Patriot Coal Miners ask: “Who’s Going to Stand for Me?”

This is a call for environmentalists and other critics of coal to come to the aid of America’s miners.

Whenever government protection of workers health and safety or the environment rears its ugly head, America’s coal companies are quick to portray themselves as the coal miners’ best friends. They are ever ready to come to the aid of what they portray as workers threatened by environmentalists and government regulators dedicated to destroying miners’ jobs at any cost.

Today, the jobs of two thousand miners and the healthcare benefits of twenty thousand retirees and their families are threatened – not by callous environmentalists or government regulators, but by their own employer, Patriot Coal.

Patriot Coal was created in 2007 by Peabody Energy to acquire all of its operations east of the Mississippi River. Under the deal, Peabody shed many of its long-term health care obligations to its retirees. As Peabody’s CEO explained to investors, by creating Patriot “we’re reducing our legacy liabilities by roughly $1 billion.” Soon after, another coal company, Arch Coal, also shifted its health care obligations onto Patriot, and as a result, Patriot now has $100 million in liabilities related to retiree benefits and three times as many retirees as employees — 90% of whom never worked for the 5-year-old company.

Since these deals were cut, the parent companies Peabody Energy and Arch Coal have made millions. But in 2012 – surprise, surprise – their offspring Patriot Coal filed for bankruptcy. Patriot cited, among other things, “substantial and unsustainable legacy costs,” which include the health care benefits owed to retirees and widows, and “many provisions that restrict the ability of signatory employers to deploy labor and operate their mines in a flexible and cost-effective manner.”

And it turns out that those “legacy costs” include much more than just healthcare benefits. Court papers estimate Patriot Coal has about $100 million in liabilities related to retiree benefits but almost $200 million in liabilities due to legislation that requires payments for retirees suffering from “black lung.” And it has substantial environmental liabilities stemming from a 2010 federal court order requiring Patriot to deal with groundwater pollution caused by the discharge of selenium at mountaintop-removal mines.

The UMWA has initiated a Fight for Fairness at Patriot campaign which it describes as a “multi-faceted worldwide strategic campaign to expose not only the moral issues underlying this struggle, but also the enormous consequences coalfield communities and other working communities will feel if the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars in benefit payments into their local economies is suddenly shut off.” It is “mobilizing workers throughout the national and international labor movement, reaching out to religious, civil rights and other community groups, and preparing a number of tactical remedies in order to send Patriot an unmistakable message of solidarity.”

Over the last few months, the UMWA has been holding protests outside company headquarters. On January 29, ten Mineworkers union members, including President Cecil Roberts, were arrested in front of Peabody Energy’s corporate headquarters in St. Louis, as more than 750 members and retirees sang Amazing Grace.

A Just Transition

While coal companies purport to represent the interest of miners and their communities by protecting their jobs, the Patriot story – and the Peabody and Arch stories – reveal these companies in a very different light. The real threat to miners’ jobs and communities comes not from environmentalists or government regulators, but from companies that are ready to ditch their most elementary – and legally binding – obligations to those who have risked their lives to make them rich.

Patriot coal is part of a much larger picture. Like it or not, the US energy industry is in a process of transition. Some of that is due to efforts to reduce the environmental and climate impacts of coal. At the moment much more of it is due to technological and economic changes like the development of cheaper natural gas due to fracking. That is inevitably going to affect coal miners and others who produce, transport, and use coal, like workers in coal-fired power plants.

It is a basic principle of fairness that the burden of policies that are necessary for society—like protecting public health and the environment or implementing new technologies—shouldn’t be borne by a small minority who happen to be victimized by their side effects. Protecting workers and communities from the effects of socially and environmentally necessary economic change is often referred to as a just transition.

Such provisions are a matter of elementary justice—it is unfair that workers who through no fault of their own happen to work in jobs that need to be eliminated to achieve a social good should bear the burden of that change by losing their jobs.

As part of the looming transition beyond coal, we need a national policy to protect those whom that transition may harm. It could be modeled on the highly successful process that helped local communities adjust to the disruption and job shifting that resulted from the closing of military bases under the Base Realignment and Closing Commission (BRAC). Those communities were provided a wide range of federal assistance, including, planning and economic adjustment assistance, environmental cleanup, Community Development Block Grants and Community Service Grants.

Workers dislocated by base closings also received extensive support. The Department of Defense itself provided advance notification of a reduction in force; pre-separation counseling; a hiring preference system with federal agencies to re-employ qualified displaced DOD employees; financial incentives to encourage early retirement of those eligible. Workers affected by base closings were also eligible for help under National Emergency Grants, “Rapid Response” programs, comprehensive assessments and development of individual employment plans and job training.

Communities and individuals affected by energy transition in general and EPA regulations in particular could be similarly targeted for assistance from such existing programs as the Department of Labor’s Rapid Response Services and the National Emergency Grants of the DOL’s Employment and Training Administration, as well as funding for economic development and industrial efficiency and modernization from the Departments of Energy and Commerce.

Because the needed resources are scattered among many different government agencies, the first step might well be for President Barack Obama to establish an interagency task force composed of U.S. agency officials overseeing issues of employment, energy and the environment. Their first task could be to create a transition package for coal miners, utility workers and other affected workers that would provide robust financial and training support and preferential access to the new jobs created by environmental policies. That could be combined with vigorous support for economic planning and investment in the affected communities, focusing on the development of new clean energy industries. Think of it as a GI Bill for displaced workers and their communities.

Patriot Coal is a particularly egregious instance of unjust transition. It is making coal miners and their communities pay the price for change, while the coal companies pocket the benefits. But for that very reason, the struggle at Patriot coal has the potential to bring together a new coalition for justice not only for Patriot miners, but for all those who might be innocent victims of the transformation now under way in the energy industry.

While the coal companies have told us over and over that coal miners and environmentalists are unalterably enemies, the Patriot Coal campaign provides an opportunity to move beyond an opposition that has been a loser for both. It could change the terms of the discussion from conflict over trying to “save” jobs that are already doomed to providing a just transition for the human beings who the companies are prepared to throw on the scrapheap.

The campaign for Patriot Coal workers could form an important starting point for broader campaign for a just transition. It provides an opportunity for environmentalists in particular, and progressives more generally, to prove that they are the allies not the enemies of America’s threatened working people. And it give them an opportunity to argue more broadly for a transition that protects workers even as it protects the climate and the environment.

In Billy Ed Wheeler’s haunting hit song The Coal Tattoo, an unemployed coal miner traveling the roads looking for work asks, “Who is going to stand by me?” The Patriot Coal campaign gives us all an opportunity to answer that question.

Original Article by by Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith

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Koch Bros. & The Amazing Climate Change Denial Machine

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When Mountains Move: Remembering Judy Bonds

Republished from the pages of National Geographic magazine
Written by John G. Mitchell
March 2006

Coal brought people to Marfork hollow in the Appalachian Mountains of southern West Virginia. And it was coal, or rather a different way of mining it, that finally drove the people away. The last to leave was Judy Bonds.

A coal miner’s daughter whose roots here go back nine generations, Bonds packed up her family and fled when she could no longer tolerate the blasting that rattled her windows, the coal soot that she suspected was clotting her grandson’s lungs, and the black water spills that bellied-up fish in a nearby stream. Retreating to the town of Rock Creek, a few miles downstream, Bonds joined Coal River Mountain Watch, a citizens group determined to oppose surface-mining abuses.

In the years since Bonds moved, coal companies have turned to an even more aggressive mining process known as mountaintop removal. After clear-cutting a peak’s forest, miners shatter its rock with high explosives. Then they scoop up the rubble in giant draglines and dump the overburden, as they call it, into a conveniently located hollow, or valley. The method was first tested in Kentucky and West Virginia in the late 1970s and has since spread to parts of Tennessee and Virginia.

“What the coal companies are doing to us and our mountains,” said Bonds when she and I first met years ago, “is the best kept dirty little secret in America.”

Now the secret is out. Coal companies have obliterated the summits of scores of mountains scattered throughout Appalachia, and more and more folks like Judy Bonds are decrying the environmental and social fallout of what some refer to as strip mining on steroids.

Not only is mountain topping less labor intensive than underground mining, it is also more efficient and profitable than the older form of surface mining, in which the operator stripped away the horizontal contours of a mountainside as one might peel an apple. So fast has the practice spread that there’s no accurate accounting of the area affected, but surface mining in general has impacted more than 400,000 acres (1.6 square meters) in this four-state Appalachian region, including more than 1,200 miles (19,312.1 kilometers) of streambeds. If the practice continues until 2012, it will have squashed a piece of the American earth larger than the state of Rhode Island.

In the years since high-tech earthmoving machinery made mountain topping increasingly attractive to the energy industry, more and more of West Virginia’s total production of coal—some 154 million tons (139.7 million metric tons) in 2004—has come from its decapitated highlands. Relative to Western coal (Wyoming is the nation’s top coal producer), second ranked West Virginia’s low-sulfur bituminous burns with a cleaner, hotter efficiency in the electric power plants of America. And taxes from bituminous coal help fuel a large part of the state’s economy.

But some West Virginians have been paying a hurtful price for their state’s good fortune—and the coal industry’s cost-cutting efficiency. In 1948 some 125,000 men worked in the mines of West Virginia. By 2005 there were fewer than 19,000, and most of these were employed in underground mines. Nowadays, it just doesn’t take many hands to wrestle coal off the top of a mountain.

Consider, for example, the Big Coal River community of Sylvester, where fewer than 20 of its 195 longtime residents are employed in mining or related services. And consider Sylvester resident Pauline Canterberry. She lives in a small house just a quarter mile (0.4 kilometers) down State Route 3 from a coal-washing plant operated by the Elk Run Coal Company, a subsidiary of Massey Energy, West Virginia’s premier producer. Canterberry has been waging a decade-long battle with Massey and state and federal regulators over the volume of coal dust wafting from the Elk Run facility and sifting under the sills of Sylvester’s homes. She has personal reasons for being concerned about the quality of the air. Her father, Ernest Spangler, died in 1957 from silicosis. His job had been putting out mine fires with buckets of pulverized rock dust. Then in 1991 her husband, John D. Canterberry, died of black lung disease after years of working in underground mines.

“When I was young, Sylvester was the place to be,” Canterberry said. “Everyone wanted a home here because the town was so clean. It wasn’t a company town. But then Massey came into the valley, and it’s been downhill ever since—in more ways than one. Now they’ll take 300 feet (91.4 meters) off the top of a mountain just to get at a few feet of coal.”

After a long succession of petitions and hearings, 150 Sylvester residents prevailed in their case against Elk Run, forcing the company to pay the litigants economic damages of nearly half a million dollars and requiring it to maintain a dust-trapping dome over its processing plant and to limit the number of coal trucks passing through town to an average of 20 a day. Despite these concessions, Canterberry and some of her activist neighbors are worried about Massey’s plans to expand its Elk Run operations. (Massey representatives did not return repeated phone calls requesting information on its record at Sylvester.)

Several years ago the director of the state’s Division of Mining and Reclamation issued a memorandum showing that for the years 2000 and 2001 Massey incurred 500 violations, more than twice the number accumulated by the state’s next three largest producers combined. Sixty-two of those violations, most involving excessive coal dust emissions, were attributed to the Elk Run Coal Company at Sylvester.

I grew up beholden to West Virginia bituminous coal. My parents’ house in Cincinnati was heated by it until they switched to oil in 1945. The coal came down the Ohio River by barge, and every wintry month or so a dump truck would deliver a big pile beside our garage. I remember helping my father cart it to the furnace inside, and the grating screech of his shovel on the cellar floor. And I remember the trail of black soot and the coal dust on my shoes. I was grateful for the warmth the coal gave us, but I hated it too because it was dirty. This was before public health and clean-air regulations obliged the mining industry to wash coal and, in Appalachia at least, dispose of the dust, dirt, and wastewater in impoundments, often perched precariously on the sides of the mountains.

There are some 500 of these impoundments in Appalachia today, more than half in Kentucky and West Virginia. Variously referred to as slurry ponds, sludge lagoons, or waste basins, they impound hundreds of billions of gallons of toxic black water and sticky black goo, byproducts of cleaning coal, mostly from underground mines but also from surface mines. Mountain folk residing downhill from these ponds worry about what a flood of loose sludge might do—and has already done in a number of tragic cases.

In Logan County in the winter of 1972, following two straight days of torrential rain, a coal-waste structure built by a subsidiary of the Pittston Coal Company collapsed and spilled 130 million gallons (492 million liters) into Buffalo Creek. The flood scooped up tons of debris and scores of homes as it swept downstream. Survivors recalled seeing houses bob by, atilt in the swift current, the doomed families huddled at their windows. The final count was 125 dead, 1,000 injured, 4,000 made homeless. The Pittston Company called the disaster an “act of God.”

In neighboring Kentucky on an October morning in 2000, the bottom of a waste pond near the town of Inez collapsed, pouring 250 million gallons (946 million liters) of slurry—25 times the amount of oil spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster—into an inactive underground mine shaft. From there, the slurry surged to the mine’s two exits and flooded two creeks hell-bent for the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy and the Ohio River beyond. Miraculously, there was no loss of human life, though 20 miles (32.2 kilometers) of stream valley would be declared an aquatic dead zone, water systems in ten counties would have to be shut down, and the black slick would eventually reach out toward the riverfront in Cincinnati. Lawyers for the Martin County Coal Company, a Massey subsidiary and owner of the impoundment, blamed the accident on excessive rainfall, which was simply another way of saying what had been said at Buffalo Creek. It was God’s fault.

Fear of impoundment failures haunts the collective memory of West Virginians. “I’m convinced something awful’s going to happen again,” Freda Williams was saying the day I called on her at her tidy brick house beside a tributary of the Big Coal River, just south of Whitesville. One of the largest waste basins in the state, the Brushy Fork slurry lagoon, owned by Massey Energy, impounds some eight billion gallons (30.2 billion liters) of blackwater sludge about three miles (4.8 kilometers) upstream from Williams’s home.

“What’s going to happen to all that water if the dam breaks or the basin collapses into an abandoned underground mine?” By some accounts, should the Brushy Fork impoundment ever fail, a wave of sludge 25 feet (7.6 meters) high could roll over Whitesville in no time flat.

Two other Massey waste impoundments pucker the slopes of the Big Coal Valley. The one at Sundial looms directly above the Marsh Fork Elementary School, with an enrollment of 240 children, from kindergarten through fifth grade. Though Stephanie Timmermeyer, chief of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, has claimed that the Massey facility poses no threat to the schoolchildren, the agency’s own rating system lists the dam as a Class C facility, meaning its failure could reasonably be expected to cause loss of human life.

Besides the raw scars of the mines themselves, the most startling features of coal country are not necessarily those blackwater basins but the mountain-topped valley fills that have buried hollows and headwater streams under millions of tons of broken rock. Critics fear some fills could eventually come tumbling down in landslides of unpredictable proportions. As one Kentucky attorney likes to put it: “A valley fill is a time bomb waiting to happen.”

One of West Virginia’s biggest time bombs reaches more than two miles (3.2 kilometers) down what used to be, when it was flowing free, the Connelly Branch of Mud River in Lincoln County. The fill represents part of a mountaintop the Arch Coal Company unhinged to create the 12,000-acre (48.6-square-kilometer) Hobet 21 mine, one of the largest surface mines in West Virginia. But Hobet 21, now owned by Magnum Coal, has another distinction: For several years it’s been home to “Big John,” an earthmoving machine with a 20-story dragline and a bucket scoop that swallows over 100 tons (90,718.5 kilograms) of soil and rock in a single bite.

Up the Mud River a short way, a tributary known as Laurel Branch flows sweet and clear beside a weathered white-frame farmhouse. The front porch overlooks a garden of corn and potatoes. From the porch in the spring you can hear the vernal murmur of the creek, though not when the farmhouse is crowded, as it was at the time of my visit, with kin of the Caudill-Miller clan gathered at a place that has been in the family for a hundred years. Leon and Lucille Miller preside as host and hostess for these occasions. She is one of the surviving heirs of John and Lydia Caudill, who inherited 75 acres (303,515.4 square meters) abutting the Mud and built this farmhouse in 1920. Lucille was raised here, along with nine siblings. But now, for all the copious country food and Caudill hospitality, an explicable uneasiness lingered at the edge of the festivities. Moving to expand its Hobet 21 operation, Arch Coal had informed the Millers that it was looking to do with Laurel Branch what it had done to the Connelly. And Arch wanted the Caudill homeplace out of the way.

“They want it all,” Leon Miller told me, “the house and everything. And we’re saying, ‘No.'”

Since that particular May reunion a few years ago, I have been following the ups and downs of the Millers’ struggle to stop Arch Coal from burying Laurel Branch and the ancestral home under the shadow of Hobet 21. Arch did succeed in buying out some of the Caudill heirs, thereby acquiring a two-thirds interest in the 75 acres (303,515.4 square meters). But when Lucille Miller and six of the heirs continued to say “no,” Arch’s Ark Land Company filed a lawsuit in Lincoln County Circuit Court arguing that the holdouts should be forced to sell their interests because coal mining was “the highest and best use of the property” and because the cost of protecting the nearby MillerCaudill land from mining waste would be prohibitive for Arch. Besides, the company’s attorneys said, the heirs did not live at the farm but used it only on weekends and other occasions. The circuit court ruled in the company’s favor and ordered the property sold at auction. Arch got it. The Millers appealed to the state supreme court and won a reversal of the lower court’s ruling. The farmhouse still stands, and the Laurel still murmurs, at least for now.

While Millers and Caudills rallied round their embattled homeplace, a larger but not unrelated issue was unfolding in federal courts and among the agencies responsible for regulating coal mining under the Clean Water Act and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA). Under “Smackra,” as the act is known, environmentalists contend that the U.S. Office of Surface Mining should enforce a buffer-zone rule prohibiting, in all but the most exceptional cases, any mining activity within one hundred feet (30.5 meters) of a stream. Under the Clean Water Act, the Army Corps of Engineers was supposed to regulate the actual filling of the streambed itself. Perceiving a lack of enforcement on both counts, opponents of mountaintop mining in West Virginia have been in and out of court for the past five years, occasionally winning a legal round only to have it set aside on appeal by attorneys for various agencies and the coal industry.

In or out of the courtroom, the argument often boils down to differing opinions as to what constitutes a regulated stream in Appalachia, how vital its uppermost reaches might be to the ecological health of the downstream watershed, and finally the degree to which valley fill might contribute to flooding in a peak storm event.

The defenders of valley fills argue that most of these structures affect intermittent streams only and therefore do not fall within the reach of the Army Engineers and the Clean Water Act. William Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, believes many fill areas are simply “dry hollows” for most of the year, implying that they serve little ecological function.

But that’s not the way Ben Stout, a biology professor at Wheeling Jesuit University, sees it. According to Stout, aquatic insects in seep springs at the top of a watershed feed larger life-forms by shredding leaf litter and sending the nutrientrich particles downstream. “These insects provide the link between a forest and a river,” Stout says. “Bury their habitat and you lose the link.”

The issue of flooding also evokes conflicting views. Raney sees no connection between mountaintop mining and floods. “Science doesn’t bear that out,” he told me during an interview in his Charleston office. “What causes flooding is too much water falling in too short a time.”

Yet a study by federal regulators, obtained by the Charleston Gazette through the Freedom of Information Act, predicted that one valley fill at the Hobet 21 mine could increase peak runoff flow by as much as 42 percent. Vivian Stockman, a project coordinator with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition in Huntington, contends that 12 West Virginians have died since 2001 because of floods related to mountaintop mining. “Old-timers will tell you property that has been in their families for generations never flooded severely until mining began upstream,” Stockman says. “It’s common sense. Denuded landscapes don’t hold water the way forests do.”

It was not the intent of Smackra, of course, to allow coal companies to walk away from their surface mines and leave them denuded. Stripped mountainsides, the law declared, must be restored to their “approximate original contour” and stabilized with grasses and shrubs, and, if possible, trees. But putting the entire top of a topped-off mountain back together again was an altogether different—and more expensive—matter. So mountaintop mines were given a blanket exemption from this requirement with the understanding that, in lieu of contoured restoration, the resulting plateau would be put to some beneficial public use. Coal boosters claimed the sites would create West Virginia’s own Field of Dreams, seeding housing, schools, recreational facilities, and jobs galore. In most cases it didn’t work out that way. The most common “use” turned out to be pastureland (in a region ill-suited for livestock production) or what the industry and its regulators like to identify as fish and wildlife habitat.

“The coal companies have stripped off hundreds of thousands of acres,” says Joe Lovett, an attorney for the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, “but they’re putting less than one percent of it into productive use.”

Yet the industry should get some credit for what it’s managed to accomplish in postmining land use over the years. It’s provided a number of West Virginia counties with the flat, buildable space to accommodate two high schools, two “premier” golf courses, a regional jail, a county airport, a 985-acre (3,986,169.5 square meters) complex for the Federal Bureau of Investigation near Clarksburg, an aquaculture facility, and a hardwoodflooring plant in Mingo County that now employs 250 workers.

“Economically, we were dying on the vine,” said Mike Whitt, executive director of the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority, as we toured the 40-million-dollar flooring plant, financed by grants from federal, state, and local governments and by private investors. “So we got OPM—other people’s money—to get the job done. Without the infrastructure to create jobs, you’re out of the game.”

One emerging idea to help keep this underemployed region in the game is commercial forestry—restoring the land not as pasture or golf course or school but as a reincarnation of what used to be here in the rich diversity of the Appalachian forest. Arch Coal, with test plantings already established east of Whitesville, reports it’s eager to pursue this option. “Our intent,” says Arch’s Larry Emerson, “is not just to approximate what was there before mining but, for the long range, establish a commercial forest.”

Some foresters are not convinced that Arch is willing to go far enough in its romance with reforestation. James Burger, a professor of forestry at Virginia Tech University and a zealous proponent of turning topless mountains into productive forests, has found in his studies that weathered brown sandstone soils—making up a mountaintop’s uppermost layer and therefore the first to be dumped and lost in a valley fill—would be better set aside and used, without compaction, as top dressing for any reforestation. But Arch’s forestry consultant argues this would raise substantially the per-acre cost of reclamation.

A few environmentalists, such as Joe Lovett of the Appalachian Center, hail Burger’s crusade for reforestation as the next best thing to stopping mountaintop mining altogether. Others view it as a cop-out exercise in wishful thinking. “I understand what makes up that forest, and it’s not just trees,” says Judy Bonds of Coal River Mountain Watch. “I’m talking about the herbs and the plants that evolved here in this forest over thousands of years. Recreate that forest? You couldn’t do it in 1,500 years.”

Standing in the doorway of the Mountain Watch office on the main street of Whitesville, I listened to Judy Bonds reminisce about the way it was 50 years ago when she was a child. “I used to swim in the Coal River then,” she said, “but now it’s so full of silt that the water barely comes up to your knees. It breaks my heart. I look at my grandson, and I see that he’s the last generation that will hunt and fish in these mountains and dig for ginseng, and actually know mayapple when he sees it. These mountains are in our soul. And you know what? That’s what they’re stealing from us. They’re stealing our soul.”

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Lowe et al v. Peabody Holding Co LLC – RE: Patriot Coal Bankruptcy

NEW YORK, Jan 28 (Reuters) – Patriot Coal Corp wants to limit its obligation to pay retiree health benefits to thousands of U.S. mine workers and their families as part of its plan to survive Chapter 11 bankruptcy, according to court documents filed Monday.

The company has proposed creating a trust, known as a voluntary employees’ beneficiary association, to provide a maximum of $40 million annually up to a limit of $200 million.

The annual cost of providing retiree health benefits in 2012 was $71 million and is expected to rise to $73.8 million, nearly twice as much as Patriot has proposed to spend, according to the documents.

The company’s proposal was detailed in an amended lawsuit filed by eight mine workers and their union, the United Mine Workers of America, against Peabody Energy Corp and Arch Coal Co.

They are seeking class-action status for more than 10,000 workers whose benefits were transferred from Peabody and Arch to Patriot in a 2007 spinoff. The lawsuit claims Peabody and Arch, rather than Patriot, should be responsible for paying the retiree health benefits for the workers, some of whom retired before 2007 and never worked for Patriot.

The union is concerned that Patriot will take advantage of bankruptcy laws allowing companies to shed much of their retiree health care and pension costs. It claims Peabody and Arch deliberately shunted their obligations onto Patriot in an effort to avoid having to pay the full amount.

Representatives for Peabody, Arch and Patriot could not be reached outside of regular business hours for comment. A spokesman for Peabody, Vic Svec, has previously said that Patriot was “completely viable” when it was spun off and that its collapse was not due to the cost of the retiree benefits.

The lawsuit is pending in federal court in West Virginia, where Patriot has most of its operations. The bankruptcy case began in New York before a judge ordered it moved to Missouri where the company is based.

The lawsuit is Lowe et al v. Peabody Holding Co LLC et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of West Virginia, No. 12-06925. The bankruptcy case is In Re Patriot Coal Corp et al, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Eastern District of Missouri, No. 12-51502.


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UBB: Blankenship indictment and conviction “only possible outcome” of complete UBB investigation

[TRIANGLE, VA.] United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil E. Roberts today issued the following statement:

“The statement in court today by Mr. David C. Hughart that the former chief executive officer (CEO) of Massey Energy, Don Blankenship, was involved in a long-term scheme to violate mine safety laws and cover it up is surprising only in that a high-level Massey employee finally told the truth. Those of us who have observed Blankenship’s lawless ways over the past many years have long predicted this day would come if the facts ever came out.

“Finally there is a witness to Blankenship’s misdeeds who will step forward and tell what he knows. Hopefully more will follow suit. If the investigation into the tragedy at the Upper Big Branch mine is to be complete, Don Blankenship’s indictment – and then conviction – is the only possible outcome.

“But for the families of the 53 people who died on Massey property during Blankenship’s reign, including the 29 at Upper Big Branch, today’s news comes too late. For far too long, he ran roughshod over mine safety and health laws, over labor laws, and over the people of central Appalachia. Those few of us who would stand up to him were often hounded with lawsuits and subjected to threats and attempted intimidation.

“Thankfully, those days are over. But the damage Don Blankenship and Massey Energy did to workers, their families and their communities will take years to overcome. I commend U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin for taking this investigation where no one else has, and look forward to the day when Don Blankenship is behind bars where he belongs.”

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Former Massey executive pleads guilty to conspiracy

February 28, 2013 ·
While he didn’t call him by name, former president David Hughart said, under oath, that Massey’s former CEO Don Blankenship knew about the violations.


David Hughart now faces up to six years in prison and a $350,000 fine.

David Hughart of Crab Orchard admitted that he conspired to impede the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The 53-year-old admitted that he and others at Massey conspired to violate health and safety laws and concealed those violations by warning mining operations when MSHA inspectors were arriving to conduct mine inspections.

Hughart is the former president of Massey’s Green Valley Resource Group and is the highest-ranking official charged to date in an ongoing federal investigation.

In a press release, US Attorney Booth Goodwin said, “Mine safety and health laws are not optional.”

Hughart’s cooperation has been viewed as a sign that authorities may be gathering evidence to target officials further up the Massey hierarchy.

He is believed to be the highest ranking level mine executive ever charged.

The investigation was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division.

Alpha Natural Resources, which acquired Massey’s operations in a June 2011 merger, is continuing to cooperate with the investigation.

Sentencing for Hughart is set for June.

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Submit comments opposing more destruction of Coal River Mountain.


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Earth fom the perspective of astronauts

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Stripmining a part of Black History

“I am ready to act, if I can find brave men to help me.”  —Carter Woodson

Portrait of Carter Woodson.

By Jeff Biggers ECOWATCH
As schools, communities and politicians across the country celebrate Black History Month in February, they will be remiss if their lessons don’t include the coal fields of Fayette County, West Virginia. There, in the 1890s, a teenage African American followed his brothers into the coal mines, serving what Carter Woodson called his “six-year apprenticeship.” In the evenings, the young Woodson would gather with other black coal miners, read the newspaper and listen to their extraordinary stories of life underground, and their struggles during the Civil War and Reconstruction era.

The daily history lessons among African Americans in Appalachia were not lost on Woodson. He later wrote that his “interest in penetrating the past of my people was deepened and intensified” during these sessions among coal miners in Fayette County. Woodson managed to return to high school in Huntington, West Virginia—the access to education for African Americans being one of the reasons his family had chosen to come to Appalachia—and earned his diploma in two years. He moved on to earn a degree at Berea College, which had been founded in the hills of eastern Kentucky by abolitionists in 1855, the University of Chicago and then a Ph.D. in history at Harvard University.

Roadside marker in Huntington, WV of Woodson’s life. Photos: Wikipedia Commons

Woodson went on, of course, to become the “Father of Black History,” and one of our country’s most celebrated historians. Few people realized, however, that West Virginia once again played prominently in Woodson’s career in 1920, when the young black professor lost his job at Howard University and became a dean at the West Virginia Collegiate Institute. There in West Virginia, Woodson finally received a substantial grant from the Carnegie Foundation that allowed him to return to Washington, D.C. and set his Association for the Study of Negro Life and History on a course for world acclaim.

Woodson’s and Black History Month’s largely overlooked origins in West Virginia are not the only casualty in our selective memory on American history.

A century after Woodson’s tenure in the coal mines in West Virginia, another “first” took place in Fayette County. In 1970, the first mountaintop removal operation was launched on Cannelton Hollow in an area once called Bullpush Mountain. Thirty-eight years later, mountaintop removal practices—the process of literally blowing up mountains, and dumping the waste into waterways and valleys, in order to cheaply remove coal—have destroyed more than 450 mountains and neighboring communities, displaced miners and stripmined the cultural landscape in the Appalachian region.

This catastrophic form of coal mining has robbed Appalachia of too much of its history in the process. If anything, it should remind the nation that the neglect and degradation of a region and its history have always mirrored the neglect and abuse of the land.

In a speech at Hampton Institute in Virginia, Woodson once reminded the audience: “We have a wonderful history behind us … If you are unable to demonstrate to the world that you have this record, the world will say to you, ‘You are not worthy to enjoy the blessings of democracy or anything else.’ They will say to you, ‘Who are you anyway?’”

Appalachians understand this bitter historical reality more than any other citizens in the U.S. Black Appalachians, especially.

Last year, for example, I was supposed to speak at a school in Chicago in February. But the organizer called me at the last moment and asked to reschedule until April, since a book I had written about “those people down there” didn’t relate to Black History Month. But Black History Month was launched by an Appalachian coal miner, I told my host. Booker T. Washington, the most celebrated black spokesman from last century, also emerged out of the coal mining communities in Appalachia; Martin Delany, the first black nationalist in the 19th century, who helped to launch Frederick Douglass’ first newspaper, came out of West Virginia. So did Henry Louis Gates, the prominent African American literary critic at Harvard University.

I went on. Do you know that Bessie Smith, the “Empress of the Blues,” took her songs from the streets of Blue Goose Hollow in Chattanooga, just as W.C. Handy, the “Father of the Blues,” composed his masterpieces from the sounds of his native hills of northern Alabama. That Nina Simone, the “High Priestess of Soul,” always performed folk ballads from her native western North Carolina mountains. That, in fact, black guitar and banjo players were the stylists for much of the early country music, gospel and folk songs.

Did you know that four months before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus in 1955, she took a seat at the Highlander Folk School in the backwoods of Tennessee, where she attended strategy session on social action led by so-called “radical hillbillies.” That the first desegregated school to graduate a black student in the South was in the mountains of Tennessee?

And did you know that the United Mine Workers have always been an integrated union? Coal miners and coal mining communities in Appalachia and around the country should be celebrated during Black History Month, not dismissed or forgotten.

The struggle of humanity against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting, author Milan Kundera wrote about his native Czech Republic. He added in an interview with American novelist Philip Roth, “Forgetting is a form of death ever present within life.”

There is a lot of “forgetting” and death taking place in our nation’s memory about Appalachia’s destruction today.

Carter Woodson, who was mocked when he first arrived in Washington, D.C. for his “hayseed clothes,” never forgot the importance of his origins.

Hopefully, some brave men and women will act to preserve Woodson’s and Appalachia’s great heritage before it is stripmined into oblivion.

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Richard Burton on mining on the Dick Cavett Show in 1980 –

In July 1980, Richard Burton appeared on the Dick Cavett Show. Here, a clip of him discussing the glories of mining in Wales — in the miners’ eyes. It is, improbably, one of the most beautiful monologues on the dignity of labor ever recorded.

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