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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