Thursday, December 23, 2010

Coal ash brings cash boon to Perry County

Official: Coal ash brings cash boon to Perry County

Critics say environmental risks not worth benefit

FILE | The Associated Press
This Dec. 22, 2008, aerial view shows homes that were destroyed in a coal ash spill when a retention wall at a pond collapsed at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Plant in Roane County, Tenn. What happened to the coal ash: For the past year and a half, coal ash has been transported to Alabama for disposal at the Arrowhead Landfill in Perry County. The disposal has generated about $4.22 million for Perry County, Uniontown, Marion and the Perry County Board of Education.
By Jason Morton Staff Writer
Published: Thursday, December 23, 2010 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 22, 2010 at 11:31 p.m.
A train carrying the last shipment of coal ash dredged from two east Tennessee rivers has come and gone in Perry County.

But the benefits — or, some contend, the dangers — are ongoing and possibly could continue indefinitely.
Proponents for the disposal of coal ash in Perry County, which has brought in millions of dollars since 2009 to this rural Black Belt county, are prepared to seek additional sources of coal ash. If these efforts are successful, Perry County could become the de facto coal ash capital of the state.
“We're not out of the coal ash business,” said Perry County Commissioner Albert Turner Jr., who lauded the benefits of coal ash to this rural county of 11,000 residents to Congress in December 2009.
Environmentalists, however, claim that the toxins brought by the coal ash could prove harmful — if not deadly — to residents living near the Arrowhead Landfill, which has taken in more than 4 million tons of the material since June 2009. They also contend the coal ash is possibly harming streams and groundwater drinking sources.
“This is not just dirt. It's a dust that carries with it a bunch of heavy metals, including mercury,” said Tuscaloosa-
based environmental activist John Wathen. “We don't know what's going to happen to Perry County in the future.”

Ashes, then riches
On Dec. 22, 2008, millions of tons of coal ash spilled from the holding pond of the Tennessee Valley Authority's coal-fired Kingston Plant in Roane County, Tenn.

Six months later, in June 2009, the Arrowhead Landfill in Uniontown began receiving near daily trainload shipments of the material, known to contain toxins and pollutants.
The bulk of the cleanup took just less than two years, and on Dec. 1, 2010, the last trainload of coal ash that had been dredged from rivers surrounding the power plant left Tennessee for the landfill in Perry County. It arrived three days later.
The final shipment of Train 414, according to TVA documents, marked the end of 4.02 million tons of coal ash that had come from Kingston to Uniontown. The Perry County Commission's agreement with the landfill operators nets the government $1.05 per ton for land use fees.
All told, the disposal in Perry County has brought in about $4.22 million during the past 18 months and divided among the county government, the cities of Uniontown and Marion and the Perry County Board of Education.
“We are very pleased with the operation. The benefits have been enormous,” Turner said. “Perry County is moving at a pace unseen for rural counties in these economic times.”
To illustrate his point, Turner points to a number of projects that either are under way or ready to begin. Among them are a $2 million resurfacing project for about five miles of Perry County Road 24 between Alabama highways 14 and 183. Turner said coal ash proceeds helped the county provide matching dollars for the federal grant that's funding the project.
He said the county spent $250,000 of its coal ash funds to buy a tract of land on which a developer is constructing a new Sleep Inn hotel. 

Additional money has been spent to secure grants that will bring $200,000 to Perry County schools, a $1.5 million renovation for the county courthouse and a $3 million water line extension throughout the county.
He also said the cities of Marion and Uniontown will receive new $400,000 sewage and wastewater treatment plans online in 2011.
In addition to the tonnage fees, the handling and disposal of the daily shipments of the material also brought jobs.
Eddie Dorsett, the president of Phill-Con Services, which operates the landfill, said that during the disposal of the ash and, before that, the construction of the landfill cells to hold the coal ash, about 80 new jobs were created. The ash disposal alone created 60 of them.
Dorsett didn't say in an e-mailed response from his attorney how many of those jobs still remain.
“We're one of the most economically sound counties in rural, western Alabama as a result of the influx of monies we've received from coal ash,” Turner said.
‘A gray cloud'
Perry County could also be one of the most environmentally hazardous counties in the state as a result of the coal ash.
Two lawsuits — one in Perry County Circuit Court and another in U.S. District Court — cite a series of alleged environmental violations ranging from the creation of noxious odors to improperly covering and controlling the dissemination of coal ash. The suits ask the respective courts to order landfill operators Phill-Con Services LLC and Phillips and Jordan Inc. to immediately halt the acts.
Dorsett said the geologic location of the landfill atop a massive rock formation makes it naturally safer than other landfills in other parts of the country.

Dorsett also said that officials with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have visited the landfill to keep an eye on the handling and control of the coal ash.
“Since the beginning of placement of ash in the landfill in July 2009, Arrowhead has been inspected numerous times by ADEM and jointly by an ADEM/EPA team,” Dorsett said. “And there have been no violations of federal, state, or local laws and regulations reported.
“Additionally, ADEM personnel have been on-site on numerous other occasions for observation and review of the operations and in no case have violations been observed or noted.”
The lawsuits, which were filed last year, await a U.S. bankruptcy court decision before they can go forward, said Florida-based environmental lawyer David A. Ludder.
Ludder, who filed the court actions on behalf of 64 Perry County residents, is worried that other coal ash-producing companies may see Arrowhead as a convenient place to dump the material that's known to contain arsenic and heavy metals, including mercury.
“Certainly one of our concerns is that other generators of coal ash may see this site as attractive, especially with all the attention that coal ash is getting,” Ludder said.
He said residents near the landfill have been exposed to the ash blown by wind and, despite assurances from Dorsett and the landfill operators, Ludder is concerned that nearby groundwater could be contaminated.
Proper sealing of the landfill sections that contain the coal ash could prevent some future problems, Ludder said.
“I do think the permanent cover on the coal ash will probably do a great deal to eliminate the offensive odors,” Ludder said.
Wathen, who assisted Ludder's fact-finding operations, said that he, too, is worried that future shipments of coal ash could further endanger Perry County residents.

“Every time the wind blows hard, you have a gray cloud sweep across that community,” Wathen said.
Bring it on
The county commissioner is outspoken in his position that he would like more power companies to consider Perry County for future coal ash disposals.
Turner said the Arrowhead Landfill is state-of-the-art and safe. And the economic benefits of making Perry County synonymous with coal ash disposal are too great to turn down.
“I haven't seen any negative effects of coal ash in the surrounding communities,” Turner said, who maintains that residents in communities surrounding landfill have made no complaints. “There have not been any reports to the County Commission of any adverse health or environmental problems.
“The largest thing we've had to deal with is mud on the highway.”
Federal regulators are examining the standards for handling coal ash across the country, including a ban on allowing the operators of coal-fired power plants to store the ash, which is a by-product of the electricity-generating process, on the same site as the power plant.
While these guidelines are being decided, Turner said he and landfill operators have been “working feverishly” to hold up Perry County and the Arrowhead Landfill as “the model of disposing coal ash in the United States.”
“We expect even more coal ash to come in to Perry County once these regulations are confirmed,” Turner said. “And we stand ready with 400 acres of undisturbed land.”
Reach Jason Morton at or 205-722-0200.

 Here's what the citizens had to say about this...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

UA students warn of boycott over mine

UA students warn of boycott over mine

UA Environmental Council protests controversial strip mine

Michelle Lepianka Carter | Tuscaloosa News
Members of the Coalition of Alabama Students for the Environment and concerned citizens protest a proposed strip mine along the Black Warrior River back in September. Now, a group of UA students intend to boycott some UA services in protest.
By Adam Jones Staff Writer
Published: Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 6:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 1:31 a.m.
TUSCALOOSA | A handful of University of Alabama students said they intend to boycott some UA services if university leaders lease land for a controversial strip mine in Walker County.

“If the university considers itself a business, the students will consider it a business right back,” said Elyse Peters, a UA sophomore.
Peters is a member of the UA Environmental Council and the Coalition of Alabama Students for the Environment, which held a joint news conference Monday. Members have protested the controversial strip mine as it moved closer to regulatory approval.
After Shepherd Bend, a subsidiary of Drummond Co., was granted a mining permit by the Alabama Surface Mining Commission in October, opponents of the coal mine shifted their focus to UA, which owns the bulk of the land that would be mined. UA, along with most other landowners, has not granted a lease to Shepherd Bend.
“Our position has not changed: the university has not been approached about leasing the land, and has no current plans to lease or sell the land,” said UA spokeswoman Cathy Andreen in an e-mail.
Peters said that if the university approves a mining lease, it would be purely for money.
“I came here to protect my university’s reputation,” she said.
The strip mine is planned for a 286-acre site off the Mulberry Fork, which feeds into the Black Warrior River.
Jasper-based Shepherd Bend applied for a permit from the mining commission in May, three years after UA sought bids on leasing 1,300 acres of land it owns off the Mulberry Fork.

The Shepherd Bend mine plan attracted opposition from environmental watchdog groups concerned it would dump too much sediment into an already crowded stream. Also, the Birmingham Water Works asked the mining commission to deny the permit because discharges from the mine would be too close to a drinking water intake that serves about 200,000 customers in northwest Birmingham.
In granting the permit, the mining commission said it did not expect the mine to dump toxic pollutants into the Mulberry Fork, and that the mine would be far enough from the Birmingham Water Works Board intake to dilute discharge. Still, the commission stipulated more monitoring should take place than normal.
Despite the mining commission’s report, Wesley Vaughn, a UA junior from Vestavia Hills, said the strip mine will be a scar on the environment. The university should protect the interests of the entire state, he said.
“The University of Alabama should join with students in opposing this mine,” said Vaughn, also a columnist for the campus newspaper, The Crimson White.
Mallory Flowers, president of the Environmental Council, said the organization has just begun signing up students for the boycott of some services, which could include paying to live on campus, paying to eat on campus and buying books on campus. No student mentioned withdrawing from UA.
“Any money we put into the university, we can also take out,” said the sophomore from Dallas. “We want the university to remember that students are the largest shareholders of the university, and when the trustees vote, they vote for us as students.”
Andreen said university leaders respect students’ right to expression.
Reach Adam Jones at or 205-722-0230.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

As the Extraction World Turns:

As the Extraction World Turns: Peabody Doubles Profits, 37 Dead Chinese Miners, 70,000 Indian Children in Mines

Jeff Biggers

Jeff Biggers

As the world continues to hail the wonderful rescue of the Chilean copper and gold miners, 37 coal miners died from a gas leak in China this week, bringing that nation's deathtoll on track for a record year.
Peabody Energy, the world's largest coal provider, just announced its quarterly profits have doubled due to international operations. Despite major concerns over water supplies, desertification, and workplace safety, Peabody recently announced its intention to open some of the largest mines in Mongolia.
According to NGO group Oyu Tolgoi Watch, "Mongolia is experiencing higher degree of climate change -- over 70 percent of Mongolia's territory is suffering desertification. That is a big concern."
Meanwhile, in Zambia, Chinese security guards opened fire on coal miners protesting their low wages.
In the Jaintia Hills in northeast India, according to human rights organizations, over 70,000 children continue to labor in dangerous rathole coal mines. In a recent piece in the Christian Science Monitor, children as young as seven were working in abysmal conditions, including some reportedly sold as indentured servants. The CSM reported:
Mine manager Purna Lama says there is no money for safety measures. Cave-ins are always a threat; wooden ladders leading down to quarries are slippery with moss; there is little or no access to medical care, sanitation, safe drinking water, or even adequate ventilation. Mr. Lama estimates that there are eight accidents a month in the mines, at least two of which are fatal.
The CSM report also includes a photo essay.
As India's King Coal--India Coal--goes public this week on the stock market in a historic sale, devastating coal mine operations in the state of Jharkhand continue to displace adivasi tribal populations, and employ women and children in unsafe conditions.

British photojournalist Robert Wallis released this essay on the "Dark Side of the Boom" in India's coalfields.

While China reportedly built a wind turbine an hour in 2009, and are steamrolling ahead with solar power production, the country just announced its record demands for coal imports.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Strip mine opponents give boat tour of area

(Cordova, AL) WIAT- The Birmingham Water Works Board has an intake on the Mulberry Fork that serves 200,000 people in the Birmingham area.  There could potentially be a mining wastewater discharge site 800 feet away if the Shepherd Bend mine permit is approved.

"I think the residents of Birmingham should be up in arms about how close and unprecented this is to their drinking water source. You know, we take our drinking water for granted when we get up and make our cup of coffee or glass of tea everyday," said Mulberry Fork property owner Todd Hyche.

    Representatives of the Birmingham Water Works Board, local environmental groups, and local college students all boarded pontoon boats today for a guided tour from Mulberry Fork residents.
 "That way they can see how potentially fragile it is. They can see how beautiful it is. They can see the proximity to the drinking water supply," said Mulberry Fork resident Randy Palmer.
  Birmingham Water Works Board spokesperson Binnie Myles said board representatives were just there to observe the site Sunday and declined to comment on the proposed mine.
  In earlier comments to the Alabama Surface Mining Commission the Birmingham Water Works Board expressed opposition to the mine permit and said it has the potential to adversely impact the Birmingham area drinking water.
The letter said wastewater discharge could affect the taste of drinking water and stain clothes.
 It said "the permit application does not address the protection of the public water supply from pollution by many other mining-related pollutants."
 Arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, and zinc are among the toxic metals which are often associated with drainage from coal mines, according to the BWWB letter.

   The University of Alabama system reportedly owns some of the mineral rights in the affected area. Concerned UA system students say the fight over the future of the land is not over, no matter what happens with the permit.
 "We do want them to commit to saying that they will never consider mining on this land even if this particular permit is not approved," said Adelaide Abele, UAB.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Pediatrician says mine pollution could cause birth defects

Pediatrician says mine pollution could cause birth defects

Reported by: Mike McClanahan
Last Update: 7:39 pm

Video 1 of 1
Pediatrician says mine pollution could cause birth defects
(Walker County, AL) WIAT -   The Shepherd Bend mine would be situated near an intake for the Birmingham Water Works Board on the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River.
   In their comments to the Alabama Surface Mining Commission which is considering the Shepherd Bend mine permit, the Birmingham Water Works Board said the mine would threaten water quality. The water board opposes the mine, and now it seems a local pediatrician has joined the fight.
   Dr. Hubert Rodriguez thinks the threat posed by heavy metals and other mining pollutants would be most severe for pregnant women and unborn children. 
 "It's probable that they would be the most sensitive, because it doesn't require but minimal amounts of these substances to produce serious side effects." said Dr. Rodriguez. "It's possible that this could lead to serious illnesses, miscarriages, probably some mental retardation- congenital malformations."  The Black Warrior Riverkeeper is the environmental group which is leading the charge against the Shepherd Bend mine. The mine has already received a permit from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.
"The central issue for the wastewater permit issued by ADEM is that, even if Shepherd Bend complies with terms of its permits, it can still discharge toxic pollutants and sediment into our source drinking water. For example, the permit allows Shepherd Bend to discharge iron up to 10 times the levels recommended by the Safe Drinking Water Act, 40 times the levels of manganese recommended by the Safe Drinking Water Act, and we think that's unacceptable," said Eva Dillard, Staff attorney for the Black Warrior Riverkeeper. "This particular drinking water intake facility for the Birmingham Water Works services 200,000 customers."  
 The director of the Alabama Surface Mining Commission was out of the office October 11th, because Columbus Day is a state holiday.
  A receptionist for the company which is seeking the mine permit, Eagle 1, LLC, said that the only person who could speak about the issue was also out October 11th.
 A decision on the permit is expected on or before October 19th, 2010.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Clean Water Advocates Bring Legal Action Against Kentucky Coal Companies

Clean Water Advocates Bring Legal
Action Against Kentucky Coal Companies

Donna Lisenby for Appalachian Voices, 828-262-1500

Pat Banks for Kentucky Riverkeeper, 859-622-3065

Ted Withrow for Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, 606-784-6885

Karl S. Coplan for Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, 914-422-4343

John Bianchi for Waterkeeper Alliance, 212-576-2700


Falsified Monitoring Data in Violation of Federal Law Among the Groups’ Claims

Eastern Kentucky, October 7, 2010 – A coalition of environmental and social justice organizations and private citizens took the first step today in bringing a lawsuit against three mining companies in Kentucky for violations of the Clean Water Act.  Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance filed a sixty-day notice letter alleging that the companies ICG Knott County, ICG Hazard, and Frasure Creek Mining, a subsidiary of Trinity Coal, exceeded pollution discharge limits in their permits, consistently failed to conduct the required monitoring of their discharges and, in many cases, submitted false monitoring data to the state agencies charged with protecting the public.  Joining in the lawsuit were several local residents impacted by the dumping of mining waste into Kentucky’s waterways.

The coal companies cited in the notice letter are all operating in the eastern part of Kentucky under state-issued permits that allow them to discharge limited amounts of pollutants into nearby streams and rivers. Those same permits also require industries to carefully monitor and report their pollution discharges to state officials. These monitoring reports are public documents that can be reviewed by anyone who asks for them.

Among the allegations cited in the notice letter are exceedances and misreporting of discharges of manganese, iron, total suspended solids and pH.  The groups and local residents bringing these claims cite a total of over 20,000 incidences of these three companies either exceeding permit pollution limits, failing to submit reports, or falsifying the required monitoring data.  These violations could result in fines that may exceed 740 million dollars.  “The sheer number of violations we found while looking over these companies’ monitoring reports is astounding,” said Donna Lisenby of Appalachian Voices.  “It shows a systematic and pervasive pattern of misinformation. These companies are making a mockery of their legal responsibility under the Clean Water Act and, more troubling, their moral obligation to the people of the state of Kentucky.” 

Coal mining operations in Appalachia and across the country are notorious for the amount of water pollution that they produce on a daily basis.  “Mining coal produces a whole host of pollutants that significantly impact our waterways,” stated Pat Banks, the Kentucky Riverkeeper.  “When coal companies don’t bother to properly monitor and report their toxic discharges, it shows a total disregard for the health and safety of our local communities and the folks who use and enjoy these waters.”

The claims brought today may just be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to irresponsible mining reporting practices and a failure in the state’s monitoring program. A recent trip to Kentucky's Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement regional offices by Appalachian Voices’ Waterkeeper found stack after stack of discharge monitoring reports (DMRs) from more than 60 coal mines and processing facilities covered in dust on the desks of mine inspectors’ secretaries. They did not appear to have been evaluated for compliance by the regulators for more than three years. A sampling of the reports showed hundreds of repeated violations by coal mine operators in the state.

“Our state officials have closed their eyes to an obviously serious problem,” said Ted Withrow, the retired Big Sandy Basin Management Coordinator for the Kentucky Division of Water and a member of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth. “These are not small exceedances – some are over 40 times the daily maximum. This should have been a red flag.”

The allegations of falsification of monitoring reports is another in a long list of recent black eyes for the coal industry, which is under widespread pressure to clean up its destructive practices and take responsibility for its enormous and devastating ecological footprint.  “The coal industry has proven time and again that it can’t be trusted. It continually downplays its severe environmental impacts, places profit over worker safety and offers false economic analysis to try to keep its inherently destructive practices alive,” said Scott Edwards, Director of Advocacy for Waterkeeper Alliance.  “And now, we know they’re not honest in reporting on matters that impact the health of communities where they operate." 

“The Clean Water Act allows citizens to bring polluters into court when government chooses to look the other way,” said Withrow. “In Kentucky, our Department of Natural Resources and Division of Water are required to provide oversight of the permits they issue to the coal industry to ensure compliance. We intend to do what our government won’t; that is, enforce the law and put an end to these illegal practices.”

Under the Clean Water Act, the companies have sixty days to respond to the allegations made in the notice letter. If, at the end of that period, all violations have not been corrected, the groups and individuals plan on filing a complaint in federal court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. The plaintiffs are being represented by lawyers with the Appalachian Citizens' Law Center, the Capua Law Firm, the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic and the Waterworth Law Office.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Mass Arrests in DC: We Shall No Longer Be Crucified Upon the Cross of Coal

Mass Arrests in DC: We Shall No Longer Be Crucified Upon the Cross of Coal

by Jeff Biggers
Over one hundred protesters from the Appalachian coalfields were arrested in front of the White House today, defiantly calling on the Obama administration to abolish mountaintop removal mining. As part of the Appalachia Rising events, the coalfield residents took part in a multi-day series of events to bring the escalating human rights, environmental and health care crisis to the nation's capitol.
Kentuckians for the Commonwealth leaders Teri Blanton and Mickey McCoy, the first arrested in today's nonviolent act of civil disobedience, were joined by allies from around the country, including NASA climatologist James Hansen. Meanwhile, protesters led by the legendary Rev. Billy Talen staged a nearby sit-in at the office of the PNC bank, which remains one of the last major financiers of coal companies engaged in this extreme form of strip-mining in Appalachia.
In a stark reminder of the national connection to the coalfields, the Obama administration officials looked on from their White House offices, as their electricity came from a coal-fired plant generated partly with coal stripmined from Appalachia.
As a litmus test of the administration's commitment to science and the rule of law, Appalachian residents are calling on the EPA to halt any new permit on the upcoming decision over the massive Spruce mountaintop removal mine.
Mountaintop removal coal only provides, in fact, less than 10 percent of all coal production.
Fed up with the regulatory crisis and circumventions by outside coal companies, coalfield residents have been rising up against reckless strip-mining practices against the country, from Alaska to Alabama to Arizona.
In southern Illinois, scores of black crosses were found at coal mines, strip mines, coal-fired plants, coal ash piles, and at the Southern Illinois University Coal Research Center.
Citing Illinois as the birthplace of the coal industry, and "ground zero in the Obama administration's plan to dangerously experiment with carbon capture and storage technologies for coal-fired plants," a new Black Cross Alliance campaign announced plans to construct symbolic black crosses at coal mining and coal-burning landmarks in the state and across the nation to serve as a public warning: It is no longer acceptable for the Obama administration--and state and regional government officials---to be complicit in maintaining deadly coal mining and coal-burning communities as shameful national sacrifice areas in 2010.
Invoking William Jennings Bryan's "Cross of Gold" speech, the Black Cross Alliance called on the Obama administration and the state of Illinois to halt billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies for multinational coal corporations, and bring an end to the scandalous coal wars in Illinois by re-investing in a sustainable clean energy policy for the future for the coalfield regions.
The Black Cross Alliance declared: You shall not crucify us any longer upon a cross of coal.
"While the rest of the nation--and world--launches into the exploding new global market of clean energy development and green jobs," the Black Cross Alliance asked, "why have the coalfield regions in the country been left out of the renewnable energy movement and slated for a new generation of increased coal production?"
For more updates on Appalachia Rising, see:

Sinking the Heartland

Citizens Against Longwall Mining (C.A.L.M.) express concerns about efforts to mine coal from under their properties in Montgomery County, Illinois. The central and southern part of the state is rich with coal that is now being sought by coal companies. Longwall mining will cause the land to drop by 4 - 6 feet, thus destroying the productivity of some of the richest farmland in the world.

More than 100 Arrested at White House Demanding End to Mountaintop Remova

More than 100 Arrested at White House Demanding End to Mountaintop Removal

Monday, September 27th, 2010
posted by lacymacauley

Appalachia Rising saw supporters both old and young. Hazel (front) was one of the youngest supporters in the streets, in front of the White House! About 100 were arrested at the White House. 4 were arrested at PNC bank calling for an end to mountaintop removal coal mining.
Dr. James Hansen, Appalachian residents and retired coal miners arrested calling for abolition of mountaintop mining and immediate veto of Spruce mine project

 WASHINGTON DC —More than 100 people were arrested today during Appalachia Rising, the largest national protest to end mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining. Arrests included Appalachian residents; retired coal miners; renowned climate scientist, James Hansen; and faith leaders. After a march from Freedom Plaza and a rally at Lafayette Park, more than 100 stage a sit-in in front of the White House to demand President Obama follow his own science and end mountaintop mining. The likely charge is obstruction.
In addition to the non-violent civil disobedience at the White House, four people were arrested during a sit-in at PNC bank for protesting the bank’s role as the lead U.S. financier of MTR.
“The science is clear, mountaintop removal destroys historic mountain ranges, poisons water supplies and pollutes the air with coal and rock dust,” said renowned climate scientist James Hansen, who was arrested in today’s protest at the White House. “Mountaintop removal, providing only a small fraction of our energy, can and should be abolished. The time for half measures and caving in to polluting industries must end.”

About 2,000 people, led Appalachian residents, marched in the street to call for an end to mountaintop removal. Photo: Friends of the Earth (C)
Appalachia Rising is being led by residents of West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee – Appalachian states directly impacted by mountaintop removal. They are calling for the Obama Administration to immediately abolish the practice of blowing up mountains and dumping the debris into nearby streams and valleys to reach seams of coal.

“I have talked, begged, debated, written letters to officials, published op-ed pieces in newspapers and lobbied on the state and federal level to end mountaintop removal,” said Mickey McCoy, former mayor and lifelong resident of Inez, Kentucky, who was also arrested today.  “Being arrested? That’s such a small price to pay for being heard. My home and people are paying the real price for mountaintop removal. They are dying.”
The tide has been turning on mountaintop removal with Appalachian residents, scientists, congressional representatives and environmentalists decrying the practice as coming at too high a cost to public health, land, water and taxpayers. Last April, in response to resounding opposition to mountaintop removal, the EPA announced new guidelines for permitting mountaintop removal valley fills. However, the impacts of mountaintop removal mining are so destructive that Appalachia Rising is calling on the administration to end the practice altogether by halting active mines and creating a permanent moratorium on new permits.
As a step in the right direction, groups have called on the EPA to immediately veto the Spruce No. 1 Mine project, which would be one of the largest strip-mining operations in Appalachia. The EPA is set to make a decision in the coming weeks on whether to reverse the Corps of Engineers’ 2007 approval for the mine. With mountaintop removal becoming increasingly controversial, the EPA’s decision on the 2,278-acre Spruce project is being closely watched as a sign of the mining practice’s future.
“We know, and the Obama Administration has said, that mountaintop removal mining is bad for human health and the environment,” says Jane Branham of the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards in VA.  “The issue here is whether President Obama will follow the science and do something about it now!”
A dozen leading scientists published a paper in the journal Science in January 2009, concluding that mountaintop removal is so destructive that the government should stop giving out new permits altogether. “The science is so overwhelming that the only conclusion that one can reach is that mountaintop mining needs to be stopped,” said Margaret Palmer, a professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences and the study’s lead author.
Mountaintop removal is a radical form of coal mining in which up to 800 feet, sometimes more, of densely forested mountaintops are literally blown up to reach thin coal seams. The resulting millions of tons of rock are dumped into surrounding valleys and rivers, polluting the headwaters that provide drinking water to millions of Americans. Already, 500 mountains and 2,000 miles of streams have been lost due to this devastating mining practice. A 2009 report estimated that coal mining costs Appalachia five times more in premature deaths than it provides the region in jobs, taxes and other economic benefits.

Appalachia Rising up in DC

Updated: New Photos
Appalachians live but a few hours drive from our nation's capitol, much closer than most of the country, and yet their voices are so seldom heard here. Maybe it has something to do with the hillbilly reputation. And maybe, because their voices are so seldom heard here, they've become prime targets for reckless industrial practices like mountaintop removal coal mining, or MTR.
Today, thousands of Appalachians and concerned citizens are trying to change that, by taking to the streets in DC with all the fierce determination and creative enthusiasm that the steep Appalachian mountains engender. Today Appalachia is rising up to demand an end to mountaintop removal coal mining.

The action's already started - check out these pictures from an early morning occupation of the Army Corp of engineers building.
There's no one person that can put an end to MTR - it takes a team. The US Army Corps of engineers directly approves permits for the practice, granting companies like Massey and Peabody the 'rights' to bury over 2000 miles of head-water streams and blow the tops off 450 mountains. But they use standards set by the EPA, which determine what the acceptable levels of pollution and stream destruction are. The politics are set by the Obama administration - how to balance justice for the Appalachian people with the ever-shrinking but significant number of coal mining jobs, with the political power of coal company war-chests grown fat from years of raping the land?

Appalachia Rising is intended to make that choice easier for them. Over the weekend 700 Appalachian residents, retired coal miners, faith leaders, scientists, artists and students crammed into the Georgetown conference center (a bit of a shock for the usual Georgetown residents) and learned how to take down MTR. Today, the vision of Appalachian's like Bo Webb and Judy Bonds and many more will be realized - an uprising in a long Appalachian tradition of plucky determination, transplanted directly to the heart of DC.
From the press release:

"I have talked, begged, debated, written letters to officials, published op-ed pieces in newspapers and lobbied on the state and federal level to end mountaintop removal," said Mickey McCoy, former mayor and lifelong resident of Inez, Kentucky. "Being arrested? That's such a small price to pay for being heard. My home and people are paying the real price for mountaintop removal. They are dying." Appalachia Rising is being led by residents of West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee
- Appalachian states directly impacted by mountaintop removal. They are calling for the Obama
Administration to immediately abolish the practice of blowing up mountains and dumping the
debris into nearby streams and valleys to reach seams of coal.
"It is past time for the Obama Administration to abolish the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining. It is killing off our culture and its people," said Maria Gunnoe of Boone County, W.Va. who works with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. "It is time to turn coal country into clean energy country. Who better to build the infrastructure to repower America than the people who powered it to begin with? We can build a new future starting now and starting in Appalachia, and starting with an end to mountaintop removal."
There will be continuous updates at and follow @App_Rising.
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About the 2010 ASES National Solar Tour

Event Date: Saturday, October 2, 2010 (in most areas)
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Join Ed Begley, Jr., Author of "Living Like Ed: A Guide to the Eco-Friendly Life", in supporting the ASES National Solar Tour!
The ASES National Solar Tour is the world's largest grassroots solar event. This event offers you the opportunity to tour innovative green homes and buildings to see how you can use solar energy, energy efficiency, and other sustainable technologies to reduce monthly utility bills and help tackle climate change. More than 160,000 participants will visit some 5,500 buildings in 3,200 communities across the U.S.
Now in its 15th year, this event is coordinated nationally by the nonprofit American Solar Energy Society in collaboration with dozens of outstanding partner organizations. It takes place annually during the first Saturday in October in conjunction with National Energy Awareness Month.
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September 24, 2010
 Although the official date for the ASES National Solar Tour is October 2nd there are many tours occurring this weekend- be sure to look under the "Find a tour" tab on this web page to see when a tour is taking place in YOUR community- bring the family, neighbor or friend and celebrate the many benefits of going solar.

Three new solar videos!

August 31, 2010
Check it out!  There are three great solar videos posted in the National Solar Tour video gallery,

Miners settle, avoid long trial

Miners settle, avoid long trial...

Miners settle, avoid long trial

By Stephanie Taylor Staff Writer
Published: Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 27, 2010 at 10:34 p.m.
TUSCALOOSA | More than 1,000 miners who filed suit against several companies have reached a settlement, avoiding a jury trial that could have lasted up to four months.

The Case
It was originally filed in 2001 by 
1,394 miners and former miners 
who claimed they were exposed to 
the dangerous chemical isocyanate.
The terms of the settlement are confidential and will not be made public.
The settlement concludes the case originally filed in 2001 by 1,394 miners and former miners who claimed they were exposed to the dangerous chemical isocyanate, which is found in products used to strengthen mine walls and ceilings.
There were around a dozen defendants originally, from product manufacturers and owners of mines where the chemical was used. Jim Walter Resources Inc., which operates mines in Tuscaloosa County, was one of the original defendants. 
Yellow ribbons wave at Jim Walter Resources Blue Creek No. 5 Mine in 2003 in remembrance of the 13 miners killed on Sept. 23, 2001. The miners who died on Sept. 23, 2001, were: Gaston E. Adams Jr., Raymond F. Ashworth, Nelson Banks Jr., David L. Blevins, Clarence H. Boyd, Wendell R. Johnson, John W. Knox, Dennis R. Mobley, Charles J. Nail, Sammy Joe Riggs, Charles E. Smith, Joseph P. Sorah and Terry M. Stewart.
Dow Chemical Co. and Flexible Products Co. reached a settlement with the plaintiffs last week, the last two companies to reach an agreement.
The settlement came after an unusually long jury selection process. Attorneys took four weeks to narrow a pool of hundreds of potential jurors to a 16-person jury.
To accommodate the large number of people, jury selection took place in the Bama Theater near the courthouse.
Tuscaloosa County Circuit Judge John England told the jury Monday morning that the case had been settled and was concluded.
“I have not been a part of a case wherein a citizen served on a jury for four weeks and not heard one minute of testimony,” he told the jurors. “You’ve done something
extraordinarily unique in the state of Alabama.”
England presided over the jury selection, which involved days of questioning the pool and showing slides of all 1,394 plaintiffs to establish whether anyone knew the miners involved. 

“We were totally shocked, we didn’t see that coming,” juror Peggy Baggett said as she left the courthouse at 10 a.m. “We came in this morning ready to hear testimony.”
Baggett and other jurors had expected the trial to last three to four months and had been told little about the case.
Most of the plaintiffs claimed that they suffered from occupational asthma caused by isocyanate exposure. Isocyanate is combined with polyurethane to create a foam. Exposure to products containing the chemical can irritate mucous membranes of the eyes, gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Direct contact can cause skin inflammation and exposure can make people more prone to severe asthma attacks. Death from severe asthma attacks in some people exposed to isocyanates has been reported, according to the CDC.
Three cases were originally filed in the Bessemer division of Jefferson County Circuit Court, but were later consolidated and moved to Tuscaloosa County Circuit Court in 2007.
The suit claimed that the companies violated the Hazard Communication Standard contained in the Occupational Health and Safety Act, guidelines set by the American National Standards Institute and the federal Toxic Substances Control Act.
The miners also claimed that the defendants committed fraud by willfully misrepresenting, concealing or suppressing the truth about the dangers of the product, that the companies engaged in a civil conspiracy and destroyed data that demonstrated the effects of exposure to the chemical. 

They sought compensatory and punitive damages for physical pain and suffering, mental anguish, medical expenses, loss of income, inability to work, permanent injuries and disabilities and aggravation of pre-existing conditions that the miners allegedly suffered as a result of using the substance.
Reach Stephanie Taylor at
stephanie.taylor@tuscaloosa or 205-722-0210.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

It's no joke; strip mine could get OK near drinking water source

 Did you hear the one about the big coal company that wanted to put a strip mine across the river from a drinking water intake valve?

There's no punch line because it only sounds like a bad joke. It's really no joke at all. Rather, it is a serious threat to our health, our economy and our river.
Photo by Nelson Brooke, Black Warrior RIVERKEEPER

The water intake can be seen in the right middle of the photo.

Photo by Nelson Brooke, Black Warrior RIVERKEEPER

What could be more reckless and shortsighted than to knowingly pollute our own drinking water?
We are told it will benefit the economy. Some of the poorest states, including Alabama, are being ripped open and polluted by the coal industry because it's "good for the economy." Well, after decades of strip mining, those states are still poor, and their land, their mountains, their wells and their rivers are a sickly mess. Pollution and destruction of the land that supports us are the demons of strip mining. Alabama deserves, and should demand, better.
If the cancerous spread of Alabama strip mines is allowed into Shepherd Bend, that's another chunk of Alabama the Beautiful chewed up and spit out, along with the communities that rely on it for clean drinking water. We cannot allow this to happen.
Shame on the University of Alabama for sacrificing its land and our water to rapacious strip mining. Shame on the Alabama Department of Environmental Management for permitting Drummond Coal Co. to discharge wastewater into the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River. The fact that the discharge points are across the river from the intake valve for Birmingham drinking water is unconscionable.
In a few weeks, the Alabama Surface Mining Commission will decide whether to grant a permit for a strip mine at Shepherd Bend. The commission needs to hear from you.
On behalf of Wild South, which represents hundreds of people potentially affected by this project, I oppose this permit and the proposed mine in general. I stand with those who support and fight for the preservation of Alabama's rivers and streams and sustainable, clean energy. And I stand with the people of Cordova who have a dream of building a local economy based on intact, healthy ecosystems and the amazing natural beauty of their home land.
You should, too. Contact the Alabama Surface Mining Commission ( and the University of Alabama.
Janice Barrett
Wild South

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Brookwood to remember miners lost in 2001 explosion

Brookwood to remember miners lost in 2001 explosion

Yellow ribbons wave at Jim Walter Resources Blue Creek No. 5 Mine in 2003 in remembrance of the 13 miners killed on Sept. 23, 2001. The miners who died on Sept. 23, 2001, were: Gaston E. Adams Jr., Raymond F. Ashworth, Nelson Banks Jr., David L. Blevins, Clarence H. Boyd, Wendell R. Johnson, John W. Knox, Dennis R. Mobley, Charles J. Nail, Sammy Joe Riggs, Charles E. Smith, Joseph P. Sorah and Terry M. Stewart.
By James T. McConatha Special to The Tuscaloosa News
Published: Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 11:27 p.m.
BROOKWOOD | Tammy Hutchins still remembers the day that 13 miners died in explosions at Jim Walter Resources Blue Creek No. 5 Mine in 2001. It was a Sunday evening, Sept. 23, and her husband, the Rev. Vic Hutchins of West Brookwood Church, was at the pulpit.

Memorial planned today
Joe Main, the assistant secretary of labor for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, will be the guest speaker today at the ninth annual miners' memorial service in Brookwood.
The service is open to the public.
The service will remember the 13 miners who died in a 2001 underground coal mine explosion at Jim Walter Resources Blue Creek No. 5 Mine in Brookwood.
The Rev. Gary Youngblood will officiate the service, which will be at the Miners' Memorial Monument at West Brookwood Church, 12882 Lock 17 Road, Brookwood.
Pre-service music will begin at 4 p.m. The memorial service will start at
5 p.m.
“(Vic) just stopped,” Tammy Hutchins said. “He just sort of looked down and turned his page, and we all just looked at each other across the congregation. Nobody said anything. We just knew something (had happened).”
Seconds later, the sirens of rescue vehicles blared outside the church. Not far from the parking lot, an explosion had torn through the No. 5 mine.
The final investigation report, released on Dec. 11, 2002, indicated that the initial explosion was caused by falling debris that had damaged a battery at a charging station in section four of the No. 5 mine. Four miners were injured. One of them, Gaston Adams Jr., could not be moved.
Noble Lynn began working in the No. 5 mine in 1997. He recalls telling his wife about the camaraderie there shortly after transferring in.
“(It was) the best mine I'd ever worked at,” Lynn said. “There was a strong bond there between all of us.”
Jim Walter Resources operates the deepest mines in North America, reaching down more than 2,000 vertical feet. The miners spend a lot of time together.
“As a coal miner, there is nothing in your life that's personal anymore,” said Jeremy Eaton, a fourth-generation coal miner who was born and raised in Brookwood. “It's a family. They look out for one another.”
After the initial explosion, several of the miners began rescue efforts. 

“When one of those people (that you care about) gets hurt or needs help, all you think about is going back to them, going to get them,” said James Blankenship, president of the United Mine Workers of America, local chapter 2245 in Brookwood. “That's what those men did.”
In the 55 minutes that followed the first explosion, 12 miners made their way through the tunnels to section four in a rescue effort. The air was thick with coal dust and dirt, and visibility was extremely low. The ventilation systems in section four had been damaged by the first explosion, allowing highly flammable methane gas to accumulate in the area. At about 6:15 p.m. a second explosion tore through No. 5.
The No. 5 mine, like the other mines at Jim Walter Resources, is constructed with a block light system for each section. The system controls traffic in and out by means of light signals and track switches. Power to operate these systems is transferred by a cable hung alongside the track when a photocell is activated by a miner at either end of the section.
After the first explosion, the cable in Section 4 had come down and been damaged as traffic moved along the tracks. The accumulation of methane and coal dust made the air in Section 4 highly flammable, and a single spark from the block light system would have ignited it.
According to the final investigation report, the block light system is presumed to have caused the second explosion. When the dust settled and heads were counted, 13 miners were missing.
“It's an honor to be a coal miner,” Blankenship said. “To lose a miner hurts. We're all family in the coal mines. We all live that life and we all know that it's dangerous.”

Rescue efforts immediately following the second explosion extracted miner Raymond Ashworth and located the bodies of three others. Ashworth died the next day. The morning of Sept. 24, it was determined that the remaining nine had been fatally injured. Their bodies were not recovered until Nov. 8.

The investigation by the Mine Safety and Health Administration cited Jim Walter Resources for failure to follow federal safety standards and for poor emergency management, but Dennis Hall, director of public relations for Jim Walter Resources, said the issue was much more complex.
“MSHA writes the rules and regulations. They inspect their rules and regulations, and they set the fines. If you'll read (the final rule from the judge) you'll see where MSHA made some mistakes,” Hall said. “Every mine is different and they have different circumstances. It was a terrible, terrible accident. And that's what people need to remember. It was an accident.”

The No. 5 mine is now closed.
Since 2001, MHSA records indicate that six other fatalities have occurred at Jim Walter Resources' mines.
“Every little thing that you can possibly do to improve your odds of surviving that shift, that's what you do,” Lynn said. “Ninety-eight percent is the good Lord watching over you, one percent is fate, and that other one percent is everything that you've done.”
Thomas Wilson, a safety inspector for the United Mine Workers, said, it's important to remember the tragedy of Sept. 23, 2001.
“(We remember) because we don't want these accidents to ever occur again,” he said.
Jim Walter Resources erected a memorial to the 13 miners in 2002.

On the lawn outside of West Brookwood Church, a small brick pathway leads out from the parking lot. At the end, flanked by evergreens, a glossy headstone bears the names of each miner who died that day. 

“The memorial is a tribute to their lives,” Blankenship said. “They are heroes. It's just as if they took a gun and went overseas. They gave their lives for a fallen brother.”
Every year on Sept. 23, a memorial service is held on the church lawn.
Wilson said that the service serves as a reunion for some of the attendees. After the accident, many of the widows and other family members who were left behind moved away. The gathering gives families time for fellowship.
At the close of the service, a candle-light ceremony will be held. Thirteen miners will don cap-lights, like the ones miners work in every day. They turn the lights out one by one and lay evergreen branches on the monument.
The miners have a sense of pride about the work they do, and they do not take the dangerous aspects of their work lightly.
“We furnish over 50 percent of the electricity that keeps these lights burning,” Blankenship said. “It's cheap power and it's because of the coal fields.”
“Coal mining gets in your blood. Coal dust gets in your lungs. It's just part of your body,” he said.