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EcoUnionist News #71 - Don Blankenship on Trial

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, October 19, 2015

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.

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Study Ties Mountaintop Removal Mining Dust To Increased Risk Of Lung Cancer

By Katie Valentine - Think Progress, October 17, 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.

Mountaintop removal mining destroys forest ecosystems and clogs streams with often toxic mining waste. And according to a new study, it also increases a person’s risk of lung cancer.

The study, published this week in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, looks at the carcinogenic potential of the particulate matter that enters the air during mountaintop removal mining, a form of surface mining that blasts the tops of mountains away so that underground coal reserves can be accessed. The study found “new evidence” that breathing in this particulate matter over an extended period of time can lead to lung cancer, confirming previous research that has found increased cases of lung cancer in communities that live near coal mining operations in Appalachia. That research noted that smoking rates in these communities are likely also contributing to the lung cancer risk, making exposure to mining operations only one of the variables involved, but this week’s research confirms, for the first time, that dust from mining operations can drive up a person’s risk of lung cancer.

“It’s a risk factor, with other risk factors, that increases the risks of getting lung cancer,” study co-author and West Virginia University cancer researcher Yon Rojanasakul told the Charleston Gazette. “That’s what the results show.”

The researchers exposed lung cells to dust from mountaintop removal operations over a three-month period. They found that the dust had “cell-transforming and tumor-promoting effects” — it led to certain changes in the cells that promoted lung cancer development.

“As more than 60,000 cancer cases has been estimated to correlate with MTM [mountaintop removal] activities in West Virginia, this finding on the cancer promoting effect of [particulate matter] and related epidemiological data are crucial to raise public health awareness to reduce cancer risk,” the study’s authors write.

Environmentalists and some Appalachian residents have fought against mountaintop removal, which is considered to be the most destructive way to extract coal, for years. According to anti-mountaintop removal group Appalachian Voices, the practice has destroyed more than 500 mountains so far in central and southern Appalachia. Blowing up the tops of these mountains obliterates temperate forest ecosystems that are among the most biologically diverse in the world.

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.

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.

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.

Workers of the World, Divest! (Otherwise we could lose everything!)

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, June 20, 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.

Fellow Workers:

It's time for us to demand that our unions divest our pension funds from fossil fuels, dirty energy, and strip mining.

It's time to divest from mountaintop coal removal, offshore oil drilling, natural gas (and oil) fracking, tar sands and shale mining, coal seam gas, so-called "clean" coal, and all other forms of "extreme" energy.

Why We Need to Do This

Fossil fuels and dirty energy are the past, not the future:

Global Warming is real and caused by human (mostly corporate and military) activity. The root causes of global warming are the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. The scientific consensus on this issue is solid and well researched. All of the claims to the contrary are nonsense, unscientific, and largely funded by those industries that profit from the activities that cause global warming

The atmospheric concentration of CO2, the most abundant greenhouse gas (GHG) has surpassed 400 ppm, well above the 280 ppm level that has been consistent throughout human history. Most climate scientists agree that the upper tolerable limit of CO2 in the atmosphere is 350 ppm, which would still result in a 2-degrees C increase in global average temperature by 2100. To return to a level below 350 ppm, the world needs to transition away from fossil fuels as rapidly as possible.

Because of this need, at least 80% of the known carbon / fossil fuels must remain unextracted, in the ground. Unfortunately, investors have banked on 100% of those fuels being extracted. That means that these "assets" are overvalued, and there is a rush on to extract them as quickly as possible, which explains the push to "drill-baby-drill", mine, and frack to the extreme. When this "Carbon Bubble" bursts and these assets are stranded, the investments in them will be essentially worthless. There are even signs that we've reached this point already!

The driving forces behind the rush to extract include the Koch Brothers. They are also a major financial supporter of the climate change denial machine, the efforts to thwart the deployment of clean energy (no doubt because these alternative technologies threaten the Koch Brothers' monopoly), and the anti-union National Right to Work Foundation.

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