Coal Report for January 23, 2015

WV coal miner Tommy Davis, who lost 3 family members, including a son, in the Upper Big Branch disaster, speaks to the WV House of Delegates on a bill that would make it more difficult to sue companies for incidents/injuries that lead to Workers’ Compensation benefits // photo from the WV Legislature, found via

Hard times continue for east Kentucky coal. The Harlan Daily Enterprise reports that two Harlan County coal companies have given some 95 employees notice that they could soon be laid off.  The companies are Fox Knob Coal and JAD Coal, both of which share the same management, in the town of Coldiron, Ky.  The warning was issued on January 5th, and said that workers could start to be laid off on January 23rd. The Federal WARN act, though, typically requires a 60-day notice for warning workers.  The company said the warning was given so last-minute because of “unforeseeable business circumstances.”  Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley called the layoffs “disappointing,” and said “It’s never been more important. . . we have to be looking at ways to diversify our economy.”  The companies expect these layoffs to be permanent.

Even though the coal picture in central Appalachia continues to look bleak, with analysts saying the industry is not likely to bounce back in our region, coal still accounted for 39 percent of electricity nationwide from 2013 to 2014, far more than any other power source.  And Energy & Environment News reports that even with new emissions rules at power plants, by the year 2030, coal is still projected to generate 31 percent of electricity in the US, with natural gas accounting for 32 percent.  That’s still a huge drop in coal’s market share—10 years ago, coal accounted for some 50% of US electricity.  But in this report, an industry analyst said that more than anything else, “natural gas prices are having the biggest impact on coal consumption. If natural gas prices hadn’t dropped that much, it would be a completely different ballgame.”  Despite what many in the industry have called a “war on coal” that they say has been waged by the EPA, Fred Continue reading Coal Report for January 23, 2015

Mountain News & World Report: Getting a Lawyer Before Signing a Natural Gas Lease; Environmental Tourism in Southwest Va.; A Coding Program for Local Youth

a natural gas well in McRoberts, Ky.

In this edition of WMMT’s Mountain News & World Report, we hear about two different initiatives aimed at helping our mountain communities diversify their economies.  In one story, we hear about the potential for tourism to contribute to southwest Virginia’s economy, and in particular about the Spearhead Trails project, which is both a network of ATV/multi-use trails in Southwest Virginia as well as a broad, large-scale economic development project.  We also hear about the Rural Up! Code Academy, an innovative project seeking to give eastern Kentucky youth high-tech job skills.

But we begin our program this week with a story from the WMMT archives that has grown more and more relevant in recent months.  Over the past year, land agents for natural gas companies have been turning up in eastern Kentucky in growing numbers, seeking rights to potentially drill into an untapped–and potentially huge–reserve of natural gas, called Rogersville Shale, which lies under a large chunk of eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia.  The number of oil and gas leases in Johnson County, Ky, for example, more than tripled last year, going from 406 to 1,331, and there has also been a lot of activity in Lawrence and Magoffin counties, among others.

So as more and more local residents are faced with the decision of whether or not to allow gas activity on their land, we bring you a report from a WMMT series on gas drilling in the coalfields, Fractured Appalachia, which originally aired in 2012.   WMMT’s Rich Kirby & Jonathan Hootman bring us this story about the importance and the difficulty of getting legal advice before signing a lease for natural gas.  To hear or download other episodes from the Fractured series, or to hear the whole, hour-long documentary, click here.

Coal Report for January 14, 2015

photo from MSHA of a continuous miner // found via

The Obama Administration’s Mine Safety & Health Administration has issued a long-awaited rule that will require that “proximity detection” systems be installed on all continuous mining machines underground to protect miners. Continuous miners are huge, and dangerous—they can weigh 60 tons and use sharp, spinning blades to cut coal. And The Mountain Eagle reports that these machines have been responsible for 35 deaths in US coal mines since 1984, including Arthur Gelentser, who was killed at the Dominion No. 30 mine last February in Buchanan County, Virginia. Proximity detection technology automatically shuts these machines off if miners are detected to be nearby. The new rule requires that these systems be placed immediately on all newly-built continuous miners, and all existing continuous miners must have them installed within 3 years. Other types of heavy equipment underground are still exempt, though. The federal rule proved necessary because individual states had been slow to act on their own—as the Charleston Gazette reports, the state of West Virginia stalled for years on a proximity detection rule until finally issuing one last year under intense pressure from mine safety advocates and family members of miners who were killed.

According to SNL Energy, the vast majority of US mine closures in 2014 took place in central Appalachia, particularly southern West Virginia, more evidence that local coal is having a hard time competing in the current marketplace. Many of the mines that closed last year were metallurgical coal mines, which have been suffering worldwide from a global Continue reading Coal Report for January 14, 2015

Remembering Tim Surer

Our hearts are heavy at WMMT during this new year in the wake of the passing of a dear friend, Tim Surer.  Perhaps better known to WMMT listeners as Bublow, Tim was a longtime WMMT programmer and dedicated volunteer.  He filled spots all across WMMT’s broadcast schedule, including the former Lost in the Woulds program on Tuesday evenings, the Atomic Fireball Hour on Saturday nights, and most recently, the Magic Mix on Sunday afternoons.  He loved being on the radio, and WMMT was endlessly lucky to have him–his warm, inviting personality and solid-gold heart shone through clearly over the airwaves for years, giving him fans all across the region.  We miss you, Tim, and there’s no universe in which we can thank you for everything you did for WMMT.

Coal Report for January 7, 2015

Va. Governor Terry McAuliffe // photo via wikimedia commons at

Two investors who had given start-up money to a Pike County surface mine are now seeking fraud damages that were awarded to them by an arbitrator, because the mine never actually started.  The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that the story started back in 2012, when Nicholas Stodin, of Canada, claimed that he had mineral rights and the required permits to mine 1.6 million tons of Pike County coal, which he said could be done in two years.   He partnered with Gill Steven Brown, of Harlan County, in coal companies called Black Fire Mining and Black Fire Energy that were supposed to do the mining.  Based on this information, the two secured over $900,000 from two Canadian investors, who were told they’d get their money back within two months, and then $11.5 million in royalties.  But the mine never started, and it eventually came out that the operators did not actually have the permits they needed to mine.  So the investors sued, and an arbitrator found the operators guilty of false statements and fraud and awarded the investors $6 million.  But the operators deny doing anything wrong and haven’t paid anything yet.  So now the investors are appealing to federal court to get their money.

The Herald-Leader also reports that 2014 saw the lowest number of deaths in US coal mines in recorded history.  This record, though, came as coal production and employment were both down in central Appalachia, which has traditionally been one of the most dangerous regions.  And still, 16 men lost their lives in coal mines this year, including two in Kentucky.  This was also a record.  But among them was an East Kentucky miner who had moved to Western Kentucky to Continue reading Coal Report for January 7, 2015

Speak Your Piece: 01.07.15

In the latest edition of Letcher County’s weekly spelunk down into the cavernous depths of its own anonymously-expressed opinions, cares, notions, and suppositions, Speak Your Piece: 

Someone who calls himself Walking Tall John Hall!  Someone else who found out who stole their weed trimmer!  And hey you–why don’t you do something about that jet-black hair and come off that hill?

Our thanks as always to The Mountain Eagle.  You can hear Wiley Q. (pictured, beneath the ballcap) read Speak Your Piece live each Wednesday near 5 o’clock on WMMT, and you can hear previous installments at our streaming archives.

What’s Cookin’ Now: Christmas! Also: new WCN Wed. at 6 p.m.!

In this special edition of The Best Live Radio Cooking Show This Side of the Grand Old Opry, hosts Jenny & Jonathan take on the annual task of finding something to make for a holiday gathering.  As Jonathan puts it, “Christmas is best thought of as a month-long cocktail party,” and in this episode, he extols the virtues of Things in Ball-Form.  While doing so, he creates both sausage balls and bourbon balls for finger food opportunities of all kinds.  Also in this show, Jenny brings to life an eggnog recipe that’s not quite as thick as a typical ‘nog (can we shorten it like that?  well, we’re doing it anyhow), but no less delicious.

For more on What’s Cookin’ Now, including recipes, photos, essays, and more, check out their always-delightful blog:

To hear past episodes of the show, check out the streaming archives.

And hey!  Tune into WMMT Wednesday, Jan. 7 at 6 p.m. for a brand-new live show, including an interview with the incredibly incredible Lynne Rossetto Kasper!  Catch us on 88.7 FM in the mountains or streaming online by clicking “Listen Live” at right!

Coal Report for December 26, 2014

a wall of coal ash–that is 20-25 feet tall in places–left over after the spill near Kingston, TN in 2008 // photo from wikipedia, via

2014 could end up seeing an all-time low number of fatalities at US coal mines, the AP reports. 15 miners have been killed on the job so far this year. The previous record low was 18 in 2009. MSHA says that this possible new record is the result of new, more aggressive policies they’ve instituted since the Upper Big Branch disaster of 2010. They began identifying mines that demonstrated a so-called “pattern of violations” and placing them in a special program that allowed for more frequent inspections and even possible shutdowns if problems weren’t corrected. MSHA chief Joe Main said “I do think we’re seeing a cultural change in the mining industry that’s for the better.” However, the possible record low in fatalities comes as coal production and employment has sharply declined in central Appalachia, a region which historically has been home to many of the country’s most unsafe mines. Only 82 underground mines operated in east Kentucky in 2014, as compared to 161 in 2010, and West Virginia has also seen a steep drop. Despite this drop, still more than half of this year’s 15 fatalities—8—happened in Appalachian mines.

A group of laid-off coal miners from Wise County, Virginia has settled a class-action lawsuit with Justice Energy, The Harlan Daily Enterprise reports. Justice Energy is owned by West Virginia billionaire coal operator Jim Justice, and groups of miners filed two lawsuits against Justice last year after about 150 coal miners were fired without being given a 60-day warning notice, as required by federal law. The miners also claimed that no response teams were sent to help those who Continue reading Coal Report for December 26, 2014