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UBS Backs Away From Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining - Victory for Grassroots Organizing, Campaigners Say More Action Still Needed from UBS

By Ricki Draper - Hands off Appalachia, August 13, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Knoxville, TN — UBS, the world's third top funder of mountaintop removal in 2011, has taken steps demonstrating its commitment to significantly reduce financing of the mining practice. Last month, the bank confirmed to environmental campaigners that it will continue backing away from mountaintop removal financing. Moreover, UBS has declined to participate in the most recent transactions with its former clients Alpha Natural Resources and Arch Coal, which were among the top producers of mountaintop removal coal in 2013.

"UBS' statement is a step in the right direction on mountaintop removal, but it’s the bank's actions that show they’re following through," said Ricki Draper of Hands off Appalachia. "We have seen that grassroots organizing can make a difference in stopping the financing of this deadly form of mining that poisons coalfield communities and contributes to the destruction of Appalachia’s culture and heritage."

The victory comes after three years of grassroots organizing by Hands Off Appalachia and Mountain Justice targeting the financing of mountaintop removal. Starting in Knoxville, TN, the Hands off Appalachia campaign has organized dozens of actions and protests at local UBS offices across Appalachia and the southeast. In the summer of 2013, members of the campaign were arrested during a protest at UBS's Knoxville, TN office. Shortly afterwards, four members of the Connecticut-based group Capitalism vs. the Climate blocked the entrance to UBS's North American headquarters in Stamford, CT and were arrested.

On November 25, 2014, members of Hands off Appalachia, Radical Action for Mountain People's Survival, and Capitalism vs. the Climate took action in Stamford, sitting-in at the UBS office and hanging a banner from a nearby 20-story construction crane. Police arrested 14 activists in connection to the protest.

Warren Buffett's Coal Problem : To run his coal trains, the billionaire investor needs to seize land from a bunch of Montana cowboys; That's not going over very well

By Marc Gunther - Sierra, May & June, 2013

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

It's easy to see why Warren Buffet is called America's most admired investor. The 82-year-old chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway has made gobs of money—$53.5 billion, at last count—and has pledged to give away 99 percent of it. Despite his wealth, Buffett is folksy, unpretentious, and grateful for what he describes as his good luck. He lives in the modest Omaha, Nebraska, home that he bought in 1958 for $31,500 and eats at the local Dairy Queen. (He owns the chain.)

Buffett also gets favorable attention—and deservedly so—for Berkshire's large investments in solar power, wind farms, and the Chinese electric car company BYD. When Berkshire's Iowa-based MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company bought a 579-megawatt solar photovoltaic project in California's Antelope Valley in January, the headlines read, "Warren Buffett in $2 Billion Solar Deal" and "Warren Buffett Continues His Solar Buying Spree." So influential is Buffett as an investor that solar stocks surged on the news. MidAmerican's renewable energy unit also owns a 550-megawatt solar project in San Luis Obispo County, California, and a 49 percent stake in a 290-megawatt solar plant in Yuma County, Arizona. Those are among the biggest solar projects in the world.

A subsidiary of MidAmerican, called MidAmerican Energy Company, a regulated utility with customers in Iowa, Illinois, South Dakota, and Nebraska, has helped build Iowa's thriving wind power industry. Thirty percent of its portfolio is wind-powered generation. "It has been a great and low-key leader," says Bruce Nilles, senior director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign.

But Buffett has a problem—a coal problem. In addition to its solar and wind operations, MidAmerican Energy Holdings relies on coal for roughly half of its 18,000-megawatt generating capacity. Buffett's Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) Railway Company derives a quarter of its $20 billion in annual revenues from transporting coal, and it lobbies aggressively on the industry's behalf. Berkshire Hathaway is one of the very few major U.S. companies that don't disclose their greenhouse gas emissions, and it has opposed shareholders who ask it to do so.

Nowhere is Buffett's green reputation taking more of a beating, though, than in a remote and sparsely populated corner of southeastern Montana. Ranchers, Native Americans, and Amish farmers there are fighting to preserve their livelihoods and landscapes, which are threatened by what, if developed, would be one of the biggest coal strip mines in the West. And shipping all that coal to West Coast ports would be Warren Buffett's BNSF Railway.

Ash in Lungs: How Breathing Coal Ash is Hazardous to Your Health

By Alan H Lockwood, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Lisa Evans, Earth Justice - Report, August 2014

Take a deep breath. But if you live near a coal-burning power plant that dumps coal ash into a nearby landfill or lagoon, don’t inhale too deeply because you’re probably breathing fugitive dust made up of airborne coal ash filled with dangerous and toxic pollutants. Whether blown from an uncovered dump site or from the back of an open truck, toxic dust contaminates hundreds of fence line communities across the country. Acrid dust stings residents’ eyes and throats, and asthmatics, young and old, are forced to reach for inhalers. Breathing this toxic dust can be deadly, and yet no federal standards exist to protect affected communities.

This report describes the health impacts of the pollution found in coal ash dust. It also points to the imminent need for federal controls to limit exposure and protect the health of millions of Americans who live near coal ash dumps. Coal combustion waste (or coal ash), particularly fly ash, a major component of coal ash waste, poses significant health threats because of the toxic metals present in the ash, such as arsenic, mercury, chromium (including the highly toxic and carcinogenic chromium VI), lead, uranium, selenium, molybdenum, antimony, nickel, boron, cadmium, thallium, cobalt, copper, manganese, strontium, thorium, vanadium and others. Ironically, as coal plant pollution controls like electrostatic precipitators and baghouse filters become more effective at trapping fly ash and decreasing coal plant air pollution, the waste being dumped into coal ash waste streams is becoming more toxic.

Read the report (PDF).

Is This US Coal Giant Funding Violent Union Intimidation in Colombia?

By Rosalind Adams - Center for Public Integrity, July 22, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

BOGOTA, Colombia — Cesar Florez is often hesitant to answer his phone because there might be another death threat at the end of the line. Sometimes the threat comes in a phone call, other times in a text message or an email. In April, flyers were posted in the restroom stalls at Florez’s workplace, declaring him and his colleagues “permanent military targets.”

Until last month, Florez served as a local president of Sintramienergetica, a labor union in Colombia that represents the employees of Drummond Company, a U.S.-based coal-mining firm, in a country known for some of the world’s most severe violence against union leaders. Florez has been a Drummond employee for 17 years and active in the union for the last 14. Most recently, he worked as a marine operations technician in Drummond’s port near Santa Marta, where its coal is shipped out on barges.

But his position as a union leader has also meant he’s attracted a significant number of threats, including attempts on his life, which happen to spike around labor disputes, he said. In July 2013 the union went on strike, calling for a pay raise and to move from an hourly wage to a salary, among other demands. For 53 days the strike wore on amid tense negotiations, while the threats that Florez and his colleagues received only accelerated.

“They said if we didn’t lift the strike we’d be a target,” Florez said, describing some of the phone calls he received. “They said they already knew where my family was.”

Many of the written threats that Florez received bear the watermark of Los Rastrojos Comandos Urbanos, an active paramilitary group with ties to drug trafficking.

The Center for Public Integrity made numerous attempts to reach Drummond for comment on allegations that it has used the group to try to intimidate Sintramienergetica leaders like Florez; a spokesman said he could not respond to any questions on the matter. In a recent statement, the company’s lawyers asserted, “Drummond has never paid or otherwise assisted any illegal group in Colombia, whether paramilitary or guerilla [sic].”

Nonetheless, Drummond has been named in several lawsuits alleging financial ties to paramilitary groups since the mid-1990s.

Drummond — a closely held company based in Birmingham, Alabama, with revenues that reached $3 billion last year—has helped Colombia become the world’s fourth-largest coal exporter. Heman Drummond started the business in 1935 on the backs of mules that were used to haul loads of coal from its mines in Alabama. Under the leadership of his son, Garry, the company expanded, securing a contract to extract coal in La Loma, in the Cesar Department of Northeast Colombia in the late 1980s.

While its Colombian operations quickly became a significant revenue stream for the company, security issues and labor disputes have always been substantial obstacles for Drummond’s business. And, according to its workers, intimidation has become routine in a country where trade union leaders are often viewed as subversives.

The Religion of Coal

By Nick Mullins - The Thoughtful Coal Miner, July 14, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

I usually avoid religion in my posts since it is such an inflammatory subject. At the same time, I cannot help but be disappointed in those who appropriate coal mining as somehow being Christian, or that coal itself was put here by God for us to use.

“If God didn’t want us to use coal, he wouldn’t have put it there!” a lady says to a gathering of environmentalists. But what if it wasn’t? How could a loving God who spent so much time creating life place something here that would cause so much harm?

In the early days of coal mining thousands of men and boys lost their lives every year in the darkness of a mountain. The owners of the coal mines were ruthless and full of greed, paying as little salary as possible and turning coal miners into slaves through company script and hiring mercenaries to maintain the status quo. The coal was shipped off where it would be put to use making steel in massive mills polluting entire cities and causing children to suffocate with asthma. The steel mill owners, like the coal company owners, were full of tempestuous greed, treating their workers in much the same ways as in the mountain coal camps. The steel made by coal and the electricity that came later gave rise to even more massive cities where people's hearts become hardened, where people fall further and further from the teachings of Christ. Coal was even used to build thousands of war ships, tanks, guns, and other instruments of evil wielded for greed,  spilling the blood of the poor and innocent the world over.

Even today the economic systems of modern convenience built upon coal disconnects us. Cell phones replace handshakes and friendly conversations. Televisions numb us and even entertain us with violence, taking place of evening chats on the front porch with neighbors and building a love for them.

The world coal created is one of immense wealth inequalities, casting billions into extreme poverty and starvation as the industrialized and wealthy nations build even larger cities and wage war for more resources, more wealth. The people living in these wealthy nations drive their cars to churches erected with steel and powered by coal to hear about the salvation of God, the learn how to save their own souls. They concern themselves with their own comfort, their own bank accounts, voting to wage war against countries without knowing the facts, believing what the people on television tell them.

Today production is preached in the coal fields, "more" is the new gospel. Blind eyes are turned to the places that coal is extracted, cleaned, and used--places where thousands succumb to  sickness. Places where God’s true creation is destroyed.

Krugman: In The Real War On Coal, The Mining Industry Won And Workers Lost

By Joe Romm - Think Progress, June 9, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Paul Krugman has another column in the New York Times explaining that slashing carbon pollution has a small economic impact while “the consequences will be terrible if we don’t take quick action.”

For those raising concerns about the impact on coal miners, he offered this chart in his blog of total mining jobs from Historical Statistics of the United States (HSUS) and the FRED database:

As he explains, “strip mines and machinery in general have allowed us to produce more coal with very few miners”:

The real war on coal, or at least on coal workers, took place a generation ago, waged not by liberal environmentalists but by the coal industry itself. And coal workers lost.

Strangely, we never hear about Reagan’s war on coal (as I’ve said). Or George H. W. Bush’s war on coal.

Of course, if conservatives truly cared about coal miners they wouldn’t work so hard to block coal dust reforms — an action that United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts said in 2012 “amounts to nothing more than a potential death sentence for thousands of American miners.”

Pretending to care about workers and jobs while really promoting the agenda of the 1 percent — industry and pollutocrats — is a classic rhetorical strategy conservatives use to maintain support for their job- and climate-destroying agenda from the 99% who are in fact hurt by their policies.

CSX Train Carrying 8,000 Tons of Coal Derails in Company’s Second Wreck in 24 Hours

By Brandon Baker - EcoNews, May 1, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

A train derailed early Thursday morning in Bowie, MD marking the second derailment for CSX Corp. in 24 hours.

CSX spokeswoman Kristin Seay told the Associated Press that about 10 cars of the train traveling from Cumberland, MD to Bowie derailed Thursday. The train had three locomotives and 63 railcars, all of which were carrying coal. The train originated from a coal mine in Pennsylvania. 

The train was carrying about 8,000 tons of coal.

One of the train cars overturned, spilling its load of coal, but there were no injuries reported in the incident. CSX spokesman Gary Sease said the company would investigate the derailment. He said increased rain may have played a role, but it’s too early to say.

Coal Miners and the Green Agenda

By Robert Pollin - New Labor Forum, Winter 2014

From 2014...

In June 2012, President Obama announced his “Climate Action Plan.” This is his administration’s major second-term initiative to re-energize its agenda around fighting climate change and supporting major new investments in clean energy.

The primary focus of the Action Plan is the administration’s program to dramatically reduce carbon emissions from the country’s electricity utility plants. These emissions result primarily from burning coal, but also natural gas, to produce electricity. Carbon emissions from electricity generation represent about one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions produced by all sources within the U.S. economy today. It is evident that these emissions need to be cut dramatically if we are going to stop playing Russian roulette with the environment.

New Regulations and Technologies Are Not Enough

The administration’s strategy for achieving these emissions cuts is to begin strictly enforc-ing the existing air pollution regulations estab-lished as part of the 1990 Clean Air Act.

The administration is taking this approach because it allows them to avoid asking Congress to either spend more money or pass new regulations.The administration expects that the utility companies can achieve the needed emissions reductions through a technological fix: the introduction of carbon capture and sequestra-tion (CCS) processes, through which, they believe, coal and natural gas could burn cleanly. This is how the phrase “clean coal” has begun to emerge on billboards and TV commercials. CCS encompasses several specific technolo-gies that aim to capture carbon emissions from power plants and other industrial facilities. The captured carbon is then transported, usually through pipelines, to locations where it is then stored permanently—that is, for all time—in subsurface geological formations.

Opponents of the administration’s Action Plan claim that CCS remains unproven and, even if it becomes technically feasible, would impose heavy new costs on utilities.

In this instance, the administration’s critics have the weight of evidence on their side. As such, the Action Plan faces two fundamental problems. First, as there is no proven technol-ogy for delivering clean coal—or, for that mat- ter, clean oil or natural gas—the only viable path for dramatically reducing carbon emis-sions is to sharply reduce fossil fuel consump-tion. This, in turn, means that workers and communities dependent on the fossil fuel indus-tries will face job losses and retrenchment. It is therefore no surprise that even Democratic pol-iticians representing the affected communities are actively opposing Obama’s initiative.

Read the report (PDF).

Appalachia Rising

By Grant Mincy - Counterpunch, January 17-19, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

On Thursday, January 9 a dangerous toxin, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, leaked from a busted tank and into the Elk River in West Virginia. It is believed that nearly 7,500 gallons of the toxin made its way from the 40,000-gallon tank into the river. It’s unclear how much actually entered the public water supply.

The busted tank is owned by Freedom Industries, which uses the chemical for coal processing. Some 300,000 people have been directly impacted by the disaster, forced to wait in long lines at fire stations to receive potable water. There’s been a constant run on stores for the precious resource as well.

This is a story to often told in Appalachia. The Massey Energy coal slurry spill in Martin County, Kentucky (where 306,000,000 gallons of toxic slurry hit the town) and the TVA coal ash disaster in Kingston, Tennessee, are also part of the history of industrial disaster in the region. This history is wrought with class struggle, environmental degradation and corporatism. From the expulsion of Native Americans to the rise of King Coal, the Hawks Nest incident, the labor struggle, the Battle of Blair Mountain and the wholesale destruction of mountain ecosystems via Mountaintop Removal, Appalachia is on the front lines of the war with the politically connected.

The coalfields of Appalachia have long been home to impoverished people, overlooked by the affluent in the United States. Still, the “War on Poverty” has made its way into the Appalachian hills several times. Most famously, US president Lyndon Johnson singled out the region for his “Great Society” programs, and presidents 42, 43 and 44 have all tried to help the region as well. Instead of offering a new way forward, their programs further damage the area.

Much of the “War On Poverty” has been fought via economic engineering, centralizing the economies of West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky (along with parts of Tennessee and Virginia) into the hands of extractive fossil resource industries — notably coal and natural gas. The mechanization of these industries, however, has reduced the labor force. Specialized labor moving to the region has caused short-term booms and long-term busts. Once an extractive resource is exploited and gone,  communities are left to deal with mono economies and irreversible ecological destruction.

They Poisoned the River for a “Clean Coal” Lie

By Trish Kahle - Socialist Worker, January 13, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

IMAGINE YOURSELF in the rugged countryside of the Appalachian Mountains, where you and your neighbors have lived with a history of poverty and lack of economic development–and you learn that the water piped into your home has been poisoned and can’t be used, even after it is boiled, until further notice.

Imagine trying to run a hospital when the city’s water is unusable–even for hand washing. Imagine having to ration drinking water to school-age children in the fourth most water-rich country on earth.

All of these nightmares and more came true in West Virginia on January 9 after residents reported that their tap water tasted like licorice. The contaminant turned out to be 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or MCMH–a chemical used to produce misleadingly named “clean coal” through a froth flotation process that “scrubs” the coal prior to burning it in power plants.

The chemical spilled into the Elk River from a 48,000-gallon tank owned by Freedom Industries. The full extent of the leak remained unclear over the weekend. West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin claimed the spill didn’t exceed 5,000 gallons, but Freedom Industries President Gary Southern could only say for certain that less than 35,000 gallons leaked out.

Tom Aluise of the West Virginia Environmental Protection Association noted that MCMH cannot be removed from the water–and residents will simply have to wait for thousands of miles of pipelines to be flushed before water safety can be reassessed. “This material pretty much floats on the water, and it’s floating downstream, and eventually it will dissipate, but you can’t actually get in there and remove it,” Aluise said.

That begs the question of why a hazardous chemical that is impossible to clean up if spilled was being stored near a river only one mile upstream from a treatment plant providing water to West Virginia’s capital of Charleston and nine counties that span the surrounding area.

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