MAC: Mines and Communities

Appalachian Coal: An Insult to Their Memory

Published by MAC on 2010-12-21
Source: New York Times, Think Progress (2010-12-11)

An Insult to Their Memory

New York Times

11 December 2010

Just eight months after the nation was shocked by the death of 29 coal miners in the Upper Big Branch explosion in West Virginia, Republicans have once again pandered to industry and blocked passage of an urgently needed mine safety reform.

In April's grief - and the anger over revelations of the mine owner's shoddy safety record - there were grand bipartisan vows to take action. A very worthy safety measure in the House drew majority support from Democrats but fell short of the two-thirds needed under expedited rules in the lame-duck session.

Republicans predictably shielded mine owners, citing warnings from the National Association of Manufacturers that the reform might drive up coal prices by expanding government authority and exposing mining companies to greater criminal penalties and damage litigation. That is exactly what this perilously dangerous industry needs. Too many lives have already been lost for the sake of cheap coal.

The failure was even more egregious in the Senate, where strong reform proposals never saw the heat of debate as the Republican minority wielded its brute dogma of filibustering.

The owner of the Upper Big Branch, Massey Energy, can now rest easier. The defeated reform would have toughened enforcement against serial violators like Massey - it had 515 violations in 2009 - which routinely game the system and count on years of appeals to allow them to keep flouting the law.

It also would have given subpoena and court injunction muscle to the weak mine safety agency. And mandated independent investigations of major accidents and protection for workers now punished with dismissal for speaking out about unsafe conditions.

We fear reform is even less likely in the new Congress where pro-industry Republicans will have greater power. This year they warned against a "rush to judgment" about what precisely happened at Upper Big Branch. We know what happened, 29 people died. And Congress failed in its duty.


PNC will no longer fund mountain top mining

By Brad Johnson

Think Progress

11 November 2010

PNC Bank, the top funder of mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining, has announced that it will end its support for the ecologically devastating practice. "This move makes PNC Bank number seven to issue a position on MTR," the Rainforest Action Network's Amanda Starbuck writes, "following in the footsteps of Bank of America, Citi, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Credit Suisse." PNC's decision leaves UBS and GE Capital the only major banks that support mountaintop removal.

After the Bush administration rewrote rules to encourage the blowing up of mountains for their coal, the Appalachians were rapidly reshaped by rapacious coal companies. This year, the Obama administration once again began enforcing laws against the total destruction of public waters and land, after scientists revealed the full extent of the immoral practice. Now, PNC Bank will neither fund MTR projects nor make loans to companies like Massey Energy that specialize in MTR:

MTR is the subject of increasing regulatory and legislative scrutiny, with a focus on the permitting of MTR mines. While this extraction method is permitted, PNC will not provide funding to individual MTR projects, nor will PNC provide credit to coal producers whose primary extraction method is MTR. PNC will continue to monitor this industry while various regulatory issues are addressed through legislation and public policy.

Before this decision, PNC provided financing for six of the biggest MTR coal mining companies - Massey, Arch Coal, Patriot Coal, Alpha, International Coal Group, and CONSOL - who were responsible for nearly half of all mountaintop removal mining in 2009.

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