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I don't know whether I want this to be widely read, or to sink into the tar.  I know it's a bad idea to write this.

Not only am I risking my job to address this issue so directly, I'm also risking any credibility I have here at dailyKos.  Many of you are going to hate parts of this just as much as my employers hate the rest.

I'm not even sure what I hope to get out of it.  A bit of catharsis, maybe.  Or the chance to do something about a problem that I've had a very real hand in creating.   I guess I'm hoping for both those things.

Ladies and gentlemen, I want to talk to you about coal.

For practically every minute of my life, I've been involved in coal.  I grew up in a part of Western Kentucky that was then the biggest coal producing area in the country.  When I was small, my home town held a "Strawberry Festival," because the country produced a good part of the nation's strawberries.  By the time I was a teenager, the festival was renamed as the "Coal Festival."  Those strawberry fields were long gone.

It wasn't as if coal was a newcomer to the area.  Both of my grandfather's had worked in underground coal mines.  Even forty years after their time in the mines, you could still see the bits of shale and limestone stuck under their skin by roof falls and explosions gone bad.  They were both veterans of the union wars.  I don't use the word "wars" lightly.  They'd both been shot at and pushed around by hired thugs.  They both knew what it was like to receive your pay in the form of "scrip" - little metal tokens that could only be redeemed at the company store.


Fig. 1: Mining "Scrip"

My father-in-law had it even worse.  When a mining car full of coal broke loose, he was pinned up against a "pillar"(a block of coal left in place to hold up the roof).  Between the heavy steel of the car and the rough coal, the accident broke every single rib, punctured both of his lungs, crushed his pelvis, broke both legs, and both arms.  He was declared dead right there in the mines, but he was such an enormously strong bull of a man that he actually survived to go underground again (this was actually the second time he'd been declared dead, but that's another story).

In my youth, I watched many of those underground mines give way to enormous surface mining operations - strip mines, as they're better know (though the industry hates that term).  These operations employ fewer men, and replace them with machines of truly Brobdingnagian scale.  Draglines taller than a twenty story building.  Trucks that make an sixteen wheeler look like something made by Tonka.  It was these surface operations that stripped away the strawberry fields.  

In my own time, I went to work in the mines myself.  I drove a water truck at a surface mine (a water truck runs around all day at about 3mph, spraying water on the gravel haulage roads to cut down on dust).  I did general labor underground, walking the conveyer belts, building stoppings to control the air flow.  

Back on the surface, I worked as a driller's assistant and a blaster, loading holes full of the same Ammonium Nitrate and diesel fuel compound that served Tim McVeigh's horrible purpose in Oklahoma City.  Only my targets were hillsides, not office buildings. On a good summer day, I might load four hundred pounds of explosives each into over a hundred holes the earth, pausing to backfill each with a hand shovel and tamp them down with a long wooden rod.  The rhythm of that work is so ingrained, I could step into the pit today.  Fifteen shovels of broken rock.  Bag of explosive.  Slide a primer down on a primer cord.  Another bag.  More earth.  Another bag.  Primer.  Bag.  Earth.  Tamp down, cut the cord, move to the next hole.


Fig. 2: Modern day blasting in Wyoming

At the end of the day, I would set off God's own explosion by pulling the trigger on a simple starter's pistol.  Whole hillsides would buck and leap.  Broken columns of rock would tumble into the pit, ready to be removed by the machines that would uncover the coal.  It's this job that makes the whole thing possible.  Only the accidental discovery of Ammonium Nitrate (in a disaster that destroyed much of Texas City, TX) gave mining an explosive cheap enough to do surface mining.  Without this, there would be no strip mines.

I was a lot more fortunate than most.  I took the money I made from just a short time in mining and turned it into a degree from a state school - something that my parents and grandparents had never had a chance to do (my mother had graduated as valedictorian of her high school, but still had to go to work the day after her graduation).  

I came out of school with a couple of degrees, but the only one I've really put to use is one in geology.  For three decades, I was either an exploration geologist for the coal industry, or a consultant to that same industry.  There is hardly a single state in this country that I haven't been to, looking for coal.  Alaska?  Been there.  From the middle of the desert Southwest, to the Appalachians, to a scenic little spot on the Oregon coast, I've led teams that drilled into the ground, looking for coal.  I've worked for the industry my whole adult life.  And folks, I work for them right now.  I might no longer be pulling the trigger that moves the earth, but I'm no less involved.  When you think of the coal industry, think of me.

Sorry to give you such a lengthy piece of biography, but I felt it was necessary to establish my bona fides before I started some straight talk on the subject of coal.  If you learn something about coal out of this, that's about all I can hope for.  If you think my vested interest in the industry has blinded me to what's really going on... you're probably spot on.  Feel free to slap me down.

What's right with coal
Some of you would likely say nothing.  But I want to tell you, from nearly thirty years of personal experience, and generations of my own family to speak to the subject: this is an industry that's much better than it used to be.

Some of those old surface mines around my house were so devoid of life, we called them "the desert."  Even that was flattery.  They were more like the barren "forbidden zone" from the Planet of the Apes than any natural desert.  There were pools of standing water so acid, they would boil if you tossed in a chunk of limestone.  There were piles of slate, piles of coal slurry heaped on the ground, and cracks in those slurry piles that let out noxious steam from fires burning in the earth.  Quasi-canyons were left behind, with the rusty rotting corpses of mining machinery still standing in stagnant pools.  Though as a child all of this stuff had a certain weird, otherworldly appeal, it's easy now to recognize it for what it was - a horror show.  It was hideous.  

I'm telling you, it's not like that today.  Reclamation is meticulous, so well done I don't even expect you to believe it.  In a typical situation, the topsoil and a good part of the subsoil are removed from the area and stored before mining begins.  Large surface rocks that are part of the natural landscape are also removed.  A biological census determines the species mix for every acre of land to be mined.  When mining is complete, the surface is returned to a condition as close as possible to the original contours.  Streambeds are replaced layer by layer.  Topsoil is restored.  Those surface rocks are put back just where they were.  A plant mix that hits the original species mix down to the most esoteric weed is put in place.  In fact, the mining industry keeps several greenhouses in business to produce everything from twisted pinyon pine to herbs that are sacred to Hopi healers.  The reclamation is, by far, the most expensive cost in surface mining.  The people involved are almost to a person folks with degrees in wildlife biology, fisheries, agriculture, and related fields.  These people think of themselves as environmentalists.  They're good at their work.  The results are nothing less than amazing.

I can guarantee you, absolutely guarantee, that if I put you in a surface mining area of Wyoming or New Mexico or Arizona, you would not be able to tell me what land had been mined, and what land had not.  I know you still don't believe it.  But I tried.


Fig. 3: Wildlife on reclaimed mine land (and yes, it was that rocky to begin with, it's in Arizona)

Safety is another area where mining has a well-deserved reputation for nastiness.  Remember those stories I told about my grandfathers and father-in-law?  That was only scratching the surface.  Hundreds of men a year used to die in the mines.  Until the 1970's, most underground mines were "conventional" mines using the "drilling and shooting" method.  That meant drilling holes in the face of the coal, planting dynamite, yelling "fire in the hole!" and running like hell.  That, folks, is not a healthy working environment.  There were gas explosions, roof falls, bad air... it was bad enough that Pennsylvania alone has lost 51,483 men underground.  

But again, it's not like that any more.  Ventilation of the mines is now done by incredibly powerful fans that circulate clear air right up to the mining face.  No mine in the US today uses dynamite.  Instead, they use either "continous miners" (machines that cut through the coal with a device that looks like a huge thread spool covered in teeth) or "longwall machines" (which intentionally let the roof fall while holding open a safe pocket with steel plates).  Miners in indoctrinated in safety every hour of the day.  The average miner spends hours in safety training each week.  Companies police safety now at a level that government inspectors of the past never even approached.   The results of this drive to safety and improved equipment are clear.  In 2002, 29 coal miners died in the United States.  China, which still uses the old methods and whose safety efforts are about fifty years behind the US, lost more than 6000 people in the same year.

Coal mining is not only not one of the top ten dangerous jobs, it's not even close.  In fact, you're more likely to be injured working in a fast food restaurant than in a coal mine (in the United States, at least.  Just don't ask me to get near a mine in China).  And the reduction in deaths don't stop with those unfortunate enough to die underground.  One of my grandfather's died, in part, from "black lung."  My father-in-law is living with that same disease today.  Black lung is caused by breathing in tiny particles of coal and has killed more miners than all the mine accidents put together.  But again, there's a happy ending - the circulation of air through modern underground mines is so good, that the air is actually better than that in many office environments.

Finally, I want to hit the point that most people object to (and rightly so) when they think of coal: pollution.  Coal pollutes.  There's no getting around that.  It's a fossil fuel, and burning it releases not only CO2, but all the trace elements that have been trapped in the coal for 70 - 320 million years.  Coal often contains a good deal of sulfur, either organic sulfur from the plants that make up the coal, or sulfur in the form of iron pyrite (FeS2), more commonly known as "fool's gold."  If you burn the coal, that sulfur combines with oxygen and goes up the stack as sulfur dioxide.  Then it mixes with water and comes down as acid rain.  That acid rain is directly to blame for the death of trees, lakes, and whole ecosystems downwind from plants burning high sulfur coal in the Midwest.

Remember how I said my mother went to work right out of high school?  For most of her life, that work was for the Tennessee Valley Authority.  She worked on a huge coal-burning plant through its construction phase and through years of its operation.  Flecks of acid-laden ash burned the paint from her car in the parking lot.  Fumes and smoke made the plant almost unlivable.  The plant responded by building a taller smokestack, exporting their toxins to another state.

But again, this is a place where the industry has really gotten it's act together.  A new coal-fired plant has about as much in common with that beast my mother helped build as a Prius does with an Edsel.  I'm not talking the semi-mythical "clean coal technology," I'm talking about the plants that have gone up in the last ten years, and those that are still being built.


Fig. 4: Projected emissions for a new plant under construction in Illinois.

The industry has switched much of its consumption to lower-sulfur fuels from western states.  Plant owners have also built new plants under stringent guidelines that get tougher year over year.  None of this does a thing to stop the ungodly amounts of CO2 that coal plants are producing, but when it comes to the rest of the mix, they're really doing a decent job.  


Fig. 5: Pollution from cars vs. electricity

This is especially true if you compare coal to the pollution put out by cars.  The next time someone suggest that "electric cars just move the pollution around," point them at this chart.  It's a whole lot easier to clean up a few hundred large, stationary sources of pollution than it is to tackle hundreds of millions of tiny, mobile ones.  Pollution from cars has gone up as the number of cars has gone up.  Pollution from power plants has decreased, even while electrical production has gone up.  

What's Wrong with Coal?
Okay, so I've revealed myself as a complete corporate stooge.  A spokesmen for the Man.  No doubt I have Dick Cheney on speed dial and eat baby bald eagles for breakfast.

There's not much in what I've said above that's likely to upset my boss, or his boss, or his boss .  But what I'm about to say sure will.

The coal industry has done all those neat things.  They've made it safer.  Made it cleaner.  Reclaimed the land.  Why did they do it?  Because we friggin' made them do it, that's why.

Actually, I'll give them a good deal of credit on the safety front.  They figured out that keeping their employees alive was all around good for business, and the companies generally have much more stringent safety standards than the government.  But on every other issue, they didn't move an inch voluntarily.

That "forbidden zone" around my childhood home?  That's the "pre-law" land.  As in the "before the surface mine reclamation act made us put down a huge cash bond that that we can't get back until we fix everything" land.  Before the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977.  If mining companies had not been required to essentially put themselves deep in debt every time they mined, and only get their money back when things meet the standards, they would have happily left more open pits and acid pools.

Those nice statistics on reduction in pollution?  That's the Clean Air Act at work.  If the government hadn't stepped in to tell them to stop, they would have never even heard the word "scrubber."  Every move they made - from mining lower sulfur coal to the sophisticated steps put in place to cut down on particulate emissions - was done directly to meet the mandates of the Act.  If the numbers on that graph look good to you, note that on average the industry has done exactly as it was required to, and not one bit more.

Every evidence is that they can mine coal safely, they can mine coal without destroying the land, and they can clean up emissions.  They can make a profit at it, too, as the major companies are breaking all records while meeting these requirements.

But they won't lift one damn finger unless we make them.  Without regulation, they would backslide in a heartbeat, and without more regulation, they won't take another step.

As proof, I offer the two greatest sins the industry has going: mountaintop removal and older power plants.

Mountaintop removal is a surface mining method.  Remember all those things I said about the meticulous restoration done in surface mines?   Now forget them.  In mountaintop removal, none of that applies.  Mountaintop removal is done in areas where a large coal seam is relatively near the top of a slope.  In the old days, they might have stripped a narrow band around the outside of the hill, then underground mined the rest.  But with mountaintop removal, they simply cut the head off the whole hill.  In the process, they dump rubble, slurry and waste into the surrounding streams.  The ecology the area is ruined.  Forever.  You can not only tell where mountaintop removal has occurred, you can tell  it from an airplane.  From a satellite.  It's a hideous, irreversible practice that utterly ruins the land involved.

This practice is generally limited to the Appalachians, but that doesn't mean it's small potatoes.  Estimates are that as much as 25% of West Virginia's mountains have already been leveled by this practice.  Uncounted miles of streams have been ruined.  The natural beauty of the state is being whittled away at an amazing rate.

Mountaintop removal was supposed to be illegal.  A provision of the Clean Water Act would have prevented the dumping of the spoiled material into streams.  However, the Bush administration jumped in at the last minute, and gutted the act through executive order.  If you want one clear example of Bush's inimical stance toward nature, look no further.

As if destroying the effectiveness of the Clean Water Act wasn't enough, Bush also stepped in to cripple the Clean Air Act with his "Clear Skies" program.  Under the Clean Air Act, older power plants were forbidden from expanding.  The thought was that this would eventually bring these plants to end of life, forcing them to be replaced with new plants that meet the stringent new regulations.  Note that this wasn't done as punishment to the power industry.  They were done a favor.  Every other industry had to meet the requirements as they appeared.  Only coal-fired power plants were allowed to keep operating without cleaning up their act.  So what did Bush do?  Under his "Clear Skies" plan, he removed the provisions that limited these old, heavy pollution plants, allowing them to not only keep running for decades longer, but to actually expand their production.

Look back up there at that chart for a new power plant.  Note how the pollution of this new plant looks tiny when compared to the current national average?  That's because the old plants are still in there, belching out their loads of acid rain, mercury, and a thousand other toxins.

What should you do?
I'm asking two things of you.  

First, bills will come before congress this summer to restore the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act to the regulations as they existed before Bush ripped out the heart of this legislation.  Back the restoration of these acts.  Support Julia Bond and her organization.  Support Appalachian Voices.  These organizations are run by people local to the area, and they have a lot of respect from the people of West Virginia - miners included.  Honestly, I think restoring the Clean Air Act is a nearly impossible fight under this administration and this congress.  But I think that mountaintop removal is so insanely hideous that even Republicans will feel the heat to end this practice.  Shine the light on this, people.  Make it a priority.  We can win this one.

You may find the second thing harder than the first.  I want you to understand that the coal industry isn't going to go away any time soon.  The United States has abundant coal reserves, and much of that coal can be mined using well understood, economical methods.  Coal produces more than half the electricity in the country.  I'm not asking you to stop fighting for reductions in CO2 production, or limits on pollution, or to let up on these guys one inch.  Stay on top of them.  Force them to adopt tougher and tougher regulations.  I'll be right there with you.  What has been accomplished is remarkable.  I've no doubt that if we raise the bar again, they will find a way to get over it.

Thanks for listening.  I think I do feel a little better (though I might need to take a few boxes in to work on Monday, just in case).

Originally posted to Devil's Tower on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 06:48 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Just a thought before I go (3.99)
    Years ago, I happened to be working with the nation's preeminent coal geologist, a brilliant and truly gifted scientist who also was an impassioned advocate for the industry.

    On the day that the news first came out about the "cold fusion" development in Utah, this guy - this man who was practically Mr. Coal -- actually started to cry.  "Thank God," he said.  "Thank God we don't have to do this any more."

    When it turned out to be a hoax, it broke his heart.

    •  I remember (4.00)
      that heartbreaking moment as well. There was a tiny glimpse of a whole brave new world, and then before you knew it, it was snatched away.

      Tangentially, on the topic of using legislation and the courts to get industries/professions to do the right thing. I had two women police officers as guests in a class I was teaching on women and law. When the discussion turned to sexual harassment, I was surprised to hear one of the women (a captain) support lawsuits against the department because that was the way to get things changed.

      Thanks for a great diary.

      "I still think politics is about who's getting screwed and who's doing the screwing." -Molly Ivins

      by hono lulu on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 07:13:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Great diary - seconded (4.00)
        I never waste space in the comments to just say, "great diary," but --- great diary.  Thank you.

        Please think about sending it in as a piece to New Yorker, Mother Jones, or any other of your favorite progressive journals read by people like myself who don't know jack about what really goes on in the energy industries.

    •  After living in WV for 6 years... (4.00)
      and meeting people who'd lived with the old coal economy while hating what it was doing to their families, I'd believe that.

      Cold fusion would rock.

    •  Jack Spadaro (4.00)
      Jack Spadaro

      Jack Spadaro

      Jack Spadaro

      I must assume you've heard of him, DT. For anyone who hasn't, Spadaro was the mining investigator who almost brought down Massey Energy, the company which caused the single biggest environmental disaster in the history of the US.

      That's right, the spill caused by Massey's willful mismanagement of the Inez, KY slurry pit released a mass of toxic waste 25 times the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster. Of course, it happened to occur in October of 2000, which meant that right around the time Spadaro's investigation was about to result in some jail time, the Bush administration stepped in and replaced the leadership of the Mine Safety & Health Agency with a group of former coal execs, destroyed the bulk of Spadaro's research, reassigned Spadaro to an obscure position in Pennsylvania and handed Massey a $100,000 slap on the wrist.

      Given the cushy treatment, Massey's soft money contributions to the RSCC went from $15,000 in 1998 and 2000, to $100,000 in 2002.

      Until we figure out how to destroy the system of patronage that lets polluters like Massey off the hook, regulation is a pipe dream. They're buying their own regulations.

      And THAT's a bigger problem than coal itself.

      •  my god (4.00)
        this is amazing.  & i've never heard of this guy.

        25 times exxon valdez & no one's brought his name up before???

        we need to use this case b/c of one reason:  this is a wedge between bush & his core supporters.

        the west virginia/appalacians area is very pro-bush, pro-gun, & pro-"tradtional" values.

        but they care about their families & health more.  

        i want this guy to have more publicity out of a sense of justice & concern for the environment.

        but i see the political advantage of an issue that would pry loose the last bits of confidence the core Bush voter would have on the snake that they let into their house.

        i'm wondering what can we do to increase the publicity on scandal that would destroy any other administration.

        ideas?  please?

      •  Massey (4.00)
        I'll say this, the whole industry could do without Massey.  They have the worst safety record and the worst environmental record of any company still around.  Just about any time I hear of a mining problem, I know the name Massey is going to pop up in the next sentence.  On every front, they've been idiots, bumblers, and astoundingly incompetent.

        Every front but one.

        When it comes to buying their way out of things and greasing the wheels of politics, Massey is unmatched.   In just the past election cycle, they wet after a judge that had ruled against them on some labor issues.  They openly backed a replacement, spending a bundle on commercials that attacked the first judge, taking words out of context, using innuendo and outright lies to make him look like a psychopath.  Know what?  They won.  Massey ousted the judge and put their hand-picked man in place.

        Massey believes that it's easier to buy the government than follow regulations.  So far, they haven't been proven wrong.


        TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

        by Mark Sumner on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 06:38:39 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  examples (4.00)
          I've been thinking that when we talk about government being beholden to the voters and not the special interests, the message is lost becasue it is so often repeated. However, we can use examples such as these to make it real, and drive the point home.

          The timing of such a message is now, because it dovetails so nicely with the Tom Delay influence-peddling scandal. We need to show people real consequences for real people when corrupt politicans act for special interests instead of the public interest.    

          If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention.

          by Joe Sixpack on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 08:27:45 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  union-busting (4.00)
          Anytime the workers in the coal mines have tried to fight for better conditions and higher wages, bastards like Massey have stepped in to assure the workers get crushed. And it didn't help to have coal exec Paul "the Luv Guv" Patton as Kentucky's governor for eight years.

          Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC) is a great organization for information regarding these topics.

      •  i saw the 60 minutes piece (none)
        truly disgusting. Glad to see he's got a site up.
    •  Kudos (none)
      Thanks for posting this. While I often see entries on DKos that I learn from, this is one of the few from which I have learned a lot. Keep up the good work, and good luck with your boss!

      Support Our Troops: Send the Commander-in-Chief to the Front!

      by eodell on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 02:04:36 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  CSX (4.00)
      THe Railroad (i was tech support) when treas sec John Snow was still ceo of csx, and the coal bill came up in congress. THe frantic emails going out to every worker, (basically requiring them to email their state reps on the bill) to keep the coal trains moving, since it was such an important part of the railroads' incomes (along with hauling new cars. Changing the RULES was a real payback to the railroads, and allowed them to continue to profit from policies which did so much damage. And then to select SNOW to head u.s. monetary policies..just more SOP for the GOP

      republican hypocrisy will cause God and Jesus to be as Dead as our Democracy

      by demnomore on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 05:46:58 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Railroad Bottleneck (4.00)
        Right now, the rail lines are the real restriction that keeps more coal from coming from the Powder River Basin.  It's amazing to see the lines out there -- the trains are almost nose to tail.

        The mines are set up with computer controlled hoppers and silos that load the cars as they pass underneath without stopping.  (The coordination includes computer models of coal quality in the ground, systems for directing shovels and trucks to the right area of the pit, information on customer contracts, and associations between customers and trains, so that the right coal of the right quality ends up dumped into the right car as it passes under one of the silos.  Wheh.)

        CSX, like the other RR companies charges 3x as much for the transportation as the mining companies get for the product.  Yeah, I'm sure they're jazzed by the demand.

        Are they involved in trying to get the new line out through the Black Hills?


        TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

        by Mark Sumner on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 05:54:17 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Can you source the 3x? (none)
          It's a lot cheaper than trucks, I can guarantee that.
          •  Trains are the only way (none)
            The industry is absolutely tied to the rails.  One mine in Wyoming can produce 100 million tons of coal in a year.  All the semis in the country put together couldn't move the production from that one mine.

            When we were getting $5 a ton for the coal there, I know the delivery ticket was close to $15.  Now we're getting closer to $7 a ton, but I can't say if the rail cost has increased.


            TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

            by Mark Sumner on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 08:25:48 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Then... (none)
              why is it still being used? Many other forms of energy are profitable. It sounds like that is not.
              •  Cost Plus (4.00)
                Because it's the customer (that ultimately being you), not the company that picks up the transportation costs.

                Pretty keen that way, huh?


                TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

                by Mark Sumner on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 08:45:13 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  So how does the money get to them? (none)
                  But if your company is selling it for $7 per ton, where is the rest of the money flow coming into the company? I mean, the people selling us the energy from the coal are the ones buying from you, so there has to be another roundabout way.
                  •  Those trains have great effects (none)
                    elsewhere, too.  They are among the biggest contributors to the most congested at-grade (i. e., not vertically separated) rail crossings in the country, in Fort Worth, TX.  The rail congestion, in turn, contributes to surface street congestion in the downtown area, and has repercussions throughout the North Texas urbanized area.  

                    The volume of trains on the UP east-west mainline absolutely prohibits any consideration of regional commuter rail in the UP corridor without constructing a 3rd and/or 4th set of tracks to separate the freight from any passenger traffic.  This could provide additonal regional service between downtown Dallas and Fort Worth via Arlington (the largest city in the country with NO public transportation).  Arlington is over 200,000 pop., AIR, in the last census.

                    We also have strip mines for the power plants out in East Texas, and the D-FW region gets a lot of its power from there.  Their saving grace MAY be that they are more recent mines, and thus are subject to the current regs.  I don't know when coal mining for power plants began in E. TX - - TX-kossacks?

                    •  I'm all for separating freight from passenger. (none)
                      in WA, the rules are somewhat reversed. While freight still technically has right-of-way, freight scheduling is limited so that it shouldn't interfere. They do still use the same lines, but new mainlines are being constructed in the north-south corridor to keep freight from interfering with the regional commuter service.

                      At-grade crossings need to be gotten rid of. Whenever there's a derailment, it seems like the first thing I see is news of a car on the tracks. We'll never convince the Fed to allow high-speeds if they're not separated. 79 miles per hour is achingly slow.

                      The tracks you're talking about in Texas - what speeds are they signalled for? If your freight is only travelling at 35mph, you may not need another mainline to increase traffic density. I don't know anything about UP's operations, though.

                      •  Don't know the speeds (none)
                        There are two sets of RR tracks that cross AT-GRADE near downtown Ft. Worth (I don't know if I made that clear).  Then, the volume of rail traffic on top of it makes for some congestion.

                        Our regional Council of Governments has done some studying of it (and othe related issues).

                        Look around this link for local (N. TX) info.:
                        http://www.nctcog.org/trans/goods_movement/

                        •  Thanks! (none)
                          It looks like they have to go as slow as 15 mph in town because of the crossings. That was once an issue in Seattle - we're starting to build over top or below instead, it's helping both vehicle and train congestion.
            •  And what do those trains run on? n/t (none)
              •  Diesel. (none)
                Although, frankly, from 1910 to 1957, much of Washington was using electrified rail. There's no reason not to go back to it.
                •  Our descendants... (none)
                  ...if we have any, are going to think we were insane.

                  In France, nuclear energy permits its excellent train system to run on electricity--cheap electricity.  See Jerome a Paris's diary:
                  http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/4/10/182655/427

                  (BTW, Jérome has promised me a two-week vacation in France for pimping his diary. One week in Paris at the Ritz and one week in a villa in the South of France. N'est-ce pas, J a P?)

                  Transportation accounts for around 25% of total emissions of particulates in our beautiful country. Diesel engines are the main emitters. Another important source, of course, is coal-combustion.  And diesel emits carbon and other fossil fuel pollutants.

                  Think of the thousands and thousands of train trips around the US to transport all the millions of pounds of coal that are burned annually to provide 50% of our electricity.

                  Think of how Big Coal gave 90% of its political donations to Republicans in the last election.

                  •  I know. (4.00)
                    But, remember that trains, even today, take 4-10 times less diesel per ton of goods moved than trucks. The newer engines emit 90% fewer particulates as they move over to Ultra Low Sulfur diesel, as well.

                    Moving from truck to train is our first step. You haven't even taken into account the pollution caused by making all that asphalt.

                    •  Right you are (none)
                      We should be grateful that the coal is being hauled by rail instead of tens of thousands of trucks.

                      In fact we should be grateful for the pathetic remnants of railroad service that remain in this country, hanging on by their fingernails.

                      Not only does asphalt production pollute--runoff from pavement introduces hydrocarbon contamination into the water table.

    •  wow! (none)
      this was perhaps the single best diary i've ever read here.

      somebody put this int dkosencyclopedia (ms?) as a standard & example of how to write effective, informative diaries.

      gave me alot to think on & more to dispise bush.  it's too early to get angry dammit!

      i'm speechless.

    •  Enough coal for 300 more years (4.00)
      As you say, coal is here to stay.  We have to do all we can to make it safer.

      I appreciate the trouble you took to write this excellent and informative diary.

      Coal is definitely going to be around for a long time.  And the old coal-fired plants are nightmarish.  And Bush's plan to relax regulations is horrifying.

      My rants against coal have to do with its waste, which is not regulated to speak of, and which winds up in the water table and in our tissues.  When people talk about nuclear waste, which is always shielded and isolated, they need to put it in perspective. One foot of concrete prevents any rays and particles from escaping.  Scrubbers in coal plants do their job, but noxious gases continue polluting.  And waste collected by the scrubbers is put into unlined ash ponds and mountains of fly ash.  

      There is a price for energy generation.  At present, 32,000 people are dying prematurely every year in the US (Abt study) because of coal combustion.  The concern about people hundreds of years from now encountering decaying radionuclides from spent nuclear fuel in a deep, sealed geological repository is an important one, but it pales when compared to the damage coal is doing right now.

      Realistically, we need to have every form of energy generation we can.  Ideally, we have to enforce strict regulation of all forms.
      That includes not only stricter standards for coal but also monitoring of the toxic gases used in solar panel production and the disposal of retired panels in controlled toxic waste dumps.

      If your employers fire you, they are fools.  By being objective and citing pros and cons so that people can be better informed, you should get a raise.

      The federal government's biggest subsidies go to fossil fuels.  

      The coal industry has paid scientists to announce that there is no sound scientific proof of human contribution to global warming.  (NOW on PBS April 22).

      Oh, and one more thing about perspective.  In places where there is no electricity, the average age people survive to is 43.  So, as toxic as unregulated coal emissions are, and as damaging to the environment, coal has been largely responsible for powering the USA and making possible many technological advances by supplying cheap energy.

      But, as Dr. Dean says, we can do better.

      •  Toxicity of fly ash? (none)
        Are there studies on the toxicity of fly ash?  A freind is planning to use it in concrete because it makes the concrete tan instead of grey.  

        Is it safe?  If so, perhaps producing and marketing colored concrete might be a way to reduce the fly ash waste.  If it's not safe, I'd like to be able to hand the tech info over to him, so he won't end up w/a toxic house.

        Beware the everyday brutality of the averted gaze.
        ePluribus Media - Donate!

        by mataliandy on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 09:57:48 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Tentative answer (none)
          Really, he should research using fly ash.

          Off the top of my head, it seems to me that if it is immobilized in concrete it would not be a problem.  Fly ash is what remains after coal is burned. You would not want your kids playing in an ash pile. It concentrates toxic heavy metals:  arsenic, lead, cadmium, uranium.  These are problematic if ingested. So fly ash stored in ponds around coal plants is bad news because these toxic heavy metals leach into the water supply.

          Depending on where the concrete comes from, it might also contain uranium and therefore be mildly radioactive.  But then if you live in a brick house you are already getting a low dose from the uranium in the brick.

    •  WHOA (4.00)
      This is not a criticism of your need to pay the bills.  I want to address a couple of areas to which you might be blind, however, and details you did not mention.

      First: safetly.  From 1999 - 2002, the period for which I readily found stats, there was a mine worker killed every 12 days, on average.  This doesn't count illness and injury, just fatalities while on the job.  While that is "better," it is an unacceptable level: in the early part of the century, more than 1000 miners died in mine shafts every year.  So, yeah, safety has gotten "better".  Is a death every 12 days really something to crow about, though?

      The head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, David Lauriski, is a long-time coal industry exec and lobbyist.

      He moved to reduct the number of times a company has to sample coal dust levels inside tunnels (a primary cause of black lung disease) as well as get rid of the chest x-ray program that tests miners for this condition.  

      He sought to slash the number of inspectors by 25%, despite the mining disasters we have seen (remember Quecreek?), resulting from safety violations which should have been caught by inspectors--if there were enough inspections.  The MSHA was required to inspect mines four times a year.  Quecreek had gone more than a year without, for lack of resources to inspect it, by the time of the disaster there.  

      [...]

      Now we move on to Environmental impact, and Stan Suboleski, who Shrub gave a seat on the Mine Safety and Health Review Commission.  Suboleski is another executive with a dirty past:  according to United Mineworksers, his company was responsible for "the annihilation of more tha 70 miles of streams in eastern Kentucky when 300 million gallons aof coal sludge spilled from one of its mines."

      Also, be fair about the gutting of the Clean Air / Clean Water acts: Democrats gave it away.  In 2000, federal judge Charles Haden ruled that the industry could not bury its mining waste in valleys containing streams that flow year-round or seasonally.  This was essentially the end of the coal industry's cheap mining technique of "mountain-top removal."  

      Senator Robert Byrd threw a fit, and introduced a rider to an Interior bill that overturned the ruling by changing the law.  He was helped by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Rep. Nich Rahall, and Gov. Cecil Underwood -- all Democrats.  Clinton, partly owing to Gore's longstanding ties to strip miners, happily signed the legislation.

    •  Great diary (none)
       By coincedence I just got home from a trip to Utah's coal country. There are places along the highway were you can see the coal seams running thru the earth. Also, my son-in-law is an engineer who designs a lot of equipment for coal plants. I know that there are people in the industry who do care about the invironment. Unfortunatly there are many who could give a shit.

       When you mentioned China, you hit on a huge problem. My son-in-law was just telling me that the mines that China shut down for safety reasons alone outnumbered the total number of US coal mines. You can just imagine how messed up those mines must be to get closed by China! This is still just one planet. What they do impacts us all, not just what we do.

       I don't know, but I have a feeling that it's going to get way worse, before it gets better.

    •  Cold fusion: Not dead yet! (none)
      If your friend is still around, send him this link:
      http://www.lenr-canr.org/

      Also, there've been some advances in other fusion techniques, such as the Z-Pinch device, which is kind of like an internal combustion engine, in the sense that it runs on a series of little booms, rather than a continuous reaction.  The Sandia labs have successfully demonstrated a Z-Pinch with a positive yield (i.e. you can generate more electricity than it takes to run it), and they hope to scale it up.

      I have an old post in my LJ that catalogs a bunch of cool stuff that was going on at the time, and you can learn all sorts of neat new things on Bruce Sterling's Viridian Design list.

      http://auros.livejournal.com/16656.html
      http://www.viridiandesign.org/

  •  this is one of the most informative, (4.00)
    honest, comprehensive, and compassionate diaries i have ever read... there is no way i could recommend it enough... what a magnificent piece of work... an insider's truth-telling voice is seldom heard in our wilderness of spin... thank you, thank you, thank you... can i have your permission to reference this in my blog...?

    The first lesson of democracy is not to hold the public in contempt. - Ronnie Earle, Travis County DA, Texas

    by profmarcus on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 06:50:09 PM PDT

  •  interesting (4.00)
    and I hope you don't get nailed for writing about it.  As you so clearly illustrated, big polluters are not going to police themselves and we damn well better work to keep regulations intact.

    This president has been a disaster for the environment.

    ..."no, but I have a sticky Warhead in my pocket."

    by getmeoutofdixie on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 06:52:18 PM PDT

  •  A thoughtful piece (4.00)
    As a fellow geologist I totally agree with you.  Silicon Valley's well manicured lawns and Walmarts huge parking lots have a greater envirnomental impact than a well designed and opereated underground mine.
    •  centralias (4.00)
      Unless they catch on fire. There's an article in the new Smithsonian about Centralia and Centralian-like towns worldwide. Do you know if there's anything being done in underground mines (whether still operating or abandoned) to stop such decade-long disasters?
      •  It's strange stuff (4.00)
        Most coal is actually quite hard to light and takes a lot of oxygen to sustain -- especially the Eastern and Midwestern high BTU coals -- so the Centralia thing is a bit of a mystery to me.

        Western coal spontaneously catches fire if you look at it cross-eyes.  Where you get outcrops of coal at the surface in Kentucky or West Virginia, in Wyoming you have these beds of "clinker" left over from where the coal burned.  Odd thing is that the western coal has a lot more moisture in it.  The stuff will start burning the scoop while the shovel is loading it into the truck.  It's the damndest thing.


        TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

        by Mark Sumner on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 08:08:03 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  My brother-in-law worked on a (none)
          process to get the moisture out of coal for Purlon(?) in Wyoming. He and my sister are PHD chemical engineers and they got rich with his design but had to sign a 10 year waiver to not work for any other energy company so now he raises cattle in Wyoming.

          roseeriter

          "Time is for careful people, not passionate ones"

          by roseeriter on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 01:16:15 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Underground coal fires (4.00)
          There is one in northern Tajikistan that has been burning for at least 2,300 years.  It is referenced in the diary of Alexander the Great, who passed through in 330 B.C., as well as in some first century Roman writings.

          I saw it during the day time, when all you could see was the smoke seeping out of various fissures.  Locals told me that at night, the mountain glows.

          Great diary, DT. I really enjoyed reading it.

          •  Re: Underground coal fires (none)
            There is one in northern Tajikistan that has been burning for at least 2,300 years.  It is referenced in the diary of Alexander the Great, who passed through in 330 B.C., as well as in some first century Roman writings.

            Very interesting.  Where is it located, exactly?

            •  Shahriston (4.00)
              Traveling north from Dushanbe over the first set of mountains in the Turkestan range into the Zerafshan Valley, pass through Aini, and half way up into the second set of mountains, there is a village called Shahriston in an area named Yaghnob Valley.  The burning mountains are west of the village and clearly visible from the main road.  

              It is an extraordinary drive - a dirt road cut into the side of the mountains, barely wide enough for 2 cars to pass each other, no guardrails, and in some places 3,000 feet straight down along side the road.  A real heart-stopper in places, but spectacular beauty.

              An interactive map to locate Shahriston can be found at:

              http://uk.multimap.com/ if you work your way through the menus - the URL for the precise map is too long to post here.

      •  Thanks! (none)
        I stopped reading the comments to read the Smithsonian article.

        Do not be intimidated by those who know the value of everything, but the cost of nothing.

        by duckyindc on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 01:54:51 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Ghost town (4.00)
        I grew up in the county that centrailia is in. It's now a ghost town. It's not that theres nothing to be done, it just costs too much money for the benefit.

        When the mine caught fire, they didn't do anything. When people complained, they tried to put it out and failed. When people kept complaining, the feds came in to do a study. They drilled holes in the ground to determine the size of the fire. Of course, this just fed oxygen to the fire and the fire got a lot bigger. After a few more studies, the feds decided it was cheaper to buy the town than it was to try to put out the fire.

        Now its a ghost town. You can still drive through it. There is a detour at one point cause the ground under the old road has subsided and it isn't safe anymore.

        You can smell the sulfur sometimes when you drive through. You used to be able to see the sulfur smoke rising out of the ground. Its very creepy.

        The whole area is a reminder of the stupidity of man. It will never be reclaimed. It will burn for thousands of years.

  •  DT (3.50)
    I just saw the title - are you serious? If you are, delete and let some one else hack at it.

    "Just say no to torture." -Semi-Anonymous Blogger.

    by Armando on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 06:59:33 PM PDT

  •  you're worried about losing (4.00)
    your job over this diary?
    even assuming your name is devilstower,i think most of the mine owners just stepped out.

    i'm an agnostic, i'd be an atheist if it weren't for mozart

    by rasbobbo on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 07:00:28 PM PDT

    •  Yeah, but (4.00)
      Folks at work are already all too aware of my political views, and they're also aware that I post here.  I rate it about a 50-50 chance that someone will have this printed out at work when I arrive on Monday.

      However, I have almost 20 years with the company (in two different stints) and a pretty decent reputation for getting things done (despite my liberal leanings), so I think the real odds of my being outsted are low.  Although, were this put on the wrong desk, I'd be propelled out the window at hypersonic velocity.


      TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

      by Mark Sumner on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 07:37:54 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  well i honestly (none)
        didn't see anything that objectionable in your post.   you seem to be saying coal is good & can be produced & utilized in relatively clean ways if you can make 'em.
        did i miss the really explosive stuff?

        i'm an agnostic, i'd be an atheist if it weren't for mozart

        by rasbobbo on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 07:50:53 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I think (none)
          one of the issues DevilsTower could have relates to the mountaintop mining.  I try to stay reasonably environmentally informed and I had NO idea that this particular brand of mining does not meet the strictures of the rest of the industry.  

          Hope this all works out ok!

          The revolution is coming... and we ARE the revolution.

          by RenaRF on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 08:14:04 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Or get you promoted? (none)
          If I were them, I'd give you a promotion. To cut your long but very well written & informative article down to a couple of sentences, you said "Coal is good. The industry used to be terrible, but has gotten MUCH better, but they won't keep improving without laws in place to make them." While I can imagine that they will object to the last part of that last sentence, hopefully the rest will outweigh it in their minds. Personally, I found the article fascinating, & my image of coal has certainly shifted slightly towards the positive. Uh, oh! You are a corporate stooge! ; )

          Yee Haw is not a foreign policy.

          by mpayson on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 12:44:15 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  If they do try to gete rid of you (4.00)
        get a lawyer.  In fact, I tell my clients (I do employment discrimination) that if management calls them in, ask them if they would mind waiting until I get there.  That usually slows things down!

        But I hope it doesn't happen.  Great diary.  One of the best I've ever read.

        We do not rent rooms to Republicans.

        by Mary Julia on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 07:57:53 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  As usual.. (4.00)
          I agree completely with Mary Julia.  Her advice is spot on.  If management ever calls you in, do precisely what she said to do.

          Mary Julia is a wonderful lawyer, and I come from a whole family of them, right back to great grandfathers as judges, so I got the bonafides on this.

          Listen to her.

      •  Or get you promoted! (Redux) (none)
        (Oops... I replied to the wrong post. This is where this reply was intended to go)

        If I were them, I'd give you a promotion. To cut your long but very well written & informative article down to a couple of sentences, you said "Coal is good. The industry used to be terrible, but has gotten MUCH better, but they won't keep improving without laws in place to make them." While I can imagine that they will object to the last part of that last sentence, hopefully the rest will outweigh it in their minds. Personally, I found the article fascinating, & my image of coal has certainly shifted slightly towards the positive. Uh, oh! You are a corporate stooge! ; )

        Yee Haw is not a foreign policy.

        by mpayson on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 12:45:59 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Our Public Relations (4.00)
          Does not think this way.  Here's an example of our PR presentation:

          Slide #1 -- chart showing coal use in various nations

          Slide #2 -- chart showing life expectancy in various nations

          Slide #3 -- chart showing that nations that use more energy have longer lifespans

          Slide #4 -- statement that burning coal causes you to live longer.

          Any questions?


          TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

          by Mark Sumner on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 06:01:16 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Post hoc, ergo propter hoc... much? (none)
            No mention of minor items like antibiotics, or adequate nutrition, or clean drinking water, I'll bet.

            Does anyone actually buy this?

            Massacre is not a family value.

            by Canadian Reader on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 10:07:37 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Snark (none)
              You do realize that you were responding to a very sarcastic comment, do you not?

              Republicans are poor stewards of America's government.

              by freelunch on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 10:40:26 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Hard to tell, these days. (none)
                The way PR works now, I wouldn't be in the least surprised if almost exactly that argument were being made. Not quite so obviously, maybe, but...

                Well yeah, I did catch the snark level.

                But I also saw this very same notion put forward with a perfectly straight face sometime quite recently, though I'm darned if I can remember where. So somebody, somewhere, is really pushing it.

                Massacre is not a family value.

                by Canadian Reader on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 01:18:30 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

          •  And you were able to articulate (none)
            the case for coal very convincingly for thousands of smart people who vote, write to congress, belong to environmental organizations, etc.  Why wouldn't they be thrilled by that?

            Their PR people clearly get paid way too much if they think the stuff they put out makes the industry look better than your diary did.  

            Besides, if they fire you, a good environmental organization could hire you and given your depth of knowledge they could really get their clocks cleaned.  I can't believe they'd want that. :-)

            Stupidity should be painful.

            by Helena Handbag on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 12:40:21 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Good article on "clean coal" PR (none)
            http://www.climateark.org/articles/reader.asp?linkid=35480

            The friendly folks behind those American eagle ads that show the bird coughing no more, thanks to clean coal say that nobody will notice when the sea level rises ten inches.

  •  Are you from (4.00)
    Muhlenberg County, by any chance?  Just curious.

    Great diary.  Thanks for writing it.  I know that coal will become even more important in the future as oil becomes more and more scarce.  We need to continue to figure out how to have a lower environmental footprint with coal.

    What color are your pajamas?

    by Unstable Isotope on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 07:02:27 PM PDT

    •  Yup (4.00)
      As in "Oh daddy won't you take me back to..."  

      And it was the Paradise Steam Plant that my mother helped construct and operate.  (For the record, Mr. Peabody's coal trains didn't haul Paradise away.  Mr. TVA's construction folks plopped a power plant down on it.)


      TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

      by Mark Sumner on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 07:45:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  quicker than me (4.00)
        Thanks for sharing your great depth of experience. This is a corrective to stereotypes about the coal industry that many of us might have from the pre-law days. Your employers should thank you, not fire you. This is PR that works because it's honest; the "relations" part of "public relations" really means what it says in a personal, real post like this. None of us would trust that information if it came in a slick brochure that failed to acknowledge any downside.

        I teach in Kentucky, and my grandfather and uncle are/were mining executives (not in coal -- in gold, actually!), so this detail really helped illuminate my worlds, past and present. My relatives from the industry have terribly retrograde attitudes -- they weren't the preservationists, they were hoping to preserve the pre-law days in the name of profit. And today we have a better industry, but we still blow up mountaintops. However, you gave me a much greater depth of understanding.

      •  Prine! (none)
        I love John Prine.
      •  Love that song (3.50)
        We're near where the Big Muskie used to be.  
        http://little-mountain.com/bigmuskie/

        It was located near High Hill, Ohio, where my husband's family settled when they came from Scotland. Now, the coal is gone, and it's "The Wilds."  All reclaimed, a wild animal (hervivores only) park.
         http://www.thewilds.org/

        This is a wonderful diary.  I hope if your bosses see it, you'll show them this comment:
        Women I worked with that had husbands in the mines could afford to pay their bills.  Many others couldn't.  

    •  For those who don't know the John Prine song . . . (4.00)
      Daddy, won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County
      Down by the Green River, where paradise lay?
      I'm sorry, my son, but you're too late in asking
      Mr. Peabody's coal train has hauled it away
      •  Prine (4.00)
        I heard John Prine doing an interview a couple of weeks ago.  He's just come through a bout of throat cancer.

        The doctor made a point of suggesting that they might reduce the radiation treatments in an effort to do less damage to his vocal cords.  Prine's reaction "Doc, have you ever heard me sing?  Fire away."


        TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

        by Mark Sumner on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 07:51:38 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  quoting the John Prine: (4.00)
       When I was a child, my family would travel,
      To western Kentucky, where my parents were born.
      And there's a backwards old town that's often remembered.
      So many times that my memories are worn.

            And Daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg county,
            Down by the Green River, where Paradise lay.
            "Well I'm sorry, my son, but you're too late in askin'."
            "Mr. Peabody's coal train has hauled it away."

      Well, sometimes we'd travel right down the Green River,
      To the abandoned old prison down by Aidrie Hill.
      Where the air smelled like snakes: we'd shoot with our pistols,
      But empty pop bottles was all we would kill.

            And Daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg county,
            Down by the Green River, where Paradise lay.
            "Well I'm sorry, my son, but you're too late in askin'."
            "Mr. Peabody's coal train has hauled it away."

      Then the coal company came, with the world's largest shovel,
      And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land.
      Well, they dug for their coal till the land was forsaken.
      Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man.

            And Daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg county,
            Down by the Green River, where Paradise lay.
            "Well I'm sorry, my son, but you're too late in askin'."
            "Mr. Peabody's coal train has hauled it away."

      When I die, let my ashes float down the Green River.
      Let my soul roll on up to the Rochester dam.
      I'll be halfway to Heaven with Paradise waitin',
      Just five miles away from wherever I am.

            And Daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg county,
            Down by the Green River, where Paradise lay.
            "Well I'm sorry, my son, but you're too late in askin'."
            "Mr. Peabody's coal train has hauled it away."

      Why are they so sick and ridiculous?--C. Mingus

      by Rojo on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 07:53:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's darn catchy (3.66)
        Lots of personal connections for me.

        Now, if I could only do something about that Johnny Cash movie of the week thing on adult illiteracy.  In the movie, they said Muhlenberg County was in Appalachia.  Cash's character might have been illiterate, but clearly the screenwriter couldn't read a map.


        TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

        by Mark Sumner on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 08:01:01 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Tis a great tune... (none)
          Although to tell the truth I've never heard the Prine version. My familiarity is with the Seldom Scene version.

          Some personal connections for me too, w/ Kentucky coal miners in the family a little ways back. Reading about the union battles, I've never forgotten who did the shooting!

          Why are they so sick and ridiculous?--C. Mingus

          by Rojo on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 08:11:28 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Seldom Scene (none)
            Yeah!!!

            I saw them about a half dozen times before John Duffy died... that was a huge loss... their cover of "It's All Over Baby Blue" still gives me goosebumps.

            •  I remember that band (none)
              I think there was a band in ABQ called Rarely Heard, but I may be mixing them up.  
              •  Different (none)
                Seldom Scene used to play at the long-demised Red Fox Inn in Bethesda, MD, before it became upscale chained out of life, when the town still had some funk to it.  Emmylou Harris occasionally used to play there with them, back in the early 1970s.

                I think Seldom Scene now sometimes play at the Birchmere in Alexandria, VA, though (mostly?) with different members.

                Not the same group that you're referring to.

                •  Another John Prine song (none)
                  Refrain:

                  Grandpa was a carpenter,
                  Built houses, stores, and banks.
                  He chain-smoked Camel cigarettes
                  and he hammered nails in planks.
                  He was level on the level,
                  Shaved even every door.
                  Voted for Eisenhower
                  'Cause Lincoln won the War!

                  (a verse)

                  Grandma was a school-teacher
                  She went to Bowling Green.
                  Traded in a milking cow
                  for a Singer sewing machine.
                  She called her husband "Mister"
                  and she walked real tall and pride.
                  She used to buy me comic books
                  after grandpa died.

      •  Am I the only one? (none)
        I only new this song from my old favorite, John Denver!
      •  Mr. Peabody (4.00)
        I haven't heard the the song, but I imagine that "Mr. Peabody" refers to Peabody Energy, Inc. - www.peabodyenergy.com - the country's largest coal producer - currently fighting native American groups for mining rights in the Southwest.  Peabody has also long fought the United Mineworkers of America in an effort to keep their operations union free.  They are considered one of the biggest beneficiaries of Cheney's Energy policies - a major backroom dealer.

        http://www.umwa.org/journal/VOL112NO5/sept5.shtml
        http://www.themilitant.com/2005/6908/690856.html

        Labor creates all wealth - Organize!

        by fartofliving on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 10:32:03 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Those would be the ones (4.00)
          Actually, ten years ago, almost all the operations were union operations.  It's not that they've done a good job keeping the union out, it's that they've done a good job kicking the union out.  

          The situation in the southwest is actually a lot more complicated.  The mining rights were signed over by the Navajo and Hopi leaders, but a group of traditionalists didn't like this setup.  It's more of an intra-tribe fight than it is a fight between the tribe and Peabody.

          In the meantime, Peabody is the largest employer in the Navajo Nation.  More than 80% of the people at the mine are Native Americans -- including engineers, management, etc.  The two mines are also the largest contributors to the tax base for the Navajo Nation, the largest source of funds for scholarships, the largest -- well, just about anything you can think of.  These are big operations, they employee a lot of Navajos, and they fund a good part of the infrastructure and educational structure for the whole reservation (which is larger than several states).

          So... what are you going to do about it?  The traditionalists are absolutely correct that this is altering the lifestyle of the Navajo.  The tribal leadership is looking for good jobs for their people, and these jobs pay one heck of a lot better than selling silverwork to tourists.  In the time I've been visiting the area, I've seen them go from scattered "hogans" to concentrated towns (complete with all the fast food joints, movie theaters, and supermarkets of any other town).  If you judged the place on a "how does it look compared to any other small town in America," they're winning the race over any other reservation I've visited.  If you judge them on preserving the traditional way of life, they're flunking.

          If it's any comfort, those mines out there are getting close to end of life.  Oh, and if you like I can tell the tale of a mammoth engineering boondoggle out there that has generated more heat than anything else Peabody ever did.


          TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

          by Mark Sumner on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 05:45:37 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Will Tony Hillerman be writing about it? (none)
            Boondoggles are always entertaining. I'll pull up a seat.

            I hope that the Navajo leadership has been using their windfall to develop other sources of jobs in the future.

            Republicans are poor stewards of America's government.

            by freelunch on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 07:49:19 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Navajo Plant (4.00)
            The entire reason fore existence for the Navajo Power Plant near Page, AZ (right by Glen Canyon Dam) is to pump Colorado River water to Phoenix, through what is called the Central Arizona Project. (Barry Goldwater's pet project)  If we weren't sending huge quantities of water up a 7000 foot ridge and then down again, there wouldn't need to be a Navajo Power Plant.
          •  What happened in the Lauglin situation? (none)
            I was very happy to read that Laughlin was not going to renew their contract with Black Mesa last year and that Peabody would close.  (I did worry what the Navajo Nation would do without the income.) Then I read that Laughlin renewed.  What's the skinny?  Who pulled the strings?  Was it the Navajo council or Peabody?  I can't find anything to read on this.

            "If you judge them on preserving the traditional way of life, they're flunking."

            You are correct. The language is dying also.

            •  No details (4.00)
              I don't really know what happened.  The Lauglin plant really couldn't accept fuel from anywhere else, they're too specially designed for that insane pipeline (the aforementioned boondoggle of epic proportions).  

              My assumption has been that they were just going to close the plant, then decided they needed the power on the grid.


              TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

              by Mark Sumner on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 11:55:31 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Thanks and (none)
                you are right! That pipeline is unbelievably bizarre. That aquifer must be gettin' kinda dry by now.

                And thanks for your great diary and congrats on the number of recommends and mojo, very impressive.

                •  A possibility (none)
                  This may or may not be on point, but I thought I'd throw it out there.  Basically, John Boyden was the Hopi's attorney brokering the deal with Peabody in the '60s.  It recently came to light that at time he was representing the Hopi, he was also working for Peabody, resulting in a truly spectacular conflict of interest.  The deal he brokered sold the water from the aquifer at a price somewhere around $1 acre/ft (units?) when fair market value was somewhere between $30-$50. I believe the contact could probably be made void.  Perhaps this is what was in the works , and then they changed thier minds and renegotiated the contract to fair market value?  (pure speculation)
              •  Hey look at (none)
                Chassit's post just below mine.
          •  Also, another thing that can be done (4.00)
            is to help prevent William Myers from becoming a judge.  Sign Senator Kennedy's petition against
             William Myers.

            Bush has nominated Myers for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals -- the largest federal court of appeals, and a potential stepping stone to the Supreme Court. It also has jurisdiction over vast expanses of public land and priceless natural resources -- which makes a person like Myers especially unfit to serve.

            Meyers was rejected once and Bush has nominated him again. Myers is exactly the person the mining industries need.

            He has a horrible environmental record.

            A review of William G. Myers' past record shows disregard and disrespect for the concerns of the Native American community, a troubling legal philosophy that would elevate property rights to a level of constitutional scrutiny reserved for fundamental rights, and a limited view of Congress' commerce power, which leads to implications that could impact civil rights.

      •  Auld Aidrie (none)
        By the way, as a point of trivia, the "Aidrie" mentioned in the song is itself another mine.  Auld Aidrie. Only Aidrie was an iron mine started in the 1800's.  One of my great-greats made the transit from Scotland to work there, but the whole thing failed.

        Some of it is still out there in the woods.  The structures were all made from sandstone blocks and now, overrun by vines and split by trees, it has something of the look of a Mayan ruin.


        TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

        by Mark Sumner on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 02:26:06 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Boy are y'all quick with the Prine! (none)
      I thought I was going to surprise everyone with the Prine lyrics!

      Why are they so sick and ridiculous?--C. Mingus

      by Rojo on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 07:56:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Please sir, may I have another! (4.00)
    Excellent work;  very informative, good details.  Please keep us informed on the legislation, and don't hesitate to put up an action alert diary as the time gets closer.

    I've been reading Jared Diamond's Collapse - have you read it?   This seems to fit well with his analysis of the mineral / oil / coal extraction industries.

    (Very)Reccomended and tipped!
    Thank you!

    It would be great to see a follow-up post early in the week.  I'd be afraid too may people will miss this on the weekend.

  •  Interesting (none)
    I don't doubt your honesty. It's actually very interesting to learn that coal actually has improved. As someone who believes in relatively imminent peak oil, using coal may be a neccessary evil. And the less evil it is, the better.  If it can serve to act as a transition to renewable sources, the better. There will still be problems with transportation, as planes and cars don't run on coal, and making gas from coal is an energy loser, but it's still good to know there's some alternative.
    •  peak oil (none)
      This diary makes me more doubtful than ever that coal will be the answer to peak oil.  Look at his description of the mining process.  It consumes a hell of a lot of petroleum.  Ammonium nitrate, diesel fuel, humongous trucks...how are we going to manufacture and fuel all this, when oil is $400 a barrel?  

      The first thing to go will be environmental and safety regs.  And even then, I doubt it will be enough.  Tainter's law of diminishing returns applies here.  We've already been mining coal for a long time, and the high-quality, easily accessible coal was taken first.  Coal will be increasingly hard to mine and lower in quality from here on out.  And if we actually try to use it to replace oil...forget it.  We'd need ten times or more what we are mining now.  Peak coal wouldn't be long after peak oil.

      Protons have mass? I didn't even know they were Catholic.

      by randym77 on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 04:30:32 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank You (none)
    This was very informative.
  •  Thank You (none)
    So very much for sharing your expertise and giving everybody the heads up.
  •  Wow! (4.00)
    We defintely need more diaries like this. Great one. Very informative. I'm sure it's also very useful for   us city liberals who hear "coal" and flinch -- despite the fact that miners unions built the Democratic party in many states.

    If th' meek ever do inherit th' earth some one'll git it away from 'em before they have it an hour

    by NorthStarDemocrat on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 07:16:38 PM PDT

    •  From your moniker I assume (4.00)
       you're familiar with the DFL and N. Minn taconite industry. I used to work the mines for contract geological core sampling and then the mines themselves. Quite the eerie feeling riding through a huge blast field minutes before it's about to go up. The area, while still having unreclaimed pits and man made waste rock mountains, has reclaimed many of the former eyesores and turned them into recreational areas like ATV parks and mini-lakes stocked with fish. The DFL created the taconite tax and the IRRRB to get the money to reclaim the lands. But growing up we did have awesome schools up there financed by the mines. The Iron Range is a fascinating study of labor-management-environmental history and evolving political movements of the last century. The Minn. PBS had a great series on Iron Range history by the preeminent Iron Range historian Marvin Laampa. Greyhound grew from the need to transport people to the mines and between towns.
      •  haha (none)
        Yeah, I'm familiar with the DFL and Northern mining, and I knew that the DFL coalition here has made for some interesting politics, but most of the rest was news to me. I'm going to look for that PBS series though. Thanks.

        If th' meek ever do inherit th' earth some one'll git it away from 'em before they have it an hour

        by NorthStarDemocrat on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 07:40:35 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Strange Beauty (none)
        The open pit mines in the Range are some of the most amazing pieces of human engineering I have ever seen. Yes, I know they have been bad for the environment in many ways, and I hope that we can restore them as much as possible, but they are still profoundly moving. Many have weathered for more than half a century and are beginning to create their own new ecology.

        It's a fascinating place.

        Republicans are poor stewards of America's government.

        by freelunch on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 07:56:14 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  "...a part of Western Kentucky (none)
    that was then the biggest coal producing..."  Devil, what county is that?
    •  Oh, daddy (3.88)
      As mentioned above, that would be Muhlenberg County.  A county that used to be so blue it would have made Vermont look Red.  Unfortuantely, people no longer seem to remember who did the shooting and who was on the recieving end.

      I know old union miners who now vote Republican.  It's mind boggling.


      TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

      by Mark Sumner on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 07:40:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Oops, sorry (none)
        I missed that above.  Some of my ancestors are from Trigg County.
        •  Trigg County (3.66)
          I spent a whole lot of time there.  I did a research project on caves.  In fact, my first job out of college was working for the National Speleological Society helping to organize something called the "West Kentucky Speleological Survey."  We were out to map every cave in the region, and I tramped up and down the Little River in Trigg County for two years.

          Made some great discoveries, explored miles of caves that no human had ever been seen before, and got run off at shotgun point when I stumbled on someone's still.  You couldn't ask for a better job.  If it had paid more than minimum wage, I'd still be at it (though these days, I could only explore caves that were a lot larger than the ones I used to wedge myself into).


          TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

          by Mark Sumner on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 07:55:14 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  I know old union miners who now vote Republican... (none)
        Yea. It's that "Values" thing.
        Great diary 2taboos. Good to have you here at Dkos!
      •  I'll consider that (none)
        to be your Tip Jar.

        SUPERB post!

  •  PS (none)
    Hmmmm.......my dad worked in Wyoming during the boom in the late 70's.  DevilsTower.......hmmm......near Gillette.......hmmm.....how many strip mines around there, like 13 or something.  I even used to know a family there who drilled shot, what you described that they use to blow the surface.  The Edwards family....can't remember the name of their company, but I was once engaged to their eldest son.  I am evil though, just ask him.  I really am evil
  •  Do us all a favor... (4.00)
    ...Don't let us forget this diary. Bookmark it, reference it every time you post, and let us know when it's time for the actions you described to take place.

    Anyone who isn't a complete corporate asshole will want to help. We should all be out there chaining ourselves to trees if that's what it takes.

    If you have, or would like to some day have, children, there is no greater topic than this one right here.

  •  Wow (none)
    Great diary. Very personal.

    I hope you don't catch any flak for writing that, it was very informative and helpful.

    I makes me so sick that there are so many industries in this country that must be FORCED to do the right thing (not just coal mining). We must find a way to turn things around, so companies do the right thing simply because it is the right way to do things. Companies who choose to do things the right way should be rewarded, and those who don't should be punished severely enough to truly hurt their bottom line...

    Thanks, Devilstower

  •  Global Warming (3.83)
    Devilstower, thank you so much for another of your exhaustive, expert, deeply illuminating energy diaries.  This one surpasses all the others I've read, including as it does your heartfelt mea culpa and fascinating biography.  I hope you know I'm one of your most fervent admirers here.

    But I got a bone to pick with you, buddy.  I read your diary carefully, and can find precisely one line about CO2 emissions.  While I fully agree about the necessity for government regulation to get the coal industry to behave responsibly about restoration and pollution, I don't see what can be done to reduce CO2 emissions and the contribution of coal to global warming.

    Now, I know you're not an Inhofian doubter of the reality of global warming.  And I also acknowledge that coal has an inevitable place as a bridging energy source until renewables come into their own.  But in such a careful, detailed, otherwise-exhaustive treatise on the subject of your life's work, why did you avoid the fatal flaw in coal as an energy source?  You know I love ya, man, but I'm just askin'....

    Journalism is yours! www.propagannon.com. Help us support ePluribusMedia

    by Dallasdoc on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 07:21:57 PM PDT

    •  your fatal flaw is his reason for more regulation (4.00)
      I don't want to speak for him (but will anyway), but I think that if he's advocating further regulation of the coal industry in order to make it a truly viable and ecofriendly solution to our energy dependence semi-crisis I'd imagine he'd want a ban or regulation on mountaintop mining and (since he used the phrase "ungodly" in reference to CO2 emission) a more stringent CO2 scrubber requirement. So maybe he wasn't avoiding the fatal flaw in coal so much as (and here's where he feared he'd lose his job) ackknowledging said flaws and advocating they be solved with regulation and emission standards?
      •  Thanks (4.00)
        Yes, I let way too much out, but we need to find some way to limit CO2 emission.

        Ultimately, if we can't come up with decent carbon sequestration in the next decade, we have to phase out coal.  It's as simple as that.


        TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

        by Mark Sumner on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 07:42:29 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Coal/Peak Oil (none)
          To Devilstower:
          Do you know how Peak Oil would effect the phasing out of coal? BTW, this is without a doubt one of the most informative, well written diaries I have ever read here. Your knowledge and your eloquence in expressing it is something I look for when reading here. Thank you so very much for writing this.
          •  Oil != Coal (none)
            Ultimately, the two sources are only very loosely coupled.  Coal is used almost exclusively for electrical generation.  Oil is used almost exclusively for transporation.  Until we have an significant fleet of electric vehicles, there's no competition between the two sources, so expanding coal production won't help us with oil and vice versa.

            However, there are a couple of economic connections.  

            1. a lot of mining equipment runs on diesel, so when oil goes up, coal edges up because of increased mining costs.

            2. even though there's no direct connection between the two fuels, speculators don't seem to know that.  So every time oil goes up, the futures markets drive the cost of coal up far more than recovery costs demand. Your electricity ends up costing more because the people bidding in commodity exchanges don't quite understand how energy works.  


            TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

            by Mark Sumner on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 08:51:22 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  He's marvelous at speaking for himself (4.00)
        I'm not aware of how effective CO2 scrubbers are for coal emissions, or where the spare carbon goes after it's scrubbed.  I'm sure Devilstower has covered this in his terrific series, but I've missed it.  

        I wish he had addressed this point in this diary, as its absence is all the more glaring given the wonderful inclusion of every other aspect of the coal industry I can think of.

        Journalism is yours! www.propagannon.com. Help us support ePluribusMedia

        by Dallasdoc on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 07:44:55 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Until renewables come into their own, (4.00)
          the answer to the question "got coal?" is yes, and it's being mined planet-wide. There are some interesting efforts underway to reduce/eliminate GHG produced in coal mining and it is up to us to see to it that they are developed along with increasing research and development into alternative energy sources. Ah, in another administration... But let's at least keep Shruber's "Clear Skies" programme from from destroying the planet until genuine progress in alternative energy can start in this country. Awesome diaray, DT.
        •  Past efforts (4.00)
          Using technology like fluidized bed reactors have shown that carbon can be captured, but these technologies have problems of their own.  I don't expect fluidized bed to become a mainstay of the power industry.

          The solution will have to be in some chemical scrubber on the smokestack -- the exact nature of which is still undetermined.  Heck, the feasibility is still in doubt.

          Some folks at MIT have done some serious work on the subject.  The best thing I can say about this so far is that the industry is participating in the studies, even though the studies are predicated on something (global warming) they won't admit.  It's a good first step, but that's all it is.


          TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

          by Mark Sumner on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 08:14:10 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Chemical scrubbers (4.00)
            I agree with you, that a scrubber-type system would have to be installed, if it's technically feasible. I'd imagine that the NOx and SOx would have to be scrubbed first, in order to allow an alkaline medium to absorb the CO2 (calcium hydroxide solution?)  But the bulk of chemical required would be truly staggering.

            I'd imagine the only way to make this feasible would be to recycle some of the products as industrial chemicals.  Coal plants would have to become chemical plants.  Perhaps the nitrates and calcium carbonate could act as fertilizers.... the calcium in particular could aid in restoration of some of the soils in the East ravaged by acid rain.  And there are always uses for sulfuric acid in industry.

            Mercury's greatest use, perhaps, is as a political weapon to beat up Republican shills for the industry.

            Journalism is yours! www.propagannon.com. Help us support ePluribusMedia

            by Dallasdoc on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 08:22:45 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Scale (none)
              As you indicate, it's the scale of the thing that makes this daunting.  You might chemically scrub SO2, but that's about 1% of the emissions.  Scrubbing CO2 is going to produce thousand of tons of -something- every day.  

              At some off the power plants, they capture the "fly ash" with electrostatic scrubbers, mix it with water, and pump the slurry back into old underground mines.  Something similar might work with carbon -- assuming you can catch it.


              TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

              by Mark Sumner on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 08:40:46 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Biological solutions? (none)
                The problem of scale is daunting, indeed.  But it argues, I guess, for a bacteriological solution.  Since chemical processes scale arithmetically and biological ones scale geometrically, the only feasible way to handle the quantities of carbon involved must bring biologic processes into play.  

                Perhaps a natural solution is the answer.  Some combination of extremophile bacteria and cyanobacteria to fix the carbon (and nitrogen and sulfur too, perhaps) in a biological way.  The cyanobacteria would take energy from sunlight to fuel the ecosystem, since after burning there would be no chemical reducing agent for bacteria to use for fuel.

                I don't find this in the links you or Nina provided.  Is this being worked on, to your knowledge?

                Journalism is yours! www.propagannon.com. Help us support ePluribusMedia

                by Dallasdoc on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 08:50:41 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Cyanobacteria and Alzheimers? (none)
                  Are you familiar with the research reported in a recent New Yorker suggesting that cyanobacteria is responsible for neurological diseases?  Studies in Guam and Hawaii...
                •  you just invented greenhouse CO2 inrichment (4.00)
                  CO2 has the single biggest 'fertilizer' effect for plants. You get about 55% increased productivity for vegetable crops (somewhat less for other plants on average) if you double the CO2 atmosphere.  This is indeed being done for greenhouse growing. The logistics of getting the CO2 to where it might be useful however kills this idea.

                  Also, not quite so obvious but this does nothing to ameliorate CO2 levels in the atmosphere because biological sinks are short term, so the CO2, though it's incorporated into plant tissue will be released back into the atmosphere when the plant dies, you're just shifting the release out. The only way to truly take the CO2 out of the system is to have it go into a long-term sink like carbonate formation in the oceans or deep burial in old oil wells.

                  •  Organic fertilizers? (4.00)
                    Biologic sequestrants could prove to be wonderful organic fertilizer material, replacing petrochemical use.  Soil carbon can be a relatively long-term carbon sink, if these products are used to replenish depleted soils.  Those, we know, are a problem all over the earth, not least in China.

                    Journalism is yours! www.propagannon.com. Help us support ePluribusMedia

                    by Dallasdoc on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 10:02:35 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  asdf (none)
                      In South America there's a homegrown fertilization system that uses actual chunks of carbon (charcoal I think) as a fertilizer. I suspect it works by out-gassing CO2 which the plant can then absorb during photosynthesis. Not a bad idea but you still have to get it from gas phase into a solid.

                      To incorporate it into biomass you are basically using photosynthesis and you'd need some pretty big algae (or other type of plantmass) ponds to run through this much carbon. Keep in mind that you are processing the entire solid mass - in other words: that mountain that was excavated... you're going to have to make about the same amount of plant mass...

                      If you think of it as a waste processing technique this is clearly not a viable idea. HOWEVER, if you think of the algae (or equivalent) as the feedstock for another process (cattle feed, biodiesel, fertilizer, etc) then it gets interesting.

                      •  That's the idea (none)
                        Feedstock for fertilizer, biofuels, even pellets to mix with the coal for burning.  There's plenty of room out there, and who wants to close to a coal power plant?

                        Algae may or may not be the most efficient system.  Maybe some combination of aquatic plants and bacteria could do the same.  I'm reminded of the natural sewage recycling systems which are more efficient than current industrial plants.  

                        Biology is the obvious answer to getting the CO2 out of the air.  Let's hope we can use it in such a way that the overall biomass of the earth is increased productively.

                        Journalism is yours! www.propagannon.com. Help us support ePluribusMedia

                        by Dallasdoc on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 10:29:10 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                    •  should also mention (none)
                      that soil carbon tends to boil off over time, the SOP for soil amending in my area (Bay Area, California) is to add 1" of organic material each year. Which tells you that organic material isn't sticking around and that soil sequestering is not all that great a CO2 sink. Still, some of it stays, I'm not sure what the carbon content of humic acid is (humic acid is formed from organic material and is quite stable). Finally, if you are able to shift the release out by say 50 years that would help as human releases of carbon into the atmosphere might have dropped by then. This is probably something that can be found in the literature.
                      •  I'm no soil scientist... (none)
                        Though I've done a bit of organic gardening.  I think the payoff would really come from building up depleted soils and restoring the plant cover in a sustainable way.  Soil carbon isn't going to stick around unless there's a viable ecosystem on top of it renewing and maintaining it.  Take some desertified areas and start restoring them; plant trees to bring back forests; bring wasted croplands back into production sustainably.  An ecological approach would probably result in the best carbon sequestration:  rebuild what we've already destroyed.

                        Journalism is yours! www.propagannon.com. Help us support ePluribusMedia

                        by Dallasdoc on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 08:08:38 AM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  sequestration (none)
                          Climate researchers think sequestration might not work, but that it may be our only hope, not because there's a good reason to burn more coal use in the US , but because China will burn all of its coal eventually.  This will swamp our own emissions in a few decades.

                          site: http://cdiac2.esd.ornl.gov/

                          (there is no reason to support coal over oil when it comes to global warming)

                          "Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style." --George Orwell

                          by markymarx on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 08:36:34 AM PDT

                          [ Parent ]

                    •  Don't count on soil to absorb carbon (none)
                      Well, it will, but there's a tipping point.

                      The Desert Research Institute recently published the results of a study on global warming it's doing in Nevada:

                      Using a novel, data-gathering dome tent they invented, DRI scientists measure the effects of future levels of atmospheric CO2 on the Mojave Desert ecosystem. In a dramatic discovery this year, new findings dispel the previous notion that deserts increase their uptake of carbon dioxide and help offset the increasing amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere that is due to man's ever-increasing levels of coal, gasoline and oil combustion. In fact, researchers are finding that deserts actually reduce their carbon dioxide uptake by a remarkable 30 percent. This means in the context of dealing with global warming, we can't rely on desert ecosystems to help diminish atmospheric CO2 levels. On the contrary, deserts may take up less CO2 from the air than they do now.

                      Another discovery unfolds:
                      Research also revealed another important misconception about desert ecosystems: deserts take up CO2 at the same rates as some grassland areas and forests.

                      http://news.dri.edu/nr2005/jan_dometent.htm

                      Unfortunately the oceans are taking up carbon at a high rate.  This is causing an increase in acidification.  Life relying on calcium carbonate, which forms shells, exoskeletons, will suffer because the acidity will dissolve them.

                      Most of this excess carbon comes from fossil fuel combustion.

                      •  Are there data on ocean acidification? (none)
                        I'd be surprised if the oceans' pH were changing much.  They're pretty big, and there's a vast buffering capacity involved.  In fact, bicarbonate itself is a very effective buffer in the pH range of the ocean, limiting big swings in acidity or alkalinity.  Not to mention all the other dissolved minerals.

                        It seems that ocean absorption of CO2 is what we'd hope for, to maintain the homeostasis keeping atmospheric CO2 levels more constant.

                        Journalism is yours! www.propagannon.com. Help us support ePluribusMedia

                        by Dallasdoc on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 11:01:25 AM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  Yes, we have data (none)
                          Most of it is in subscription-only journals, but here's a partial summary from BBC News:

                          Increasing use of fossil fuels means more carbon dioxide is going into the air. Most of it will eventually be absorbed by seawater, where it reacts to form carbonic acid.
                          The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission reports that some 20-25 million tonnes of carbon dioxide are being added to the oceans each day.
                          Researchers believe such dramatic changes in the carbon dioxide system in surface waters have not been observed for more than 20 million years of Earth history.
                          Experts currently predict that if this trend continues, ocean pH could fall by as much as 0.4 units by the year 2100.
                          "The thing about acidification is that it is happening at the same time that the oceans are warming, so organisms are going to have to deal with two major changes," working group member Dr Carol Turley of Plymouth Marine Laboratory told BBC News Online.
                          "Whether they balance each other, or whether they double or triple up is not known."
                          Scientists fear this increasing acidification could have a particularly detrimental effect on corals and sea creatures with hard shells.
                          Increasing acidity reduces the availability of calcium carbonate from the water - which the creatures rely on to produce their hard skeletons. Juvenile organisms could be most susceptible to these changes.
                          Acidification may also directly affect the growth and reproduction rates of fish, as well as affecting the plankton populations which they rely on for food, with potentially disastrous consequences for marine food webs.
                          In addition, nutrient concentrations in surface waters of high-latitude regions are likely to fall, subsurface waters become less oxygenated, and phytoplankton will experience increased exposure to sunlight.
                          This could affect multiple marine species and change the composition of biological communities in ways that are not yet understood.
                          According to research by Christopher Sabine of the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the ocean has taken up approximately 120 billion metric tonnes of carbon generated by human activities since 1800.

                          http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3571152.stm

                          Marine biologists are saying that the increase in the temperature of the ocean that is already occurring is more worrisome, because the warming is happening too rapidly for species to adapt.  Corals, for example, are in trouble.

                          •  Very interesting (none)
                            I wonder how accurate their models are.  Rising ocean temperatures, of course, will reduce CO2 solubility in water, but it may possibly increase chemical reactions leading to precipitation of carbonates.  Biological effects are likely to be even more difficult to model.  It sounds unbearably complex, and I have to wonder how good a handle ocean scientists have on the question, given the fairly rudimentary state of the science.

                            Journalism is yours! www.propagannon.com. Help us support ePluribusMedia

                            by Dallasdoc on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 11:41:47 AM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  Modeling (none)
                            These findings have undergone probabilistic analysis in order to create models, as is often done with environmental scenarios.

                            To my knowledge, the data that leads to the acidification scenario has not been disputed.  But it's early days.

                            You will be hearing more about this.

              •  what about uranium? (4.00)
                I had heard that coal, specifically from  northeast wyoming can contain amounts of uranium that is released into the air when used in power plants.  A lot of the coal mines share the same relative territory with uranium mines in that area.  I can't find anything to negate or prove that point.  any info?
                •  Absolutely true (4.00)
                  Since the coal is moderately porous, it serves as one of the main aquifers in the area.  And since there are a lot of uranium-bearing formations around (uranium mining was also done in the region), uranium salts get deposited in the coal.

                  If you burned it in an open pit (or in a power plant with no scrubbers), a portion of that uranium outgasses.  It literally can be quite a bit worse than the radiation involved in a nuclear plant.

                  Like every other pollutant, the newer plants have protections against this.  The older plants have a mish-mash of devices with a very mixed record on effectiveness.  Just another reason to reverse "Clear Skies" and shut down those old plants.


                  TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

                  by Mark Sumner on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 05:58:21 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                •  Coal combustion is radioactive (4.00)
                  Burning coal concentrates uranium-235 in the waste.  An average coal-fired plant produces enough U-235 in a year to make several atomic bombs--if anybody wanted to sift through the mountains of ash and find the stuff.

                  Because of the uranium in coal, one of its decay products, radon, is released when coal is burned.  It goes up the stacks as an invisible gas, just as mercury vapor does.  Radon quickly decays down to various isotopes, one of them an isotope of polonium.  This isotope is injected into the lungs of lab animals to induce cancer.  Smokers, btw, are getting that polonium isotope too.

                  Of the average dose of manmade radiation someone living in the US receives, coal combustion provides 2 millirem. Nuclear plants contribute .0009 millirem.  To put this in perspective, natural background radiation is around 260 millirem.  It's higher on the Colorado Plateau, where a lot of coal is mined and where uranium used to be mined: 300 millirem.  We get 60 millirem a year on average from nuclear medicine (dental X-rays, etc.).

                  •  Correction (4.00)
                    Fossil fuel combustion (coal, gas, oil) exposes the American population to 25 millirem per year.

                    One coal plant contributes .03 millirem.
                    One nuclear plant contributes .009 millirem.

                    By replacing fossil fuels, nuclear energy has reduced the burden of greenhouse gases and pollutants.

                    Between 1973 and 1999, U.S. nuclear power plants reduced cumulative emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide--pollutants controlled under the Clean Air Act--by 31.6 million tons and 61.7 million tons, respectively. Over this same period, the nation's nuclear plants reduced the cumulative amount of carbon emissions by 2.61 billion tons of carbon. In 1999 alone, U.S. nuclear plants prevented the discharge of 168 million metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere.

                    PS The average coal-fired plant now contributes 48 tons of mercury a year to the environment.  

                  •  Radon (4.00)
                    Oh, I should add that, to make it more fun no scrubber captures radon.  The stuff is radioactive as heck, but chemically inert, so fixing it with a scrubber is problematic to say the least.

                    Coal from the Midwest and East has only a very tiny amount of uranium, and its decay products, so it produces little radioactivity when burned.  However, this coal is high sulfur and contributes to acid rain.  Western coal tends to be low sulfur, but contains much more uranium.

                    Call it catch-235.


                    TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

                    by Mark Sumner on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 06:44:10 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  In the big picture... (4.00)
                      ...radiation from coal combustion is low-dose and is unlikely to contribute significantly to health problems.  

                      Now, mercury is another story.  And other toxic heavy metals concentrated in the fly ash: lead, arsenic, cadmium...  These wind up in our soil and water.  Unlike radioactive materials, which decay, these boys never do.

                      •  which all adds to another question (none)
                        You can now buy recycled gypsum board (aka drywall) which is made from the ash created from coal burning power plants.  I asked this question to the product rep who looked at me like I had 3 heads, but if coal can contain uranium and mercury and coal combustion concentrates radiation, then recycled gypsum board sounds like a toxic product, not something that should be touted as environmentally preferred.
                        •  Correct (none)
                          Fly ash from coal plants is turned into things like wallboard and bowling balls.

                          People live in houses on top of fly ash piles.

                          Fly ash is used in pavement.  Pavement is more radioactive than trucks transporting nuclear waste, because the waste is shielded inside thick steel casks.

                          Like I said, the coal industry stores its waste in the environment and in our tissues.

                          The radiation exposure from wallboard is higher than if you were using wood.  But the dose per year is not particularly significant.  The average dose is more than you would get living next to a nuclear plant (.009 millirem per year):  about 1 millirem per year.  Phosphates (fertilizer, etc.) give an average dose per person of 15 millirem a year.  

                  •  Funny. (none)
                    /boj

                    During the Clinton administration that page actually gave me a millirem value for my annual dosage after clicking "Calculate Dose".

                    Strange that once Bush took over, no matter what I enter for values, once I click "Calculate Dose" I get automatically redirected to http://www.foxnews.com/

                    Very strange :-)

                    /eoj (endo of joke)

                    Behind the dark veil of patriotism a nation mourns itself.

                    by Espumoso on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 11:26:10 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

          •  circularized fluid bed (3.50)
            a system 100% pollution free was dveloped by the Finnish company Ahlström. It cost billions to develop  and they didn't have the market size to go further - it was sold to ABB as I recall

            If our brains were simple enough to understand, we'd be too stupid to know what a brain was.

            by sven triloqvist on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 01:27:40 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Scrubbers (4.00)
            You separate out the CO2 usually with either absorption, adsorption, or possibly just compression.  The cheapest way is usually an absorption process.

            The two most common types of CO2 scrubbers are absorption types using packed columns.  They use either water solution KOH or mono-and-diethanolamines.  They would remove CO2, SO2 and H2S from the exhaust gas.  They need to be integrated into the power plant cycle because they need heat to run the stripper columns.  What you do with the CO2 is another question.

            What you would need as far as equipment are two big packed columns, heat exchangers, and a compressor.  This is a fair amount of investment, which is why no power company will ever do this unless they're forced to.

        •  CO2 scrubbing = sequestering (4.00)
          CO2 is one of the final products of the reaction so it's directly proportionate to the amount of power you generate. In that sense, there's no such thing as reduced CO2 emissions from coal.

          That said, there is some talk of taking the CO2 exhaust and pumping it into deep oil wells or underwater. The problem is that pumping it underground only really works for oil wells (you need the hole...) and the last I checked salt water sequestering wasn't there.

          There's some talk of carbon sequestering in soils as well but I'm not sure how you would get from the gas phase into a solid on a massive scale like this.

          •  got to nit pick a bit.... (none)
            it seems that C02 emissions would be directly proportional to the amount coal burned rather than the the energy produced.  Some types of coal are going to end up producing more energy than others.

            Minor point, but nits must be destroyed lest they turn into lice.  ;)

  •  This diary is good for coal / Electric cars (4.00)
    Well, if it means anything to your bosses, or to the coal mining industry at large, this diary probably does far more to put coal mining in a good light as one of the more (mountain top mining aside) conscientious industries around as far as ecological and occupational safety concerns go. I think most people here will be pretty surprised at the reclamation efforts and the drastically reduced emissions from coal power plants. Surprised enough to consider coal as a viable energy option outside their electioneering attempts to make WV blue again.

    A quick addition, some who feel electric cars simply spread the pollution around are talking globally, in that cheaper oil would allow the Chinese (for instance) to buy cheap combustion engine vehicles. That if the US, currently the world leader in oil usage (right?) suddenly cut their consumption in half, that decrease in demand would equal a decrease in price, and the slack would be taken up by developing nations in ways that produce emissions (whether that's via combustion engines or environmental unfriendly and governmentally unregulated power plants). But you make an excellent point domestically speaking that it's easier to reduce pollution here at a few hundred points rather than a few hundred million. Worldwide, especially as regards "global" warming, I still don't think electric cars are going to make a big difference for a few more decades when the technology becomes cheaper and more widely distributed (or oil prices worldwide become ungodly) so that combustion engines will no longer be a viable choice anywhere. But what do I know?

    •  Actually (4.00)
      I'd argue that regulation has been good for the whole industry.  They're making more money now than ever, and putting forward a face that the public might not be so quick to spit on.  The Clean Air Act was the best thing that ever happened to the coal industry -- though they'd never admit that in a hundred years.

      If we get cars onto the grid, we'll need about 40% more electricty than we have now -- which I would think makes this a prime goal for the folks upstairs from me.  (And hey, maybe that's what they're talking about when they have meetings with administration folks.  It's possible.  But... no, I don't believe it either.)


      TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

      by Mark Sumner on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 07:49:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  asdf (none)
        I agree with the idea that regulation has been good for coal, even if they mostly fought against each individual policy change. I hope my comment didn't imply otherwise, I couldn't really figure out if you were adding to my comment or arguing against it!

        So you think that we're going to have pure electric cars on the grid rather than hydrogen or hybrid models? If coal producers want straight "plug it in" type cars they're going to have to work pretty fast on supporting that because I haven't really sensed the auto industry was moving in that direction.

        •  I have no doubt (3.66)
          we will turn to coal.  We have no realistic alternative.  It is a filthy choice the worst possible choice in terms of CO2 emissions which is really going to toast us all, but we have no choice.  It is the only hydrocarbon we have a large enough supply of to realistically carry us through to any sort of transition period even if we were to suddenly get serious about making a transition  to renewables (which we are not).

          When I say dirty I mean carbon.  It is carbon. Burning it will always of necessarily create carbon dioxide.  So we have to figure out a way to sequester it.  The problem is, the thing that makes it more of a crisis than a technological curiosity is China.  Everyone is noticing the competition that has emerged with China for petroleum on the world market.   Well, like us, China is going to need a lot more electricity in the future.  Much more than us.  And like us they have huge coal deposits.  And like us, they will likely begin to burn them, and since there is only one atmosphere that we all share, like the futures market for petroleum, this will have an impact.  Hell, we already get weird stuff in the upper atmosphere from Mongolia.  So, really the world not just the US moving to a greater reliance on coal to solve the coming energy crunch is actually a pretty frightening fucking thought on many levels.

          •  Mars: For A Cleaner, Redder Tomorrow... (none)
            Yeah, more and more I'm thinking going to Mars is Bush's environmental policy...
          •  We do have a realistic alternative. (none)
            Nuclear energy is now competitive with coal per kilowatt hour in the US.  If coal had to contain and isolate all of its waste, nuclear would be way cheaper.

            All the high-level nuclear waste that has been generated in the US in five decades could fit into a single football field three meters deep.

            Nuclear plants are about 100 times less radioactive than coal-fired plants.

        •  Plug in Prius (none)
          Story in yesterdays NY Times about a guy in Palo Alto who with minor modification & added batteries was able to drive 30 "electric miles" in his Prius.
          Calculated fuel economy of 65mpg to 100mpg.

          Side note: If superconductivity ever becomes viable you could move electricty instead of coal trains from the mining sites.

    •  Hea rd a guy on Diane Rehm (none)
      on Thursday or Friday(?) last week, talking about the off-hour efficiency to be ralized from having elec. vehicles re-charge at night, when the (coal-fired) elec. gen. plants are making cheaper power.  sounds like I ought to ask for that feature (at-honme AC recharging) in the hybrid vehicle I'd like to buy next purchase cycle (maybe next yeear).
  •  i hope you don't lose your job (none)
    i hope you don't lose your job.  that's what anonymity is for.

    thank you for a very thorough, personal and revealing diary.

    25% of the mountain tops in WV gone?  amazing.

    remind us again this summer when it is time to act.

    Politics is like driving. To go backward, put it in R. To go forward, put it in D.

    by TrueBlueMajority on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 07:37:58 PM PDT

  •  Big thank you (4.00)
    This dairy is an example of the breadth and depth of intelligence  that comprises DailyKos.  We've got rocket scientists and coal geologists and poets and politicians and even a few fools who volunteer their insight and experience to the benefit of all.

    I've been wondering about some of these coal issues for years.  From the viewpoint of world politics and ecology, this diary is very important, especially when one considers that another country blessed with coal resources is China.  

    Any serious plan that aims towards American energy efficiency must include coal.  That is the reality.  When one considers the current state of energy technologies, coal is far more relevant than wind or solar--but we talk about it far less.  Thanks DevilsTower, I hope you remain employed.

  •  Devilstower (none)
    Excellent diary.

    Some of you rich men have to be taught that all the world cannot be bribed into condoning your offences. -- Sherlock Holmes

    by Carnacki on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 07:40:42 PM PDT

  •  Fantasic journal! (4.00)
    I know it takes guts to speak truth to power, and I appreciate you taking the risk.  I don't doubt that you face some peril for this.

    I saw Daniel Ellsberg speak a few months ago.  He talked about his experience of releasing the Pentagon Papers, for which he could have received life in prison had things gone badly.

    He talked about how in order to really change things, we need whistleblowers who have access to the documents that prove what they are saying.  He pointed out that even when  credible people like Richard Clarke spille the beans, without the written documents that prove beyond doubt what was going on, things blow over.  So he is encouraging people with access to documents to release them.

    Then he said that he couldn't blame people who chose not to do that, no matter how strongly he felt about the cause.  He said, 'You need to realize that by releasing documents, a person is ending their career, and probably losing their marriage, their house, and their whole way of life.'

    So I certainly hope this beautifully presented diary will not have such clamitous results for you.

    I applaud your courage.  Thanks.

    Apparently I have made the unbelievably naive error of overestimating the intelligence of the American people.

    by Citizen Clark on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 07:43:54 PM PDT

  •  Another nasty industry (4.00)
    Check out the maritime workers.

    Those guys who work on the river barges hauling that coal. Death rates are alarmingly high, but its a well kept secret. We had a Tug go over a dam on the Ohio River a month or so ago. It got caught in a current coming out of a lock . It pulled it right over the dam and four or five men were drowned .(forget exact number) You get stuck against that dam and its over . Rescuers cant get to you and if you jump , forget it, your done.

    The river was running high and swift . They shouldnt have even been out on that river but companies look the other way .

  •  Have you considered... (none)
    Working for the Mine Safety and Health Administration or the U.S. Geological Survey?

    Many an insightful opinion and observation can be found on my web log Occam's Razor.

    by Guy Noir on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 07:49:36 PM PDT

  •  Recommended books (4.00)
    Wonderful diary. Will link to it from my blog.

    For a riveting history of the use of coal by humankind, read Coal: A Human History by Barbara Freese. There is no way I can praise that book enough. It's a fantastic companion to Richard Heinberg's two books on the history and future of petroleum The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies and Heinberg's more recent Powerdown : Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World.

    Read those three books and your entire outlook on our civilization will be irrevocably changed.

    Better yet, you will have a great time reading them... except for the bits of shivering when you find out how close we are to the edge of the abyss.
  •  Thank you! (4.00)
    Excellent diary.

    And who among us is still delusional enough to think that any business does anything to benefit The People without it being a law that they hafta?

    Every time the piddling minimum wage is raised, oh the weeping the wailing the tearing of garments - crisis, ruin!! All over giving some poor schmuck a few paltry cents more. Ooooh, you mean I might be able to afford a whole loaf of day old bread? Wheeeee.

    The coal companies don't care about the raping of the land. They don't have to live near the atrocity! Power plant emissions? Doesn't affect their lovely world. Nope, they don't care until they HAVE TO by law.

    There are a few companies that care about doing what is right, but they are the Exception, not the Rule.

  •  Thanks. (none)
    Everything, I think, a diary should be.

    Okay, maybe Bush is killing innocent people around the world but at least the economy sucks.

    by Pyewacket on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 07:56:12 PM PDT

  •  Brilliant Diary (none)
    Worthy of a recommendation at the least.

    Not much I can add to it other than to say "thanks for the education".

    To me this is what journalism is all about. The fact that nowadays we are getting this kind of article on a blog is indicative of where things have been going and as more citizens get fed up with the crap the SCLM is giving us I'm sure we'll get more.

    Please be sure to stay in touch and let us know how your situation turns out.

    We are with you for whatever that means to you.

  •  If I understand correctly, The Clean Water Act... (4.00)
    ...was circumvented here because regulatory agencies had a difficult time establishing that the streams had been polluted.  When a stream has been completely buried, how do you prove it has been polluted?

    Also, coal companies are required to mitigate damage to the mined site.  If the overfill from the mountaintop mining operation is dumped off-site, it's harder to regulate.

    Check out the EPA's Environmental Impact Statement.

    "But why'd I have the bowl Bart? Why did I have the bowl?"

    by Mean Green on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 08:01:55 PM PDT

  •  Excellent information (4.00)
    Thank you. And it is, in the words of some of our less favorite news presenters, fair and balanced.

    I financed some of that mining equipment in the late '70s (somewhere, there's a picture of me dwarfed by the tire of an off-road rock truck). I saw some of the very early reclamation projects in eastern Kentucky, although I think those were done after top removal. Pretty crude by the standards you're talking about, but pretty enough that instead of rubble, there was grass and a small pond and ducks swimming. The miners were very pleased and proud to be able to repair the damage. It was, after all, their environment, too.

    My complaint about coal is mostly the midwestern power plants that export their pollution via taller smokestacks. The scrubber technology exists to clean that up, and has for at least 25 years, but -- like Detroit refusing to retool to make smaller, more efficient cars until they lose all market share -- these guys kick and scream and whine that upgrading would be too expensive.

    There's a nice-ninny priest/at tea in everyone,/all cozy and chatty as auntie,/but a saint comes/and throws rocks through the window. -- John Ciardi

    by Mnemosyne on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 08:03:27 PM PDT

  •  I think it was Harper's -- (3.66)
    I clipped the long article and sent it on to a firend, so I can't remember now whether it was Harper's or Atlantic. Anyway, there was a big article about the practise of mountain topping and its effect on the environment and the community.

    Without the article in front of me I can only speak in generalities, so forgive my vagueness. It cited that disaster when a coal slurry pond's retaining wall gave way and basically took out the valley below. The negligent company was about to be prosecuted when the Bush administration came into power and stopped the process by transferring out the lead investigator.

    Another unhappy aspect of the situation is the attitude of some of the local people. "What's a mountain for?" they say. They don't mind the devastation as long as they get a job driving one of the backhoes.

    I was depressed for days after reading it.

    Alterius non sit qui suus esse potest. - Paracelsus

    by asterlil on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 08:04:13 PM PDT

  •  Thank you for this diary. (none)
    I live near one of those dinosaur power plants.

    I've also spent a good bit of time in West Virginia. It can be a beautiful place (New River Gorge, etc.), but like any place, it can be destroyed by greed.  

  •  Excellent diary! (4.00)
    My grandfather was killed in a coal mine collapse near Shomokin PA, so I got some bit of coal in my veins too.  

    I've been working with some of the world's largest chemical and pesticides manufacturers over the last 25 years, and have seen a lot of effort and money spent towards cleaning up their 'act'--improving worker safety, environmental stewardship, safer packaging and transportation of materials, and better labelling with precautions for use.  Shaped by regulation and by desire to avoid litigation.  And, fortunately, encouraged and assisted by many people in the industry who do care and do honest work.  But I concur with you, Devilstower, that without the regulatory framework developed over the last 30 years, and enforcement of the regulations, much of the progress would not have been made, and I fear that stripping away the regulatory protections will lead us back to the grim scenarios portrayed in Silent Spring, and in the old stories of the miners and stockyard workers.

    Coal, chemicals, pesticides, they are all useful necessary parts of our industry and economy, and we would be poorer for their absence. But asking the industries to both 'work in the best interests of their shareholders' and be self-regulating, is asking the leaders of these industries to meet two conflicting objectives, which does not appear likely to be an effective way to protect the safety of the worker, the citizen or the environment.  

    [Note my views are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of my employer.]

    Democrats give you the Bill of Rights; Republicans sell you a bill of goods!

    by barbwires on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 08:08:36 PM PDT

  •  It's interesting (none)
    because as I read the first two thirds of your diary I kept thinking to myself "what - they do/did all of this out of an abundance of goodwill, the only industry in America that does anything without regulatory force?" and then the last third answered those questions.

    Great education on this, highly recommended, and I will circulate to others with like opinions.

    The revolution is coming... and we ARE the revolution.

    by RenaRF on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 08:09:36 PM PDT

  •  A+ (4.00)

    Why does DailyKos rule?  Because of the awesome contributions of people like you, devilstower.  Excellent.
  •  I was just reading about Griles and mtntop mines (none)
    In the 9/03 Vanity Fair, which I have been carrying around as red light reading, it has a great article on the Interior Dept. under Bush. The number 2 man in the department, J. Steven Griles, was a lobbyist for coal, gas and oil industries. And mountaintop mining, which I had never heard of and seemed to be an even uglier form of strip mining, was well described. Unfortunately VF does not have articles on-line, even though they have a flashy website, something that as a subscriber I'm a bit pissed off about right now.

    I've been trying to track down some recent satellite photos of the destruction, some 300+ miles of streambeds filled in so far, but my wife is complaining about a lack of accompaniment on a Saturday night, so I must (and I readily admit I do like to do so) go and join her for the evening.

    An excellent, excellent diary. Bushco is going to be affecting all of us for years to come, in a very negative way.

    "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter." Dr. ML King, from a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.

    by bewert on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 08:11:42 PM PDT

    •  Storm water runoff legislation (none)
      I wonder if someone couldn't put an end to the mountaintop thing by bringing an action claiming that the practice violates storm water rules.  There is so much silting up on waterways that during the Clinton years legislation passed to protect rivers and streams.  It's making western ranchers crazy--they don't understand it--because they can't always use their land just the way they used to.  I think its also intended to protect the aquifers.  If all this soil is going into waterways, there may be a legal remedy.
      •  EPA changed the rules under Bush (none)
        In May, 2002 it broadened the definition of "fill". And they are now ignoring even the most basic rules. More than 700 miles of streams have been buried. It really got going in the 80's under Reagan and Bush 1, after Grile's promotion in 1983 to deputy assistant secretary of interior for lands and minerals management.

        To quote a former mine inspector who had the temerity to try to close a mining company for flagrant environmental violations, "Griles more than anyone is the person who was responsible for the relaxation of enforcement efforts that allowed mountaintop removal to proliferate in the 1980s and 1990s. More than anyone else in the country. And I'm an expert. I know what I'm talking about, and I know how the rules were weakened dramatically under Griles."

        "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter." Dr. ML King, from a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.

        by bewert on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 11:15:25 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Dev... (4.00)
    I'm also risking any credibility I have here at dailyKos.  Many of you are going to hate parts of this just as much as my employers hate the rest.

    No way. Words well-reasoned, well expressed, and coming from a place of experience are the very best things we can post here.

    If all diaries posted on this site were like this one, we could change the world.

  •  Thank You. (none)
    I was born and raised in the beautiful hills of West Virginia, and every time I return to visit my "home", it grows more and more apalling to see the damage done in such a short time.

    This needs to be brought to everyone's attention, and your way of educating people such as myself about exactly how and why it has become that way is top notch.

    May you continue to work in this industry, to be a voice of reason among all the insanity.

    The problem with America Today: There's a difference between The American Dream, and The American Way.

    by Disillusioned on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 08:15:38 PM PDT

  •  Are you familiar with CBM? (4.00)
    and what do you think of it as an energy source from the EKCF?  The output from the mines is dwindling there and the economy is hard pressed for new venues for jobs --other than Wal-Mart.

    "The production of coal bed methane (CBM) in the EKCF (Eastern Kentucky Coal Field) may be one way to exploit this extensive energy resource. Methane is a much cleaner-burning fuel from an emissions standpoint, and the production of CBM has a  negligible effect on the local environment compared to coal mining, especially surface mining. CBM could also play a major role in providing the hydrogen needed to power fuel cells that are being fast-tracked for implementation in the electric power and transportation industries."

    Also, have not read up extensively on the large windmill farms and the electric grid from same, but would those be a workable energy source on the top of mountains that have been stripmined, flattened, and reclaimed?

    Our... constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men's minds. Thurgood Marshall

    by bronte17 on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 08:17:37 PM PDT

    •  It depends (4.00)
      In Kentucky and Illinois, CBM hasn't really taken off before the coal seams are relatively thin (5-6') and the porosity and permeability is such that a single well can't tap a very large area.  If you put down pressure into the system, you can fracture the coal and get better recovery, but I don't think anyone's making big money on Midwest CBM.  Yet.

      Where methane extraction works in a big way is the Powder River Basin in Wyoming.  The coal there can be well over 100' thick (amazing to think that the area must have been like when that material was being laid down) and a single well can tap enough methane to make a very good profit.  But you know what?  It's turned out to be another horror show.  Producing the gas also means pumping up millions of gallons of water from the coal seam (which is a primary aquifer in the region).  In an area as dry as Wyoming, that wouldn't be a bad thing, except that the water is laced with salts and trace elements like selenium.  Ranchers who sold the oil and gas rights to their land thinking that some oil company might poke one or two wells in the ground, are finding that CBM removal means poking hundreds of wells in the ground, and noisy pumps, and big storage tanks, and waste water running everywhere.  And they can't do anything about it.  Right now, Wyoming law is completely on the side of the oil & gas producer (Wyoming has such a high rate of minerals production that it has no state income tax and depends on energy company taxes to pay for darn near everything).  

      Oh, and taking out the gas means that the coal dries up, sometimes burns in place, and can likely never be mined.  In Kentucky, courts have ruled that CBM belongs to the coal company.  In Wyoming it goes to the oil & gas rights holder.  Federal courts could overturn either position at any time.

      If there was any other administration in D.C., we'd have had new federal guidelines on this area, but of course, it's Bush, so it's wild west time for CBM, and crying time for ranchers.


      TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

      by Mark Sumner on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 08:37:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Nothing is in life is black or white (3.66)
    I'm a former journalist-- small city government reporter, nothing exciting. But if there's one thing I learned is that "rarely" is in anything in life is black or white, 100 percent right or wrong (though I would put Bush around 85% wrong). I think DT has put proof into that lesson for me again.

    Reading the reactions, It's nice to have proof that we are indeed a "reality-based" community that's willing to listen and judge based on the facts (or at least what we assume to be facts).

    Thanks DT, I clicked that recommend button.

  •  This diary is an archetype (4.00)
    of why I come to DKos-- wow.

    Informative, personal, significant stuff.

    Highly recommended.

    Being a Christian doesn't mean giving orders---it means reporting for duty.

    by mrsdbrown1 on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 08:35:26 PM PDT

  •  As much as I appreciate your fine diary (4.00)
    and this is one ofthe best, most honest diaries I've seen on DKos. I live in Maine and we are being not so slowly poisoned by the mercury and acid rain from coal fired power plants. Half of our human burden comes from out of state. There's no bargain when it comes to energy (and not enough alt power yet by a far cry) but there's power in negawatts. Energy we never use if we get serious about conservation. I haven't run the numbers but if every progressive used less than 300? kw/mo, we'd be in better shape. Check your utility bill.

    Remember, it's not martial law, it's homeland security. Now get out of our town (hall that is)

    by philinmaine on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 08:41:32 PM PDT

    •  Conservation (4.00)
      I get so frustrated when I hear the Republicans say things like "we can't conserve our way to a full gas tank."

      Do they sell that kind of idiocy in bulk?

      We're importing 65% of our oil.  We can't possibly drill our way to 100%.  Reducing our demand is the only possible solution.

      Much the same argument applies to coal and the general electric picture.  Reducing use by 10, 20, 25% would be better than producing that much from any technology, even a clean technology.


      TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

      by Mark Sumner on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 08:48:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Reducing demand is part of the answer... (none)
        the other part of the answer is to invent our way out of it.  By higher efficiency standards, clean and new technologies.  Better utilization of hydrogen capabilities.

        This also has the added benefit of increasing our ability to compete with China by inventing new industires and letting then compete for the oil based ones.

  •  I work in the environmental industry (4.00)
    And I deal with the compromises you are talking about every day.  On the one hand, I work to preserve and protect wetlands and wildlife habitat. On the other hand, I help developer's destroy habitat.  I work with vegetarians and hunters.  And I have to tell you, the hunters have done more to protect wetlands than pretty much any environmental organization I can think of.  The reality is that coal, development, oil, and human impacts on the planet aren't going away anytime soon. The best we can hope for is to minimize our impacts on the planet and encaourage technoligical developments that will clean things up, and preserve what we can.  
    •  I worked in environmental consulting ... (4.00)
      ... for 25 years before retiring to do other things.  My first job was investigating the effects of coal mining in Harlan County, KY.  Most of my career, though, involved hazardous waste sites.

      I agree with what you're saying. Development and mineral exploitation are a part of life.  We need to do them sustainably.

      I've seen extremists on both sides -- environmentalists and industrialists -- do horrible things.  Cleanups that could have been completed in less than a year get drawn out for decades by lawsuits, protests, and other tactics. Sometimes, these actions are needed, but too often the environment suffers in what amounts to a battle for power and control.

      Nothing unconnected ever occurs. -- E. Swedenborg

      by TerraByte on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 10:11:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  also in the environmental industry (chemist) (4.00)
        for 22 years.  Sounds like we may have worked on the same projects - years of wheels spinning in place, wasting the taxpayers money but not getting anything accomplished.  I need to do a diary on that sometime!

        If we trash the planet, none of the rest of this matters...

        by Dem in Knoxville on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 08:14:32 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Recommended highly... (none)
    This is one of the best diaries I have ever read.

    You might want to think about using it as an outline for a book, think of it as the bones.

  •  That was an excellent diary (none)
    And I've had a bottle of wine.  I'll have to come back and read it later.  Also, you and I are in similar positions.  We hate what our employers do, and we wish there was something more than voting that we could do to stop them.  

    "I think war is a dangerous place." - George Bush

    by Nameless Soldier on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 09:04:43 PM PDT

  •  Harper's article on mountaintop mining (3.66)
    "Death of a Mountain: Radical strip mining and the leveling of Appalachia", by Erik Reece. In the current (April '05) issue, not yet available online. Read it and weep.

    If I can't dance, it's not my revolution. -- Emma Goldman.

    by DoctorScience on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 09:06:21 PM PDT

    •  I second this recommendation... (none)
      ... and it is indeed not online yet. But well worth buying the issue.

      ========
      -highacidity-

      by highacidity on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 11:08:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Glad someone mentioned this (none)
      I was going to if you hadn't. That article was incredible. It is such a powerful depiction of the irreversible environmental devastation of mountaintop mining. Highly recommended reading!

      Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it. - Abraham Lincoln

      by angelama on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 07:31:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Bravo Devilstower (none)
    What an exceptional diary.

    I want to pick up on your last points about the fact that coal is not going away, and that the USA has large reserves.

    I live in Australia, from memory if not the largest, one of the top 3 largest coal reserves in the world. There is no way we as a nation are going to stop mining it  (the entire premise for the economic boom AUstralia is currently experiencing is our massive export of coal & steel to China. We literally can't ship it out quick enough).

    Therefore I'd really like to know your opinion on two things:

    1. Geosequestration  - total insanity, or credible option?

    2. To your knowledge, is the Australian coal mining industry even remotely as clean, safe & environmentaly mitigated as yours?

    "This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

    by myriad on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 09:12:25 PM PDT

    •  I never get down under (4.00)
      My company also has mines in Australia.  Do I ever get to go?  No.  Oh sure, it's "this project is going to require another month in Gilette, WY" or "Why don't you drive out to West Virginia?"

      Never is it "why don't you check in with the Brisbane office."  Sniff.

      The industry in Australia is running behind the US when it comes to both safety and reclamation.  I don't know if it's an "adventurous" spirit, but those safety regs are costing the industry in that the mines in Australia have lot more accidents and down time than those in the US.  I expect that to be cleaned up very quickly, as the demand and price for coal is so high at the moment, mine owners don't want one second of down time.

      Geosequestration looks like a possible alternative -- maybe even the only alternative -- but I've yet to see it scaled to a size that would support a reasonably sized power plant.


      TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

      by Mark Sumner on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 06:09:29 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Practical sequestration using modified serpentine (none)
        Have you seen this?
         It seems that there are certain natural minerals that can sequester carbon dioxide, offering an alternative to giant calcium hydroxide scrubbing towers or some other brute-force, likely-very-uneconomical technology.  This was one of the most hopeful news tidbits I had seen on sequestration being possible at a do-able cost, and I wondered if you had any thoughts on it.

        Wonderful diary.  I'll be marking this diary and discussion to show people why I'm so addicted to kos.

        If we trash the planet, none of the rest of this matters...

        by Dem in Knoxville on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 08:57:14 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks (none)
        From my knowledge I would have to concur that the Australian mining industry has got a long way to go, and natch, we certainly don't have the right government right now to get it there.

        Sorry you don't get to come. ;-)

        Geosequestration is being talked about very seriously here - they (the coal industry) are saying that Australia can 'store' up to 1,800 years worth of Co2 under us. I think it's total bullshit myself - 1) how do you stop it leaking

         - 2) there goes our rich karst ecology, including underground wetlands, and let's not forget how dependent we are on aquifers

        and  - 3) it's the coal industry saying it, backed by Howard, and I don't trust them as far as I can spit them, given their environmental record. If we had (and they adhered to) the regs you guys have, I'd perhaps be more lenient, but at the moment our coal industry is having a huge boom, and I hear $ not sense.

        "This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

        by myriad on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 04:43:33 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Also (none)
    your diary immediately made me think of this song - I particularly love the Michelle Shocked version.

    The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore

    Written by Jean Ritchie

    When I was a curly headed baby
    My daddy set me down on his knee
    Saying, "Son you go to school
    You learn your letters
    Now, don't you be no dusty miner, boy, like me"

    Oh, I was born and raised at the mouth of the Hazzard Holler
    Where the coal cars rolled and rumbled past my door
    Now they stand in a rusty row of all empties
    Because the L&N don't stop here anymore

    I used to think my daddy was a black man
    With scrip enough to buy the company store
    But now he goes to town with empty pockets
    And, Lord, his face is white
    As the February snow

    I was born and raised at the mouth of the Hazzard Holler
    Where the coal cars rolled and rumbled past my door
    But now they stand in a rusty row of all empties
    Because the L&N don't stop here anymore

    Never thought I'd live to learn to love the coaldust
    Never thought I'd pray to hear those temples roar
    But, God, I wish the grass would turn to money
    And then them greenbacks
    Would fill my pockets once more

    I was born and raised at the mouth of the Hazzard Holler
    Where the coal cars rolled and rumbled past my door
    But now they stand in a rusty row of all empties
    Because the L&N don't stop here anymore

    Last night I dreamed I went down to the office
    To get my payday like I done before
    But them old kudzu vines, they was covering over the doorway
    And there was leaves and grass
    Growing right up to the floor

    I was born and raised at the mouth of the Hazzard Holler
    Where the coal cars rolled and rumbled past my door
    But now they stand in a rusty row of all empties
    Because the L&N don't stop here anymore
    Because the L&N don't stop here anymore
    Aw, the L&N don't stop here anymore

    "This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

    by myriad on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 09:24:30 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for the good seminar (none)
     ...in coal mining. I confess to knee jerk reaction at the mere mention of coal-fired plants especially since BushCo has given them a free ride for those old plants. So this was a real eye-opener for me -- and beautifully written. Even better.

    Please keep us posted on actions to take -- other than impeaching the entire administration!

    Good luck with your job.

  •  Best of show (none)
    among many good ones, DT. As a former KY resident with deep family roots in that state, I've seen coal mining quite terrible and then improved.

    Thank you especially for alerting us to the Bush policies on mountaintopping, and suggesting it as a fight we might be able to win. I noticed last summer how it had changed some of the beautiful areas of West Virginia that I love.

    If you haven't already done so, I'd  like to see your take on Lignite mining

  •  Thank you, Devilstower (4.00)
    Your diary is both informative and personally moving for me.  I too am a Kossack who thinks twice about posting here.  My company does a lot of DoD work, and I haven't run into too many liberals among my customers.  Most of them are wonderful and understanding people - but you never know when ideology and politics closes a door for you.

    Many people who meet me are surprised that I'm a liberal, and if they're interested enough to ask me why, I usually tell them that it's because I'm a generation removed from West Virginia coal miners who used to be paid in "scrip".  

    I know enough about my heritage to understand who did the shooting.  

    To fellow Kossacks who haven't ever learned about the company versus union battles in the coal fields, check out the movie "Matewan" sometime.

    Interestingly, my Grandaddy (paternal grandfather) was a union man, while my Papaw (maternal grandfather) was a company man.

    Anyway, I wanted to share something that I found going through my Papaw's papers after his death in 1998.  It's from a book called "Favorite Songs: A New Collection of Music for Congregations, Sunday-Schools, Singing Classes and Conventions".  

    Pasted on the inside cover is the following song, accompanied by a handwritten note that reads - Song of 1902 strike June 7 1902

    Miners' Life Guard

    Written by W. C. Peters
    Sun, W. Va.

    Miners' life is like a sailor's
        'Board a ship to cross the wave,
    Every day his life's in danger
        Still he ventures, being brave.
    Watch the rocks!  They are daily falling.
        Careless miners always fail.
    Keep your hand upon the dollar
        And your eyes upon the scales.

        CHORUS
    Union miners stand together,
        Heed no operators' tale:
    Keep your hand upon the dollar
        And your eyes upon the scale.

    Soon this trouble will be ended -
        Union men will have their rights
    After many years of bondage,
        Digging days and digging nights.
    Then by honest weight we labor,
        Union workmen never fail,
    Keep your hand upon the dollar
        And your eyes upon the scales. - CHORUS

    Let no union man be weakened
        By newspapers' false reports -
    Be like sailors on the ocean,
        Trusting in their save life-boats
    Let your life-boat be Jehovah's -
        Those who trust him never fail;
    Keep your hand upon the dollar
        And your eyes upon the scales. - CHORUS

    You've been docked and docked, my boys;
        You've been loading two for one.
    What have you to show for working
        Since this mining has begun?
    Overalls and cans for rockers,
        In your shanty sleep on rails:
    Keep your hand upon the dollar
        And your eyes upon the scales. - CHORUS

    In conclusion bear in memory,
        Keep the password in your mind.
    God provides for every nation
        When in union they combine.
    Stand like men and linked together
        Victory for you will prevail:
    Keep your hand upon the dollar
        And your eyes upon the scales. - CHORUS

    •  I think an even more shocking movie (none)
      about the coal mining industry is Harlan County USA. You can probably find it at your local library. I wish they would rerelease it. Maybe this kind of thing is in the past of the coal industry but something tells me that it's the future (and some of the present) of Walmart as their workers start to move toward unionization.

      When the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free." - Edward Gibbon

      by The past is over on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 09:54:32 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  What broke my heart (none)
      -was seeing Blair Mountain, of all places, go down to mountaintop removal by Arch Coal. Neither one of my grandpas (both miners) lived to see that.

      For a recent in-depth look on the Mine War, see Battle of Blair Mountain, and these sources

  •  thanks for writing this (none)
    I'm actually really heartened by the good news end of your post - progress Is Being Made, even if the Bush Administration has taken some reverse steps. I didn't know any of the stuff about ecological restoration.
  •  I can't think of anything that hasn't been said (none)
    but let me at least contribute to the accolades.  Wonderful diary, devilstower, and so educational.  You've done a great service here today.  Maybe we should all think about our little spheres of expertise and what we teach to the community.

    Very, very well done.

  •  pacific northwest coal (none)
    Most people don't realize it, but there's quite a bit of coal in southwest Washington state, on the border between Thurston and Lewis counties. Enough so that a huge company, TransAlta, has a surface mine and coal-powered electric generating plant there.
       Given peak oil, I expect this coal will be exploited to the fullest. Although there is a lot of reclamation going on at the site, permits have also been issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers to dump mine spoils in streams. Frankly, we in the environmental community in southwest Washington don't quite know what we are up against, and it's in a part of the state that most people don't see or notice.
       We are told TransAlta does it right and it's hard to assess their claims. It's hard to know if there are any effective actions environmentalists can take to protect streams and headwaters, expecially given the current administration's approach to regulation. Any ideas?

    gretel

    •  Gregoire used to run Ecology. (none)
      If they're not doing it right, you can bet they'll be snapped into shape by her administration.
      •  hmm (none)
        Wish I shared your optimism.

        But I don't. This is a really big and powerful company.

        gretel

        •  The Democrats have all three branches here. (none)
          I'm pretty darn optimistic, because my state reps are, respectively, openly gay and speaker of the house, and they're winning almost every vote put before them.

          In the last 100 days, we've gotten 30% more unemployment benefits for seasonal workers, California's vehicle emission laws, and subidies for individuals who want solar panels on their roofs - not to mention upholding the highest state minimum wage in the union. We just lost a bill protecting sexual orientation and gender identity from discrimination by one vote - and this is the first time in twenty years they've managed to force a vote. Microsoft backtracked from supporting the bill, and their attempt to cover their asses just hit national news.

          On the near-term horizon, we have a commuter electric rail system going into Seattle, a commitment from the state government to keep Amtrak running in our state even if the feds gut it, and hundreds of new windmills this year to keep our electricity generation above 80% renewable. Our state is now only erecting public buildings that achieve a LEED silver rating, and offering support to government agencies that want to get a gold rating.

          I have never seen my state government this on the ball, and I'm very optimistic about what comes next.

        •  Oh! (none)
          We also raised the gas tax by 9.5c to replace bridges that may collapse without work, balanced the state budget (200 million dollar surplus, hopefully), and increased education funding to the tune of $280 million (8,000 new college slots open when this budget takes effect).
          •  yes (none)
            all this is true, and things are looking up in Washington in all the areas you mention.

            But the coal mining domain is where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the federal regulators play. I'm not sure what Gregoire can do. TransAlta continually threatens to shut down if their bottom line is impacted by regulations. They also have a convincing line that they do everything according to the book.

            We can watch to see if the state department of ecology signs off on the current application to excavate and place fill in streams and wetlands.

            gretel

    •  TransAlta (none)
      Earth Share of Washington News

      "March 29
      Industrial pollution on the rise

      Statewide figures from 2003 show 3 percent increase over 2002

      Reported releases of toxic chemicals by the state's major industries and manufacturers climbed about 3 percent in 2003 over 2002 figures, according to the state Department of Ecology.

      For 2003, about 20.5 million pounds of toxic chemicals were spewed into the land, air and water, compared with 19.9 million pounds in 2002.

      The TransAlta coal mine and coal-fired power plant near Centralia had the highest volume of chemical releases at 5.5 million pounds."

      •  correct (none)
        Yes, there is also air pollution. However, emissions are greatly improved from what they used to be by state-of-the-art scrubbers. Used to be really bad before owned by TransAlta.

        gretel

  •  Thank You For An Excellent Diary (none)
    I really appreciated this sharing of your expertise.  I'm not thrilled about any kind of exploitation of our wilderness that might distrub it and forever change the inheritance of our children, but I also know that it is a part of the reality of our existence, and we can be responsible about how we utilize our natural resources.  So this diary was very informative.

    It also was not one-sided.  It gave those of us who are concerned, an area to focus on.  It also appears to be well documented and factual.  Great presentation as well.  The suggestion that you consider publishing a book is a good one.

    I think we all wish to understand the complexity of our current energy requirements and society's balancing its needs, excesses and luxuries.  Your diary is an important part of the discussion and debate, and you shouldn't feel like it would be unwelcome.  

    Many years ago, I did volunteer work at an orphanage in the poorest regions of Apalachia, and we visited the exploited workers of the coal mines of years ago.  The stories we heard of oppression and outrage were shocking and would likely never make it into the official record of what went on there.  So I hope that what you are saying is really representative of the reform across the board.  That would be a wonderful thing.

  •  Great Post. (none)
    That was a super, "thanks for sharing moment." I feel really validated by acts like this. We have so many strong, courageous voices and unlike the other side, we're right. Although I know that they believe the same thing... its belief vs. facts, ya know. Great job DT. I don't think you've gone too far out on a limb here. As long as you haven't made your DKos membership a well-known fact at work, you should be fine. I work for a large accounting firm and I know that one has to keep a real separation between the two worlds. Keep the faith man.

    "Being Irish he possessed an abiding sense of tragedy which sustained him through brief episodes of joy."
    - W. B. Yeats

    by cman on Sat Apr 23, 2005 at 10:29:07 PM PDT

  •  Informative and well-written (none)
    Thanks.

    When you were describing how the land is repaired after the surface mining, I wondered about one thing. Since the coal extraction removes alot of the volume of the land that was there originally, I'm assuming fill must be  brought in from somewhere else so that the reclaimed land has roughly the same contour and elevation it had before mining.  So my question is where does that fill come from and doesn't it just leave a big hole somewhere else?

    I'm not trying to be contrarian, it's just that things never happen in a vacuum.  Just sayin'.

    •  Just think Plastic surgery (none)
      Without the plastic added. It's realy not fully restored to like new Cause the Coals gone!
      •  asdf (none)
        I have no idea what the volume of coal is, or more accurately, what percentage the coal represents of the total volume of the surface mined area.

        So are you saying that the coal represents such a small percentage of the overall volume that there is very little change compared to the original watershed?  Or are you saying that the coal is a large percentage of the total volume?  If that's the case, is fill added from off site to make up for the lost coal volume or is the new watershed significantly changed from the old with an approximation of what was before?

        I ask because I live out west and in my area heavy cutting of redwoods loosens the soil and sends it down into streams, destroying fish habitat and changing rivers.  The rivers get so full of silt that just a medium rain can cause flooding where there was none before.  I know the geology of Kentucky is very different from coastal California; that's why I ask. Blame my curiosity/ignorance.  

        Thank you for responding, but the plastic surgery analogy doesn't really help me.  Maybe I don't know enough about plasic surgery, either. :-)

  •  No wonder I've always liked your postings... (none)
    Just like life, itself -- good/bad, black/white... and plenty of grey.

    Thanks, DT.

  •  You can see where mountain tops are sliced off (none)
    in Southwestern states, from an airplane window if you fly to the West Coast.

    It is without doubt one of the most nature-destructive views you will ever see from a couple of miles up.  Ugly,  perverse.  A flat top of a mountain!

    •  Copper mining (none)
      The copper mining in the southwest that was done pre-law is even uglier than anything done by coal.  At least in coal we didn't purposely use jets of heated acid and cyanide to extract material from the ground.

      The bozos in the metal industry set up sprinkler systems that sprayed acid then slurped up the resulting goo to extract the metal.  I mean... holy cow, man, who thought of that?


      TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

      by Mark Sumner on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 06:14:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  big problem in utah (none)
         - where I used to live - is piles and piles of cyanide-laced mine tailings, sitting around, blowing into people's lungs, leaching into the water table.

        In an ironic note, when industrious Vietnamese and Hmong immigrants notice unused, arable land beside the old railroad tracks where the tailings used to be hauled, they did what any agrarian culture does and began planting vegetable gardens there - and promptly got very ill from lead, cyanide, and other heavy metal poisoning.

        Supposedly, these toxic piles are now being covered with cement - but left Utah 10 years ago, don't know what's happening on that front now.

        This is a flat-out brilliat diary - best I've seen here in a year - and I'm forwarding the link to a ton of people.  

  •  An excellent diary! (none)
    First of all, thanks for the insight into the massive improvements made by the coal industry in the US.

    What's really sad is how no one seems to give a fuck about people's lives unless forced to do so by the government.  Take the Chinese mining statistic cited above.  Is it really worth 6000 lives annually just to skimp on even the most basic safety measures?  Unfortunately all too many mine owners see that as personally acceptable losses.

    That's why govenment regulation is a necessary check against corporate morons who don't care about the consequences past the end of the current quarter.  Even all the self-regulation success stories waved around by conservatives are often precipitated by the threat of government regulation rather than altruism.

  •  To think that man can do this to the world. (none)
    What goes around comes around and were starting to pay the price.
    Great information and writting.
     If the Axe falls it would be good for the world. Because then you could devote all your time to writting.
    I'll buy the first copy.
  •  thanks for a brilliant diary (4.00)
    this story is a perfect explanation of why we have government,  and why we need a government that steps in and forms a series of "checks and balances" on business through regulations. Business will kick its heels and cry murder, and in the end adapt to regulations in such a way that it'll survive and profit rather than kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

    Just let us know when and where we need to report to fight to preserve those clean air and water and strip-mining reconstruction regulations, and we'll be there!

    "There are no shortcuts to accomplishing constructive social change ... struggle is called 'struggle' for a reason." Ward Churchill

    by CAuniongirl on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 12:43:50 AM PDT

    •  Exactly right. (4.00)
      I've worked for and with trade associations in DC, watched the legislation process, listened to industry complaints (in this case, it was the electric utilities industry) about the environmental regulations they had to work within -- and yet, somehow, they managed to do it.

      Industry and business always adapts. When ADA was passed, public buildings and towns across America started putting in ramps and handicapped access. Under CERCLA and the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, industry started factoring in environmental clean-up and safety procedures, and adapted to union requirements. Not always happily, rarely without a fight, but when push came to shove, there's always a way to do what's necessary to meet those new requirements and still make their profit. It just takes a bit more work and ingenuity. Challenge an engineering firm to build a system, or project, within certain requirements, and by golly, they can find a way to do it.

      I knew coal was a huge industry, and I knew the newer power plants were far cleaner, but I had not heard about all the reclamation that was going on already. That's good to hear.

      But there's more to do. Thanks for letting us know what the scoop is.  Excellent diary.

      "God isn't partisan." -Sen. Harry Reid

      by JanetT in MD on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 01:35:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Inez, Ky (none)
    http://www.kentucky.com/mld/kentucky/11448137.htm

    Of course I heard about Inez, Ky when it happened as well. What a horrible, horrible thing.

    Thanks DT.

    Nice diary.

    •  Industry quote in article is wierd (none)
      "We're creating land for sustainable development for future generations."

      Ah, wasn't the land there already? Or are they making it easier to pave? Or what?

      "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter." Dr. ML King, from a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.

      by bewert on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 09:36:25 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  wow (3.50)
    there was a mountain in the california sierra's we used to drive by a lot when I was a kid... it was about 1000 foot high, practically vertical face perched behind this tiny sierran town... more of a village really... this beautiful mountain cast a cool shadow on this town.  

    I always looked at it, I have a thousand memories and they are registered because way up the cliffs were a black dot, a shaft named Glory because supposedly it had been mined a few times, some they found nothing, then they found gold, gave up, then another guy tried his luck and found his fortune.  This was the legend of this gold rush era, with facts behind it but embellishment in the version I heard as well.

    The mountain was not mined as far as I knew, any more, but people always wondered.

    About 15-20 years ago they just took the whole thing away, it was kind of amazing driving there and seeing it just. gone.  There's sky there now.  It's terrible.

    I don't know how much gold they got, or if that's what they wanted.

  •  on the restorations (none)
    I was going to complain, until you mentioned the mountain top removal because that's just terrible stuff.

    But even so, I'm dubious the rocks are put back JUST the same... I'm dubious that I could not tell the difference... in fact I'm CERTAIN I could.

    It might be good enough... I know when they cut smaller areas and replant for logging you get pretty sustainable forests (which are still living)... but that's a tall order.

    They don't KNOW every little weed plant, it's an approximation and you portray it as putting each blade of grass back.

    It's killed many individual plants and animals... these animals and plants are not stored to the side.  It is great to store the topsoil, and I didn't know that the coal industry took the care you have described, but not different from unmined land?  the original contours?  impossible really, no offense intended.

    I enjoyed your diary very much.  In fact, I think it may be the most amazing thing I've ever read on Daily Kos.

    •  This is a difference (none)
      Of course there is.  The material below ground is not in the same stratigraphic layers, and if they've removed 100' of coal, then the whole area is going to set lower than it used to, which can change local drainage patterns.

      They do an amazing job, but it is a cosmetic job.  Whether there is any long term effect on the ecology of the area is something we won't know for decades.


      TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

      by Mark Sumner on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 06:16:35 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  never just what it was before (none)
      I think anyone in the environmental restoration field would be the first to agree that the "restored" area is never just what it was before.  The goal is to get it as close as we know how - and within the budget one has: :-(  - to a reasonably functioning ecosystem.  Nature has to finish the job, but can only do so on a timescale that humans can notice (i.e., not in centuries or millenia) if we give a hand to the process.

      And even after nature does its part, the final stable ecosystem resulting likely will not be exactly what was there before, but it can be a functioning healthy ecosystem.  It also helps if there is a nearby reserve of unsoiled nature that can revegetate and repopulate an area.  In remote areas this is more likely than trying to restore nature to the middle of a big city.

      Yet even in a big city, truly hopeful levels of nature restoration can be done, if the committment is there.

      If we trash the planet, none of the rest of this matters...

      by Dem in Knoxville on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 08:44:13 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I appreciate that (none)
        I'm a big fan of mitigation, we can't just, not exist, not pull resources... but still, I'll yearn for a day when we don't want hundreds of vertical feet of earth for fuel... though we'll still need mining for other resources anyway.
  •  Google Maps & Sattelites of Removed Mountains (none)
    Google has recently made available satellite views of most places in the US.

    Here is a map and satellite picture of some arbitrary location in West Virginia. I can't tell if some of the features represent mountain tops removed and dumped into valleys.

    Has someone documented the locations of where mountain topping has occurred? It would be really easy to turn this into a gallery of satellite images. Google has made enough information available so that people can hack the maps and include their own custom flags.

    However for now, I tried zooming in from 4 to 3 on this image, and was told "We're sorry but we don't have imagery at this zoom level for this region". Maybe Google will soon get better coverage of this region. I can see all the houses I have ever lived in down to level 1.

    I think it would be very informative to create a gallery of bad mining locations (latitude & longitude). For some, Google will be able to show close-up images. For the rest, you only need to wait until the images become available.

    •  GoogleMaps resolution not so hot (none)
      Terraserver is much better, but they're subscription now...any geologists, geographers, cartographers or similar in the house that have a membership (free they'll only give you to 4 meter/pixel resolution)? Terraserver also stocks other survey data such as aerial photography, topology, IR and so forth. Still easier to deal with known mining sites first--those that were mined before the image was taken obviously to get an after picture ;) So see environmental groups or the mining companies to find likely sites.

      So I'm looking around West Virgina too and something near Spruce Knobs Recreational Area caught me eye... 4/1997 , 1/2000 and google's satellite image. Can't say anything conclusive of course, but looks a like something is going on there...erosion or just differences between the images that my sleepy eyes can't distinguish... Anyway, that's the method to go about it (Terraserver does have aerial photography back from the 70s for some areas iirc).

  •  Thanks DT (none)
    Great Diary,
    As I read the early part, I kept thinking, yes this is all true, but only because we make them.  THis is all true, but what about mountaintop removal.  And it was all there, nice make-up covering some ugly warts.  You have provided an honest and complete assessment of the industry.  I am tempted to bookmark it, and use it next time I teach Environental Science.  It is often hard to find honest, balanced assessments of environmental issues.  Thanks again.
  •  Thanks so much (none)
    That was a great diary. It was extremely helpful. I think that anyone who teaches any kind of course on the environment can find this sort of thing very useful. I know I do.

    You really touched all the bases: from sink problems to source problems.

  •  Late to the party... (none)
    but the good news is that means I get to read not only an exquisite diary, but the many thoughtful, informative comments it generated.

    It will be years before we are able to wean ourselves from dependence on non-renewable energy sources, so in the mean time we need to find ways to use those sources in a way that makes as little destructive impact as possible. We need to devote the same kind of money, resources and attention to developing the technologies to lessening this impact as well as exploring renewable resources as we do to finding ways to extract our current sources on the cheap.  

    That's what I want MY taxes to pay for.  

  •  Comparison (none)
    One pound of uranium which has been enriched 3% yields the same amount of energy as 1,000,000 pounds of coal.

    Put another way, three uranium fuel pellets, which are about the size of the tip of your pinky finger, provide 8,000 kilowatt hours of electricity.  You have to burn 3 tons of coal to get that amount of electricity, which is about what it takes to power an average American home for a year.

    •  Pebble Bed (4.00)
      I'm all for the idea of building pebble bed reactors.  My proposal is that we agree on one standard design, engineered to be as absolutely fail safe as can be accomplished (and that's darn good), then require that every plant be built to the same design.

      We should get economies of scale, improved reliability, and a faster process for approval (since you would only need site safety reviews, not a review of the plant design for every plant).


      TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

      by Mark Sumner on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 06:47:00 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The nuclear power industry... (4.00)
        ...is by no means perfect and has made many errors in regard to longterm planning.  There are too many designs out there.  

        However, overall nuclear power has a safety record that surpasses that of all other heavy industry in the US.  The Nuclear Regulatory Agency is always breathing down the neck of every power plant (it stations inspectors at every single one), and nuclear is now the most strictly regulated of power resources in the US.

        As advances are made in computer technology, metallurgy, etc., risk analysis, etc. they are incorporated into existing plants.

        But the goal is to go toward plant standardization and a single reactor design.  It would be much more economical.  

        There are a number of new reactor designs being studied, all of them an improvement on the existing ones.  It is possible to build a reactor that can never overheat, for example.  It has been done in experimental labs.  Pebble bed reactors may prove to be the best but the jury is still out.  Just the fact that the public feels more comfortable with them helps.

        As an environmentalist it was helpful to me to try to learn as much about coal and about nuclear energy as possible.  I decided to do this instead of shutting my eyes real tight and hoping that these energy resources would just go away and that when I opened my eyes the land would be powered by windmills and solar panels and that on off days the Electron Fairy would appear and help out.

      •  that's how they do it in France - (none)
         - which has the safest, best-regulated nuclear power policy - ONE DESIGN, which has been tested the bejesus out of, clearly defined failsafe after failsafe after failsafe procedures -

        I would support more nuclear, too, if we did it like the French do.

        (Small irony here; for all the US's supposed technical brilliance, when other countries want to build/buy nuclear power plants, they go to the French - not us! )

  •  outstanding diary... (none)
    probably the best diary I've ever read on dKos.

    My dad was from Hazard, KY (radio station WKIC, which stands for "we're king in coal"). His family wasn't in the coal business (grandpa worked for Railway Express, and also sold Studebakers at one point), but he did have a summer job one year driving one of those big, scary coal trucks on those skinny, twisty mountain roads (this was in the late 40s). He said it was a white-knuckle drive every time...

    ...Freedom is on the march. Straight to the gas chamber. this is infidelica...

    by snookybeh on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 07:29:38 AM PDT

  •  Very well written! (none)
    This item definitely needs circulation through the M$M as it not only presents a fair and balanced examination of the industry, but also demonstrates why we have Federal regulations and the Federal government there in the first place.
  •  Amazing Diary... (none)
    thanks for the heads up... some of us are pretty ignorant to the practices of your industry... I've only thought of it in terms of what has been portrayed on television... evil... evil... evil... but you have educated me... and that's why I come to this community... to learn... from people like you...

    I'll do what I can to help...

    Act as if it were impossible to fail. - Dorothea Brande

    by crkrjx on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 07:57:57 AM PDT

  •  Can you tell me, why (none)
    I can't buy a couple of sacks of coal to burn in my stove in Washington D.C.?

    What's so bad about heating houses with coal like in the "old days" in Europe? At least you would use US owned form of energy and would be  independent from imported oil. And you could develop coal burning heating units that recycle all the coal-combustion by-products and emission products like nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter before it is released into the air.

    I believe that technologically it wouldn be possible to develop an extremely "clean burning" heating unit for individual houses based on coal, if there were a political will to so.

    Human life should be governed by truth, freedom, justice and love.

    by mimi on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 08:30:56 AM PDT

  •  Thank you, Devilstower (4.00)
    for the best diary I have ever seen.

    Since diaries like this deserve a much better fate than scrolling off into the archives, I have added a link to it in the dKosopedia article on coal.

    ... yet even the dogs eat the crumbs from their master's table.

    by Blue the Wild Dog on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 09:02:41 AM PDT

  •  Coal Mining in My Family (none)

     My grandfather was a coal miner in West Virginia.  That's right:  my mom's a "Coal Miner's Daughter."  He worked during the first half of the century and lived to be 99 years old.  Oh, and he lost most of his left hand in a mining accident, when he was around age 17, back before things like "workers' comp" existed, and still worked for decades in the mines afterwards.  

     Coal was heroin to America before heroin was heroin.  We're hooked and we can't seem to get off of it, lest we die from the withdraws.  And yet it's killing us by degrees, while keeping us alive.  Damn.

     Thanks for your diary:  One of the Best Ever.

     BenGoshi
    _________________

    . . . religion is not a syllogism, but a poem. H.L. Mencken

    by BenGoshi on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 09:23:53 AM PDT

  •  Amazing diary, DT (none)
    You brought me from 0 to 60 in my understanding of coal mining and the broad range of issues associated with it.

    I also appreciate your basic values and your ability to put information in its full context.

    Many many thanks for your work.

    "...psychopaths have little difficulty infiltrating the domains of...politics, law enforcement, (and) government." Dr. Robert Hare

    by RubDMC on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 09:24:11 AM PDT

  •  Science Mag critique of Bjorn Lombgorg (none)
    This reminds me of a review of "The Skeptical Environmentalist" by Michael Grubb of Science Magazine (pdf).  Devilstower's diary testifies to Lomborg's willful ignorance.

    For although the above flaws are irritating and show some disrespect for the huge effort put into professional environmental monitoring and assessment, the third problem--a stunning lack of attention to cause and effect--is far more dangerous. There are a few grudging references to cases where the role of legislation is so obvious that Lomborg could hardly avoid mentioning it in passing. But through 352 pages of text and 182 pages of footnotes, only one paragraph and one note (without a reference) explicitly address the question of
    whether the observed improvements have come as manna from heaven or have been
    driven by environmental concerns and the resulting policies. Lomborg simply dismisses
    the latter suggestion as being

    often misleading or even incorrect. Air pollution in London has declined since the late nineteenth century, but for the greater part of the twentieth century this has been due to a change in infrastructure and fuel use and only slightly, if at all, connected to environmental worries expressed in concrete policy changes.

    As far as I could find, that is essentially all the attention Lomborg gives this crucial issue. And the one, unreferenced example he uses to buttress his assertion is simply wrong.  The huge improvements in London's air have been very much driven by policy. Most radically, the 1956 Clean Air Act banned raw coal combustion across large swaths of London, and a long series of domestic and European legislation governing vehicle exhausts has done much to clean up mobile sources. The dramatic impact evident from 1957 onwards is obvious in Lomborg's own graph. His denial of the fundamental cause is, at best, inexcusable ignorance, when the issue of cause and effect is so central to the case he tries to build.

  •  What Convinced Me Coal is Evil (4.00)
    Is not the dirty littles rocks themselves, for science can clean up the energy extraction process.

    But driving across across the hills of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Southern Illinois, seeing that the hills were not made made God at all, but made by man. Where the beautiful earth once lay, slag as far as the eye can see. And the people who lived there, dying hard from a life working for the company.

    Capitalism at it's absolute worst.

    It's not the dirty little rocks, it's the dirty bastards selling them.

    We the undersigned urge you to support Federal funding for research using human pluripotent stem cells. -80 Nobel Laureates to Pres. Bush

    by easong on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 09:57:19 AM PDT

  •  The people in charge (none)
    are dinosaurs.  Here we have proof positive that improving reclamation, safety and emissions doesn't destroy profits and benefits the industry as a whole.  Yet they would backslide in a heartbeat if given the opportunity.  What's wrong with these people - don't they have children?

    Thanks for this diary - I learned a lot from it!

  •  I don't think u eat baby bald eagles 4 breakfast. (4.00)
    You have made the best case for coal I've ever read.

    I always kinda thought of coal as being a legacy industry; some kind of 19th century embarrassment that lives on only through the largess of the taxpayers and rape of the enviroment. I figured coal should be strangled at every opportunity, because there really wasn't any excuse. You've presented it as an efficient, modern industry with tremendous positive growth potential, if only we do a little regulator coaxing.

    In the comments you've helped identify the single worst actor in the industry (which hurts everyone else's reputation).

    In response to the 2000 California Energy Crisis the state authorized the development of several new oil power plants. After reading this post, I think I would have preferred coal plants, assuming they weren't owned by the afore-mentioned Bad Actor. (Are you sure you're not a paid public affairs officer?)

    But if you DO have Dick Cheney on speed dial, you are obligated to prank call him from a pay phone once a day.

    You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created. (Albert Einstein)

    by opendna on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 11:35:48 AM PDT

  •  Excellent diary, my friend (none)
    Dt:

    You have penned a well-written piece for my lazy Sunday reading.  I've spent the last 3 years working with abandoned coal minelands here in PA, and it will take years to clean up what the mining companies despoiled before we had any regulations.   Just the impacts to the streams and rivers here in PA has been terrible.  That said, i have tremendous respect for those who worked the mines, after talking with many old-time miners and their families.  

    Unfortunately, even now, there is still corruption in the regulatory agencies, and legislators too willing to help the large mining companies (of which few still exist in PA, it's mostly small companies) evade their responsiblities under the law.

    I repsect your stance on the issues and will, indeed, contact my legislators and friends to take action on these efforts to restore our clean air and water.

    -peace-

    There will be no dry humping in this car! barlights

    by DLove on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 12:11:49 PM PDT

  •  As usual, a terrific Diary ... (4.00)
    ...sir, and a courageous one.

    One thing you missed, but that fits into your overall thesis: black lung (pneumonoconiosis).

    In the 1920s and '30s, my grandfather and his brother also worked in the coal mines, in northern Georgia, Pennyslvania and Illinois. Finally, his brother gave it up and went to work for the railroads and my grandfather became the first Indian regional organizer for the United Mine Workers, a job he kept for two decades. Both he and his brother ultimately succumbed to "black lung," the respiratory disease, that before good ventilation, killed thousands of prematurely aged miners in a particularly nasty way. The situation has improved considerably, but some miners still get the disease.

    Unlike radiation sickness, or asbestosis, problems with black lung aren't something that was recognized fairly recently, but well over a century ago. The Brits began compensating miners with the disease in 1943. But, in America, knowledge of the disease was denied and and compensation fought against for decades.

    It took public outrage over the Farmington mining disaster of 1968 to change the political atmosphere. In 1969, the federal government said enough! Still, the owners tried to  squirm around the rules. Indeed, they did everything legally possible to slow down diagnoses and approval of rules.

    After new rules were proposed in 1997 (28 years after the law was passed!), the mine owners association sued to stop them. For years, the case wound its way through the courts, and the Bush Administration took the side of the owners - surprise! Finally, the biased, liberal judiciary ruled in favor of the rules in 2002.

    It's estimated that every year, another 1500 former coal miners die of the black lung. Many, of course, acquired it before new safety and health rules were in place, but some companies still violate these rules and new cases of black lung among relatively young, active miners are diagnosed each year.

    If the Dubyanocchio, Tom DeLay and GOP in general had their way, black lung would still be something for the miners and their families to handle on their own.

    •  the long form is (none)
      pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis

      but there is some debate about whether the word was originally a legitimate medical term or whether is was invented for the sole purpose of being the longest word in the english language.

  •  reclamation (none)
    Nice eroded little gully in front of the deer. Professional job, if the goal was to create post-clearcut conditions.
  •  A question to the experts......... (none)
    I was born in Scranton PA and remember the mine fires in the 50's. Mostly the smell and the smoke. But today you would not know it existed as they took areas and made them lovely again. Montage Mountain is now a popular ski area.  But, that is not my question.

    I was wondering what the opinion is on Rice Coal. I know of people who have switched to Rice Coal for their heat and they all love it. My Propane bill this year was about $1500 plus an extra $300 on the electric for other areas. A Rice Coal stove would cost me about $2k but it is attractive and the yearly coal bill would be about $500 max. Thus  the stove would pay for itself rather quickly. I also was looking into Corn stove but do not have as ready a source as the people in the Midwest.

    My question is:  "How safe is the air with rice coal? Outside and in? Do you think it is a good alternative to the Propane Gas and Oil for home heating?"

    I really found your whole article interesting and will pursue e-mails to the law makers. Thank you for your diary.

    Fix the Problems, Don't create new ones

    by BarnBabe on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 01:23:30 PM PDT

  •  nice job (none)
    I too live in a town that was built on coal. The place is a small town in Western PA. that in the 60s allso went to strip mining, but left the land bare. I also was going into the coal mines, but on my tour we had a roof fall, so I went to college instead. What you say is true, the advancements in the coal field is great.

    "Fight the good fight everybody"

    by american badass 607 on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 01:24:56 PM PDT

  •  Thank you........ (none)
    for the great diary, it brings back memories of the '60s when I worked for SoCal Edison at the Alamitos Generating Station in Long Beach, Ca.

    I also felt conflicted because I was active in environmental issues and worked for a major polluter.

    I then moved to Oregon and went to work for Georgia-Pacific in a papermill and was soon branded as a 'tree-hugger.'

    Even though I spoke in behalf of the trees at Clinton's forest conference in Portland,OR, I never was threatened with the loss of my job.

    Best of luck to you,

    Duncan

  •  I know about the mines (none)
    DevilTower, Im from eastern Ohio and coal mining is big here also.  Around here you either worked in a coal mine or a steel mill so I can relate to your excellent post.   My Father and his Father  were both steelworkers and I used to be one also until a chronic hip and back problem sidelined me.  My wifes family were from W Va and all worked in the coal mines. Her grandfather was blinded while working in the mines, when a chunk of rock fell on his head while he was working. Apparently the blindness didnt bother him much . He actually built a huge barn afterwards using only touch . His only help was the wife he needed to assure things were level and plumb. These folks were a different breed.
  •  Categorization (none)
    Truly an excellent diary.

    CategoryEnergy

  •  Reclamation (none)
    Just a word about western KY--when I go home in the warmer months, I always go fishing at one of the "Peabody lakes" in Ohio Co. with my parents (after I've paid for my special Peabody fishing license, of course).  There are still those big bare hills (albeit covered in grass) that look odd, but the Peabody lakes, boy are they somethin' else.  Partly because you can only use a trolling motor, they're pristine--some lakes are 30-40 feet deep in places, and you can see down maybe 10 feet.
    •  It's a quandry (none)
      Years back, the rules allowed more flexibility in how you restored the land, so a lot of lakes got left.  Frankly, in many cases the landowners liked you to leave a lot of lakes.  

      But that also meant allowing big changes to drainage patterns and replacing either woodlands or fields with water.  After 1990, the rules tightened up and gave less leaway to leave the pits behind as lakes.

      I have heard a tale or two about mines that "just happened" to become the home to endangered or threatened species of waterfowl, which meant the lakes could stay (where they ordered the ducks, I don't know).


      TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

      by Mark Sumner on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 05:13:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm late to the comments (none)
    But I want to jump in and give a thumbs up to this wonderful diary. Well done.

    You can not only tell where mountaintop removal has occurred, you can tell it from an airplane. From a satellite. It's a hideous, irreversible practice that utterly ruins the land involved.

    Absolutely. My grandmother's farm in eastern Ohio is surrounded by devastation. There is no topsoil, a few straggly trees, and mounds of rubble. About 25 years ago a company came in, stripped the land, quietly closed up shop, and left without reclaiming. It is truly horrific.
    •  Oh, and.... (none)
      I have two family members working in the Consol's McElroy longwall mine in WV. It's a scary place. Safety, my tushie.
    •  Darn it (none)
      I should have mentioned this in the diary.

      Another big problem with the industry isn't with the big companies, it's with the small ones.  They come in, tear something up, then file bankruptcy, reopen under a new name, and do it again.  While the Repubs were all het up about tightening up personal bankruptcy, they didn't do a thing to the loopeholes that these weasels use.

      There still a significan number of these fly by night operations out there, many of them taking advantage of small business loans and programs that support small operators in the energy area, scamming the system and leaving a mess behind.


      TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

      by Mark Sumner on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 06:14:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yeah, exactly (none)
        What I referred to above was a small company that did just what you wrote about. Not only were the local small companies into strip mining, but they did some underground mining years and years ago that is still a nightmare. There's lots of mine subsidence (sp?) in the area. It's a part of any eastern Ohioans' home owners insurance. My mother's subdivision is gearing up to sue the city in which she lives because they built homes on top of creaky old mines and now the houses are slowly but surely slipping over the hillside.
  •  I can vouch (none)
    for the miracle of surface mine reclamation.  I've planted over 1,000 longleaf pines on a reclaimed mine in east Texas as part of a research project.  We were given a tour of this mine before planting and it was amazing.  We checked out a recently constructed wetland and saw coyote and bobcat tracks.  I saw whitetail deer that were a trophy hunter's dream come true.  They even went to the effort to plant wildflowers along the roadsides.  If I hadn't known I was on a reclaimed mine I wouldn't have believed it.  

    I don't agree with the mountaintop removals done in KY and WV, though.  Once those mountaintops are gone there is no bringing them back, and the terrain is forever altered.  

    "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent."

    by ssundstoel on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 05:46:26 PM PDT

  •  This diary clearly hit a nerve! (none)
    I have to say this is one of the most thoughtful, clearly written diaries I've ever read here.

    I grew up in KY and spent most of my childhood summers camping in places like the Smokey Mountains (TN), Mammoth Cave, Cumberland Falls, and Daniel Boone National Forest. I used to marvel at the beatuy of it all.

    It made me sick to read not long ago that the Smokey Mountains and Mammoth cave are the top 2 in terms of air pollution of our national parks.  The reason is that they are downwind of some of the most polluting coal-burning power plants that exist (built prior to 1977).

    see Roger Brucker's testimony to the EPA re: the impact on Mammoth Cave: http://www.rogerbrucker.com/issues_testimony.html

    and Air Pollution Veils U.S. National Parks: http://www.climateark.org/articles/reader.asp?linkid=33093

    •  Roger Brucker (none)
      Hey, big thanks for pointing out Roger's site.  I spent my college years caving, and was lucky enough to meet Roger, 'Red' Watson, and some of the other big names of that era.  Nice to know that he's still around, still involved, and still fighting for his caves.


      TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

      by Mark Sumner on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 06:39:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Mining And The Environment (none)
    I live in Northern Minnesota on the Iron Range.  We have massive strip mining operations.  Old mines that have been long gone have completely obliterated the natural landscape.  Tailings sludge, equipment, and massive ore dumps are the prominent charachteristics of the entire regions landscape.  It is not entirely bad, as life will find a way to reclaim the environment.  Much like Mt. St. Helens, it was speculated that life will not grow back their either.
    Anyway, it is a very good point.  Our entire area is proof that these companies refuse to improve or restore unless forced to.  And you talked about seeing the damage from the satellite.  I've been checking out some prominent mines on maps.google.com.  It is quite amazing.  If you get a chance, take a look around Hibbing, Minnesota.  The tailings ponds look like nuclear wastelands.  G.W. also loosened regulations on the steel industry this year to help them be more profitable.  The United States has a history of progressiveness when it comes to pollution.  For now, we are moving backwards.  I hope we will pick up the ball again in '08.  Little hope for improving the enviroment with big industry controlling all of Washington.
  •  Your boss should be proud (none)
    You are very articulate and willing to explore both sides of the issue. You seem like a talented  employee to have around.

    This was a fine example of informative discourse. For one it's good to know that the coal industry has been so improved. You may provide much more grudging support for the industry, when it is run well, having written it.

    Regarding having to force corporations' hands towards doing the right thing, I am mystified as to how people seem appalled that we have to do so.

    Unless we completely redefine by law what a corporation is and what it can do, large public corporations will always be ruly, immortal mega-babies. About all they know how to do is to make profits and messes. They will only behave when the governmental parent makes them clean up after themselves. Or, unless they can somehow save money or make a profit at it. There simply is no need, as things are, for such corporations to have the motivation to do otherwise.

    It sucks, and yes I understand that people run these companies, but until their number one responsibility is to the community rather than to shareholders, the problem will remain.

    As for mountaintop mining, it's time to take the strict father approach. In this case they'd probably be in even bigger trouble if we sent in a strict mother.  

    •  Corporations (4.00)
      I wish I could find the name of the organization, but there was a organization for corporations that met back in the 70's and listed three groups to which the corporations owed it's respect: stockholders, employees, and the community.

      This same group met two years ago and revised the charter to contain a single group: stockholders.

      That, in a nutshell, is what's souring this country.


      TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

      by Mark Sumner on Sun Apr 24, 2005 at 07:41:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Mountaintop removal (none)
    I grew up in southern WV, where the mountains are so steep and the valleys so narrow it's nearly clausterphobic. I had always been very anti-strip mining, but they seem to be doing some pretty good things these days. There's actually a golf course atop one of the mountains I had to cross every day to go to jr. high and high school. It's stunning.

    I'm sure this is the exception rather than the rule, but this is an instance in which the amount of land with commercial viability has been so scarce, mountiantop removal may actually do some good.

    But there are plenty of other things to hate the coal companies for, particularly being such robber-barons -- historically, ripping off the locals, taking the wealth, leaving nothing behind.

    END OF RANT.

  •  thank you (none)
    I have only had time to read through 50 or so comments, but this looks like the enviro diary that has contributed the most to educating the community on the topic that I have seen since I started reading here.
    We need reality based folks in the industries, and I am glad you are where you are. Lawyer up, we need you. If you do get fired, I'm sure there are a number of enviro organizations that would be overjoyed to have you.
    Some good news, on a global scale...RAN has once again convinced a bank to do the right thing. On paper, anyway. Folks, if you have a minute, let J.P. Morgan know that you approve. And might just start banking with them again, if they follow through.
    Best wishes devil, I admire the courage you display, to put your livlihood where your heart is.

    "The older I get, the more convinced I am that the space between communicating human beings can be hallowed ground." Mr. Fred Rogers

    by emmasnacker on Mon Apr 25, 2005 at 09:24:29 AM PDT

  •  We need your help to stop mountaintop removal (none)
    I'm the executive director of Appalachian Voices -- thanks so much Devilstower for mentioning Judy Bonds and our work.  Mountaintop removal is devastating the coalfields of Appalachia, but at its root it's a national problem (driven by our insatiable demand for cheap energy) that requires a national solution.

    As you put it, "mountaintop removal is so insanely hideous that even Republicans will feel the heat to end this practice.  Shine the light on this, people.  Make it a priority.  We can win this one." I couldn't have said it better myself.  

    We're trying to shine a light on it with our Appalachian Treasures project, a series of presentations touring the nation right now aimed at building a national network to stand up for Appalachian communtities and end to mountaintop removal. We would be so grateful if you would be part of that by joining us here: (http://www.appvoices.org/maillist.asp).  

    Devilstower, you are in good company in joining the many people from the coal industry who feel that mountaintop removal mining and the suffering it is causing for coalfield communities are unacceptable. It takes incredible courage and conviction for someone in your position to speak out, and I thank you for that.

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