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Laid Off

By Nick Mullins - The Thoughtful Coal Miner, August 23, 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.

Over the past four years we have witnessed an amazing downturn in the coal industry. Mines all throughout Appalachia have closed, leaving thousands of coal miners and their families in dire straits with difficult decisions to make. For as long as the coal industry has existed they have placed the people of Appalachia at the mercy of their booms and busts. Each time coal companies face a choice between decent profits now or leaving the coal in the ground until they can make excellent profits, we know what they choose, and we see what happens to the decent hard working coal miners who have already given so much of themselves to the company’s bottom line.

Had these layoffs come 75 or 100 years ago, they would have hurt, but the blow to mountain families would not have not been nearly as severe. Our ancestors had been weary of becoming entirely dependent upon coal mining wages for their food supply and shelter. They didn’t trust banks. They’d known the bondage placed on them by company script, company stores, and perpetual debt. For many, it was a matter of pride to be without debt, for others it was a source of freedom.

As my grandfather tried to teach us, “It’s your wants that get you in trouble, not your needs.” But theirs was also a different time. When they lived, there were still enough woods to hunt in and run their hogs. The water coming out of the mountain sides and out of family wells was still good enough to drink. Extended families still owned enough land to graze mule teams and a dairy cow, and they could still plant enough food for themselves and sometimes for their livestock. Today, many of the miners being sent home from the coal mines do not have a farm to go home to. They cannot spend their idle time using their hands to provide for their family in the traditional ways. Each day the mail carrier brings another bill, another reminder of the life they’ve been forced to lead at the mercy of “progress.”

Wave of layoffs sweeps North American coal industry

By Clement Daily - World Socialist Website, August 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.

Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources—the second-largest US coal producer—announced last month that it intended to lay off approximately 1,100 coal miners and support staff at 11 affiliated coal mining operations in southern West Virginia by mid-October. These job cuts are only the most drastic in a wave of layoffs sweeping through the coal industry this year.

In a press release, Alpha President Paul Vining noted that in the last three years the company has idled about 35 million tons of coal production in an effort to cut costs. These moves underlay the closing of eight mines and a similar mass layoff of 1,200 coal miners in 2012. Moreover, these layoffs come on the heels of the company’s announcement in late June that it was permanently closing its Cherokee Mine in Dickenson County, Virginia, cutting about 120 jobs.

Similarly, Coal River Mining announced last week it planned to eliminate 280 mining positions at its operations in Kanawha, Boone and Lincoln counties in West Virginia. This comes on top of more than 150 layoffs by the company last year.

In July, Cumberland River Coal—a subsidiary of US mining giant Arch Coal—announced it was idling two mines at its complex on the Virginia-Kentucky border, eliminating 213 positions.

In June, St. Louis-based Patriot Coal confirmed it was laying off 75 of the nearly 850 workers to whom the company had issued layoff notices at its Corridor G and Wells mining complexes in Boone County, West Virginia. Back in May, after posting $116 million in first-quarter profits, CONSOL Energy cut production at its Buchanan Mine near Oakwood, Virginia, eliminating 188 jobs.

All these layoffs and production cuts occur in Appalachia, where the coal industry remains in a protracted structural decline driven by thinning seams and higher production costs. According to statistics compiled by Sean O’Leary of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, Central Appalachian productivity stood at just 2 short tons per labor hour in 2012, compared to more than 4 short tons in the Illinois Basin and nearly 30 short tons in the Powder River Basin (Wyoming-Montana).

The US Energy Information Agency (EIA) forecasts that coal production in Central Appalachia—comprised mainly of southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky—will decline to half its 2010 level by the end of the present decade.

However, the decline of Central Appalachian coal production takes place within a broader crisis facing the US coal industry. Thermal coal used in electricity generation faces increasing competition for domestic energy production as the list of aging coal-fired power plant retirements grows under the pressure of cheap and abundant natural gas. The EIA projects natural gas will surpass coal in its share of domestic energy production by 2035.

Northwest Communities Oppose Coal Exports

Press Release - Wild Idaho Rising Tide, August 16, 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 Saturday, August 16, and during the previous week, grassroots groups are holding a coordinated day of peaceful actions, to protest the passage of coal trains through interior Northwest communities [1, 2].  From Montana and Wyoming to Oregon and Washington, proposals to bring more polluting coal trains through the region impact dozens of communities along rail lines, who are organizing to protect their towns from coal exports.  This summer, 350-Missoula, Blue Skies Campaign, Indian People’s Action, Wild Idaho Rising Tide, and other organizations are together catalyzing this movement against dirty energy in new and bolder ways, evident in this regional day of action.

As inland Northwest citizens largely dismissed by the federal and state regulatory processes that determine the fate of three proposed coal export facilities at Cherry Point and Longview, Washington, and Boardman, Oregon, we stand in solidarity with Northwest tribes and climate activists resisting these West Coast ports and Powder River Basin coal mines that despoil native lands and watersheds and ultimately global climate [3].  While Oregon agencies deliberate their possible issuance of key permits allowing financially risky, Australia-based Ambre Energy to begin construction on the controversial Morrow Pacific coal train terminal dock and warehouses at Boardman, we support friends among the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, who rejected  the companies’ bribes of up to $800,000 per year to partner in and benefit from building this Coyote Island Terminal and shipping 8.8 million tons of coal per year down the Columbia River [4, 5].

Residents of four states will continue to work to stop coal exports by every means, including arrestable, nonviolent civil disobedience, as we pressure coal and railroad companies and political officials who support them.  With our protests, we honor the 71 brave Northwest activists who have endured arrest and citation during occupations of coal train tracks and public buildings in Bellingham, Washington (December 2011), White Rock, British Columbia (May 2012), Helena, Montana (August 2012 and September 2013), Spokane, Washington (June 2013), and Missoula, Montana (April 2014), as interior Northwest groups further coordinate regional demonstrations resisting coal export that started in January 2013 [6, 7].

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.

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