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Reverend Billy

canary in a coal mine

300 Years of FOSSIL FUELS in 300 Seconds


sourcewatch articles on coal

Hazard Ratings


Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock usually occurring in rock strata in layers or veins called coal beds or coal seams. The harder forms, such as anthracite coal, can be regarded as metamorphic rock because of later exposure to elevated temperature and pressure.

Coal is composed primarily of carbon, along with variable quantities of other elements, chiefly hydrogen, sulfur, oxygen, and nitrogen. A fossil fuel, coal forms when dead plant matter is converted into peat, which in turn is converted into lignite, then sub-bituminous coal, after that bituminous coal, and lastly anthracite. This involves biological and geological processes that take place over time.





1968 November 20 Farmington Mine Disaster happens at the Consol No. 9 coal mine near Farmington, West Virginia. 78 miners perished. Laws that were then enacted have largely been abandoned by the new leaner and meaner mine owners of the 21st century.

1976 15 miners went missing after an explosion rocked the coal mine. Two days later, there was a second explosion where 11 more men were unaccounted for. Investigators concluded the explosion was caused by a build-up of methane gas due to inadequate ventilation. In total, 26 miners died.

2001 Thirteen coal miners die as the result of two gas explosions September 23 at the Jim Walter Resources Blue Creek No. 5 Mine in Brookwood, Alabama.
2005 Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announces it will take up to 60 years and $15 billion to clean up 250,000 acres of land and over 2100 miles of streams contaminated by abandoned coal mines in Pennsylvania.

2006 On January 2 in the Sago Mine in Sago, West Virginia a blast and ensuing aftermath trapped thirteen miners for nearly two days. Only one miner survived. International Coal Group is the non-union coal operator of the Sago Mine.

On May 20 five miners at the non-union Kentucky Darby Mine No. 1 in Harlan County, state of Kentucky, died after a methane explosion inside a shaft. On May 24, 2006 a miner underground at International Coal Group's Sycamore II Mine near Jarvisville, state of West Virginia, died when he was struck in the head by a heavy wooden object.

2007 On Jan 13 two members of a coal mining crew removing pillars in a coal mine near Cucumber died when a portion of the tunnel collapsed and the men were buried in debris deep underground. The crew was working on a process called retreat mining, a practice that involves cutting away support pillars to extract the last coal deposits by working back toward the entrance while allowing the ceiling to fall in.

When Robert Murray acquired a 50 percent ownership in the Crandall Canyon coal mine in August, 2006, his incorporation repeatedly petitioned the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to allow coal to be extracted from the north and south barriers - thick walls of coal that ran on both sides of the main tunnels left by design to hold up the ceilings.

Documents on file with the Utah Division of Oil Gas and Mining show Andalex, the prior owner, had previously decided not to mine those barriers, determining it posed a risk to worker safety.

In February and March, the incorporation did retreat mining in the north barrier. Work in the north barrier progressed until March, when the coal mine suffered a collapse - the tunnel roof fell in, the tunnel floors heaved and coal exploded from the support pillars due to the pressure of the mountain bearing down. The collapse damaged tunnels over a span of more than 700 feet, and prompted coal mine operators to abandon retreat mining in the northern barrier.

On June 15 the incorporation received approval from the Mine Safety and Health Administration to begin cutting away the support pillars of the south barrier. On August 6 six miners - Kerry Allred, Don Erickson, Luis Hernandez, Juan Carlos Payan, Brandon Phillips and Manuel Sanchez - were retreat mining in that south barrier when a 69 acre section collapsed.

On August 16 Dale Ray Black, Brandon Kimber and Gary Jensen were killed in another collapse while attempting a rescue. According to 1400 pages of government and congressional records the Crandall Canyon coal mine was expected to collapse.

Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette (W.Va.) analyzed government reports and data and found that 9 out of every 10 coal mining deaths nationwide over the last 10 years could have been avoided if existing safety rules had been followed.

Seth Borenstein, Linda J. Johnson and Lee Mueller of Knight Ridder Newspapers used federal data to find that "since the Bush administration took office in 2001, it has been more lenient toward mining companies facing serious safety violations, issuing fewer and smaller major fines and collecting less than half of the money that violators owed."

"It is a sign of progress that America is beginning to face the coal-hard truth about burning black "chunks of solid carbon" to meet our insatiable hunger for electricity. Feeding a ravenous coal-fired power plant requires stripping huge swaths of land each and every year. To feed our energy appetites, we flatten mountains, wrench soil-stabilizing trees from the ground, devour purple mountains majesty and bury streams under toxic tons of rubble." - Linda Nicholas

"People across the country are deciding that coal's multiple bad effects are real, cumulative, permanent and largely ignored in Washington. Coal is the main reason the US is the world's largest source of greenhouse gases. The ready availability and relatively low cost (to the power generator), and the fact that we have always done it this way, gave coal a safe place in the market for 125 years and created a large body of well-financed special-interest groups." - Robert Siebert

2009 Industry sponsored front group the Federation for American Coal, Energy and Security debutes in the summer as a product of the Adfero Group, a public relation corporation working for Koch Industries and the US Chamber of Commerce.

2010 Coal dust explosion at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine kills twenty-nine out of thirty-one miners at the site. The CEO of Massey Energy at the time of the disaster, Don Blankenship, is convicted in 2015 of conspiring to willfully violate safety standards but was found not guilty of charges of securities fraud and making false statements.




mountaintop removal

strip mining morphs into mountaintop removal

1992 to 2002 Strip mining was just the start. In Appalachia they do not just strip the Earth for coal seams lying a few feet under the surface they take the entire tops off mountains and dump them in streams! A rule change allowed strip mining waste to be reclassified as 'fill'. Twelve hundred miles (1200) of stream bed is 'filled'.

"Mountaintop removal is not only stupid, as the habitat of wildlife is destroyed in the name of profit and greed, it is immoral and shortsighted." - Gail Rubio

The pillage of Appalachia by the coal industry is being made possible by officials who view public service as an opportunity for wholesale plunder.

2004 Federal judge revokes 11 permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers under the Nationwide Permit 21 process which allowed 'streamlined permitting'.

2005 In November the US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals rules that mountaintop removal and streambed filling complied with the Clean Water Act. 'Steamlined permitting' for mountaintop removal and streambed filling is reinstated

"I've been regulating mining since 1966 and this is the most lawless administration I have encountered. They have no regard for protecting miners or the people in mining communities. They are without scruples. The corruption and lawlessness goes all the way to the top." - Jack Spadaro, former superintendent of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration

2007 Federal judges decision supports environmentalists' claims that the Army Corps of Engineers has improperly issued permits for mountaintop coal mining in Appalachia.

In the flurry of rule changes that take place on George Walker Bush's exit many environmental regulations are gutted. The rule on mountaintop removal and stream filling is changed to circumvent government oversight. The rule gives coal corporations a legal right to do what required special permission previously.

"The EPA's own scientists have concluded that dumping mining waste into streams devastates downstream water quality. By signing off on this rule, the agency has abdicated its responsibility." - Edward C. Hopkins

"This is unmistakably a fire sale of epic size for coal and the entire fossil fuel industry, with flagrant disregard for human health, the environment or the rule of law." - Vickie Patton

2009 February 13 the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Virginia, overturn the previous decision to stop mountaintop coal mining.

"Clean coal" companies will be able allowed to continue blasting the tops off mountains and dumping the leftover rock in valleys, burying streams forever.

"The scientific evidence of the severe environmental and human impacts from mountaintop mining is strong and irrefutable." - Margaret Palmer


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