Coal

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.

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.

Adobe Stock

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.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

This Labor Day, members of the United Mine Workers of America marched eleven miles from the town of Marmet in West Virginia to Racine. As Emily Allen reports, the route traces part of a much longer journey miners made almost a century ago. 


Some of the crew aboard a tow boat operated by Amherst Madison in W.Va.
Eric Douglas/ WVPB

A decline in coal production over the past decade affected more than just coal miners. It also impacted the riverboat industry. Amherst Madison is a riverboat company based outside Charleston, West Virginia. For decades, the company has made most of their money towing coal barges. But a downturn in coal meant the company had to look for other ways to stay afloat. 

West Virginia Public Broadcasting spent some time with these folks inside the river industry, and we asked them what the future of the industry looks like.

Captain Marvin Wooten pushes five loads of coal along the Kanawha River. He has worked for Amherst Madison since 1979.
Eric Douglas/ WVPB

In this episode of Inside Appalachia, we’re looking at how water shapes us ⁠— and how we’re impacting our waterways. Our rivers are a vital part of our identity as Appalachians. We depend them for survival, recreation and transportation. And we depend on rivers for economic reasons, too. 

 

The handful of riverboat companies that still operate in Appalachia have primarily made the majority of their money towing coal barges. But a downturn in coal production meant many of these companies had to look to other ways to stay afloat.

Led by production from its Powder River Basin, Wyoming produces 40 percent of U.S. coal.
U.S. Geological Survey

A U.S. bankruptcy court has ruled that a coal company may sell two large Wyoming mines separately from one in West Virginia.

Bristol, Tennessee-based Contura Energy originally sought to buy all three mines from Milton, West Virginia-based Blackjewel in a deal held up while U.S. officials seek payment of federal royalties.
Contura would have paid $9.7 million for the Belle Ayr and Eagle Butte mines in Wyoming and Pax Surface Mine in West Virginia.

Sanders: Support Coal Country While Combating Climate Change

Aug 26, 2019
Bernie Sanders
David Becker / AP Photo

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has told voters in coal-producing Kentucky that it's possible to be a friend of coal miners and a believer in climate change and the need for cleaner energy sources to combat it.

In blunt terms rarely heard in Kentucky's political circles, the Vermont senator said Sunday on a stop in Kentucky that bold action is needed to confront the dangers from climate change. That course of action should include turning away from fossil fuels to curb greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming, he said.

Mines That Change Owners Have Worse Safety Record, Audit Finds

Aug 22, 2019
MSHA head David Zatezelo during a visit to West Virginia University.
Jesse Wright / WVPB file photo

A new federal government report shows that mines that changed ownership had worse safety records than mines where ownership did not change. According to an audit from the Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General, mines that changed ownership during a 17-year period were nearly twice as likely to have safety violations, and five times as likely to report severe accidents in the same period.

Brian Peshek/ The Allegheny Front

The economy of central Appalachia has long revolved around extractive industries: timber, coal, oil and natural gas. The jobs associated with these industries are often good paying jobs. They also can bring environmental and health issues to the region. 

In this episode of Inside Appalachia, we’ll explore how an increase in natural gas development has brought challenges and concerns, both for our health and our natural environment. But for some, the jobs and economic benefits that come with this increased activity are welcome, especially as so many jobs have left our region in recent years. 


Courtesy: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

The recent rise of oil and gas drilling across West Virginia has raised questions about industry regulation and taxation. Many bear a striking resemblance to similar questions raised about the coal industry in years past. 

Ken Ward Jr. is a reporter for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. He’s been writing about the coal industry his entire career. He sees a number of similarities between the coal and natural gas industries and how those industries are regulated. 

August 15, 1842: Coal Operator and Union Captain Joseph Beury Born

Aug 15, 2019
E-WV / West Virginia Humanities Council

Coal operator Joseph Beury was born in Pennsylvania on August 15, 1842. During the Civil War, he served as a Union captain, though he was later known as “colonel” in the West Virginia coalfields.

Beury worked in his father’s Pennsylvania anthracite mines and brought that knowledge with him to the New River Gorge about 1872. He established the Fayette County town of Quinnimont and opened the New River Coal Company mine. When the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway arrived the following year, he shipped the first load of coal from the New River Coalfield.

Benny Becker/ WMMT

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. 


Court Tosses Lawsuit in 1968 Farmington Mine Explosion

Jul 24, 2019
In this Nov. 21, 1968, file photo, smoke pours from the burning Llewellyn portal of the Mountaineer Coal Co., where 78 miners are trapped near Farmington, W.Va.
AP file photo

A federal appeals court has thrown out a lawsuit filed by the families of 78 men who were killed in a 1968 mine explosion in West Virginia.

The ruling Wednesday by the 4th U.S. Circuit Appeals affirms a 2017 ruling by a federal judge.

Brian M. Powell / Wikimedia

West Virginia lawmakers passed a bill on Tuesday that will give a $12 million tax cut to a struggling coal-fired power plant in Pleasants County. 

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, after the 2014 Elk River chemical spill in the Kanawha Valley, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition created the “Safe Water WV” initiative.

The idea is simple -- to strengthen a community’s connection to their drinking water and encourage people to work together to better protect it. A couple years ago, Jefferson and Berkeley Counties decided to build off that initiative in a unique way -- using the conservation of farmland and Civil War battlefields as a model for drinking water protection. Liz McCormick explains.

How a Carbon Tax Could End Some Coal Towns, or Fund a New Future

Jul 15, 2019
Kudzu grows near a coal preparation plant in eastern Kentucky.
Jeff Young / Ohio Valley ReSource

Declining coal tax revenues place coal-reliant counties in Appalachia at risk of fiscal collapse, according to new research from the centrist Brookings Institution and Columbia University. Policies designed to prevent further climate change would accelerate that decline, the report found, but could also provide a new stream of revenue to help communities rebound from coal’s demise.

Cecelia Mason / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday released its long-awaited final replacement for the Obama administration's signature climate change regulation, which sought to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by one-third by 2025.

The Trump administration’s Affordable Clean Energy rule, or ACE, tasks states with developing plans that rely on the use of efficiency technologies to reduce carbon emissions at existing power plants.

Jim Justice
Walter Scriptunas II / AP Photo

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has agreed to pay a $1.23 million court-ordered sanction against one of his family’s companies.

Justice’s lawyers and federal prosecutors said in a joint court filing Thursday that they’ve reached a deal for Justice Energy Co. to clear the fine in three payments of $410,000. The sanction stems from an unpaid 2016 fine ordered over a contract breach.

Peabody Energy, Inc. / Wikimedia Commons

U.S. demand for coal to generate electricity will continue its slide in coming months despite efforts by the Trump administration to prop up the struggling industry, federal officials said Thursday.

Jessica Lilly

Robert Bailey was a coal miner for 36 years. He began working in McDowell County, and after it became too hard to breathe, he retired from a mine owned by Patriot Coal in Boone County. Bailey first told his story with WVPB in June 2014. He shared his final story with Inside Appalachia host, Jessica Lilly, on February 15, 2019. 

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