You are here

mine workers

From the Valleys to the Beaches, New Coal Mines Bring Fear not Hope

By Mat Hope - DeSmog UK, November 29, 2017

In 2015, the UK government promised to phase out coal power. In April this year, the country had its first coal power-free day since the industrial revolution. Last month, climate minister Claire Perry stood with 20 of her international counterparts and promised to “power past coal”.

The British coal industry is dead, isn’t it?

In the UK, there is the impression that the streams of miners leaving the pits like grubby-faced lords of the underworld are a thing of the past. That the pickets, police, projectiles and — ultimately — poverty, are the stuff of history textbooks. And that the trucks, noise, dust, and heaps of blackened spoil exist only in isolated pockets of the isle… and not for much longer.

Yet, in two communites hundreds of miles apart, residents are confronted with a very different picture.

In Wales’ lush green valleys, there is electrician Eddy Blanche, telling me how he’s given his all in a fight to save his granddaughter’s future. There is hometown oldboy Roy Thomas, carefully photographing all the rubble, mudslides, and other miscallaneous fallout from the huge open hole next to his home. And there is Isobel Tarr and her campaigner colleagues, offering a helping hand, trying to think of new ways to make this industry stop. Now.

Then, a six-hour drive to the North East on a beautiful stretch of Northumbrian coast, there is craft worker Lynne Tate, walking her dogs on the beach every day, before pouring over the details of a traffic survey back home. There is Rob Noyes, recently graduated and working full-time now as an environmental coordinator, still raging from his student days at the hypocrisy of companies stuck in the past. And Andrew Stark, up for Uni, wondering why the concerns of his generation continue to be ignored.

The two groups have never met, but they have one thing binding them: opencast coal mining. As far as they are concerned, coal is alive and kicking — hard.

In Poland’s coal heartland, miners defend their jobs but imagine a greener future

By staff - Climate Change News, December 5, 2017

Marek Wystyrk, 44, began mining at 18 and worked underground for nine years. He got a degree and worked his way up Kompania Węglowa, Poland’s largest coal mining company, to become a transport coordinator.

Coming from the Upper Silesian town of Rydułtowy, he believes Poland should keep exploiting its coal reserves, which could last for decades. Wystyrk has seen the deprivation left by mines closing nearby.

At the same time, he is preparing his three children for life after coal. “I asked my son to study environmental protection,” says Wystyrk about the eldest, who is at a vocational school. “But I don’t know what will come out of that, because he loves theatre. My own father told me not to become a miner, but I did it anyway.”

Wystyrk’s ambivalence is common in Upper Silesia, Poland’s hard coal heartland. The people are proud of their industrial heritage but increasingly aware of its polluting legacy; torn between defending the jobs they know and creating a greener future.

It is a tension that will come under the spotlight in December 2018, when regional centre Katowice hosts the annual UN climate change summit.

The Polish government has committed to keeping the coal industry alive.

“The Polish mining and power industry have good prospects,’ said prime minister Beata Szydło – herself the daughter of a Silesian miner – in August at a mining event in Katowice. “We want to build the Polish power industry and economy based on a safe energy mix where hard coal and lignite will have a prominent place.”

Her Law and Justice Party (PiS) positions itself as a champion of the country’s coal miners, which numbered nearly 100,000 in 2015, according to industry group Euracoal. The domestically produced fuel is seen as key to Poland’s energy security.

But state support comes at a cost: financial, environmental and political.

Polish hard coal is expensive. It costs $76 a tonne to dig out, according to the World Bank, compared to an international price of around $50. Mining companies are making unsustainable losses.

Last year, in a reform meant to alleviate the debt accrued, PiS transferred Kompania Węglowa’s 11 mines in Upper Silesia to a newly created company, Polska Grupa Górnicza (PGG), and had state utilities cover some of the financial losses. The least profitable mines were transferred to a restructuring company, with a view to closure.

A toxic smog settles on the region every winter. While locals tend to blame traffic, much of the air pollution comes from burning low-quality coal in household stoves for heating. Coal power stations add to the problem, causing 5,800 premature deaths a year across Poland, according to research by ClientEarth.

And coal burning drives climate change. That may seem an abstract problem to Poles, but it is a major source of tension with Brussels. Warsaw frequently lobbies for carve-outs from EU climate policy to benefit its coal industry – and other member states push back.

Back in Upper Silesia, miners watching the government’s restructuring plan are hoping for the best but waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“We were told we will keep our jobs even if some mines close, but we are anyway worried that we could be fired in the future,” says Eugeniusz Gruchel, head of the ZZG trade union at Chwałowice mine.

“People keep saying that miners make good money, but the reality is different: young miners coming to work here leave after one or two paychecks because they can make more elsewhere or abroad,” Gruchel adds. “We should keep the young here, to work for us and for Poland.”

EPA Holds Lone Hearing on Clean Power Plan Repeal

By Kevin Ridder - Appalachian Voices, December 1, 2017

Scott Pruitt has been trying to get rid of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan even before he was head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And in October, he unveiled his proposed repeal, telling a crowd of eastern Kentucky coal miners that the Clean Power Plan “was not about regulating to make things regular. It was about regulating to pick winners and losers.”

But by repealing the plan and his management of the EPA in general, what is Pruitt doing if not favoring fossil fuels over renewables?

For the proposed repeal, it seems a cornerstone of his strategy is to make sure the public has as little voice as possible in the process. While the Obama administration held 11 public listening sessions and four public hearings nationwide before finalizing the Clean Power Plan in 2015, Pruitt has scheduled only one public hearing for its proposed repeal.

The Spotted Owl or: How the Right Won the Working Class

By staff - Cited, November 17, 2017

Judi Bari’s effort to ally forest workers and environmentalists could have changed the course of climate activism forever. Could her parable help us today? 

Cited teams up with Dissent’s Hot and Bothered podcast and the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions to tell the story of tree spiking, a Texas millionaire, and the Northern Spotted Owl.

In this hour we look at the jobs vs. environment problem and explore how forest management might be able to mitigate climate change on a massive scale. with documentary filmmaker Mary Liz Thomson, University of Oregon sociology professor John Bellamy Foster, and independent forester Herb Hammond.

Progress at COP23 as Canada’s Minister pledges to include the CLC in a new Just Transition Task Force

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, November 21, 2017

An article in the Energy Mix reflects a widely-stated assessment of the recently concluded Conference of the Parties in Bonn: “COP23 Ends with solid progress on Paris Rules, Process to Push for Faster Climate Action” :  “It was an incremental, largely administrative conclusion for a conference that was never expected to deliver transformative results, but was still an essential step on the road to a more decisive “moment” at next year’s conference in Katowice, Poland.”  A concise summary of outcomes  was compiled by  the  International Institute for Environment and Development, including a link to the main outcome document of the COP23 meetings – the Fiji Momentum for Implementation .  The UNFCCC provides a comprehensive list of initiatives and documents in its closing press release on November 17. And from the only Canadian press outlet which attended COP23 in person, the National Observer: “Trump didn’t blow up the climate summit: what did happend in Bonn?” .

What was the union assessment of COP23? The International Trade Union Confederation expressed concern for the slow progress in Bonn, but stated: “The support for Just Transition policies is now visible and robust among all climate stakeholders: from environmental groups to businesses, from regional governments to national ones. The importance of a social pact as a driver to low-carbon economics means we can grow ambition faster, in line with what science tells us. ”  The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) also expressed disappointment, reiterating the demands in its October  ETUC Resolution and views on COP 23  , and calling for a “Katowice plan of action for Just Transition”  in advance of the COP24 meetings next year in Katowice, Poland.

The biggest winner on Just Transition was the Canadian Labour Congress, who pressed the Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change outside of formal negotiations at Bonn and received her pledge for federal support for the newly-announced Just Transition Plan for Alberta’s Coal Workers –  including flexibility on federal  Employment Insurance benefits,  and a pledge that  Western Economic Diversification Canada will  support coal communities.   Importantly, “Minister McKenna also announced her government’s intention to work directly with the Canadian Labour Congress to launch a task force that will develop a national framework on Just Transition for workers affected by the coal phase-out. The work of this task force is slated to begin early in the new year”, according to the CLC press release “  Unions applaud Canada’s commitment to a just transition for coal workers” .  The background story to this under-reported breakthrough  is in the National Observer coverage of the Canada-UK Powering Past Coal initiative, on November 15 and November 16.  Unifor’s take on the Task Force is here .

The Coal Industry Mantra: Jobs First, Safety…well….

By Nick Mullins - The Thoughtful Coal Miner, November 20, 2017

Nothing quite says conflict of interest more than installing a former mine company executive as the head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Anyone who has worked in a coal mine knows that only loyalty to the company bottom line could raise someone from the ranks of a coal miner to that of a CEO. Coal miners also know that when it comes right down to it, a safe working record takes back seat to the number of extra hours you put in and how well you produce coal. Safety takes time, and time costs the company money.

Over 104,000 miners have been killed in this country’s coal mines since 1900. We’ve seen tragedy as recent as Upper Big Branch, Crandall Canyon, and Sago. All of these travesties could have been prevented had company executives put the safety of the worker ahead of production and financial gain.

The image featured at the top of this post shows the Hurricane Creek Miners Memorial a few miles outside of Hyden, Kentucky. For some, the memorial serves as a reminder of the 38 husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers who lost their lives on a cold December day in 1970. For others, it symbolizes one of the greatest flaws within our nation’s history of mine safety legislation.

The Hurricane Creek mine explosion occurred a year to the day following the passage of the Federal Coal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1969. The act, a piece of legislation that could only be considered reactionary to the 1968 Farmington Disaster, was the most sweeping piece of mine safety legislation that had ever been put forth in our country. It mandated new safety equipment, new enforcement protocols, monetary fines for noncompliance, and it even began taking into account health issues to include black lung.

Yet despite its being passed, 260 miners died in our nation’s coal mines the following year—including the 38 men at Hurricane Creek.

Even though the act saw to it that laws and regulations were put into place, very little funding was given to the newly formed Mine Enforcement and Safety Administration (MESA). Without proper funding, the agency was woefully understaffed, lacking the necessary resources to inspect each mine and enforce the new laws. It was only after mine safety advocates, such as the United Mine Workers and widows of the fallen miners, raised hell about it, that more funding was put to the purpose. Even then, it was still not enough.

Seven years later, the Scotia disaster would lead to the passage of the Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. Yet again, funding issues plagued mine safety enforcement agencies.  It wouldn’t be until 2007— 40 years later—that the Mine Safety and Health Administration would receive enough funding to hire the number of inspectors necessary to perform all the mine inspections mandated by law. That funding only came as a reaction to the Sago disaster in 2006 where rescue efforts were nationally televised.

Time and time again we see the reactionary nature of mine safety legislation and funding. Even today, companies and politicians work in concert to weaken mine safety laws. Kentucky has reduced the number of inspections required by their state mine safety agencies, and West Virginia has attempted to completely eliminate theirs. Trump’s nomination of Zatezalo and his subsequent confirmation by Senate Republicans, all work to prove that little has changed.

I fear for coal miners today, more than I have in years. Right now, there are thousands of miners desperately seeking work. Coal companies are aware of the abundant labor market and are undoubtedly taking advantage of it. I’m sure the companies are preaching safety as they always do, threatening that any miner caught taking shortcuts will be fired. Then they remind miners that any upcoming layoffs will be based upon individual performance.

If there was ever a more crucial time for mine safety agencies to step up for the miner and enforce the laws that are meant to protect them, it is now. I feel many federal and state inspectors know this and are trying, but they are becoming increasingly powerless as politicians continue to cut budgets and impair mine safety laws.

Stereotyping Appalachians Feeds Only the Coal Industry

By Nick Mullins - The Thoutghtful Coal Miner, November 6, 2017

Trump won the vote in Appalachia because people are tired of being looked down upon. Considering the work of powerful industry interests, a century’s worth of negative stereotyping, and culturally insensitive protests against coal—a source of people’s pride, heritage, and income—it’s not difficult to understand how. 

My family has lived in Appalachia for nine generations, and we have worked hard all our lives without asking for a great deal. We were never drawn to extravagance, nor did we need to keep up with the Joneses. Simplicity and family were the means to much of our happiness. As long as we had a decent home, food, and the time to watch our children grow up with a good moral compass, we were fulfilled. “It’s not your needs that get you into trouble—it’s your wants,” my grandfather would often say.

But this lack of complication has been the subject of ridicule by many outside our communities. Among a national and now international audience, Appalachia has been viewed as a degenerate region without sophistication. The dehumanization of its people has allowed for the exploitation of its vast energy and timber reserves, and putting Appalachians down has often been a means of lifting others up: “I may not be rich, but at least I’m not a hillbilly.” These forces have made maintaining our dignity a constant struggle.

Exploitative economic systems have ensured that there is no change to our status quo. Low property taxes have appeased out-of-state land-holding companies while keeping our public education system in a near constant budget crisis. What money extractive industries do contribute is spent funding state-certified curriculums on the benefits of coal. Our children are fed an industry narrative that dignity, sacrifice, and the patriotic duty of mining are inextricably tied all while downplaying a century’s worth of labor struggles for basic human rights. These issues, compounded by an existing need to appease common core initiatives and standardized testing goals, have limited teachers’ abilities to instruct on critical thinking.

By co-opting Appalachian values, the coal industry has elbowed itself to the center of our region’s cultural identity. Shannon Bell, a sociologist at the University of Kentucky, has studied the many ways coal industry associations have adapted Appalachian culture in appealing to its people. She found that the industry has used pro-coal media campaigns such as Friends of Coal to manipulate the region into believing that support for the industry, despite its destructive nature, is the accepted cultural norm.

Meanwhile, media misrepresentations have fueled negative stereotypes held by urban populations. In many ways, this has put us on the defensive, pushing Appalachians to seek out and attack the shortcomings of our city counterparts. Rural people have long seen urbanism in contrast to their own values, fixating on stereotypes of city dwellers and suburbanites as being selfish and lacking common sense. Many also associate academia and liberalism with urbanism, an association exploited by media organizations, like Fox News, that politically oppose government regulation and environmentalism.

As a result, the efforts of progressive organizations working in Appalachia are sometimes taken as downward-looking elitism. It doesn’t help that many progressives and environmentalists have done a terrible job of communicating with local communities, both in their actions and presentation. When outside activist organizations expect Appalachians to simply accept their protests, marches, street theatre puppets, and public civil disobedience as avenues to their logic, they foster tensions that manifest in bumper stickers like: “lib·er·al / lib(-ə)-rel / noun 1Someone so open minded that their brains have fallen out.”

The Confederate flags, Trump signs, and pro-coal stickers I see displayed throughout Appalachia are not as much the result of deep-rooted racism and bigotry as many would like to believe. They are often symbols of defense against a world that views us as lesser people. They are symbols given to us by politicians and corporations that have learned to speak our language, and they throw gasoline on the fiery dissent many feel toward longstanding urban ridicule.

There is no easy fix for the situation in Appalachia. Poverty causes intense suffering with all of the symptoms you would expect. Health outcomes are plagued by a lack of access to health care, food deserts, and the environmental pollution created by decades of coal and natural gas extraction and processing. Overprescription of pain medications has led to a drug abuse epidemic that has spread to younger generations suffering from a loss of hope. Recent media attention on these issues stemming from Donald Trump’s election has fed into the national stereotyping of the region, keeping Appalachia in a vicious cycle of self-destruction.

If there is any hope for Appalachia, it is in eliminating the sources of the problem, not just treating its symptoms. We must address the communication barriers that exacerbate feelings of resentment and increase political and cultural divides. Perhaps then we can work toward ending corporate influence over our local culture, economics, and political systems so that we, ourselves, can really begin to shape a better future for our region.

What’s the plan?

By Hannah McKinnon - Oil Change International, November 1, 2017

Why we can’t hide from the discussion about a managed decline of fossil fuel production.

It is clear that the end of the fossil fuel era is on the horizon. Between plummeting renewable energy costs, uncharted electric vehicle growth, government commitments to decarbonization enshrined in the Paris agreement, and a growing list of fossil fuel project cancellations in the face of massive public opposition and bad economics, the writing’s on the wall.

The question now becomes: What does the path from here to zero carbon look like? Is it ambitious enough to avoid locking in emissions that we can’t afford? Is it intentional enough to protect workers and communities that depend on the carbon-based economy that has gotten us this far? Is it equitable enough to recognize that some countries must move further, faster? And is it honest enough about the reality that a decline of fossil fuels is actually a good thing?

In short – will this be a managed decline of fossil fuel production, or an unmanaged decline? What is the plan?

Let’s take a closer look:

Trump's Insistence on Coal Revival Finds Pushback Even In Coal Country

By Julia Conley - Comon Dreams, October 30, 2017

President Donald Trump pledged to end the "war on coal" by slashing regulations and putting coal miners "back to work." New research, however delivers a rebuke to the moves, indicating that they're harming the very mining communities he's professing to help—and that Americans in "coal country" are far more willing to adapt to new sources of employment.

"I'm beginning to see some real enthusiasm, particularly among young people in small communities in West Virginia, to begin looking for something beyond coal," said one West Virginian who was interviewed by three researchers at Indiana University for the study.

The team interviewed residents of two coal mining towns in the state in July 2016, as then-candidate Donald Trump was making repeated campaign promises to put coal miners back to work by fighting regulations put in place by the Obama administration.

In their resulting report, to be printed in the March 2018 edition of Energy Research and Social Science, the researchers said they found that the federal government would better serve former coal mining communities by investing in professional development programs, education, and healthcare services rather than pushing for deregulation of the coal industry.

One respondent who participated in the researchers' focus groups said, "Coal is probably not coming back, or if it is, it's not what it once was, so I'm going to learn as [many] new and exciting things as I can. I want to get a degree, so I'm more hire-able later on."

Meanwhile, Trump has heralded his rollback of Obama-era rules that limited pollution from coal-fired power plants, assuring supporters that regulations were the cause of the coal sector's 71 percent employment drop since 1985. The researchers found that as many Trump critics have stressed, it's unlikely "that these policy changes will drastically affect the country's current energy transition."

The loss of coal jobs has resulted far more from greater demand for less expensive, cleaner energy production methods like solar and wind power, than from environmental regulations, the study notes.

While Trump has frequently visited Appalachia to tell citizens he will bring their jobs back and retain the deeply-embedded culture of coal mining that exists in the region, the authors of the study found "substantial evidence that Appalachian coal communities are working to shed the culture of coal and develop new opportunities and an evolving conception of identity based on these opportunities," said researcher Sanya Carley.

"I think longer term, it is an opportunity, despite all the pain that people feel to finally diversify our economy, to be healthier, and diversify how we create energy ourselves, to be a kind of a healthier, more vibrant place," one study respondent said of the shift to new sources of energy.

The authors of the study urge the Trump administration to join former coal towns in finding new opportunities for economic development, education, and professional growth for citizens.

The King is Dead

By Anna Goldstein - 350.org, October 18, 2011

“It’s really difficult to understand a moment in history when you are in it.”
—Shaun King

Kumi Naidoo, the great South African human rights and environmental leader, happened to be in Seattle on September 26, the day the Department of Ecology denied a key permit for the Millenium coal export terminal. I told him the good news, and he related the story of a recent victory in South Africa. But Kumi was a bit jet lagged and world weary, reluctant to celebrate too much. It’s important to recognize the victories to keep up morale, he said, but so often they turn out to be temporary. We rarely win definitively or permanently. And the next battle is never far behind.

Anyone who’s joined the climate fight can feel this. But there’s an opposite effect on the other side of the Sisyphean hill. (Do we have a myth for this, or do we need a new one?) The Millenium coal export project–a climate disaster as big as the Keystone XL pipeline–will never be built. Coal export from the West Coast is never coming back. The coal industry is never coming back. We’ve won much more than a permanent victory against these projects.

Earlier this week, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt proclaimed “the war on coal is over” and announced plans to roll back President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. One hates this “war” talk, a cynical political ploy to manipulate workers and communities who depend on coal economically. The fight to overcome the concentrated, abusive political and economic power of the coal industry is a fight for people, for jobs, for communities, for a decent future for our kids.

But if you must have it that way, Mr. Pruitt, then yes, the “war on coal” is ending. And coal is losing. These last spasms of resurgence under Trump are pure political theater, without economic foundation. And the coal export saga in the Northwest was a decisive battle, a late stand for a dying proposition.

When the coal export boondoggle first hit the news in 2010, the chairman of Peabody Energy, giddy with illusions of limitless markets in Asia, gushed that “coal’s best days are ahead.” By 2016, Peabody had lost 99.9% of its value and filed for bankruptcy, as did most of the North American coal giants.

They were, of course, in big trouble when they started this misadventure. Coal prices and markets had begun a steep decline in the U.S.–the product of fierce opposition, stiff competition from cleaner energy sources, growing momentum to address the climate crisis, and renewed enforcement of basic public health protections after the lax Bush years. Peabody has now “emerged” from bankruptcy, meaning they reneged on enough commitments, screwed enough workers, abandoned enough communities, and wriggled out of enough cleanup obligations to get their stock ticker back up off the floor. But they can’t escape the fundamental economic, technological, and human forces at work here. Their era is ending, because we must end it; and now that we’ve developed better, safer, cheaper ways meet our energy needs, we know we can.

Pages