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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.

"Obama Has Killed Coal"

By Nick Mullins - The Thoughful Coal Miner, December 12, 2015

I keep seeing people pointing fingers at Obama and the EPA for the woes of the Appalachian Coal Miner, so let’s think about it…

How hard would it be to believe that the power companies, the natural gas (oil) companies, and the coal companies sat down over a nice steak dinner to discuss our nations energy future?

Perhaps they worked things out like this….

The coal industry knows there’s not that much coal left, but they can still get to it and make a hell of a profit if they can do it cheaply, but there’s a catch—they have to surface mine it and tear up hell to do it (mountain top removal). The natural gas companies know they have a product that is cleaner than coal and the power companies know they can build cheaper plants, but they don’t want to leave their long time buddies with the coal industry hanging either. I should also add that they are all investing in each others stock.

So let’s devise a plan. Natural gas can get by  as a “clean” energy alternative or “bridge” fuel. In the mean time, they can allow their politician buddies to garner a few votes by enacting new regulations which doesn’t affect natural gas as badly, makes them look good with the “treehuggers” and puts a squeeze on coal markets. The benefit to the coal industry is it makes it look like there is a “War on Coal” which does two things. Not only does it get the democratic vote with people thinking they’re helping fight MTR and climate change, but it also gets all the republican voters to fight against regulations and vote in candidates who they think will help them keep their jobs.

On the surface (no pun intended) it appears like a big struggle, the “liberal” politicians hold up 36 surface mining permits letting the “treehuggers” feel like their winning, but it also gets all the working people in Appalachia to ignore the “treehugger’s” information on climate change and cancer rates, and to even go a step further and fight for de-regulation that paves the way for the coal companies to tear up hell without any consequence.

At the same time all the working people are so damn job scared they are willing to do whatever it takes to keep their jobs. This would mean working mandatory overtime and being forced into taking short cuts for fear of getting fired if they don’t meet production (Upper Big Branch). The coal companies can even get by with filing bankruptcy and jerking all the benefits from their pensioners while everyone points all their blind hatred towards the EPA and the president. Coal mining families continue to vote in the conservatives who have everyone thinking they’re for the working people, but in truth they are cutting the working man’s throat by blocking safety regulations (giving miners the right to shut a section down if it’s unsafe to operate) and labor rights laws (that could put an end to mandatory overtime and cause them to have to hire more miners). The “War on Coal” also focuses everyone’s hatred away from where it should be.

Everyone should be focusing their hatred on all the coal companies and politicians who have manipulated them into believing coal is all there is and ever will be, while not lifting one single finger to build up local infrastructure and bring in job alternatives. Billions of dollars of coal have left Appalachia in just the last decade and not a damn thing has been done to bring in job alternatives or build up our roads, or our towns, or our education systems. Instead, they give everyone “Friends of Coal” stickers and go into the public schools to teach our kids about their version of coal in Appalachia without all the bloody union struggles and company hired mercenaries killing the families of coal miners trying to fight for a living wage.

They want people poor and desperate enough to fight for the high wages of a mining job and who aren’t afraid to cut their neighbors throat to keep it, whether it’s in the superintendent’s office or running equipment and destroying some poor person’s backyard.

And it looks like the companies and politicians have done a hell of a job at it because people aren’t thinking about the bigger picture. They just want to blame the EPA and Obama.

That’s business my friends. Each company get’s what they want. The coal companies walk away with everything and have all their earnings invested in natural gas, the natural gas industry makes bank, and the politicians—on both sides—get all the perks and votes they can handle.

Just imagine if one day we all woke up and realized we didn’t have to go in debt and work full time jobs for companies that treat us like crap, that we can still grow our own food and live simpler, happier lives with plenty of time to spend with friends and family, raising our children the right way—to be good to each other, to give freely, and that happiness doesn’t come attached to a dollar bill dangling from a coal company’s fishing pole….

Well, if You Ask Me: No Justice, No Peace

By Dano T Bob - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, December 12, 2015

So, after more than a week of deliberation and the threat of a hung jury, the Blankenship verdict is in….and well, it is uh, well, kinda disheartening to say the least. He was kinda sorta convicted of something, Conspiracy…misdemeanor Conspiracy. Yep, with a max jail term of, get this, one year! Jesus. Not that I think jail solves everything or well even begins to make him pay back the families of the 29 dead miners of Upper Big Branch, whose blood is on his hands. But, jesus. As my former co-worker and communications extraordinaire, Vivian Stockman from OVEC tweeted from reporter Taylor,

“Taylor Kuykendall @taykuy tweet sums it up

Max time ‪#‎Blankenship‬ faces same as max time one would do for excessive littering in West Virginia.http://www.legis.state.wv.us/wvcode/ChapterEntire.cfm… …

WV Code 4

(2) It is unlawful for any person to place, deposit, dump, throw or cause to be placed, deposited, dumped or thrown any litter from a motor vehicle or other conveyance or to perform any act which constitutes a violation of the motor vehicle laws contained in section fourteen, article fourteen, chapt…

LEGIS.STATE.WV.US

Let that sink in. This man helmed a company that violated workplace safety laws regularly for years, leading to one of the worst mining disasters in U.S. history at Upper Big Branch and now faces what amounts to a penalty for littering.

This is not justice. And this is why we, as activists and humans, should not rely on courts for justice. It is a false path, a neo liberal institution bought and paid for with the same capital Blankenship has used to buy past judicial favor, capital that was created off of the backs of working people, including the working people who died so that Don Blankenship might make more profit.

And speaking of his filthy profit, the two charges that Blankenship was not convicted of (both felonies) were as follows:

“Knowingly and willfully making or causing to be made a materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement related to a material matter within the jurisdiction of the Securities and Exchange Commission; and acquitted on count three — willfully, knowingly, and with the intent to defraud making or causing to be made untrue statements of material fact or omissions of material fact in connection with the sale or purchase of securities.”

Financial crimes, crimes of money, not crimes of ending human life. So, we see here what is most important to the courts and to the law. Run an unsafe operation and let people die? Slap on the wrist. Lie to the SEC or investors? Never! That carries a 30 year jail term.

As OVEC founder and friend Dianne Bady stated in a press release, “For those of us who’ve been fighting the power of Big Money for decades, this is a painful reminder that in the “official” view, lying to the powers of Big Money is a much bigger offense than is conspiring to essentially make it possible for miners to be killed.”

So, how do we get justice, or at least try? People power and organizing, same as always, no shortcuts. We take back our courts, our government and our economy from men like Don Blankenship.

After the verdict was announced, Blankenship said to the press, “I feel fine.” It is our job to make sure that this does not remain the case. Because the families of the miners killed at Upper Big Branch and those in the communities that knew them most certainly do not feel fine.

EcoUnionist News #79: Don Blankenship found guilty! ... sort of ... well, not really...

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, December 8, 2015

On December 3, 2015, the New York Times Reported:

Donald L. Blankenship, whose leadership of the Massey Energy Company was widely criticized after 29 workers were killed in the Upper Big Branch mine in 2010, was convicted Thursday of conspiring to violate federal safety standards, becoming the most prominent American coal executive ever convicted of a crime related to mining deaths.

But in a substantial defeat for the Justice Department, the verdict, announced in Federal District Court here, exonerated Mr. Blankenship, Massey’s former chief executive, of three felony charges that could have led to a prison term of 30 years. Instead, after a long and complex trial that began on Oct. 1, jurors convicted Mr. Blankenship only of a single misdemeanor charge that carried a maximum of a year in prison.

Far from a victory, this case, once again, represents an example of the "presumed innocence of capitalism". The death of these 29 workers and the destruction to the environment of Appalachia (and elsewhere) is considered "part of the cost of doing business" in which private capitalists appropriate the wealth extracted from the Earth by the working class. The costs of that appropriation are outsourced to the Earth and the working classes, and if workers die in the process and communities have to suffer the consequences, such things are dismissed as "externalities". That Blankenship was convicted of minor charges at all is simply a result of him being just a bit too arrogant in the process (the capitalist class knows full well that if a few of the more roguish elements among their class push the envelope it could stoke the fires of resistance among the non-capitalist class, and so token laws are passed to provide the illusion of law and order and to pacify those that are exploited).  

The reaction among workers, their families, and environmentalists who haven't given into the typical "hopium" of inside-the-beltway NGO compromise is one of anger and frustration, but the results are what they more-or-less expected.

A measure of justice has been served through the conviction of Don Blankenship on federal charges of conspiring to violate mine safety standards. The truth that was common knowledge in the coalfields – that Don Blankenship cared little for the safety and health of miners working for his company and even less for the laws enforcing their rights – has finally been proven in court.

This decision will not bring back the 52 people killed on Massey Energy property during Blankenship’s reign as the head of that company, including the 29 killed at the Upper Big Branch disaster in 2010. Their families still must live without their loved ones, holding their grief in their hearts the rest of their lives.

But a message has gone out today to every coal operator in America who is willing to skirt mine safety and health laws: you do so at your own personal risk. I thank the jury for having the courage to send this message and establish a clear deterrent to this kind of activity. Hopefully that deterrent will keep more miners alive and intact in the years to come.”

--Official UMWA statement on the verdict, December 3, 2015

No, justice was not served today. I don't care how many press releases I see...Unfortunately, this was about 29 people who are dead because the law was not followed. MTR has killed many more, but never came up in the trial. Blankenship has pocketed billions of dollars by breaking unions, violating environmental and health laws, buying judges and punching reporters. He will serve at most 12 months, probably less. He is tough and can do his time standing on his head, and fly to Monaco with his girlfriend when he gets out. Calling this justice is a disservice to the families of those who are in their graves because of this man...The problem is that the punishment for evading safety laws should be more severe than the punishment for lying to your shareholders. I fully expect that a wrongful death civil lawsuit will follow this. I do expect that he will serve some time. But I am very disappointed in how this is playing out, and how some groups are spinning this as justice. Would they come here to the Coal River and say that to the families?

--Earth First! co-founder Mike Roselle on the "conviction" of Don Blankenship, December 3, 2015

Media Coverage

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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Longtime Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship indicted

By Ken Ward Jr - The Charleston Gazette, November 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.

Don Blankenship, the longtime chief executive officer of Massey Energy, was indicted Thursday on charges that he orchestrated the routine violation of key federal mine safety rules at the company’s Upper Big Branch Mine prior to an April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners.

A federal grand jury in Charleston charged Blankenship with conspiring to cause willful violations of ventilation requirements and coal-dust control rules — meant to prevent deadly mine blasts —during a 15-month period prior to the worst coal-mining disaster in a generation.

The four-count indictment, filed in U.S. District Court, also alleges that Blankenship led a conspiracy to cover up mine safety violations and hinder federal enforcement efforts by providing advance warning of government inspections.

“Blankenship knew that UBB was committing hundreds of safety-law violations every year and that he had the ability to prevent most of the violations that UBB was committing,” the indictment states. “Yet he fostered and participated in an understanding that perpetuated UBB’s practice of routine safety violations, in order to produce more coal, avoid the costs of following safety laws, and make more money.”

The indictment also alleges that, after the explosion, Blankenship made false statements to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the investing public about Massey’s safety practices before the explosion.

The three felonies and one misdemeanor carry a maximum combined penalty of 31 years imprisonment, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said in a prepared statement. He would not comment beyond the prepared statement.

The indictment comes after a more than four-year investigation that began following the mine disaster on April 5, 2010, but expanded to examine a troubled safety record that critics have long argued put coal production and profits ahead of worker protection.

Work Is Killing Workers: Americans Are Working So Hard It’s Actually Killing People; The jobless recovery means massive speedups for many workers you depend on

By Esther Kaplan - The Nation, November 2, 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.

Jessica Wheeler works the night shift as an oncology nurse at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital in northeastern Pennsylvania—but her patients are usually wide awake. “When they have a new cancer diagnosis or they’re going to have a biopsy in the morning, they don’t sleep,” says the 25-year-old Wheeler (which is not her real name). “They’re scared.” Other patients are in their final hours of life, surrounded by grieving family. What she wants is to be there to comfort them, to talk them through those difficult hours, to hold their hands and attend to their pain. But, mostly, she can’t.

According to hospital policy, night nurses on her floor should care for no more than six and a half patients, but they typically have ten. When things go bad with one or two, the floor quickly tips into chaos.

Wheeler recalls one night when she had a patient who couldn’t breathe and several others under her care. “I called the supervisor to ask for anybody—a nursing assistant, anybody! And I didn’t get it, and my patient ended up coding.” Another night, Wheeler had a post-op patient who required constant attention; the patient was confused and sick, and she soon escaped her restraints and pulled out her drains, spraying fecal matter all over the wall. Early the next morning, her heartbeat became irregular just as another patient was dying. “Those nights are scary,” Wheeler says. “I think I’ve seen everybody on our floor cry.”

Another young nurse describes a shift when she had only been on the job a few months and was saddled with ten patients, including one whose incision was leaking badly, requiring her to administer blood all night long. “I was drowning,” the nurse says. She called for help multiple times, but it never came. At the 7 am shift change, she confused two patients’ blood-sugar numbers and medicated the wrong one.

Wilkes-Barre was not always this out of control. For decades, it was a nonprofit community hospital serving the onetime coal town. It was bought in 2009 by what is now the nation’s largest for-profit healthcare chain, Tennessee-based Community Health Systems, which operates 207 hospitals in twenty-nine states. The Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP), the nurses’ union, counts fifty-one fewer nurses since the CHS acquisition, a reduction of more than 10 percent—and that’s on top of the elimination of dozens of nursing aides and secretaries. The nurses are not only juggling more patients, says Fran Prusinski, a critical-care nurse who’s been at the hospital for thirty years, but “they have to change the linens, empty the garbage and answer the phones.”

Some of the job’s intensity is due to broad national trends in healthcare. The rise of HMOs and cost-cutting in the 1990s mean patients who are stable and ambulatory—some nurses call them “walkie-talkies”—are now quickly released, so those left in the hospital tend to be sicker and harder to care for. “The patients we’re taking care of on a general medical floor now were the patients twenty years ago we took care of in an ICU [intensive-care unit] with a 2-to-1 patient-to-nurse ratio,” says Elaine Weale, an ER nurse who’s been at the hospital for thirty-three years. “Now that nurse may have five patients, six patients, seven patients.” And as technology has advanced, gravely ill patients who once would have died are now being kept alive, requiring constant care.

But the crush of work these nurses face also exemplifies a hidden side of the recent economic recovery: in industry after industry, speedups are turning work into a hazard, with increasing numbers of injuries and dangerous levels of stress. While 18.6 million people remain underemployed, millions of others are working more hours, and more intensely, than ever. This is especially true in certain industries, from oil refineries to retail to publishing, where federal data shows labor productivity has risen at double or more the national rate. A 2010 survey of people registered with Monster.com found that 53 percent of respondents had taken on additional duties since the start of the recession because co-workers had been laid off—almost all of them without any additional compensation. A 2010 report from the Center for American Progress and the Hastings Center for WorkLife Law found that overwork was a particular problem among professionals: 14 percent of women and 38 percent of men were working more than fifty hours a week. But it has become common in industrial occupations as well. “When time and a half for overtime was established by federal law, that was really a job-creation measure, so it would cost less to hire a new worker,” says Mike Wright, the United Steelworkers’ director of health and safety. “But starting in the late 1970s, the cost of benefits exceeded that extra pay cost, and it became cheaper to work your existing workers harder.”

* * *

American workers do work longer hours than we did a generation ago, according to some analyses, and hundreds more per year than our counterparts in France or Germany—the equivalent of six to eight extra weeks a year. We top the Eurozone nations in productivity by 18 percentage points. “Every month the BLS [Bureau of Labor Statistics] releases its worker-productivity numbers, which measure output per labor hour worked,” says Celeste Monforton, a former Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) staffer. Montforton, now at the George Washington University School of Public Health, points out that the numbers “go up every month. And that’s because businesses are not hiring new workers; they’re just expecting the old workers to work more, and spitting them out after they get injured.” Some of these gains come from the adoption of new technologies, but others just come from pushing workers harder.

A 2013 survey of its own union reps by the United Steelworkers, which represents such blue-collar industries as oil and steel, found that production pressures, the increased pace of work and increased workloads topped workplace health concerns—outstripping more obvious risks such as poorly maintained equipment. When the reps were asked to give an example of a health or safety problem that had gotten worse over the past year, understaffing led the list. The jobless recovery, in other words, is sustained in part by aggressively overworking those with jobs.

Take the meatpacking industry. By age 39, Juan Martinez, who worked at a Cargill beef processing plant near Omaha, had hands so disfigured from making repetitive cuts that he could no longer work; he is now surviving on disability. He still experiences pain so intense it feels like nails are being hammered into his fingers. His crew had to slice up 4,600 twenty- to thirty-pound pieces per shift. In the four years he was at the plant, from 2003 to 2006, the number of people at his station dropped from eight to six or seven, while the parts kept coming. Since they couldn’t keep up with the line when someone took a bathroom break, supervisors responded by simply denying break requests. “There are people who would pee in their pants,” he told me, “because they didn’t give them permission to go.”

Another meatpacking worker, whom I’ll call Porfirio, worked on the kill line at XL Four Star Beef (now JBS) in Omaha for twenty-seven years. When he started, he says, they killed 1,000 cattle in a ten-hour shift; now they kill 1,100 in eight and a half hours. At night, when he goes to bed, his hands hurt so much that he has trouble falling asleep; when he wakes up in the morning, he can’t move them at all. Everyone talked about popping enormous doses of Tylenol; some talked about pressure so intense it left them depressed. “The Speed Kills You,” a 2009 report from the nonprofit organization Nebraska Appleseed, was based on a survey of 455 meatpacking workers; it cataloged a range of injuries, from cuts, falls and fractures to musculoskeletal and repetitive-strain injuries, attributed mainly to “uninterrupted line speed.” Three-quarters of respondents said line speed had increased in their plant over the past year.

Line speeds in meatpacking and poultry are federally regulated for food safety only, not worker safety. Last year, the USDA proposed to raise the cap on poultry line speeds from 140 to an almost unimaginable 175 birds a minute, even though hand and wrist injuries were already rampant in the industry. A government study of one poultry plant in March of this year found that 41 percent of the workers already exceed safe limits for hand activity, and 42 percent showed evidence of carpal tunnel syndrome.