Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
Frank Bernheisel
Posted 01.13.15
Just Outside Washington


An Obama war on coal?

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) of the US Department of Labor announced in September that it had completed an inspection blitz of thirteen coal mines in seven states "previously cited for violations regarding respirable dust." Dust in coal mines causes black lung disease and explosions. These inspections resulted in federal inspectors issuing 150 citations and ten orders during the special impact inspections.

As an example, an impact inspection was conducted September 10 at Elk Run Coal Inc.'s Roundbottom Powellton Mine in Boone County, West Virginia based on the mine's poor compliance history with respirable dust requirements. Inspectors issued twenty citations and one order during the health-focused inspection.

The MSHA information stated:

    Each set of mining machinery is required to have a minimum amount of air available to ventilate all working faces, dilute gases and carry coal dust away from the workers. In this mine, the operator failed to follow the methane and dust control portion of an approved ventilation plan, and inspectors found many improperly ventilated areas. In one section where a continuous mining machine was located, there was not even enough air movement to turn the blades of an anemometer -- an inspector's air measurement device -- to measure any ventilating current.
Air quantity in this area also was low due to a clogged scrubber filter on the continuous miner, which allowed only 60 percent of the air flow required. Additionally, only 27 of the 41 required water sprays were working.

The Roundbottom Powellton Mine was once owned by Massey Energy, the company that was responsible for the coal dust explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine that killed 38 miners in 2010. The Roundbottom Powellton Mine is now owned by Alpha Natural Resources but is still managed by a former Massey official who supervised some of Massey's most troubled mines. Massey Energy Company was bought by competitor Alpha Natural Resources in 2012.

The coal-mining industry seems to be a tight little club where mines and staff are rotated around to confuse the opposition. Also, while mines get citations and fined, they just keep on operating. Recent data from MSHA indicates that the nine most delinquent mines owe fines of more than $1 million each and mines that don't pay their penalties have injury rates 50 percent higher than those that do.

War on coal? You betcha!