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West Virginia and coal

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This article is part of the CoalSwarm coverage of West Virginia and coal
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Contents

Introduction

West Virginia is the second-biggest coal-producing state in the country (after Montana), with 152.4 million tons of coal mined in 2006 (13.1% of the U.S. total).[1] West Virginia employed 20,076 coal miners in 2006, and the coal mining industry as a whole employs about 40,000 West Virginians - representing 5% of the state's civilian workforce.[2] It is difficult to overstate the extent to which coal mining, and the coal industry in general, are politically, economically, and culturally embedded within West Virginian society.

West Virginia had 42 coal-fired generating stations in 2005, with 15,372 MW of capacity - representing 93.4% of the state's total electric generating capacity.[3] No other state in the country gets a higher percentage of its electric power from coal.[4]

In 2006, West Virginia's coal-fired power plants produced 84.2 million tons of CO2, 427,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, and 139,000 tons of nitrogen oxide; power plants were responsible for 73.6% of the state's total CO2 emissions.[5] In 2005, West Virginia emitted 63.0 tons of CO2 per person; the state had the 4th highest per capita level of CO2 emissions.[6]

History

Coal was discovered in present-day West Virginia in 1742. Coal mining in western Virginia (at that time not a separate state) began in earnest in the 1820's, and by 1840 300,000 tons of coal were being mined in Virginia each year. Prior to the Civil War, Virginia's coal miners were almost exclusively slaves; extreme coercion was required to make slaves work underground.

Following the Civil War, the industry underwent explosive growth. Beginning in the early 20th century, the industry underwent extensive mechanization, and by 1927, 146.1 million tons of coal were being mined in West Virginia each year (nearly as much as the 2006 total). In 1913, an average West Virginia coal miner's wages were 48¢ per ton of coal mined, or $738 per year - less than $16,000 per year in 2007 dollars.[7][8] Accompanying these relatively high wages was a great deal of personal danger: in 1907 the worst mining disaster in U.S. history killed 362 coal miners in Monongah, WV, and coal mining disasters (defined as 5 or more deaths) claimed the lives of 1,455 West Virginia coal miners between 1900 and 1920.[9][10]

The early days of West Virginia coal mining were also marked by massive labor battles, often resulting in deaths or injuries on both sides. However, after the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933, labor unions were legally recognized, and the next several decades saw dramatic improvements in both the wages and the working conditions of U.S. coal miners.

In recent decades, the West Virginia coal mining industry has been characterized by swift and massive decline. West Virginia coal has a higher energy content than Western coal, by about 50%; thus, prior to 1970, Western coal was mined at a much lower rate, and Appalachian coal was preferred by power plant operators. However, in 1970, the Clean Air Act was passed, and caps were placed on sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions; suddenly, Wyoming coal, with a sulfur content averaging around 0.35%, became widely preferred over Appalachian coal, with its much higher SO2 content.[11] Furthermore, relative to Wyoming coal, West Virginia coal has become much, much more expensive in recent decades, due to depletion of easily mineable reserves and much higher unionization rates, compared with easily mineable coal and very low unionization rates in Wyoming; in 2006, West Virginia coal averaged $45.94 per short ton, compared with $9.03 for Wyoming coal.[12] Due to these rising costs, coal mining companies increasingly practice mountaintop removal coal mining in West Virginia, an extremely ecologically destructive practice that has decimated hundreds of square miles of southern West Virginia.

In March 2009, the $3.5 million Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine opened to the public. The 14,000-square-foot building includes an underground mine, coal camp, and children's museum with artifacts and memorabilia. The complex also includes a visitor's center and gift shop. The exhibition center was built with grants and federal and state funds. Backers hope it will become a popular tourist attraction.[13]

Legislative issues

February 2008: Mountaintop Removal Bill Stalls

On February 8, 2008, West Virgina State Senator Jon Blair Hunter introduced a bill that would in effect end the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining in West Virginia. In a press statement the Senator said, "I introduced Senate Bill 588 because I fervently believe that God did not intend for us to destroy the mountains, the streams, the forests and His people in order to mine coal."[14] The bill would eliminate the current practice of burying West Virginia streams under hundreds of millions of tons of mining waste during the mountaintop removal process.[15] The bill is currently stalled in the Energy, Industry and Mining committee.[16]

Feb 2009: WV Representative appointed to House energy independence committee

In February 2009, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) was appointed as a member of the U.S. House of Representative's Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Capito vowed to bring a coal-state perspective to the committee. "From clean coal, to wind energy and other alternative technology, our state has an important role to play," she said.[17]

Feb 2009: Tax Credits for Coal-to-Liquids Plants

On February 24, 2009, Del. Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, introduced a bill that would provide tax credits and exemptions to encourage the construction of a coal-to-liquid fuel plant in West Virginia. The state would receive fuel at a pre-negotiated price during the first four years the plant is in operation. According to a press release, the plant would create approximately 2,000 full-time jobs and 4,000 construction jobs.[18]

March 2009: Appalachia Restoration Act introduced in U.S. Senate

On March 25, 2009, U.S. Senators Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced Bill 696, also termed the Appalachia Restoration Act. The legislation would amend the Clean Water Act to ban the dumping of mining waste into streams, which in turn would effectively end the use of mountaintop mining. "My goal is to put a stop to one of the most destructive mining practices that has already destroyed some of America’s most beautiful and ecologically significant regions," said Senator Cardin, who is Chairman of the Water and Wildlife Subcommittee of the Committee on Environment and Public Works.[19]

April 2009: House resolution supports wind farm on Coal River Mountain

In April 2009, more than 40 members of the West Virginia House of Delegates signed a resolution backing the development of a wind farm on Coal River Mountain in Southern West Virginia. The resolution was introduced in April 2009 by Rep. Sally Susman, D-Raleigh County, and created by members of the citizen group Coal River Mountain Watch. Backers of the resolution say building a utility-scale wind farm would produce more jobs and tax revenue than the mountaintop removal mining operation planned by Massey Energy, and that continued strip mining would ruin the area's wind energy potential.

The resolution was sent to the House Rules Committee.[20]

July 2009: Legislature includes coal energy sources in Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Act

In July 2009, the West Virginia legislature approved Senate Bill 297, also termed the Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Act. The bill, which was championed by Governor Manchin, mandates that 25 percent of the state's energy be generated by "alternative and renewable" sources by 2025. However, the new standard includes highly-polluting energy sources in its definition of "alternative." The legislation offers credits for electricity generated by renewable sources such as solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal, but also includes nuclear power, natural gas, and several coal-derived sources in its list of qualifying energies. Among the coal technologies included in the classification are carbon capture and storage technologies, integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC), coal-to-liquids, coal bed methane, and waste coal. Environmental groups have blasted the legislation, accusing state government of continuing its history of environmental pollution and harmful environmental health practices under the guise of a renewable energy standard.[21][22]

January 2011: WV considers ban on new coal slurry injection wells

In January 2011, it was announced that West Virginia's Legislature could soon consider a permanent ban on new coal slurry injection wells that pump liquid coal waste underground, after an interim House-Senate subcommittee endorsed a measure on January 10 for the upcoming regular session. The draft bill, advanced to the full joint Judiciary Committee, would offer an income tax break to encourage alternatives to coal slurry injections. The measure would also reward operators that reduce their amount of slurry, or dry out what's stored in aboveground reservoirs. Funds invested toward these alternatives could yield up to a 50 percent credit against the coal operator's corporate net income taxes.[23]

Hundreds of state residents are suing coal companies, including Massey, alleging slurry has severely sickened them and their families. The state Department of Environmental Protection announced a halt to new injection sites in 2009. The proposed legislation would make the DEP moratorium part of state law. Besides blocking new well sites, it would bar renewing or modifying permits for the dozen or so existing sites.[23]

January 2011: Senate introduces bill to bypass EPA authority on MTR water permits

In early January, West Virginia introduced a bill, the Intrastate Coal and Use Act (HB 2554), that would strip the EPA of its right to review permits for intrastate coal operations. The regulatory requirements established by the Clean Water Act would be enforced by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection instead. The bill is being introduced by Delegate Gary Howell, R-Mineral, and who said he has the maximum number of co-sponsors behind the bill.[24]

According to Del. Howell: “See, with the EPA, there’s regulations. They are not actually laws. They never go through Congress and are never voted on by our representatives. That creates soft tyranny because we have no choice in the matter.” In the previous week, the EPA used its authority under the Clean Water Act to halt Spruce Mine No. 1, the largest proposed surface mining project in West Virginia. The denial of the permit was only the 12th such case since 1972.[24] The West Virginia House and Senate also introduced bills that wold exempt guns from federal regulation if produced and used in the state.[25]

What Del. Howell did not tell the press or the public when he introduced the bill was that he is a member of the corporate bill mill, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and that although the "Intrastate Coal and Use Act" had not been approved by ALEC as a "model" bill as of January 2011, it had been introduced at several meetings of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force, of which Howell is a member. Also on that task force are such energy corporations as Peabody Energy.[26]

August 2011: Coal severance tax

A coal revenue measure passed in August 2011 will dedicate a share of relevant severance tax revenues to the 30 or so counties producing coal in the state. Five of the counties account for more than half of the coal produced over the last 10 years: Boone, Mingo, Kanawha, Logan and Monongalia. Starting in July 2012, the state will deposit 1 percent of severance tax revenues into a special account for these counties. The share will increase annually, a percentage point at a time, until it reaches 5 percent in as many years. The annual yield is capped at $20 million after those five years. Counties can draw down funds based on their share of the coal produced, for economic development projects and infrastructure.[27]

Obama Administration EPA actions on mountaintop removal mining

Mountaintop removal mining (MTR) is a form of surface mining increasingly being used to replace underground mining to extract coal from the Appalachian Mountain regions of eastern Kentucky, southwest West Virgina, southwest Virginia and eastern Tennessee[28]. The process involves using explosives to remove up to 1,000 vertical feet of rock to reach the coal seams. The resulting debris is often scraped into the adjacent valleys in what is called a valley fill. There has been a political debate over regulating this practice since it began.[29][30][31]

A series of NASA satellite photos over 26 years - from 1984 to 2010 - shows the cumulative effects of MTR on the Appalachian Mountains in southern West Virginia over time.[32]

March 2009: Obama EPA begins to crack down on mountaintop removal

Mountain Top Removal- Kayford Mountain, West Virginia

On March 23, 2009, the Obama administration began making moves to block or stall mountaintop removal mining permits. The EPA issued letters meant to halt or slow two mining permits proposed by the federal Army Corps of Engineers in West Virginia and Kentucky. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson made an official announcement on March 24, saying, "The two letters reflect EPA's considerable concern regarding the environmental impacts these projects would have on fragile habitats and streams. I have directed the agency to review other mining permits requests. EPA will use the best science and follow the letter of the law in ensuring we are protecting our environment."[33]

The decision to delay and review the two permits calls into question more than 100 pending valley fill permits in the Appalachian region.[34] In response to widespread industry dissent warning EPA not to block mining permits, as well as praise from environmentalists for the decision to deny permits, the organization issued the following clarification of its intentions:[35]

The Environmental Protection Agency is not halting, holding or placing a moratorium on any of the mining permit applications. Plain and simple. EPA has issued comments on two pending permit applications to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expressing serious concerns about the need to reduce the potential harmful impacts on water quality. EPA will take a close look at other permits that have been held back because of the 4th Circuit litigation. We fully anticipate that the bulk of these pending permit applications will not raise environmental concerns. In cases where a permit does raise environmental concerns, we will work expeditiously with the Army Corps of Engineers to determine how these concerns can be addressed. EPA’s submission of comments to the Corps on draft permits is a well-established procedure under the Clean Water Act to assure that environmental considerations are addressed in the permitting process.

April 2009: EPA challenges three MTR permits

In April 2009, EPA issued objections to three more mountaintop removal mining permits pending issue from the Army Corps of Engineers. The specific mines are Massey Energy's Republic No. 1 Surface Mine in Kanawha County, West Virginia; Frasure Creek Mining’s Spring Fork No. 2 Mine in Mingo County, West Virginia; and A&G Coal Corp.’s Ison Rock Ridge Surface Mine in Wise County, Virginia. According to the EPA letters, the three mining operations would bury about eight miles of streams.[36]

May 2009: Army Corps of Engineers suspends MTR permit for A&G Coal

On May 7, 2009, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suspended its approval of A&G Coal Corp.’s Ison Rock Ridge Surface Mine in Wise County, Virginia. The decision follows on the heels of a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club and Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards to block the permit. The Corps stated that the suspension provides officials "an opportunity to fully evaluate concerns" raised by EPA in April 2009.[37]

June 2009: Obama administration announces plans to toughen standards for MTR permits

On June 11, 2009, the Obama administration announced plans to toughen standards for mountaintop removal mining, rather than banning the practice entirely. Officials from EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Interior Department, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality said they would order a more rigorous environmental and legal review of pending and future permit applications for MTR projects. The announcement did not clarify whether the new standards would result in more or fewer mining permits being approved, leaving both environmental and coal industry groups uncertain about whether to support the new policies.[38]

August 2009: Court rejects attempt to turn back Bush's midnight regulations on MTR

On August 12, 2009, U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. denied an effort by Obama's Interior Department to overturn a last-minute rule change by the Bush administration. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar had filed a motion to toss out a Bush regulation that made it easier for coal mining companies to dump debris into valley streams. Salazar's motion was opposed by the National Mining Assocation. In his decision, Judge Kennedy said that Salazar erred in trying to "repeal a rule without public notice and comment, without judicial consideration of the merits."[39] A spokesperson for the Interior said the department is examining the court's decision and is "determined to improve mining practices."[40]

September 2009: Obama administration seeks to block West Virginia MTR permit

On September 3, 2009, the EPA issued a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers calling out problems with a permit issued for a strip-mining project in Logan County, West Virginia, the largest such permit ever issued in the state. EPA found that the mine would violate the Clean Water Act, having the "potential to degrade downstream water quality, and to cause or contribute to potential excursions of West Virginia’s narrative water quality standards." EPA has asked the Corps of Engineers to suspend, revoke, or modify the permit. In response, the Corps is seeking a 30-day stay in legal proceedings over the permit, so that its experts can re-examine the project.[41] The full EPA letter is available here.

September 2009: EPA holds 79 MTR permits for review

The EPA identified 79 mountaintop removal permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia that it said would likely affect water quality. The agency put the permits on hold to allow for further study to ensure the projects will not violate the Clean Water Act. Mary Anne Hitt of the Sierra Club described the move as "a sea change in enforcement" over the Bush administration, during which the EPA did not oppose a single permit.[42][43]

October 2009: EPA to revoke permit for West Virginia surface mine

On October 16, 2009, the EPA announced that it planned to use its authority to revoke the permit for Mingo Logan Coal's Spruce No. 1 mine, which is owned by Arch Coal. The agency said it was acting on its authority for the first time since the Clean Water Act was enacted in 1972. The project at issue would be the largest authorized mountaintop removal operation in Appalachia. In a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, EPA Regional Administrator William Early said the action "reflects the magnitude and scale of anticipated direct, indirect, and cumulative adverse environmental impacts associated with this mountaintop removal mining operation."[44]

November 2009: Court finds Army Corps of Engineers violated Clean Water Act in MTR permitting case

Health effects of mountaintop removal

On November 24, 2009, U.S. District Judge Chuck Chambers ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated federal environmental laws by issuing permits for two mountaintop removal coal mines in West Virginia without allowing sufficient public involvement. Chambers found that the Corps violated the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act when it issued permits for CONSOL Energy's Ike Fork mines and Penn Virginia's Nellis mine. Chambers ordered the Corps to rectify the problem with the permits, while also allowing "limited" mining to continue at the sites for 60 days. The case may have implications for other surface mines already permitted and in operation. According to Oliver Bernstein of the Sierra Club, "Most of the pending permits in West Virginia may need to go back through the public process."[45]

In late June 2009 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave the Army Corps of Engineers a green light for the Pine Creek mine permit, a mountaintop removal (MTR) mining site located in Logan County, W.Va. The permit was the first decision the EPA has issued under its new mountaintop mining guidelines.

Environmentalists argued that the new MTR guidelines were understood to provide greater protection for headwater streams by curbing the practice of dumping waste in neighboring valleys to create what is known as valley fills. However, the Pine Creek permit is the first test of these guidelines, and green lighted three new valley fills (each over 40 acres large).

The Center for Biological Diversity contended:

Pollution from mountaintop removal mining has been found to cause deformities and reproductive failure in downstream wildlife and has been associated with cancer clusters in human communities exposed to high levels of coal-mining activity. Human health impacts result from contact with polluted water and from exposure to airborne toxins and dust. Mountaintop removal also causes widespread damage of private property. Earlier this month a state of emergency was declared in southern West Virginia after flooding ravaged the area; a recent study has found that mountaintop removal and valley fill operations lead to increased risk of flooding.[46]

Author Jeff Biggers also chimed in on the permit, questioning the Obama administration's position on MTR:

I’m not sure if the EPA is addled, or downright shameless, but on the heels of meeting with besieged Appalachian coalfield residents and less than three months since its ballyhooed new guidance rules to halt reckless mountaintop removal operations, President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency has once again gone back on its word and green-lighted a dangerous mountaintop removal permit in a hair-brained pander to Big Coal that will knowingly destroy miles of critical headwater streams.[47]

The Pine Creek permit now needs to be approved by the Army Corps of Engineers.

January 2010: EPA allows permit for West Virginia surface mine

On January 5, 2010 the EPA, in a reversal, announced that Patriot Coal would receive a permit for a new mountaintop removal (MTR) mine in West Virginia for its Hobet mountaintop mine. A federal court ruling in the state also granted an extension on Arch Coal's Mingo Logan Coal's Spruce No. 1 mine permit that was put on hold in October 2009.[48]

March 2, 2010: EPA in talks over Spruce Mine

On March 2, 2010, the EPA said it extended the agency's talks with Mingo Logan Mining Co., owned by Arch Coal, in regard to environmental and water quality concerns about its Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County, West Virginia. Opponents of the permits, citing groundwater pollution from mountaintop removal projects stated that, “Enforceable minimum waste management requirements for dry disposal of coal ash in landfills should include siting restrictions, liners, groundwater monitoring, leachate collection, and financial assurance, closure requirements, post-closure care, and corrective action.”[49]

March 27, 2010: EPA blocks Spruce Mine

On March 26, 2010, it was announced that the EPA was to veto Arch Coal's Spruce No. 1 mine. The project would be the largest mountaintop removal venture in the entire Appalachia region. As of March 28, 2010 the company said it would defend the mining proposal. The public comment period is open for 90 days. The mine was opposed due to its likely environmental impact.[50]

April 1, 2010: EPA States MTR Valley Fills Might End

At the beginning of April 2010, the EPA's Lisa Jackson laid out new mountaintop removal guidelines, which may put the breaks on the practice in Appalachia and elsewhere, where valleys are filled with mining debris. Jackson stated that valley fills likely violate Clean Water Act requirements in most cases.

"You are talking about either no or very few valley fills that are going to be able to meet standards like this," said Jackson "What the science is telling us is that it would be untrue to say you can have any more than minimal valley fill and not see irreversible damage to stream health."

Jackson said bluntly that the new guidelines were not meant to end coal mining, but the gradual tightening of regulations would change mining practices for the betterment of water quality.[51]

August 2010: WV DEP moving ahead with water quality permits

In August 2010, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said it was moving ahead with changing how it issues water quality permits for surface coal mines. The agency said it has created a document that lists conditions permit writers will follow when considering such permits. DEP Secretary Randy Huffman says he hopes the federal Environmental Protection Agency will give deference to the state now that it has guidelines. The document focuses on the potential harm a mining project could have on a stream's water quality and aquatic life.[52]

January 13, 2011: EPA vetoes Spruce 1 water permit over opposition

On January 13, 2011, it was announced that the EPA had vetoed the water permit for the Spruce 1 Mine, the largest single mountaintop removal permit in West Virginia history. In making its decision to veto the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ approval of the 2,300-acre mine, "Final Determination of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Pursuant to § 404(c) of the Clean Water Act Concerning the Spruce No. 1 Mine, Logan County, West Virginia", EPA noted that it reviewed more than 50,000 public comments and held a major public hearing in West Virginia. EPA officials said their agency is “acting under the law and using the best science available to protect water quality, wildlife and Appalachian communities who rely on clean waters for drinking, fishing and swimming.”[53]

Conservative opposition to veto

In response to the EPA veto, Friends of Coal supported a "call to arms" rally planned by Acting Governor Earl Ray Tomblin for Thursday, January 20th at the state capitol. The rally's "call to arms" was criticized due to the shooting of congressional representative Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona. Friends of Coal later removed the slogan from their website. The group played defensive when contacted by reporter Ken Ward, Jr., calling it "a figure of speech,"[54]

In his campaign in fall 2010, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) made national news for firing a rifle while invoking President Obama's name in the "war on coal." While shooting the gun, Manchin said he would take "dead aim."[55]

September 2010: West Virginia Gov. Manchin sues federal government over MTR

On September 30, 2010, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin announced the state is suing the federal government over "strict mountaintop coal mining controls" put into place in 2009, saying the regulations are hurting the state's economy. The suit is against the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers. In a statement, the EPA said it would fight the suit and claimed West Virginia hasn't done enough to balance the ecological and economical concerns over mining. Manchin is in a tight race against Republican John Raese, who has accused the governor of not being a strong enough backer of the coal industry.[56]

Gov. Manchin alleged that no specific law or government regulation has kept the permits from passing, only a political policy agenda specifically coming from the executive branch of government. The governor argued that certain federal government entities including the EPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Department of the Interior delayed the issuance of 23 pending coal mining permits in West Virginia with only 2 being approved since 2009.[57]

October 2010: Republican ad against Manchin pulled

In October 2010, a GOP committee pulled a television ad from broadcast after reports that men featured in the ad – who were supposed to be “Regular Joes’’ in West Virginia – were actors in Pittsburgh. The ad characterized West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin as a rubber stamp for the Obama Administration. But the men in the ad, shown talking to each other in a diner, were actors who had responded to a casting call seeking people with a “'Hicky' Blue Collar look,” Politico reported. The ad was shot in Philadelphia. The ad was paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, but the casting call was written by a talent agency. Opponent John Raese’s campaign distanced itself from the ad, saying that no one in the campaign had anything to do with it and that the bigger issue is that voters don’t want their representatives voting lockstep with the White House.[58]

Manchin protested by Tea Party as not pro-coal enough

On October 24, 2010, Gov. Joe Manchin went to a "Friends of Coal" rally in Logan, WV, where he was greeted by protesters from the local tea party -- the West Virginia Coalfield Tea Party Patriots. They said opponent John Raese, a business mogul and three-time failed candidate in statewide races, was the real friend of coal and waved signs with slogans such as "Obama says vote Democrat," "Obama, One Big Ass Mistake America," and "Kill Liberalism." Shaun Adkins, a lumber yard manager and founder of the local tea party chapter, said Manchin could not be trusted to support the coal industry in Washington.[59]

The protests came despite the fact that Manchin has sued the U.S. EPA over new regulations on mountaintop removal coal mining, and his campaign is running an advertisement opposing the cap-and-trade bill the House passed last year, the Waxman-Markey Climate Bill. Manchin has the endorsement of the West Virginia Coal Association and the United Mine Workers of America in the race to complete the term of the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D). But Raese has been campaigning saying the governor will be a "rubber stamp" for the Obama administration's attempts to regulate the industry's mining and carbon dioxide emissions.[59]

Massey Energy Disasters in West Virginia

October 2000: Martin County Sludge Spill

The Martin County Sludge Spill occurred after midnight on October 11, 2000 when the bottom of a coal sludge impoundment owned by Massey Energy in Martin County, Kentucky, broke into an abandoned underground mine below. The slurry came out of the mine openings, sending an estimated 306 million gallons (1.16 billion liters) of sludge down two tributaries of the Tug Fork River. By morning, Wolf Creek was oozing with the black waste; on Coldwater Fork, a ten-foot (3 m) wide stream became a 100-yard (91 m) expanse of thick sludge.[60]

The spill was over five feet deep in places and covered nearby residents' yards. The spill polluted hundreds of miles of the Big Sandy and Ohio Rivers. The water supply for over 27,000 residents was contaminated, and all aquatic life in Coldwater Fork and Wolf Creek was killed. Heavy metals were found in the sludge, including mercury, lead, arsenic, copper and chromium. According to the EPA, the spill was 30 times larger than the Exxon Valdez oil spill (12 million gallons) and one of the worst environmental disasters ever in the southeastern United States, comparable to the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash spill in 2008.[61]

A federal investigation into the spill began during the end of the Bill Clinton administration and completed after President George W. Bush took office, and has become a bitter controversy marked by allegations of political favoritism, negligence, and indifference to the people affected by the spill.[62]

January 2006: Massey settles lawsuit and agrees to plea deal over Aracoma mine fire

On January 19, 2006, two miners died at the Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine in West Virginia, after a conveyor belt caught fire. The widows of the miners filed suit against Massey Energy, on the grounds that the company should have anticipated that the lack of an air control wall would allow smoke to fill escape routes. In the complaint, the women accused Massey CEO Blankenship of "personally engendering a corporate attitude of indifference and hostility towards safety measures which stood in the way of profit." The lawsuit was settled on November 17, 2008, although the terms were not disclosed.[63] Seven miners who were injured in the same fire have also filed suit against Massey, seeking punitive damages for their injuries.[64]

On April 15, 2009, a federal judge approved a plea deal with Massey subsidiary Aracoma Coal Company. Aracoma pleaded guilty to 10 criminal charges for the 2006 fire. The company was fined $2.5 million and must also pay $1.7 million for violations cited by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. The plea deal included a provision preventing Massey and its officials from being prosecuted.[65]

Coal slurry injections

Mingo County, WV

700 people filed a lawsuit against Massey subsidiary Rawl Sales in 2004 before Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury. In the lawsuit, the residents claim Massey injected more than 1.4 billion gallons of coal slurry underground - seven times the amount of the oil spilled in the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster - into 1,000 acres of former underground mines. The suit also claims Massey knew the mines were cracked and would allow for leaching into drinking water supplies. The slurry then migrated to their wells, eventually bubbling through their water systems "in varying degrees, from highly toxic to simply toxic." The state Department of Environmental Protection imposed a temporary ban on new injection sites, and a team of West Virginia University researchers advised lawmakers in 2010 to start monitoring coal slurry, but plaintiffs and supporters want legislators to ban the process altogether. The plaintiffs suffer from chronic gastrointestinal disorders, skin cancers, learning disabilities, and major organ cancers they say is tied to the slurry. Later, State Supreme Court Chief Justice Robin Davis required Thornsbury to recuse himself after learning Thornsbury represented Rawl Sales in earlier blasting litigation in the same areas where coal slurry allegedly contaminated wells.[66] [67]

In November 2010, a panel of judges ordered plaintiffs to appear at the Charleston Civic Center for the start of a three-day settlement conference. If a settlement is reached, a 2011 trial would be averted. Mediation talks broke down, however, and a trial is set for Aug. 1, 2011.[67]

According to Jeff Goodell in Rolling Stone, after injecting coal slurry into his own neighborhood, Massey paid to build a waterline to bring clean, treated water directly to CEO Don Blankenship's house from Matewan, a few miles away.[68]

Southern West Virginia

In February 2009, about 250 people filed suit against coal companies they allege poisoned wells in two communities in southern West Virginia. The lawsuit contends that coal companies pumped waste coal slurry empty mines, and that underground cracks allowed the waste to pollute the aquifer. The state Department of Environmental Protection said it has been unable to definitively link the wells to the injection site.

The lawsuit targets eight coal companies, including Massey Energy, Peabody Energy and subsidiary Pine Ridge Coal, and West Virginia's Federal Coal Co.[69]

In April 2009, a settlement agreement was reached and was awaiting judge approval. The settlement calls for the coal companies to contribute $45,000 to a fund to provide drinking water to residents in the Seth-Prenter area. The companies stated as part of the agreement that the payment does not constitute any admission of guilt and is inadmissible in court.[70]

April 5, 2010: 29 killed in blast at Massey coal mine

For more information, see Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster

W.V. Coal Mine Had 53 Safety Violations In March Alone

On April 5, 2010, an explosion at a Massey Energy's underground Upper Big Branch Mine in southern West Virginia killed 29 miners, with two hospitalized.[71][72] Mine-safety experts said explosions are typically caused by high levels of methane produced during longwall mining, which mining companies try to dilute with ventilation systems, although Massey has been repeatedly cited for violating this requirement.[71][73]

According to Mine Safety and Health Administration data, the Upper Big Branch mine has had six violations related to ventilation since January and four since March 17, including for failing to control coal dust; improperly planning to ventilate the mine of dust and the combustible gas methane; inadequate protection from roof falls; failing to maintain proper escapeways; and allowing the accumulation of combustible materials.[74]

In 2009, the mine had 50 "unwarrantable failure citations," the most serious findings of negligence a mine inspector can issue. MSHA had proposed penalties of $900,000 in 2009 resulting from 458 total safety violations at the mine.[73]

Since January 1, 2010, the Miner Safety and Health Administration has issued Performance Coal 115 safety violations for the Upper Big Branch mine. For six of the past ten years, it has exceeded the national average in safety violations.[75] There have been three other fatalities at the Upper Big Branch mine in the last 12 years.[71]

Mine-safety experts said explosions are typically caused by high levels of methane produced during longwall mining, which mining companies try to dilute with ventilation systems, although Massey has been repeatedly cited for violating this requirement. The Upper Big Branch mine has had six violations related to ventilation since January and four since March 17, according to Mine Safety and Health Administration data. In 2009, the mine had 50 "unwarrantable failure citations," the most serious findings of negligence a mine inspector can issue. One citation was for not properly marking escape routes for miners in case of an accident. MSHA had proposed penalties of $900,000 last year resulting from 458 total safety violations at the mine.[73] There have been three other fatalities at the Upper Big Branch mine in the last 12 years.[71]

Massey buys out town in West Virginia

According to a an April 12, 2011 article in The New York Times, after engaging in heavy coal mining around the city of Lindytown, West Virginia, Massey bought many properties from town residents. Massey suggested it was a gesture of good will, but others say life in the town became unlivable from the coal mining.[76]

According to a statement from Shane Harvey, the general counsel for Massey, many of Lindytown’s residents were either retired miners or their widows and descendants who "welcomed the opportunity to move to places more metropolitan" or with easier access to medical facilities. Interested in selling their properties, they contacted Massey, which began making offers in December 2008 — offers that for the most part were accepted. Harvey went on to say that Massey voluntarily bought the properties “as an additional backup to the state and federal regulations” that protect people who live near mining operations."[76]

James Smith, 68, a retired coal miner from Lindytown, says the company’s statement is true for some people, buy many residents wanted to leave Lindytown only because the mountaintop removal operations above had ruined the quality of life below. He said that, despite having family in the area for generations, when the explosions began for coal mining, coal dust filled the air: “You could wash your car today, and tomorrow you could write your name on it in the dust. It was just unpleasant to live in that town. Period.” Smith went on to say that Massey was a motivated buyer, given that it was probably cheaper to buy out a small community than to deal with all the complaint-generated inspections, or the possible lawsuits over silica dust and “fly rock.”[76]

Water pollution violations in West Virginia

In April 2010, four environmental groups filed a water pollution lawsuit against Massey for allegedly violating permit limits for toxic aluminum at as many as 16 mines covered by seven Clean Water Act permits in West Virginia. The suit named Massey subsidiaries Elk Run Coal Co., Independence Coal Co., Marfork Coal Co., Peerless Eagle Coal Coal, and Power Mountain Coal Co. Some of the mines involved were also accused of violating permit limits for other pollutants, including iron, pH, and suspended solids, totaling approximately 3,300 days of permit violations from April 2008 through December 2009. Massey had previously paid a record $20 million in penalties to settle a federal government lawsuit over water pollution from its coal mines across the West Virginia and Kentucky coalfields.[77]

In November 2010, U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. ruled that the previous settlement with the federal Environmental Protection Agency did not insulate Massey Energy from citizen lawsuits over new water pollution violations at the company’s operations. The judge ruled that the EPA deal covered only violations that were specifically spelled out in the agency’s agreement with Massey, not future violations, like those alleged by the citizen group lawsuit.[78]

In May 2011, the Sierra Club and Massey Energy reached a tentative settlement over the lawsuit. The deal sets up compliance requirements and a schedule of stipulated penalties for future water permit limit violations. It requires Massey to pay the federal government a fine of $40,000 and $400,000 to the West Virginia Land Trust, to help with an environmental law clinic at the West Virginia University College of Law, which is working to protect riparian area protection projects.[79]

West Virginia Coal Reports

2009 Study finds coal's costs in premature deaths outweigh economic benefits

Coal River Wind Project www.coalriverwind.org

A 2009 study co-authored by a West Virginia University professor, Mortality in Appalachian Coal Mining Regions: The Value of Statistical Life Lost reports that coal mining in Appalachia costs five times more in premature deaths than the industry provides in jobs, taxes, and other economic benefits. According to the study, the coal industry creates about $8 billion per year in economic benefits for the Appalachian region, but even using conservative estimates, the cost of premature deaths attributable to coal mining is valued at approximately $42 billion. Michael Hendryx, along with co-author Melissa Ahern of Washington State University, recommends that politicians seek other means for improving the economy and quality of life of Appalachia, in such areas as renewable energy, sustainable timber, small-scale agriculture, and ecosystem restoration.[80]

The authors acknowledge that their study is not a complete cost-benefit analysis of the coal industry. Such a study, they suggest, would need to include reduced employment due to illness, reduced poverty values associated with coal mining, increased expenditures for public programs like Medicaid and food stamps, and the costs of natural resource destruction.[80]

Report finds coal cost W.V. $97 million in 2009

On June 22, 2010, environmental consulting firm Downstream Strategies and the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy issued a report, The Impact of Coal on the W.V. Budget analyzing West Virginia’s coal-related income and expenses, and concluded that the industry actually costs the state. After assessing nearly all of coal’s direct and indirect costs and benefits to the state, it concludes that the industry cost the state more than $97 million in fiscal year 2009.[81]

The report looks at many of the industry’s direct and indirect impacts on the state: coal severance taxes, taxes paid by the more than 21,000 West Virginians employed by the industry in 2009, and expenses, like the state government jobs that wouldn’t exist without the coal industry, repairing roads damaged by coal trucks, and the tax breaks the industry gets. The report also takes into account the jobs that are indirectly created by the coal industry. Even so, the report concludes the industry is costing West Virginia, even without taking into account numerous externalities. Vernon Haltom of Coal River Mountain Watch outlines some of the industry’s costs that weren’t considered: “The individual citizen whose health is damaged and who have to pay medical bills does not go into the report,” he said. “The cost of individual citizens having to provide their own drinking water does not go into the report. So in many ways, many of the costs are not being reflected in this report that our state needs to look closely at all of the costs associated with this industry.”[81]

The report also examines legacy costs that will continue to require funding in the future. These include reclamation of abandoned mining sites where operators forfeit their bond money and the impact of coal trucks on the state’s roads and bridges. The report suggests raising the coal severance tax and distributing the extra money to coal-producing communities. It also suggests ensuring that funds for reclamation are sufficient and increasing the per-ton fee on coal trucks.[81]

A January 2010 Downstream Strategies report, "The Decline of Central Appalachian Coal and the Need for Economic Diversification" calls for Appalachia's state and local leaders to "support new economic development across the region, especially in the rural areas set to be the most impacted by a sharp decline in the region’s coal economy" to avoid the region being too reliant on coal, since "coal production in Central Appalachia is on the decline, and this decline will likely continue in the coming decades."[82]

2010 report on coal and property revenues

A 2010 report by economists at WVU and Marshall University titled "The West Virginia Coal Economy 2008" found that 60 percent of the county’s roughly $35 million in property tax revenue came from coal, making the area highly dependent on the coal economy. It als found that West Virginia’s share of the value of total U.S. coal exports had risen from 16 percent in 2005 to 28 percent by 2008.[83]

2010 report links coal to poverty and health problems

In a 2010 report looking at the relationship between income and coal in Appalachia, author Dr. Michael Hendryx found that counties in West Virginia and Kentucky that engage in coal mining have higher poverty rates than those that do not, based on data from the 2000 US Census: 21.3% in coal mining areas, versus 14.3% in non-coal mining areas of the states, and 13.5% in the rest of the Appalachia region. The differences are statistically significant. In addition, the coal mining communities also have higher levels of unemployment, and lower levels of income and high school and college education. The author also notes that the number of jobs the coal mining industry provides for WV and KY is declining: in 1985, the number of coal mining jobs in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia was 67,757, but by 2007 the figure had declined to 34,155, due to increases in mechanization and mountaintop removal mining, which requires fewer workers. The author also ties the poverty rate to significant differences in age-adjusted death rates per 100,000 people based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data for the years 1997-2005: 1,067 in coal mining areas of WV and KY, versus 976 in non-coal mining areas of the states, and 948 in the rest of Appalachia. To address these disparities, the author recommends that coal severance taxes go directly to coal mining communities for jobs and education programs.[84]

2011 report on top state mercury emissions rates WV fourth

An analysis of federal government data by the environmental advocacy group PennEnvironment showed that Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia's coal-fired power plants ranked highest in the nation, respectively, for 2009 mercury emissions. According to the report, Pennsylvania's power plants put out more than 15,000 pounds of mercury that year, second only to Texas. Ohio and West Virginia were third and fourth.[85]

2011: WV coal companies amongst lowest taxpayers

In February 2011, the New York Times and the Economist estimated the effective federal corporate income tax rate paid by industry, using data from about 6,000 publicly traded companies (the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy noted that the data contained an error: it estimated not just “federal” corporate income tax, but all federal, state and local taxes paid by companies.) The data showed that the total effective corporate tax rate is 15.3% for all companies, and 29% for companies that made a profit. The data suggests tax preferences and tax subsidies in the federal and state corporate tax codes significantly limit what companies pay.[86]

Looking at companies in West Virginia, the organization WorkForce West Virginia found that profitable coal companies (20 out of 25 were profitable) have a smaller effective tax rate than any of the other dominant industries in West Virginia. Nationally, of the 100 industries examined by the NYT and Economist, the coal industry had the 7th lowest effective rate. As the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy notes: "While some have argued that the state already taxes coal too much, it appears the industry doesn’t pay nearly as much as other companies or as much as most households. According to a 2008 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report, the total household effective 'federal' tax rate in 2005 was 20.5%."[86]

2011 Study: Increased birth defects in MTR areas

In a 2011 Environmental Research journal study, "The association between mountaintop mining and birth defects among live births in central Appalachia, 1996–2003" investigators reported that children born in counties home to mountaintop coal mines had a 26% higher risk of suffering birth defects, compared to ones born in non-mining regions. (Nationwide, about 1 in 33 babies suffer a birth defect, the leading cause of infant deaths.)

A number of studies had found health risks associated with coal mining regions including low birth weight. Lead researcher Melissa Ahern, a health economist at Washington State University, and colleagues decided to look for health effects on infants across four states (West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia) where mountaintop removal mining occurs. Looking at the 1,889,071 births in those states from 1996 to 2003, the researchers first found birth defects were higher in six of seven categories (including heart, lung and gastrointestinal birth defects) in mountaintop mining counties compared to elsewhere. According to the study: "Rates for any anomaly were approximately 235 per 10,000 live births in the mountaintop mining area versus 144 per 10,000 live births in the non-mining area."

Since poverty has also been linked to birth defects, the researchers controlled for social factors, such as smoking, drinking, mother's education, race and other poverty-related factors, and the team found the effect was still statistically significant, leading to the 26% higher risk of birth defects in the mountaintop mining counties.

According to Ahern: "Circulatory and respiratory effects really stood out." The study stated that birth defect rate seemed to increase over time and in regions with more mountaintop removal.[87]

2011 Study: Coal and "boom and bust" economic cycles

"Booms and Busts: The Impact of West Virginia’s Energy Economy" by the West Virginia Center for Budget & Policy (Sean O’Leary and Ted Boettner, July 2011) looks at the boom and bust economic cycles of coal mining and gas drilling, and "examines potential reasons why mining counties have underperformed [economically] in the long run" (p. 3). The report concludes that: "A boom in energy development, be it in coal mining or natural gas extraction, does not guarantee long-term economic growth and prosperity. Although communities can rely on energy development for economic growth in the short-term, the boom is unsustainable. If trends hold, the boom ultimately leads to a bust, followed by decades of underperformance" and "This pattern is likely to repeat itself in counties that focus heavily on the Marcellus Shale development as the main source of economic growth" (p. 15).

2012 study compares West Virginia vs Wyoming coal and gas tax rate

The 2012 West Virginia Center for Budget Policy report, "Major Tax Responsibilities of Coal and Natural Gas Producers in Wyoming and West Virginia," compared the coal and natural gas state tax policies of Wyoming and West Virginia in 2008 and found that:

  • Wyoming collected approximately $2.1 billion in taxes from coal and natural gas producers, compared to $787 million in West Virginia.
  • Wyoming’s average effective tax rate on coal producers was 10.6 percent, compared to 6.5 percent in West Virginia.
  • The average effective tax rate on natural gas producers was 10.2 percent in Wyoming and 8.2 percent in West Virginia.
  • The average property tax rate for coal and natural producers in Wyoming was 4.8 percent for each industry, while the average property tax rate for natural gas was three percent and one percent for coal in West Virginia.
  • If West Virginia replaced its real and personal property tax scheme with Wyoming’s county gross production tax, it would have raised an additional $115 million in 2008.

Existing coal plants

West Virginia had 42 coal-fired generating units at 20 locations in 2005, with 15,372 MW of capacity - representing 93.4% of the state's total electric generating capacity.[3][88][89]

Here is a list of coal power plants in West Virginia with capacity over 400 MW:[3][90][91]

Plant Name County Owner Year(s) Built Capacity 2007 CO2 Emissions 2006 SO2 Emissions SO2/MW Rank
John E. Amos Putnam American Electric Power 1971-73 2933 MW 15,300,000 tons 117,299 tons 73
Harrison Harrison Allegheny Energy 1972-74 2052 MW 14,200,000 tons 5,063 tons 262
Mt. Storm Grant Dominion 1965-66, 1973 1662 MW 12,700,000 tons 3,139 tons 266
Mitchell Marshall American Electric Power 1971 1633 MW 8,478,000 tons 53,152 tons 58
Pleasants Pleasants Allegheny Energy 1979-80 1368 MW 6,722,000 tons 42,867 tons 89
Mountaineer Mason American Electric Power 1980 1300 MW 7,727,000 tons 31,052 tons 107
Fort Martin Monongalia Allegheny Energy 1967-68 1152 MW 7,328,000 tons 87,565 tons 21
Philip Sporn Mason American Electric Power 1950-52, 1960 1106 MW 5,407,000 tons 39,741 tons 42
Kammer Marshall American Electric Power 1958-59 713 MW 3,244,000 tons 119,369 tons 16

These nine plants represent 90.5% of West Virginia's coal energy generating capacity, 70.9% of the state's total CO2 emissions, and 64.2% of its total SO2 emissions.[6]

For a map of existing coal plants in the state, see the bottom of this page.

Proposed coal plant closures

Kammer Plant, Kanawha River Plant, and Philip Sporn Power Plant

On June 9, 2011, AEP announced that, based on impending EPA regulations as proposed, AEP’s compliance plan would retire nearly 6,000 megawatts (MW) of coal-fueled power generation; upgrade or install new advanced emissions reduction equipment on another 10,100 MW; refuel 1,070 MW of coal generation as 932 MW of natural gas capacity; and build 1,220 MW of natural gas-fueled generation. The cost of AEP’s compliance plan could range from $6 billion to $8 billion in capital investment through the end of the decade.[92]

AEP’s current plan for compliance with the rules as proposed includes permanently retiring the following coal-fueled power plants:[92]

  • Kammer Plant, Moundsville, W.Va. – 630 MW (retired by Dec. 31, 2014) (pictured above)
  • Kanawha River Plant, Glasgow, W.Va. – 400 MW (retired by Dec. 31, 2014); and
  • Philip Sporn Power Plant, New Haven, W.Va. – 1,050 MW (450 MW expected to retire in 2011, 600 MW retired by Dec. 31, 2014).

Dominion's North Branch Station

In a December 2010 accord reached with the National Park Service and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Dominion volunteered to close its North Branch Station when the proposed natural gas-fired Warren County Power Station near Front Royal begins commercial operations, which is scheduled for late 2014 or early 2015. Emissions reductions credits from closing the station will be combined with various other offsets to be applied as the emission mitigation plan for the new power station. The agreement is conditioned upon the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board's approval of the air permit for the proposed station, other regulatory approvals and the construction and operation of the proposed station. The air board is expected to vote on Dominion's application for the Warren County air permit at its Dec. 17, 2010 meeting. The company anticipates seeking permission from the Virginia State Corporation Commission in 2011 to build the new power station.[93]

North Branch was put in cold reserve status in August 2010, and has not been generating electricity. Without this agreement, the station could be returned to service in a short time if needed.[93]

Proposed coal plants

Active

Cancelled

Coal lobbying groups

March 2009: Memo detailing West Virginia Coal Association's action items for MTR

On March 27, 2009, a memo from Chris Hamilton, Vice President of the West Virginia Coal Association, to the members of the Mountaintop Mining Coalition, became public. The memo detailed efforts underway to counteract EPA's apparent movements against mountaintop removal mining permits. "Action items" included:[94]

  • arranging an urgent meeting with the Council on Environmental Quality and EPA.
  • a multi-state congressional briefing on May 5-7 in Washington, DC, with mine visits in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia scheduled on May 20-21.
  • a media campaign, including a Powerpoint presentation, white paper, blog, brochure, website, and video promoting mountaintop removal mining.
  • support for Governor Manchin's SB 375, which, among other things, makes it easier for the coal industry to get around tough reclamation requirements for mountaintop removal sites.
  • support for SB 461, which grants a three-plus-year extension to the coal industry to meet water quality limits for toxic selenium discharges into waters supporting aquatic life.

The entire memo is available here.

February 2010: West Virginia Coal Association tries to cut oversight over MTR permits

On February 16, 2010 it was announced that the West Virginia Coal Association spoke to a House committee that the ongoing "enhanced review" of 20 mountain top removal permits threatens plans to open or expand mines that "could extract 19 million tons of coal a year." The EPA was no represented at the special committee meeting. Association President Bill Raney told the committee that the affected sites together hold 132 million tons of coal reserves.

"About 1,300 employees could be subject to some kind of action if these permits are not issued," Raney told the House Committee on Coal Mining Permits. "It's hanging up employment, it's hanging up production, it's hanging up revenues coming to the state of West Virginia. We can't get answers from the federal government."[95]

September 2010: WVU Receives Federal Money for Clean Coal Research

It was announced on September 2, 2010 that West Virginia University (WVU) would receive $25 million in federal monies to study clean coal technology. WVU is supposed to get the money over five years and match it dollar for dollar, upping the total amount available for research to $50 million.[96]

Koch funds front groups, news organizations, and academics to oppose coal regulations

In March 2010, Paul Nyden of the Charleston Gazette reported that Koch Industries had seeded West Virginia with several conservative front groups, including a “think tank” called the Public Policy Foundation of West Virginia and funding for free-market faculty members at West Virginia University. Nyden notes that Russell Sobel, a local economist whose research and writing has been underwritten by Koch fronts, argues against the minimum wage and against coal mine safety laws.

Sobel also works closely with the Public Policy Foundation of West Virginia, the Morgantown think tank which published his 2007 book, “Unleashing Capitalism: Why Prosperity Stops at the West Virginia Border and How to Fix It." The Sobel book is a collection of 12 essays, arguing that government regulations hurt West Virginia’s economy. One essay questions the value of “mandated” mine safety laws, stating government regulations may increase accident rates.

The Koch-funded think tank also started a phony news service in West Virginia, called the “West Virginia Watchdog.” Americans for Prosperity, the fake grassroots group founded and financed by David Koch, was running television ads in West Virginia attacking progressive reforms. David Koch and Charles Koch are each worth $21.5 billion.[97]

Coal power companies

Major coal mines

As of 2010 there were approximately 252 active coal mines in West Virginia with production of approximately 135,220 short tons per year.[98]

Below is a list of major coal mines in West Virginia. Click here for a fuller list of mines in the state.

Mine Name Location Owner 2006 Production
McElroy Mine Moundsville, WV CONSOL Energy 10,477,000 tons
Loveridge Number 22 Mine Fairmont, WV CONSOL Energy 6,383,000 tons
Robinson Run No 95 Mine Fairmont, WV CONSOL Energy 5,740,000 tons
Federal No. 2 Mine Fairview, WV Peabody Energy 4,622,000 tons
Twilight MTR Surface Mine Twilight, WV Massey Energy 4,493,000 tons

[99]

Patriot Coal Corp. closing mines

On April 2, 2009, Patriot Coal announced plans to reduce production in West Virginia. The company will idle two mines at its Wells complex, cut production at Hobet, and postpone the start of production at its newly developed Blue Creek mine. The cuts will decrease Patriot's annual output by 2 million tons in 2009. The company plans to reopen the facilities when coal markets rebound.

In January, Patriot temporarily closed two other coal mines in West Virginia and laid off 400 workers.[100]

In August 2009, Patriot announced it will close the Samples Mine in West Virginia, eliminating 314 jobs as of October 5, 2009. The company blamed weakened demand associated with the economic downturn as the reason for the closure.[101][102]

Massey and Cliffs Natural Resources cutting coal production in West Virginia

In April 2009, Massey Energy and Cliffs Natural Resources announced they were cutting coal production and laying off almost 600 employees in West Virginia because of market conditions. Massey idled the Black Castle surface mine in Boone County and laid off 300 people. Cliffs idled its Green Ridge No. 1 Mine indefinitely and plans to idle its Pinnacle mine for two months, laying off about 290 people.[103]

CONSOL idling two mines in West Virginia

In December 2009, CONSOL Energy announced it was idling two mines in West Virginia that employ about 500 people. Chief Operating Officer Nicholas DeIuliis blamed environmental activists for the closures, saying that "the nation's energy industries are coming under repeated assault from nuisance lawsuits and appeals of environmental regulations." The two mines affected are the Little Eagle Coal Co. mine and the Fola Coal Co. mine. In a lawsuit brought by the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC), a federal judge suspended CONSOL's Clean Water Act permit for part of the operations. Without these operations, CONSOL said it was unable to meet the requirements of its coal sales contracts. Jane Keating, executive director of OVEC, said that CONSOL's accusations of blame were misplaced and that "miners should be asking the companies to follow the law."[104]

On December 28, 2009, U.S. District Judge Robert Chambers changed his ruling to allow CONSOL to continue mining at the sites while the legal dispute over the company's fill permits continues. In his latest order, Chambers noted that OVEC did not oppose the decision.[105]

West Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Denies Public Hearing

On March 11, 2010 it was announced that the West Virginia Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEP) denied local citizens a public hearing regarding a show cause order for the Edwight Surface Mine. According to West Virginia state law, show cause orders, intended to be the final step prior to the DEP shutting down a mine site, are supposed to be settled in public hearings. Despite the West Virginia law, the DEP has decided not to hold a public hearing in the case of Edwight, and instead opted to privately negotiate a consent order with the mine operator, Alex Energy, a subsidiary company of Massey Energy.

As of March 2010, there have been 33 cited violations on the Edwight Surface Mine.[106]

Coal mining exports to China

In September 2010, a memorandum of understanding was signed by then-Gov. Joe Manchin and representatives of China's Shanxi province, which holds one-third of the country's coal reserves. According to Steve Spence, director of the West Virginia Development Office's (WVDO) International Division: "We are exploring a variety of business ideas which may include an increase in the export of West Virginia-produced mining equipment, safety equipment, "clean coal" technology and other trade and investment opportunities. We expect to host additional delegations from Shanxi in the coming months." China was West Virginia's eighth-largest export market in 2008, at $251 million, and fifth-largest in 2009 at $296 million, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.[107]

Appalachian Coal Exports: 9 Million Tons To Be Sent To India

It was reported on August 16, 2012 that there was a private-sector agreement to import 9 million tons of coal a year from Kentucky and West Virginia. The 25-year agreement is worth $7 billion between India's Abhijeet Group and Kentucky-based Booth Energy Group and River Trading Co.[108]

Spills and Clean Water Act violations

Freedom Industries spill

In January 2014 a state of emergency for nine counties was declared after a chemical spill into the Elk River in Charleston, disrupting the water supply for 300,000 West Virginia residents. The spill involved thousands of gallons of 4-methyl-cyclohexane-methanol, or MCHM, used for processing "clean coal." The spill occurred on January 9.

The spill originated at Freedom Industries, a Charleston company that produces specialty chemicals for the mining, steel and cement industries. The chemical was leaking out of a secondary storage tank and a foul odor was reported by residents, prompting questions about environmental regulations in the state: environmental inspectors had not visited the Freedom Industries facility since 1991, and under West Virginia law, chemicals storage facilities are not subject to inspections. The plant also had no groundwater protection plan in place.

At the time of the accident, the Center for Disease Control did not have a standard for how much of the chemical in water is safe to drink, so the agency relied on the little research that had been done on the chemical — an animal study that established the lethal dose for rats.[109]

By January 24, about 544 people had been treated for issues related to the water spill at 10 local hospitals, although state agencies have emphasized that they had not yet verified if all medical issues were in fact due to the spill. Symptoms reported included rashes, eye irritation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach aches. Pregnant women and children were still advised not to drink the water after it had been declared safe for general use.[110]

2011: Consol to pay over $200 million in Clean Water violations

On March 14, 2011, CONSOL Energy announced it will spend $200 million on a treatment system for wastewater from three West Virginia coal mines, and pay the state and federal governments a total of $6 million to settle hundreds of alleged violations of the Clean Water Act. The federal fines, which will be split between the EPA and the state, totaled $5.5 million. Consol also agreed to pay the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources $500,000 for the damage to Dunkard Creek, a Monongahela River tributary that runs for 43 miles along the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border.[111]

Though it denies its operations were responsible for the fish kill, Consol stopped discharging wastewater from its Blacksville 2 Mine after a September 2009 bloom of toxic golden algae killed countless fish, mussels, salamanders and other aquatic life. Investigators concluded that pollutants called total dissolved solids created conditions that helped that algae bloom flourish, choking off oxygen to the aquatic creatures. Although high levels of TDS have not been labeled a threat to human health, they can affect the taste and smell and drinking water.[111]

EPA Region 3 Administrator Shawn Garvin said Consol's new network of pipelines and the reverse osmosis treatment plant it is building near Mannington will keep nearly 100 million pounds of TDS, including salts, out of the watershed each year. The system will treat water from the Blacksville 2 Mine, Loveridge 22 Mine and Robinson Run 95 Mine, and improve the overall health of rivers and streams. Consol's treatment plant must be online by May 2013 under the agreement. When finished, the plant should be able to treat 3,500 gallons of mine water per minute, eliminating an anticipated 95 percent of the pollutants. Consol is also planning to build a similar $100 million treatment facility for its Buchanan Mine 1 in Virginia.[111]

The settlement covers alleged violations at six Consol operations over the past four years. The government cited chronic problems with chloride discharges into the Monongahela watershed from the Blacksville, Loveridge, Robinson Run and Four States mines, and into the Ohio River from the Shoemaker and Windsor mines.[111]

Arch Coal selenium violations

On Oct. 3, 2011, a coalition of conservation and environmental groups announced completion of a legal settlement with Arch Coal and its subsidiaries, which will require the coal mining company to clean up toxic run off from six coal mines in Logan County, West Virginia. The original suit was filed against Arch in June of 2010 for violating limits on selenium at those locations. Under the deal, Arch Coal agreed to install new equipment to control discharges, and agreed to pay the citizen groups' legal expenses, pay a $200,000 fine to the federal government, and contribute $1.8 million to the Land Use and Sustainable Development Clinic at West Virginia University’s College of Law. The settlement also requires strict monitoring of selenium treatment at the six sites: if the mines continue to discharge selenium above permit limits, Arch Coal will have to pay up to $25,000 for each new violation.[112]

Coal Sludge and Coal Waste

EPA releases list of 44 "high hazard" coal ash dumps

In response to demands from environmentalists as well as Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California), chair of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, the EPA made public a list of 44 "high hazard potential" coal waste dumps. The rating applies to sites at which a dam failure would most likely cause loss of human life, but does not include an assessment of the likelihood of such an event. West Virginia has 4 of the sites, 3 of which are owned by American Electric Power.[113]

The following table is derived from EPA's official list of Coal Combustion Residue (CCR) Surface Impoundments with High Hazard Potential Ratings. To see the full list of sites, see Coal waste.[114]

Company Facility Name Unit Name Location
Allegheny Energy Pleasants Power Station McElroy's Run Embankment Willow Island, WV
American Electric Power Philip Sporn Power Plant Fly Ash Pond New Haven, WV
American Electric Power Amos Plant Fly Ash Pond St. Albans, WV
American Electric Power Mitchell Plant Fly Ash Pond Moundsville, WV

Lawsuit against Massey filed in Mingo County

After four years of trying to bring a case to court, citizens filed a lawsuit in Mingo County Circuit Court alleging that their water had been fouled as a result of Massey's Rawl Sales and Coal Processing Plant, which had a permit from 1977 to 1986 to inject coal slurry into an underground abandoned mine nearby. Jury selection was to begin February 17, 2009.[115]

In an order signed in August 2009, Acting Chief Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court Robin Davis, ordered the presiding Mingo County Circuit court judge, Michael Thornsbury, to step down from hearing, citing Thornsbury’s previous representation of a Massey company in a case brought about blasting by a resident who is also a plaintiff in the slurry case. [116]

Lawsuit against coal companies filed in Boone County

In February 2009, about 250 people filed suit against coal companies they allege poisoned wells in two communities in southern West Virginia. The lawsuit contends that coal companies pumped waste coal slurry empty mines, and that underground cracks allowed the waste to pollute the aquifer. However, the state Department of Environmental Protection says it has been unable to link the wells to the injection site.

The lawsuit targets eight coal companies, including Massey Energy, Peabody Energy and subsidiary Pine Ridge Coal, and West Virginia's Federal Coal Co.[117] [118] [119] [120]

In April 2009, a tentative settlement agreement was reached and was awaiting judge approval. The settlement calls for the coal companies to contribute $45,000 to a fund to provide drinking water to residents in the Seth-Prenter area. The companies stated as part of the agreement that the payment does not constitute any admission of guilt and is inadmissible in court.[121]

Issues at AEP's Philip Sporn surface impoundments

An engineering report submitted to EPA in November 2009 recommended upgrading the rating of two surface impoundments at the Philip Sporn Power Plant in West Virginia from "poor" to "fair." Engineers from Dewberry, an EPA contractor, said the dams were likely to hold in the event of an earthquake, but that repairs and additional tests were still necessary. EPA said it would consider the recommendations, and American Electric Power said it would conduct further tests at the site. In addition to these investigations, the Department of Environmental Protection also discovered two nearby coal ash dams that officials were not aware existed, and that did not meet state safety regulations.[122]

Spill by Pioneer Fuels

On February 23, 2010 it was announced that Pioneer Fuel Corporation's Horse Creek Surface Mine spilled into the Clear Fork River in West Virginia. On February 25 the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection issued a notice of violation for the spill, which took place in Raleigh County. The Department issued a similar violation in 2007 for a spill by the company.[123][124]

Coal exports

A West Virginia University Bureau of Business and Economics Research noted that West Virginia's largest export destinations in 2010 were Canada, India, Brazil, the Netherlands and Italy. The same year minerals and ores exports, primarily coal, accounted for approximately 43 percent of these exports.[125]

India

In August 2012, New Jersey company FJS Energy signed a $7 million deal with India's Abhijeet Group to purchase coal from Kentucky and West Virginia. Under the deal, Kentucky coal companies will export about 9 million tons of coal annually for 25 years to India's Abhijeet Group.[126]

Kentucky representative Keith Hall was instrumental in brokering the deal. Hall's district covers part of coal-rich Pike County, and Hall also owns several coal-related businesses in the area — including coal mines — and sits on the board of FJS Energy, the company that signed the deal with India. Hall was approached for the deal by FJS Energy's Chairman, M P Narayanan, a former chairman of Indian companies Coal India and Neyveli Lignite Co., and vice chairman for the World Mining Congress.[127]

Citizen groups

Citizen activism

WV citizens arrested on June 30, 2005 after refusing to leave Massey's Richmond VA headquarters until their demands heard.

May 31, 2005: 16 arrested in Sundial, West Virginia

On May 31, 2005, 16 people were arrested after crossing into Massey Energy property in Sundial, West Virginia at a protest against Massey's coal processing plant near the Marsh Fork Elementary School. The arrestees were taken to the Whitesville State Police detachment, where they were given citations and released, Vessels said. Vessels did not have a list of names, but said one woman was 80 years old, one was from Alabama, another from Tucson, Ariz., and some were local residents.[128]

June 30, 2005: WV citizens occupy Massey headquarters

On June 30, 2005, Concerned parents, grandparents and other citizens of Coal River Valley, West Virginia, with support from Mountain Justice Summer participants, delivered a list of demands to Massey Energy's headquarters in Richmond, Virginia, insisting that Massey respond. Two were arrested for trespassing when they refused to leave the premises until Massey responded to their demands. The citizens demanded that Massey shut down its preparation plant, coal silo, 1,849-acre mountaintop removal coal mine and 2.8 billion-gallon coal sludge dam - a toxic waste storage facility — located feet from an elementary school, Marsh Fork Elementary, in Sundail, WV. [129][130]

WV citizens rally against mountaintop removal.

July 30, 2005: Hundreds rally against mountaintop removal at WV capitol building

On July 30, 2005, hundreds of citizens converged on the steps of the capitol building in Charleston WV to voice their opposition to mountaintop removal coal mining. The rally included speeches and testimonials from residents directly affected by the devastation of mountaintop removal.

The rally was opened with a prayer and speech from the Rev. Jim Lewis. "You guys are preaching the gospel of justice, " he told the crowd, "This greed will not not buy us off. Greed will not deliver us into wholeness and healthiness and happiness, particularly for the children of our state. What they're doing is wrong."[131]

August 2, 2006: Ed Wiley walks to Washington D.C. for the kids of Marsh Fork Elementary

Ed Wiley - Pennies of Promise.

On August 2nd, West Virginian grandfather and Coal River Valley resident Ed Wiley left Charleston, WV to walk to Washington DC. The march was to raise awareness and funds to build a new Marsh Fork Elementary School in Raleigh County, WV.

Marsh Fork Elementary sits directly below a leaking 2.8 billion gallon toxic coal slurry impoundment and 150 feet from a coal processing plant. Directly above the slurry impoundment is an active mountaintop removal site.[132]

On September 13th, after forty days and 455 miles, Ed Wiley reached Washington DC where he met with West Virgina senator Byrd. Over a hundred supporters had joined Mr. Wiley for the final mile. [133]

Local resident Frank Young is handcuffed at a sit-in of West Virginia Gov. Manchin's office on Mar. 16, 2007.

Mar. 16, 2007: Sit-in at West Virginia Gov. Manchin's office

On March 16, 2007, dozens of West Virginia community members - together with activists from Mountain Justice Summer and Rising Tide North America - occupied the office of West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin, in protest of the State Mine Board's approval of construction permits for a second coal silo near Marsh Fork Elementary School in Sundial, West Virginia. Community activists demanded that the state move the school; state officials have failed to comply thus far. Eleven people were arrested at this action, and many were treated roughly by police.[134]

January 31, 2009: Sludge Safety Lobby Day, Charleston, WV

Residents of southern West Virginia descended on the state capitol, bringing along jars of black water taken from their wells in Boone and Mingo Counties. They spent the day lobbying legislators to stop slurry injections into sludge ponds until studies could show what toxic materials the slurry contains.[135]

February 3, 2009: Coal River Mountain activists arrested

Five Coal River Mountain activists were arrested and charged with trespassing after locking themselves to a bulldozer and a backhoe at a Massey Energy mountaintop removal site. The activists planted a banner for the Coal River Wind Project in protest of the impending 6,600 acre mountaintop removal strip mine. Later in the day, eight more activists were arrested during a demonstration against Massey's preparations to blast the mountain. Environmentalists contend that the mountain is better developed for a wind energy project, and that the blasting could destabilize the world's largest toxic coal slurry impoundment.[136][137]

February 16, 2009: Two arrested for halting blasting at mountaintop removal site, Raleigh County, WV

On Monday, February 16 2009, two protesters associated with Climate Ground Zero were arrested for interfering with mountaintop removal blasting on the Massey Energy-owned Edwhite site near the Shumate sludge dam in Raleigh County, WV. The Shumate sludge dam holds back 2.8 billion gallons of toxic sludge, the waste by-product of chemically cleaning coal, and sits directly above the Marsh Fork elementary school. aerial map [138]

March 5, 2009: Activists protest mountaintop removal, Pettus, WV

Five activists protested at a Massey Energy Edwight mountaintop removal site on Cherry Pond Mountain, unfurling a banner that read "Stop the blasting, Save the kids." The protesters were calling attention to the blasting taking place near a dam that holds 2.8 billion gallons of sludge and lies just a few hundred yards above the Marsh Fork Elementary School. All five were arrested.[139]

April 16, 2009: Activists arrested at Massey Energy mine

Five people were arrested when activists from Climate Ground Zero unfurled a 40-foot-tall banner that read, "EPA stop MTR" at Massey Energy's Edwight mountaintop removal mine. Massey recently starting blasting at the mine directly above the town of Naoma. Activists are concerned because the blasting is near a slurry dam, which poses a risk to the local Marsh Fork Elementary School.[140]

May 23, 2009: Police remove 11 activists from mountaintop removal protests in West Virginia

State police removed eleven activists from two civil disobedience actions in West Virginia. In one action, six people locked themselves to mining equipment at a Patriot Coal mine on Kayford Mountain. Another group raised a 20-by-60-foot banner at Massey Energy's Brushy Fork coal slurry impoundment near Pettus. The protesters are part of a coalition that includes Mountain Justice, Climate Ground Zero, and concerned citizens.[141] Two of the eleven activists arrested were released from custody by May 25. Mike Roselle, the director of Climate Ground Zero, said the group was raising money to pay bail for the others.[142]

June 18, 2009: Activists scale 20-story dragline at MTR site in Twilight, WV

Four protesters visited Massey Energy's Twilight MTR Surface Mine in Boone County, WV, and climbed a 20-story strip mining machine called a dragline. The activists unfurled a 15 foot by 150 foot banner that read, "Just Stop Mountaintop Removal." The action launched a week of protests at West Virginia MTR sites, leading up to a special action on June 23 in the Coal River Valley area. The June 23rd action will include local coalfield residents, NASA climate scientist James Hansen, actress Daryl Hannah, former US Representative Ken Hechler, and many others.[143]

In July 2010, it was announced that Massey Energy had filed a politically motivated civil suit, also known as a Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation (SLAPP) suit, against fourteen activists arrested in relation to the protest. Massey is seeking $350,000 in damages for loss of coal production on that day. All fourteen activists had their criminal charges resolved in a W. Va. court in September 2009. RAN said the suit seems to be part of a larger strategy on the part of Massey to silence critics of the company’s safety record and controversial mining practices, particularly mountaintop removal.[144]

Ken Hechler discusses June 23 Massey Energy protest in WV.

June 23, 2009: Dozens arrested protesting at Massey Energy site in Coal River Valley, WV

94-year-old former US Representative Ken Hechler, NASA climate scientist James Hansen, RAN director Michael Brune, actress Daryl Hannah, Goldman Prize Award winner Judy Bonds, and many other coal activists and local residents were arrested the Coal River action. The protesters crossed onto Massey Energy property to protest mountaintop removal and the destruction of mountains above the Coal River Valley community. Massey supporters were on scene and often behaved aggressively, shouting and ripping power cords out to silence the PA system. One Massey supporter assaulted Judy Bonds and attempted to assault another, and was arrested and charged with battery. The action launched a yearlong national campaign to end mountaintop removal mining.[145]

August 11, 2009: Activists lock down Department of Environmental Protection in Charleston, WV

Four protesters locked themselves to the entrance at the West Virginia DEP, displaying signs that read, "Closed Due to Incompetence" and "Department of Encouraging Pollution." The activists demanded that the EPA and Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement take over of the agency's programs. They also called for Secretary Randy Huffman's resignation.[146]

August 25-31, 2009: Activists occupy trees to stop blasting in Coal River Valley, WV

Protesters from Climate Ground Zero and Mountain Justice occupied treetops at the edge of Massey Energy’s Edwight mountaintop removal site in Raleigh County, West Virginia. The activists unrolled banners reading "Stop Mountain Top Removal" and "DEP – Don’t Expect Protection." They were less than 30 feet from the mine and less than 300 feet from the blasting activity, which was forced to stop because of their close proximity.[147] The protest lasted six days, when the last activist finally descended and was arrested. A spokesman for Climate Ground Zero said sleep deprivation had been endangering the treesitters.[148]

October 23, 2009: Activists block coal trucks in West Virginia

Eight activists blocked a road at a Kanawha County, WV surface mine to protest mountaintop removal. The mine is owned by Ed Coal Co. The protesters were arrested and charged with trespassing, consipiracy, and obstructing an officer.[149]

Activists protest at EPA on October 30.

October 30, 2009: Activists protest mountaintop removal at EPA offices throughout the U.S.

Activists from Mountain Justice, Rainforest Action Network, and other groups protested outside EPA's D.C. headquarters and outside other EPA offices throughout the country.[150] More than 50 people staged a sit-in and rally at EPA headquarters. More than two dozen events took place on the same day, including actions in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Kansas City, and San Francisco. The activists are calling for immediate action to stop mountaintop removal coal mining, particularly targeting the Massey Energy blasting site at West Virginia's Coal River Mountain.[151]

November 21, 2009: Protestors stop blasting on Coal River Mountain: Pettus, WV

Two activists locked themselves to a drill rig and two others unfurled a banner reading "Save Coal River Mountain" to protest Massey's blasting at the Bee Tree mountaintop removal site. Residents are concerned because the blasts are 200 feet from the Brushy Fork Impoundment, which is permitted to hold nine billion gallons of coal sludge. Massey Energy itself estimates that 998 people would die if the dam breaks. The activists said they plan to remain locked down until they are arrested.[152]

December 7, 2009: 300 activists protest mountaintop removal in Charleston, WV

300 activists rallied outside the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to demand a halt to the blasting at Coal River Mountain. Environmental attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr. spoke the protest, calling mountaintop removal a crime and saying that the environmental and health impacts of burning coal make it neither a cheap nor clean source of energy. About 200 coal miners and Massey Energy representatives attended the rally to jeer and try to drown out the speakers.[153]

January 21, 2010: Tree-Sitters Shut Down Infamous Mountaintop Removal Operation in West Virginia

Three non-violent climate change activists associated with Climate Ground Zero, perched themselves on 60-foot high platforms to protest the Bee Strip Mine on Coal River Mountain. Reports indicate that the protesters halted the day's operations. The activists were David Aaron Smith, Amber Nitchman and Eric Blevins. According to Climate Ground Zero reports, the three scaled trees by the access road to Massey Energy's infamous mountaintop removal operation near the company's Brushy Fork Impoundment.[154]

February 18, 2010: No-coal Activists Stage Sit-in at Marfork Coal Company in West Virginia

Mike Roselle and two other environmental activists of Climate Ground Zero delivered a citizen's arrest warrant to the president of Marfork Complex on February 18, 2010, a subsidiary of Massey Energy, for allegedly violating West Virginia State Code §61-3E-10 for "wanton endangerment involving destructive devices, explosive materials or incendiary devices." The three were arrested after chaining themselves to chairs in the company's lobby. A cash bail was set for $5,000 to two of the activists, Joseph Hamsher and Thomas Smyth, causing the two to go on a hunger strike in protest of what they believed to be too high of a bail fee. As of February 22, 2010 the three remained in jail. A receptionist for the company was said to have had an anxiety attack following the event.[155][156]

March 9, 2010: Climate Ground Zero Activists Face Magistrate

On March 9, 2010 two of the activists, Nick Martin and Josh Graupera, appeared before a Magistrate in Raleigh County for charges stemming from the November 21, 2009 drill rig lockdown and a January treesit on Coal River Mountain protesting Massey Energy.

As reported by a Climate Ground Zero press release,

Nick Martin locked himself to the actual drill itself, refusing to unlock, and was charged with trespassing , conspiracy, obstruction and littering. He was also accused of violating his bail agreement by failing to appear for an earlier court date; however, he never received notice of his court date due to postal service mistakes. Magistrate Massie refused to return the $2000 bail unless Martin plead guilty to trespassing and obstruction, which he did. Martin was sentenced to seven days in jail and $55 in fines for the two charges, while the conspiracy and littering charges were dropped. He began serving his sentence immediately. Martin had faced up to two and a half years in jail and thousands of dollars in fines.
Josh Graupera provided initial direct support to the treesitters on Coal River Mountain and was charged with trespassing and conspiracy. He plead guilty to both charges today and received a sentence of $100 in fines and no jail time.[157]

July 8, 2010: Rainforest Action Network Activists Stage Sit-in at EPA Headquarters

Only July 8, 2010 activists associated with the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) staged a sit-in at the EPA headquarters in Washington DC. The activists demanded stronger protection for Appalachia’s drinking water and an end to the devastating practice of mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining, citing in particular the Pine Creek permit authorized a week prior for a project in West Virginia. As a RAN press release stated:

After entering the EPA building, activists sat down in the center of the lobby, locked themselves together with metal ‘lock boxes,’ and began to play West Virginia’s adopted state song, John Denver’s ‘Take me Home, Country Roads,’ mixed with intermittent sounds of Appalachia’s mountains being blown apart by MTR explosives. An additional activist climbed to the top of the EPA front door on Constitution Ave and blocked the door with a banner reading: ‘Blowing up mountains for coal contaminates Appalachia’s water, Stop MTR.’[158]

July 22, 2010: Rainforest Action Network Disrupt Massey CEO Don Blankenship’s talk at the National Press Club in Washington, DC

Rainforest Action Network (RAN) attended Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship’s National Press Club speaking event on July 22, 2010. RAN disrupted Blankenship's talk by holding signs that stated "Massey Coal: Not Clean, Safe or Forever". The focus of the protest focused on Massey's moutaintop removal strip mines and their ongoing safety violations which led to the death of 29 miners in the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster in West Virginia. The protesters were escorted out by security.

“Massey is the BP of the coal industry: reckless, arrogant and an obstacle to the clean energy future that the president and the country is calling for,” said Amanda Starbuck of the Rainforest Action Network in a press release about the action. “The bottom line is that clean, safe and forever are three words that Massey Energy can never credibly say.”[159]

September 14, 2010: Rainforest Action Network Dumps 1,000 Pounds of Dirt on EPA Sidewalk

In September 2010 the Rainforest Action Network dumped 1,000 pounds of Appalachia dirt on the sidewalk of EPA headquarters in Washington DC in protest of the mine. RAN's message: "EPA: Don't Let King Coal Dump On Appalachia." No arrests were reported.[160]

September 27, 2010: More than 100 arrested in Washington DC for coal protest

At a protest in front of the White House in opposition to mountaintop removal in places like West Virginia, over 100 people were arrested. In all, it was stated that 2,000 people took part in protests around the city. Hundreds of people marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to Lafayette Park, which faces the White House, according to protesters and media accounts. The march included at least one stop, at U.S. EPA headquarters, protesters said. It was reported that James Hansen, who heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, was among those arrested.

The crowd of mostly youthful ralliers carried signs like "Blowing Up Mountains for Coal Poisons People" and "Mountain ecosystems won't grow back." Some carried small white crosses adorned with messages such as "water pollution" and "corporate greed."[161][162]

Dustin Steele on Blair Mountain.

June 2011: March on Blair Mountain

June 6, 2011 began a 5-day march on Blair Mountain in West Virginia to draw attention to a historic labor battle, the Battle of Blair Mountain, and to prevent the destruction of the historic site - Blair Mountain - through mountaintop removal mining.

In 1921, 10,000 unionizing coal miners battled police and armed guards on the mountain, making the conflict the largest armed uprising since the Civil War and only ending when federal troops intervened. The miners sought the right to be paid by the hour and not by the ton, a 5-day work week, and fair and equal pay. At least 16 men perished in the event before the miners surrendered to federal troops on September 5, 1921.

Appalachia Rising and supporters hoped to tell the story of the coal miners who fought for principles that helped shape modern U.S. labor laws. Additionally, they hoped to keep Blair Mountain from becoming subject to mountaintop removal mining. According to Appalachia Rising's March on Blair Mountain's website, the march was intended as "a peaceful, unifying event involving environmental justice organizations, union workers, scholars, artists, and other citizen groups. Today, Blair Mountain, like dozens of other historic mountains throughout the region, is being threatened by mountaintop removal and it is here that a new generation of Appalachians takes a stand. By working to preserve this mountain we are demanding an end to the destructive practices of MTR that threatens to strip Central Appalachia of its history, its economic potential and its health."

Participants in the 5-day march sought to protect the historic battlefield by putting it on the National Register of Historic Places. Such a designation would not automatically stop mining, but it would slow down the review process. Surprisingly, the battlefield on Blair Mountain was once briefly on the National Register of Historic Places. It was later removed by a federal law that barring sites from inclusion if the majority of the landowners object. After a review of the dissenters, state and federal agencies reviewing the case ruled that the opponents dominated.

The 2011 memorial march began in Marmet and continued over 50 miles and 5 days, traversing narrow country roads used now by coal trucks. The route is the same one coal miners took in the summer of 1921.[163]

June 2012: 22 arrested today sitting in Congressional Offices to stop mountaintop removal

Appalachia Rising - DC Day of Action.

On June 6, 2012, 22 people were arrested at Congressional offices in Washington DC to protest mountaintop removal. Appalachia Rising reported the following arrests: "2 from Representative Duncan’s office in Tennessee, 6 from Rep. Griffith’s office in Virginia, 7 from Rep. Rahall’s office in West Virginia, and 7 from Rep. Rogers’ office in Kentucky. Nearly 4 dozen risked arrest."[164]

July 2012: Environmental groups take legal action against Alpha Natural Resources to Protect Waterways from Coal Pollution

On July 16, 2012 a coalition of citizen and environmental groups sued Alpha Natural Resources from nine different West Virginia coal mining facilities. The groups contested that the mines, located in Logan, McDowell, Boone and Kanawha counties, all violated the Clean Water Act.

The groups bringing the action, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and Sierra Club, sought to make Alpha Natural Resources install protections at these sites in the effort to improve the quality of West Virginia waterways.[165]

July 2012: 20 arrested after shutting down coal mine in West Virginia

It was reported on July 28, 2012 that 20 protesters associated with the Radical Action for Mountain People's Survival (RAMPS) Campaign, managed to shut down Patriot Coal's Hobet Mine in the US state of West Virginia for approximately three hours on Saturday, July 28, 2012. Most of the activists were charged with trespassing. Bail was set at $25,000 each.[166]

The RAMPS Campaign is calling for an end to strip mining in the Appalachian region because of its health and environmental consequences.[167]

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