Welcome to a review of King Coal in the news during the week of April 5 - April 11, 2010. Come on in and sit a spell. Take a look at the Good, Bad, and Ugly when it comes to the dirtiest of dirty energy. Stop by the Activist Corner for how to lend your voice to the demise of King Coal.
The news related to coal was understandably dominated by the explosion and deaths of 29 miners in the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.
The death of 29 miners in the Upper Big Branch mine on April 5, 2010 in Whitesville, West Virginia brought a chorus of calls from federal and state government officials for a thorough investigation and accountability.
And that’s why I’ve asked my Secretary of Labor as well as the head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration to give me a preliminary report next week on what went wrong and why it went wrong so badly, so that we can take the steps necessary to prevent such accidents in the future.
“Well for this Senator, the more I learn about the extent of these violations by Massey at the Upper Big Branch Mine alone, the angrier I get. 57 citations in the month of March alone! Closed over 60 times during the past two years to correct problems!”
“To me, one thing is clear – for a company that has had this number of violations at just one coal mine - one must seriously begin to question the practices and procedures of this particular coal company and it needs the most serious scrutiny from the Congress and the federal regulators.”
“And I will demand answers. We will leave no stone unturned in determining how this happened and in taking action for the future.
I want to know why this tragedy happened; there will be a thorough investigation. We will seek answers about the cause of this disaster.
The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration will investigate this tragedy, and take action. Miners should never have to sacrifice their lives for their livelihood.
The United States Attorney’s Office is ready, willing and able to receive any information and/or investigative reports regarding the explosion and subsequent deaths of the twenty-nine miners at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia.
The talk of investigation and accountability is good, but the problem is that the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is more Barney Fife than Dirty Harry when it comes to enforcing existing laws. A must-read piece on the MSHA in the New York Times effectively summarizes the limitations.
New York Times (April 10, 2010)
By MICHAEL COOPER, GARDINER HARRIS and ERIC LIPTON
The agency can seek to close mines that it deems unsafe and to close repeat offenders, but it rarely does so.
The fines it levies are relatively small, and many go uncollected for years. It lacks subpoena power, a basic investigatory tool. Its investigators are not technically law enforcement officers, like those at other agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.
And its criminal sanctions are weak, a result of compromises over the 1977 Mine Act that created the agency. Falsifying records is a felony, for example, while deliberate violations of safety standards that lead to deaths are misdemeanors.
Mine safety advocates Tony Oppegard and Wes Addington of the Appalachian Citizens Law Center highlighted the limitations in the application of the "patterns of violations" enforcement in a letter of MSHA head Joe Main:
Indeed, the extensive and flagrant violation history of the Upper Big Branch mine makes clear that that mine should have been “placed on a pattern” long before the recent disaster. Any mine that accumulates almost 50 unwarrantable failure violations in a single year deserves the heightened scrutiny provided by §104(e)(1) of the Mine Act . The fact that Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine did not meet the criteria set forth in MSHA’s “pattern of violations” regulation is proof that the regulation contradicts the intent of the statutory provision. Had MSHA used this enforcement tool as Congress intended, the mine would have received the stricter scrutiny that might have prevented the disaster.
We can only hope the calls for justice will lead to justice served as the best lasting tribute to the 29 miners that lost their life in the Upper Big Branch mine.
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There were 31 miners in the Upper Big Branch mine at the time of the massive blast on the afternoon of April 5. The blast left 29 dead and 2 injured (15% of the 200 miners employed at this mine).
My thoughts and prayers are with the families of all those who were lost in this tragic accident, and my gratitude goes out to the rescue teams who worked so tirelessly and heroically to search for the missing. This has been America's worst mining disaster in forty years, and the toll on all West Virginians has been immeasurable. We cannot bring back the men we lost. What we can do, in their memory, is thoroughly investigate this tragedy and demand accountability. All Americans deserve to work in a place that is safe, and we must take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that all our miners are as safe as possible so that a disaster like this doesn't happen again.
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The record of safety violations documented by the MSHA at the Upper Big Branch mine speaks for itself. The mine was cited for 459 violations in 2009 and 117 in the first three months of 2010. Many of these violations were directly related to ventilation of methane and the accumulation of explosive coal dust. Note that the rate of violations at this mine has nearly doubled since Joe Main took over as head of MSHA. Either Massey decided to ignore safety after Joe Main was appointed or the Bush administration was lax in enforcement.
Don Blankenship is the head of the Massey Energy snake. His contempt for mine safety regulations and enforcement is legendary. As the news from the Upper Big Branch went from bad to worse, Blankenship went on the offensive, claiming that safety violations are just part of the mining business.
I mean violations are unfortunately a normal part of the mining process. You have inspections every day and it’s hard to differentiate sometimes between head count or number counts of violations and the seriousness or type of it.
[Upper Big Branch] was a mine that had violations. I think the fact that MSHA and the state and our firebosses and the best engineers you can find were all in and order this mine and all belive it was safe … speaks for itself.
Any suspicion that the mine was improperly operated or illegally operated or anything like that would be unfounded. None of these groups would have allowed this mine to operate had it been unsafe.
As the media covered the mine tragedy and the poor safety record of Massey Energy at this mine, Blankenship tweeted that "we regret the national news is so inaccurate." He is partially correct. I could not find a single news story that covered this gem in Massey's safety compliance record. Massey Energy is the only energy company that has ever failed to turn over records in a fatality investigation. The MSHA was forced to file suit to obtain records in the investigation of the Aracoma mine accident that killed 2 miners and seriously injured 9 others.
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has filed an injunction against the Aracoma Coal Co. Inc., a subsidiary of Massey Energy Co., for failing to turn over to accident investigators documents and other evidence pertinent to the underground mine fire that claimed the lives of two miners last January. The civil suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.
"The goal of a mine accident investigation is to determine the cause of the accident and whether the mine operator was complying with the law," said David G. Dye, MSHA's acting administrator. "This is the first time MSHA has been faced with a broad refusal by a mine operator to provide relevant documents in an investigation and, subsequently, the first time that this kind of civil action against a mine operator has been necessary."
Here are several other stories about Blankenship that the media has not covered in sufficient detail.
Blankenship is a hypocrite in his union-busting campaign at Massey Energy. Blankenship grew up in Matewan, West Virginia, focal point for the fight by United Mine Workers of America to unionize the coalfields of Appalachia. Not only did he grow up in Matewan, after graduating from the local high school, he took a job as union miner and made enough money in a short time to pay for his degree in accounting from Marshall University. He personally benefited from the wages and benefits negotiated by the United Mine Workers of America only to spend his professional career making sure others have fewer opportunities.
Blankenship is also an abusive jerk. The story of how Blankenship treated his former maid, Deborah May, also deserves more attention. (Mate Creek is owned by Massey).
Businessweek (April 10, 2010)
By Margaret Cronin Fisk, Brian K. Sullivan and Karen Freifeld
When Mate Creek first assigned her to work for Blankenship, May cleaned his three-story home in Sprigg, shopped and did laundry, according to her court papers. By 2005, she was also cleaning a bus, two cabins and one mansion in Kentucky, all for $8.86 an hour. During that time she received one 30-cent hourly raise despite repeated requests for more, given her increased duties.
After Blankenship said she’d also have to care for a “German police dog,” she quit, according to her court papers. In June 2008, West Virginia’s top court reversed the state’s denial of unemployment benefits, a denial Mate Creek had supported in court papers.
In a concurring opinion, two of the court’s justices said that “the unrefuted evidence” before the state unemployment agency showed that Blankenship “physically grabbed” the maid, threw food after she brought back the wrong fast-food order, and tore a tie rack and coat hanger out of a closet after she forgot to leave the hanger out for his coat.
“This shocking conduct” showed that she was, in effect, fired because she felt compelled to quit, the justices said. They said the conduct was “reminiscent of slavery and is an affront to common decency.”
Add in Blankenship's climate change lies (here is a small sample of recent Blankenshipisms)
Senator Rockefeller says coal operators should accept the science. We do. The scientific fact is the world is cooling.
Believe me yet? Global warming is a hoax and a Ponzi scheme.
9:35 AM Feb 19th, 2010 via HootSuite
“I don’t deny the science behind global warming, I deny that there is any science.”
“My position is better for the world and my country.”
“We might be in a cooling trend, and we need to burn more coal to reverse it.”
And let's not forget that Massey Energy under Blankenship having the worst record of compliance with the Clean Water Act of any energy company:
Specifically, the notice alleges that, Between April 1, 2008, and March 31, 2009, Massey violated its effluent limits at its various operations at least 971 times, and accrued 12,977 days of violation during that 12-month period. The U.S. government’s lawsuit against Massey, which resulted in the $20 million settlement, alleged more than 60,000 days of violations over a six-year period, or about 10,000 days of violations per year.
If there is any silver lining to the Blankenship's disregard for law and human decency, it is that some Massey Energy stockholders are growing tired of his antics and have begun to call for his removal.
As federal and state investigators begin to investigate what caused the deadly blast that killed 29 miners in West Virginia, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli called on Massey Energy Chairman Don Blankenship to resign.
DiNapoli is the sole trustee of the $129.4 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund, which holds 305.550 shares of Massey stock, worth $14.1 million.
"This tragedy was a failure both of risk management and effective board oversight," he said. "Blankenship must step down and make room for more responsible leadership at Massey."
The CtW Investment Group, a subsidiary of the labor federation Change to Win (comprised of five unions representing six million members), sent a letter to Massey Energy lead director retired Admiral Bobby R. Inman calling on the mining company's board "to immediately seek the resignation of Don Blankenship as chairman and CEO."
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>>>Tale of the Tape<<<</p>
Massey Energy was the only loser this past week with stock prices down nearly 12%.
|Company||% change for week|
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>>>Video Pick of the Week<<<</p>
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1. Support the Appalachia Restoration Act
The Appalachia Restoration Act (S. 696) is a bill in the U.S. Senate which will sharply reduce mountaintop removal coal mining and protect clean drinking water for many of our nation's cities. It will protect the quality of life for Appalachian coalfield residents who face frequent catastrophic flooding and pollution or loss of drinking water as a result of mountaintop removal coal mining.
Contact your Senators to support the Appalachia Restoration Act
2. Urge EPA regulation of coal ash as a hazardous waste.
The EPA will announce its decision on regulating coal ash as hazardous waste in April. At the moment, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is holding up the release of new regulations. The OMB and EPA are being barraged with pleas from the coal industry, utilities, business groups, state regulatory agencies, and politicians opposing classification of coal ash waste as a hazardous material. It would be extremely helpful if you would take a moment to drop a line to the OMB to encourage them to move forward with regulation of coal combustion waste as a hazardous material. Remind them that the patchwork of state regulatory agencies has failed to protect the public against spills and contamination, there is overwhelming evidence of heavy metal toxic contamination in water on or near containment sites, and secondary uses need to be tightly regulated using a national standard to prevent contamination of water resources.
Use this form from the Natural Resource Defense Council to provide feedback to the OMB: NRDC form
Use this form from Earth Justice to provide feedback to President Obama:Earth Justice form