Dec 272012
 

Mountaintop removal mining at Patriot’s Hobet mine.
Photo by Vivian Stockman.
Flyover courtesy SouthWings.org

The State Journal has listed the news regarding the groundbreaking November settlement between OVEC and others groups, and Patriot Coal as one of the top ten news stories of 2012.

Patriot agreed to phase out large-scale surface mining (mountaintop removal) beginning with a series of drastic annual tonnage reductions on their surface mined coal. The company plans to increase its underground mining.

Since the news first broke, we received some questions about the settlement, to which I will respond here.

The settlement agreement stipulates that Patriot must relinquish two permit applications for large-scale surface mines, and one permit that has already been granted. Much of the coal Patriot produces by surface mining is from land that the company leases from large land holding companies. We’ve been asked “what happens if some other company decides to mine the coal on that leased land, after Patriot gives up their permits applications? Can’t some other company just step in and use mountaintop removal to get that coal?”

It would be difficult, if not impossible, for another company to profitably mine the coal that is covered under the granted-but-relinquished Patriot 404 permit or the applied-for permits that Patriot has relinquished.

One reason for this is because Patriot has agreed, in suitably binding legal language, that any other company wanting to strip mine that coal, cannot use any of Patriot’s infrastructure to get the coal out of the mine – like load out facilities, railroads and processing plants. So, any company wanting to strip mine that land would also have to invest in all-new infrastructure, which would make such mining not economically competitive in the foreseeable future.

Here’s another question. “But, Arch Coal currently operates surface mines near one of those permits that Patriot has agreed not to pursue. Couldn’t Arch just use its own infrastructure to surface mine that coal?”

Well, Arch Coal guys know that the coal in question lies in high-selenium rock strata. They know that OVEC, WV Highlands Conservancy and the Sierra Club aren’t going away, and that our fearless and stunningly effective legal team at Appalachian Mountain Advocates isn’t going away either. There is no way Arch could mine that coal without all of us collectively forcing the company to put in many of millions of dollars worth of selenium treatment facilities. And, at least for the foreseeable future, we hope that the extra cost of selenium treatment would make that coal non-competitive with other coal on the market.

I’d also like to correct an error that one media source made in its coverage of the Patriot settlement. This agreement to phase out large scale surface mining does apply to Patriot’s mine in Western Kentucky.

Dec 212012
 
I often sought advice from Joan. She opened doors on Capitol Hill for groups like OVEC.  She helped us get our stories to legislators, helped them introduce legislation that would protect our health, our water, our mountains. She helped us get our stories to regulators and she spearheaded efforts at Earthjustice aimed at making regulators enforce laws already written, laws that were supposed to be protecting our health, our water and out mountains.Joan wasn’t just a central figure in the movement to protect Appalachian’s health and future by ending mountaintop removal. She was a clean water advocate for communities nationwide.  Air breathers and water drinkers everywhere are better off because of her intelligence, the network of connections she built, her tenacity and her fearlessness.Joan Mulhern died December 19, 2012 after a long illness.

Joan, thank you for your work. Thank you for you friendship. Thank you for your heart.  Why do you have to go so soon?

On March 30, 2004, in front of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Joan Mulhern of Earthjustice (at the podium) opens a press conference she arranged. Among the speakers where OVEC organizer Maria Gunnoe, Coal River Mountain Watch’s Mary Miller, West Virginia Highland Conservancy’s Cindy Rank and Robert Kennedy, Jr.

On March 30, 2004, in front of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Joan Mulhern of Earthjustice (at the podium) opens a press conference she arranged. Among the speakers where OVEC organizer Maria Gunnoe, Coal River Mountain Watch’s Mary Miller, West Virginia Highland Conservancy’s Cindy Rank and Robert Kennedy, Jr.

Dec 182012
 
If you follow coal-related news in West Virginia, then you know about the tragic November 30 coal sludge impoundment failure that claimed the life of a bulldozer operator at a Harrison County, W.Va. coal prep plant.You may also know that OVEC and Coal River Mountain Watch have been working together for years on our Sludge Safety Project, working on health and safety issues surrounding coal sludge injection and coal slurry impoundments. Watchdogging government agencies to make certain they are enforcing laws written to protect workers and communities is part of SSP’s mission.

CRMW’s super-watchdog Rob Goodwin contacted me (note that I was Rob’s second choice for photographer, since most-excellent photographer Paul Corbit Brown was unavailable) to see if I could join him on a flyover of the impoundment to take photographs of the impoundment failure site, photos that will be available to anyone trying to answer questions such as what happened and what other dangers may exist for workers and those living nearby.

Weather and schedules conspired to keep us out of the sky until the afternoon of Friday, December 14 when we were able to board a SouthWings plane in Charleston to head north.

It was a sad, somber flight. The bulldozer operator’s body was still trapped in the impoundment. It was terrifying to imagine what he went through, what his family is still going through. We later learned that just hours after our flight, the body of Markel J. Koon was finally brought to the surface of the impoundment.

Something else we saw from the air added to our somber feelings. For all of us on board, it was our first time seeing some of the impacts of Marcellus Shale gas extraction and processing from the air. We flew over just a couple of the sites that WV Host Farms, the Doddridge County Watershed Association and others had suggested we photograph. (Photos from that part of the flyover will appear in another blog posting.)

Once we were back in the airport, TVs were flashing news of what had happened at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

It was too much to take in one day.

Below are some photos from the first part of the flyover. Please sign this petition asking President Obama for a moratorium on faulty coal waste dam construction. And here’s a petition to President Obama about the need to talk about gun control.

CONSOL Energy’s Robinson Run complex in Harrison County, W.Va. Photo by Vivian Stockman, www.ohvec.org. Flyover courtesy SoouthWings.org.

CONSOL Energy’s Robinson Run complex in Harrison County, W.Va. Photo by Vivian Stockman, www.ohvec.org. Flyover courtesy SoouthWings.org.

Dwellings near the coal sludge impoundment at CONSOL Energy’s Robinson Run complex in Harrison County, W.Va. Photo by Vivian Stockman, www.ohvec.org. Flyover courtesy SouthWings.org.

Dwellings near the coal sludge impoundment at CONSOL Energy’s Robinson Run complex in Harrison County, W.Va.
Photo by Vivian Stockman, www.ohvec.org. Flyover courtesy SouthWings.org.

Note the failed area on the coal sludge impoundment at CONSOL Energy’s Robinson Run complex in Harrison County, W.Va. Photo by Vivian Stockman, www.ohvec.org. Flyover courtesy SouthWings.org.

Note the failed area on the coal sludge impoundment at CONSOL Energy’s Robinson Run complex in Harrison County, W.Va.
Photo by Vivian Stockman, www.ohvec.org. Flyover courtesy SouthWings.org.

 Posted by at 2:19 pm
Dec 62012
 

Dust from blasting at mountaintop removal sites pollutes nearby communities – just one of the ways mountaintop removal harms human health.
Photo by Vivian Stockman.
Flyover courtesy SouthWings.org.

Please call Senator Jay Rockefeller at 202-224-6472 to let him know that we all support his standing up to the coal industry.

Let him know that this is an excellent time for him to talk about the very real health impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining on every generation of people, past, present and future.  Ask him to urge the West Virginia House of House of Representatives to  support the ACHE Act.  This is a House bill with no Senate counterpart, yet.  Senator Rockefeller could pressure Congresspeople Rahall, McKinley and Capito to support the ACHE Act while working to draft and sponsor an equivalent bill in the Senate. Such a bill would declare an immediate moratorium on mountaintop removal mining, evaluate the health problems citizens face because of mountaintop removal coal mining, and report the results of such studies to Congress.

Now is the time to stand strong!  The coal industry needs to see it cannot get by with continuing to harm us in our homes.

Check out this podcast to learn more about mountaintop removal’s effects on human health and the ACHE Act.

Dec 62012
 
No matter if I tried, I would never be seen as a Friend of Coal. I’m a bastard child, an environmental child.I know this.

Crystal Good

Yet I salute multimillionaire coal baron Jim Justice for what he’s doing for West Virginia’s tourism economy while protesting mountaintop removal with a vengeance.

Is it really possible to do both?

Absolutely.

In my adult life I’ve come to understand the dualities and the “third” options because of my experiences: I am biracial.

My life has taught me that what black people say about whites is never 100 percent true. Neither is what whites say about blacks. There are always shades of gray. There is always room for investigation. There are always shades of Green.

I’ve learned to look first for the fear. Once you identify that, you can sift through whatever black/white/nigger/cracker/tree hugger/evil coal baron generalizations are being made.

Make no mistake: In West Virginia there is a lot of fear. Fear of not having jobs, clean water, healthcare, and on and on. Match that with some hell-raising, true grit Mountaineer spirit and, well, you’ve got yourself a debate and some Pinkerton police.

It can be deadly combo…

~Read the rest of OVEC board members Crystal Good’s blog post here, on her website.