Beshear administration skipped legal documentation procedures and issued permits to coal companies that were unable to demonstrate rights to the entire parcels they planned to mine. The settlement provides Mills $270,000 in exchange for dropping the lawsuit.

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