Coal

Kudzu grows near a coal preparation plant in eastern Kentucky.
Jeff Young / Ohio Valley ReSource

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Thursday filed a lawsuit against coal operator ERP Environmental Fund, Inc. alleging the company has racked up hundreds of violations, laid off employees, and walked away from its mining operations, leaving environmental obligations unfulfilled. 

According to documents filed with the Kanawha Circuit Court on March 26, ERP holds more than 100 permits at numerous mine sites across West Virginia. With the exception of one permit, all were acquired in 2015 from Patriot Coal Corporation during the company’s second bankruptcy. 

coal
Mead Gruver / AP Photo

As states across the Ohio Valley order the closure of non-essential businesses to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, coal mines will remain open. But as with many industries, the global pandemic is straining the coal sector, and some experts say the already struggling industry could face intense challenges in the months ahead as electricity demand flags and international exports stall. 

Just about a decade ago — April 5, 2010 at about 3:30 in the afternoon — an explosion fueled by methane and coal dust ripped through the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia and killed 29 miners. A new play at New York's Public Theater called Coal Country tells the story of what happened at Upper Big Branch in the words of miners who survived the blast and family members of those who didn't.

A bill that would create a utility solar energy program in West Virginia is one step closer to becoming law.

On Thursday, despite vocal opposition from some coalfield lawmakers, the House of Delegates passed an amended version of S.B. 583, 75 to 23 with two members not voting. The bill now heads back to the Senate to address two House amendments.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Award-winning investigative, environmental reporter Ken Ward Jr. announced Monday was his last day at the at the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, there’s more and more conversation about what a transition away from a coal-heavy economy might look like in the state. But for many, it’s a hard reality to swallow.

Kudzu grows near a coal preparation plant in eastern Kentucky.
Jeff Young / Ohio Valley ReSource

On a recent soggy Wednesday evening, dozens of West Virginians packed a conference room inside the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center to discuss the need for a “just transition” for coal-impacted communities.

As the nation grapples with climate change, the need for a fair transition for workers and communities that depend upon coal jobs and revenue has also gained traction.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Engineers are increasingly concerned about locks and dams along the Ohio River in this day and age. We take a closer look at this issue and much more on this West Virginia Morning.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s energy and environment reporter Brittany Patterson returns to lead a conversation on West Virginia’s struggling coal industry. We’re also joined by senior reporter Dave Mistich and reporter Emily Allen to discuss the latest news from the Capitol.

Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Resourceful. Self-reliant. These are some of the values many people who live in the mountains pride themselves on. But could we sustain ourselves?

More Unpaid Appalachian Miners Stage A Coal Train Blockade

Jan 14, 2020
Miners and supporters block the railroad in Pike Co., Ky.
Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

For the second time since summer, eastern Kentucky coal miners are blockading a railroad track to protest unpaid wages. The new blockade, which was started Monday afternoon by Quest Energy miners, echoes the months-long blockade by Blackjewel coal miners over the summer and speaks to a growing discontent in Appalachian coal country.

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West Virginia’s governor says a technology company has agreed to open a research facility in the state to look into using coal to make carbon-based products.

Gov. Jim Justice gave additional details about the agreement with Ramaco Carbon on Thursday after mentioning the research center in his State of the State speech.

Kenn W. Kiser / morguefile.com

 


  A new study finds the closure of coal-fired power plants and transition to natural gas generation across the United States over a decade saved an estimated 26,610 lives due to a reduction in air pollution, with about a fifth of those avoided deaths in the Ohio Valley. 

Eric Douglas / WVPB

It may be winter, but work on the waterways around Appalachia never stops. In this episode of Inside Appalachia, we are listening back to an episode that originally aired over the summer about people who work on the rivers.

Our rivers are a vital part of our identity as Appalachians. We depend on them for survival, recreation and transportation. And we depend on rivers for economic reasons, too. 


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A West Virginia coal miner died while working at a Murray Energy mine, Gov. Jim Justice’s office said Tuesday, Dec. 24.

Raymond Leonard Starkey Jr., 21, of New Martinsville, was fatally injured Monday while helping to repair a beltline at the Marshall County Coal Company Mine near Cameron, Justice’s office said in a news release.

December 14, 1857: Coal Operator Justus Collins Born in Alabama

Dec 14, 2019
Justus Collins started Greenbrier Coal & Coke and later opened the Whipple mine near Mount Hope.
E-WV The Humanities Council

Coal operator Justus Collins was born in Alabama on December 14, 1857. He got his start in coal mining in the Deep South but moved north about 1887 to pursue his fortune in the coalfields of southern West Virginia.

In Mercer County, Collins organized the Louisville Coal & Coke Company, one of the first mines to ship coal on the Norfolk and Western Railway. In 1893, he opened Collins Colliery at Glen Jean in Fayette County. About the same time, he started Greenbrier Coal & Coke and later opened the Whipple mine near Mount Hope.

Part 3 of the TED Radio Hour episode Accessing Better Health.

About Michael Hendryx's TED Talk

For over a decade, Michael Hendryx's research has shown mountaintop removal is connected to cancer and other diseases in nearby towns. He says awareness is key for changing policy around the practice.

About Michael Hendryx

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Flea markets are a common feature across rural landscapes, especially in Appalachia. If you have never been, there is typically something for everyone, and one West Virginian artist is turning the unique finds into art. 

“Sometimes it’s the imagery. A portion of my work has an industrial aspect to it, and I don’t mean just the materials, but the imagery,” Robert Villamagna said.


Ella Jennings

Our region has faced major economic changes and challenges in the past decade. But if you know our region’s history, this story of boom and bust, renewal and recession, is an all too familiar story. In this episode of Inside Appalachia, we’ll explore how these economic changes affect people, our friends, our neighbors, and how entire communities can be uprooted by the closing of a local factory, or coal-mine layoffs. 


West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, Ohio Valley coal giant Murray Energy’s bankruptcy renewed fears about the already shaky pension plan that tens of thousands of retired miners depend upon. As the Ohio Valley ReSource’s Becca Schimmel reports, some regional lawmakers are renewing their push to fix the United Mine Workers’ pension fund.

Protesting miners block train tracks in morning fog.
Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource file photo

Coal miners who went without pay when mining company Blackjewel declared bankruptcy this June are one step closer to receiving lost wages. The checks come weeks after some of the miners ended a long-running protest, and months after the federal Department of Labor first intervened to allege the company violated labor laws in the month before it folded.

Us & Them: Three Tales of Coal

Oct 24, 2019
WV Archive

For decades, coal was king in West Virginia. It paid good wages, paid the bills for many local services through taxes, and kept small towns alive. But more of our nation’s electricity is starting to come from other sources like wind and solar power. Coal is losing out.

Why Worker Training Programs Alone Won’t Save Coal Country

Oct 8, 2019
Participants in a West Virginia worker training program offered by Coalfield Development Corporation.
Rebecca Kiger / Ohio Valley ReSource

Bobby Bowman mined coal in West Virginia for 12 years before his employer shut down.

“I don’t think that mine will ever open again,” he said.

Bowman lives in Welch, in the south of the state, where he worked at the Pinnacle Mine, which shut down almost exactly one year ago, putting him and about 400 others out of work. After waiting a month in hopes someone would buy Pinnacle and the mine would reopen, Bowman decided to do a four-week training program offered by the United Mine Workers Career Center. He enjoyed it and earned a certification in heavy equipment operation. But when he came back home, he struggled to find a job in the field. So Bowman took matters into his own hands.

Blackjewel Miners Likely To Receive Pay In DOL Deal

Oct 3, 2019
An attorney briefs miners attending the Blackjewel bankruptcy hearing.
Courtesy of Ned Pillersdorf

The U.S. Department of Labor and a company associated with Blackjewel agreed this week to put nearly $5.75 million toward coal miners left unpaid in the company’s chaotic bankruptcy.

The July 1 bankruptcy of one of the nation’s largest coal companies left 1,100 coal miners in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia out of work and without weeks of pay.

Brittany Patterson / Ohio Valley ReSource

Standing on the breezy outlook at Flag Rock Recreation Area, Norton City Manager Fred Ramey is taking in the panoramic view of downtown Norton, Virginia. The brick building-lined streets are framed by the verdant, rolling Appalachian mountains. Jagged, brown scars from mountaintop mining operations can be seen in the distance, reminders of the region’s history of coal production.

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An electrician was killed at a mine in Kanawha County early Tuesday morning. The incident marks the second electrician killed this summer at a mine operated by Blackhawk mining.

Protesting miners blocked the tracks in the morning fog.
Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

 

The federal judge presiding over coal operator Blackjewel LLC’s bankruptcy has set a timeline in the “hot goods” dispute over millions of dollars worth of coal sitting in railcars in Kentucky and Virginia.


A man on the train tracks. Near the scene of the miners' protest in Harlan Co., KY.
CURREN SHELDON

This week on Inside Appalachia, we’ll look at how our history is intertwined with our future. We’ll hear from coal miners and children about how they are reshaping Appalachia, while remembering the past. Also in this episode, we’ll hear from a woman who found recovery, and a job, after struggling with drug addiction for more than two decades.

And we’ll hear from some of the miners in Harlan County, Kentucky who are protesting their employer, coal operator Blackjewel LLC. We’ll talk about what the protest says about the state of organized labor in the mines.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, more than 200 mines are idled or not producing coal across central Appalachia. About half of them have been that way for three or more years, avoiding regulatory requirements for mine cleanup.

The Ohio Valley ReSource partnered with the Center for Public Integrity to learn more about how mine operators capitalize on this regulatory loophole.

In the second of two reports, energy and environment reporter Brittany Patterson introduces us to a resident who lives below a coal mine that has been idled for years.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, more than 200 coal mines sit idle across central Appalachia. They have not produced coal for years. Those idled mines occupy a gray area in the regulations on mine cleanup and reclamation.

The Ohio Valley ReSource partnered with the Center for Public Integrity to learn more about how mine operators use a regulatory loophole. In the first of two reports, Brittany Patterson visited one such mine to see the effects on the neighboring community.

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