Thursday, June 26, 2014

Peabody Coal Ill-placed to Lecture About Democracy

As an original petitioner of the Take Back St. Louis ballot initiative, it’s only with morbid curiosity that I’m willing to be lectured by a Peabody executive about democracy (“Development, not democracy, at stake,” June 19). But you must remember; Mary Frontczak is an authority on the three branches of government. After all, her company extends its buying power in the legislative branch with $51 million in D.C. lobbying, and the executive branch with $40,000 each to Mayor Slay and Gov. Nixon. Peabody has also spent plenty of time exploring the judicial branch while fighting charges of racketeering, safety and equal opportunity violations, and a huge settlement in a clean coal contamination case.

Ms. Frontczak went as far as to call the state legislature’s intrusion into St. Louis City politics “democracy at its finest” and applauded the mayor’s work with out-of-town representatives to limit the powers of his own constituency. Predictably, she even made an argument to “save the jobs.” I wonder if the disabled miners share her view that the more than $100 million she extracted from their healthcare is being put to worthwhile use with a satisfactory purchase of influence here in Missouri.

Peabody Energy might be able to buy expensive favors from local politicians or render the services of big tobacco PR firms, but their recent performance in the stock market would suggest that more than just our handful of 22,000 petition signers have their doubts about investing in dirty coal.

David Scott • St. Louis

response to:

St. Louis is slowly reversing decades of urban decay thanks to smart public policies, and our leaders are committed to preserving this progress. So, when a judge ruled against a deeply flawed initiative petition to restrict economic development, the Legislature and mayor’s office quickly moved to block it. As the St. Louis mayor’s chief of staff noted, the overly broad petition threatened to sweep up dozens of businesses — large and small — in its net. It was “an anarchist’s dream” that would “drive jobs out of the city and hurt the delivery of vital public services.”

Predictably, a handful of activists protested this decision, casting themselves as defenders of democracy. It must be terribly inconvenient that all three branches of government — judicial, legislative and executive — disagree. Of course, the group and its Boston-based lawyers say they speak for the people of the city of St Louis. And what do these self-appointed representatives say we want?

The premise of their petition is to make St. Louis more sustainable — an attractive idea. Unfortunately, the St. Louisans who signed the petition probably didn’t read the fine print. The document is so badly crafted it could drive practically every business of any size out of our city by targeting any company that relies on “extraction” — fossil fuels, natural gas, coal, oil, nuclear or radioactive materials — and any organization that does at least $1 million worth of business annually with these companies. As the judge noted in one ruling, “The city is barred from granting a wide range of economic benefits — even if not basic services — to airlines, railroads, public utilities, law firms, automobile manufacturers, and a host of other enterprises.” If you are a charity, professional firm, or even own a fleet of delivery vehicles, St. Louis suddenly would become a very bad place to do business.

No wonder the petition was found to violate the Missouri constitution.

We all have a stake in keeping our city competitive, so a nonpartisan coalition of officials, private citizens and companies formed to sound the alarm, including my company, Peabody Energy. Ironically, while Peabody has been portrayed as the petition’s chief target, we are among the least affected. Our modest incentive was received years ago; since then, we’ve repaid these monies many times over in taxes alone. Many small and mid-sized companies are at greater risk. Did the professional protesters who cooked this up care about the enormous human costs of this initiative petition? Apparently not. As Steve Johnson of the St. Louis Regional Chamber noted, “The harm that this proposed amendment would do to job creation would be immense, long-lasting and damaging to employers in every part of our community.”

The debate over this initiative petition isn’t about democracy; it’s about indifference. A tiny protest group attempted to shut down a whole segment of our local economy to further its own narrow agenda. Here in St. Louis, we are lucky to have leaders willing to take a tough stand to save jobs.

If you ask me, this is democracy at its finest.

Mary Frontczak is Peabody Energy senior vice president and general counsel-Americas.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

With regards to the Laclede Gas TIF

When St. Louis was being erected in the early 1900s, my family had already been living in rural West Virginia for more than 100 years. I, too, come from a region of celebrated history. Sure, our land may not have been the canvas of renowned architects, but we were still able to live off it. For generations, we were able count on the same fields to feed our livestock, and the same wells to quench our thirsts. The earth was our palette.

Hydraulic fracking has replaced nature’s subtle melodies with the growling of overweight chemical tankers that rumble down broken country roads. Rural families, like mine, still depend on these aquifers to deliver clean water to their homes; but because of drilling-induced contamination, many people have lost their earthly ability to sustain life on their familial farms. My Luzader ancestors sleep next to bubbling mud thanks to the suppliers of natural gas.

With all due respect to local history, what are we really getting from the Laclede TIF? Should this city, which takes its name from a saint, provide incentives to corporations that are destroying sustainable and otherwise viable communities? This TIF fuels the idea that profit is more precious than humanity and supersedes the inalienable pursuance of life.

David Scott  •  St. Louis

In response to:

The former General American building at 706 Market Street could be the next in a long line of historic and architecturally significant downtown buildings to come back to life. This iconic building, designed by renowned architect Philip Johnson, has been vacant for 10 years.
Without question, some of the very things that make this building unique and stunning also present operational challenges for potential inhabitants. Yet, to call this building a mistake ("Not so fast," Sept. 13) ignores its successful past and the role of historic buildings in downtown’s remarkable revival.
This building was General American headquarters for 20 years. The company did not move out because the building was inefficient or impractical. Rather, it vacated after an acquisition by MetLife. Redevelopment and use of the building has been impacted by market and economic challenges as much as operational issues related to design.
Like most of the 100-plus historic downtown buildings that have been redeveloped in the past 12 years, this project will require supportive funding through both TIF and historic tax credits. If operational efficiency and design practicality had been criteria for any of our redeveloped historic buildings, downtown would still be a graveyard of beautiful empty buildings.
Laclede Gas, one of downtown’s largest and growing employers, is considering calling 706 Market Street its new home. The Koman Group, which most recently redeveloped the historic, fully leased Cupples 9 building, is again investing in downtown with its bid to purchase this storied building.
What’s in it for the public? Securing a long-term home for a major employer that is choosing to reinvest in our urban core. Activating an architectural landmark whose vacancy once symbolized a city in transition but will now accurately reflect the vibrant and growing downtown St. Louis that we are today.

Mike Sondag  •  St. Louis
Interim president, The Partnership for Downtown St. Louis

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Take Back STL from Coal Fired Collusion

The Take Back St Louis ballot initiative has clearly caught the attention of Peabody Energy, along with the 36,000 people who offered their signatures. Coming from West Virginia, I’ve seen the devastation left in the wake of the coal industry. Water is left undrinkable, properties unlivable, and communities in ruin. Peabody Coal has had their opportunity to dispute this in court but instead chose to settle on gag orders and feign altruism through a shameless campaign of green washing across the metro area. It takes a special anti-democratic corporation to silence cancer stricken communities of Appalachia, to commit racketeering against the Dine (Navajo), and to dispose of disabled retirees to enhance their portfolio- all the while pretending to care about the ecosystem at the zoo, and environmental engineering on campus at UMSL.

Despite the shady economic engineering and criminal practices of our local coal baron, the one member of the mining community we should really be watching right now is our dying canary- the arctic ice and glaciers that are quickly melting in Greenland, Alaska, and Antarctica. The only place that global warming is being debated anymore is in Washington DC. Perhaps if we, too, ascertained the services of lobbyists who frequent that revolving door between corporations and the capital we could impel our government to face the truth.
Local lobbyists blasting away at environmental regulations. Source: 

Targeting these green house tax incentives through the Take Back STL initiative is part of a globalized moral imperative to preserve the future of our world as we know it. Incentivizing carbon dioxide is, no doubt, in direct conflict with every reflex, instinct and defense mechanism built into the human genome. Maybe reaching a CO2 level of 400 parts per million doesn’t raise the hair on our neck like a sudden drop of barometric pressure, but the danger is far greater than any single storm on the horizon.

In addition to the warming arctic, the world has also witnessed the recent mass extinction of millions of species, the over-wintering of parasites and disease carrying insects, the slowing of jet streams, and the acidification of our oceans. Meanwhile in St Louis, we’ve seen both record floods and record low river levels over a four month span; we’ve seen record setting heat-waves and been surrounded by thousands of square miles of crop failure.

Because we live in a city with provisionally accredited schools and an aging infrastructure, we should look at other communities to see what those tax breaks have spelled out for their bottom line. For most of us, if we are robbed of our ability to generate income we go broke- which is exactly what happened to Detroit, Michigan. The corporate myth which dictates that you can tax-break your way to prosperity is alive and well despite 30 years of trickle-down economics and the resulting fiscal failure that tell us otherwise. We can no more count on Chrysler to return a favor and bail out the city of Detroit than we can count on Peabody Energy, a corporation that is continuing the oppressive Bennett Freeze against the Dine people, to pay their fair share in a city which is devastated by poverty and destitution.

Our city takes its name from a 13th century French king who was a true servant to his people. St Louisans can no longer accept that corporate welfare is given to those who strip our Earth, incinerate our atmosphere, corrupt our water, and operate at the intersection of black lung and manifest destiny. This ballot initiative will enable our city to choose the sustainable future that the people of Germany and Spain have already determined for themselves.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Stranger to Blue Water

Mud tracks and erosion wind down the hill. Courtesy Doddridge Cty Watershed Association

June 20th has always carried a special meaning for me, even before I moved away from my beloved mountain home.  Anyone from West Virginia can easily understand the ‘sense of place’, though few of us can actually explain it. This date reminds me of the lessons I’ve learned from my parents regarding family, dignity, heritage, and community. My father could drive through the entire state blindfolded if it weren’t so important to wave to oncoming traffic. My step mother, who sits along his side on the boards of numerous Ritchie County organizations, comes from a long line of Gilmer County farmers, woodsmen, and quilt makers. My mother, who taught me the only way to listen to Country Roads was at full blast with the windows down, has devoted her entire adult life to the growing population of people in need across the state. Despite my parents’ complete devotion to West Virginia, this date will always remind me of my Grandma Scott.
Winnifred Scott
This wasn’t just our state’s sesquicentennial anniversary; it was also the day my grandmother would have turned 99 years old. Though, as founder of the Ritchie County Historical Society, I’m quite sure she wouldn’t mind us all celebrating the biggest West Virginia Day of our lives. Her great-grandparents first settled western Ritchie County in 1834. Her grandmother, Caroline Tharpe, was one of the first native-born residents of Ritchie County. My great-grandparents operated a hotel in Auburn during the oil and gas boom, or as my grandma called it- the mud, money, and dust days. By a stroke of luck they sold it just months before the market crash of 1929. Grandma Scott would spend most of her life in Harrisville as a parent, teacher, and historian and leave a legacy that we are all very proud of and aspire to continue through our own lives. I can’t help mentioning that the best green beans and tomatoes I’ve ever eaten in my life came out of their garden on Church Street.
Courtesy Ritchie County Historical Society

The Ritchie County where Winnifred Scott grew up is a lot different than the one we are more familiar with- well, except for the mud, money, and dust.  Thanks to the departure of the garment and glass industries, and the arrival of the four-lane, the streets of downtown Harrisville on Saturday afternoon look a lot more like they do on Tuesday evening. The town isn’t the only thing that’s changed since my Grandmother’s youth; this is also a different kind of gas boom.

Fracking fluid spill on Buckeye Creek.
Photo courtesy of Doddridge Cty Watershed Association

As home to a ghost town named Petroleum, Ritchie County is no stranger to the natural gas industry. Due to the drilling practices of the day Ritchie escaped the water contamination that’s more common in the coal fields. I grew up chasing minnows in the Hughes River at North Bend on weekends and watched a family friend pull an unbelievable catfish out of a hole just upstream from the campground. While fishing on the lake seems to be normal to this point, I worry that the frenzy of drilling and fracking upstream will lead to future problems on the Hughes that have shown up in other areas. You have to look no further than Doddridge and Harrison Counties to find problems with contaminated well water and resulting illnesses.

Photo courtesy Doddridge County. Watershed Association

These days, companies like Antero are using chemicals hidden by the proprietary rights that were negotiated and written during those infamous Energy Commission meetings at the White House. These chemicals, along with millions of gallons of valuable clean water, end up sitting in containment ponds in the open air all across north central West Virginia. I suppose these out of state drillers aren’t worried about the potential for flash flooding or leaching. Bone Creek might not have always run clear back in my grandma's day, but it certainly wasn’t in imminent danger of carcinogenic contamination.

Building a new containment pit in Doddridge County. Courtesy WV Host Farms

Failed lining allows carcinogens to leach into ground water. Courtesy Doddridge County Watershed Association

My grandmother taught out at a one room school house in Hazel Green at the foot of a hill where many of our relatives are buried now. I remember going on a picnic with her there in late spring; we all ate in the shade of an old oak tree. I’ve been there many times since visiting the graves of the Luzaders; the whisper of the wind and chirping of the birds have always offered a divine backdrop to such a solemn scene. Just around the bend of Spruce Creek they’ve recently built a compression station that will surely create enough sound and vibration to spin my Luzader ancestors in their graves. Teaching class in that old church would be impossible now, even for ‘the General’. They’ve also dug up much of the flood plane in this holler for a pipeline.
Wake up, Great Great Great Great Grandpa Luzader!

Hazel Green, WV

Pipeline ponding along Lynn Camp.
Courtesy of Friends of the Hughes
The chemicals and methodology may be 21st century, but the infringement on property rights and water sources would leave any 20th century practitioner of laissez faire economics drooling at the mouth. People across the region have lost the rights to use their wells; they’ve lost the use of their farm land; their hillsides have been eroded, and they’ve been overrun by convoys of water trucks and noise pollution. The use of eminent domain, or mineral rights, in the name of cheap and convenient energy doesn’t fit the value system of the people I grew up with. The people I know in Ritchie County are hell bent on maintaining their rights to hunt and pray in school.  I’m still trying to figure out why property rights don’t fit into that equation.

Courtesy Doddridge County Watershed Association

I suppose someone should point out that there is the environmental aspect to all of this. How much benzene, radon, and whatever’s in the special frack sauce do we really want to introduce into what has been a pristine ecology? How much methane do Ritchie Countians want to release into an ever warming climate? I shouldn’t have to remind anyone of the persistent drought that occurred for several years prior to the building of the dam. We need to stop treating things like water and life as though they are just layers of unspecified rock that must be drilled away. Collateral damage they call it. Financial institutions like Citibank are advising their clients to invest in water; the days of taking it for granted are over. We are also warned about this in the book of Isaiah, chapter 24.

The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the exalted of the earth languish. The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt. Therefore earth's inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left.

If we truly believe that this is West By God Virginia, then why are we so eager to permanently destroy its mountains, streams, and aquifers? Believe me, there is something much more loyal about moving away than there is to staying and destroying it for a buck. You know what they say, ‘Mountaineers are always free’, but sometimes we sell out for $25 an acre. The gas industry will be hiding behind a team of lawyers when the pipelines rupture, when the hillside gives way to the erosion, and when the well casings fail- as they eventually do, while neighbors and relatives help out with water and other needs- as we always do. 

Scott Family, 1976
All West Virginians have ancestors and beloved grandparents who grew up in these hills, and surely we all think of them as we sing along to Country Roads. There was nothing radical about most of our mountain mommas; they just valued their heritage and communities and gave it their all. If we want to hold on to this heritage and pass those traditions on to our future generations then we have to actively defend it. There are local groups in West Virginia who are doing this very thing. Please reach out to them and ask what you can do to help. Time is running out.

Doddridge County Watershed Association

Friends of the Hughes 


Mountain Justice and RAMPS

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Involvement of Peabody CEO stains United Way's legacy

It was very disturbing to see Greg Boyce articulate the holiday splendor he experienced as so many people from St. Louis gave to the United Way during his fundraising campaign ("United Way chairman is grateful for donors' generosity," Nov. 29).
I know that there are thousands of retired Peabody miners in Appalachia who are depending on United Way agencies this winter because Mr. Boyce dumped their pensions and health benefits into a coal-filled stocking called Patriot.
Some of those pension holders have already sued Peabody for ruining their drinking water. Some are disabled from the back-breaking work they endured over their lifetime. Some are widows to black lung disease and mine explosions.
When UMWA vs. Peabody begins here in St. Louis federal court, I wonder if Mr. Boyce will be bragging about his $72 million campaign on the stand. He really should; it’s a fact that St. Louisans are very generous. I mean, that’s almost twice as much as the $37 million Peabody has spent on lobbying in recent years to oppose environmental legislation. And it’s more than the $61 million Peabody has received in tax breaks from the city, too.
Let’s face it. Greg Boyce’s involvement with the United Way stains this agency’s legacy. The miners he dared to grow old, and the survivors of black lung have been sent down the tracks while Peabody political power shines ever bright.
Dave Scott  •  St. Louis
Letter from STL Post Dispatch 12/5/2012 response to letter below

Thanksgiving is a time for millions of Americans to reflect on their blessings. Many are thankful for the love of family and the warmth of friends. I know this season I am feeling especially grateful to live in such a generous and caring community.
Through my involvement in the 2012 United Way of Greater St. Louis fundraising campaign, I witnessed a level of giving that truly sets our region apart. In spite of a difficult economy, thousands of people reached out to help neighbors in need and raised a record $72,019,850 — the largest sum in United Way's 90-year history.
Thank you. These dollars will make a real and lasting difference in this community to help more than 1 million local people. It took all of us from the bistate region — companies large and small, employee groups, labor unions, government employees and individuals — to make this campaign a success for our neighbors in need. These funds were raised one dollar — and one donor — at a time and will go to help support the critical work of the 175 United Way-funded health and human services agencies.
As we enter this season of giving, I want to express my sincere thanks to each person in the St. Louis community who gave of their resources — time, money, and in many cases both — to United Way. Thank you for making our community a healthier and stronger place.

Greg Boyce • St. Louis
United Way 2012 Campaign Chair
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Peabody Energy

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Un-Friending Coal in West Virginia

Oh, the West Virginia hills! How unchang'd they seem to stand,
With their summits pointed skyward To the Great Almighty's Land!
Many changes I can see, Which my heart with sadness fills;
But no changes can be noticed In those West Virginia hills.
            3rd verse of ‘West Virginia Hills  By, Mrs. Ellen King

            How I wish that last line was true. It was ten years ago when I lived out the fourth verse of our state song and said ‘adieu’ to those West Virginia hills. I’ve lived in the city of St. Louis for the last several years, though visions of those hilltops along Rte. 33 in Randolph County and the mossy hollows of North Bend State Park frequent my daydreams. The only thing I miss more than the mountains back home is the people. I miss the friendly waves from strangers on the back county roads, and the simple acknowledgement of each other’s humanity. In West Virginia, our difficult history and unforgiving terrain has demanded that we stick together as a community in order to survive. That history is being put to the test in southern West Virginia where mining operations detonate several megatons of explosives in our mountaintops every week. The process of Mountaintop Removal (MTR) has become the predominant form of coal mining in southern West Virginia, where several hundred square miles of mountaintops have been blasted away and bulldozed into the valleys below. The arguments for and against MTR have been going on for years and have led to violence, environmentalist sit-ins, intimidation and vandalism, and a deep division among residents of our coalfields. Leading up to the election cycle of 2012, both sides have pressed the issue believing that their concerns have fallen on deaf ears in Charleston and Washington D.C.

Can’t Find a Dime to Spare

The Friends of Coal have put forth several arguments in what they have called the ‘war on coal’, one of which stems from an age-old dilemma that’s never been solved in our state. Quite accurately, industry officials and paid spokespersons have pointed out that coal companies employ a large number of people in West Virginia. In the 2011 State of Coal release, President Bill Raney of the WV Coal Association said that “the $26 billion dollar coal industry and the 63,000 jobs it provides have provided a solid foundation for the state economy”. It should also be mentioned that most of these jobs pay well in excess of $60,000 a year, which is much higher than the average income of most people in the Appalachian region. According to 2011 US census data, the poverty rate for Lincoln County was 26.6 percent and the per capita income is right around $16,400 a year. In Logan County, these numbers are similar with a poverty level of 21.8 percent and per capita income of $18,600 a year. If the coal industry is so important to our economy, as Bill Raney asserts, then why is the coal mining region characterized by so much economic depression? In these two counties, there was only a combined seventeen building permits issued in 2011. That’s hard to believe considering the amount of wealth being generated by the coal industry.
 It’s the coal industry’s assertion that Barack Obama has waged a war on coal miners by raising EPA standards and forcing coal powered plants to shut down. At there is a wealth of blame placed on the Obama Administration for coal’s lackluster market performance. The first problem you find when you delve into this claim is that coal production has only decreased by around 10% during the Obama presidency; and in fairness to the President, there are currently 1,000 more people working in the WV mining industry than there were on his first day in office. In all of its ‘war on coal’ rhetoric, the industry seems to have left out the leading cause of coal’s drop in the market.
Last month a reputable industry consulting firm, the Brattle Group, released a study on the market performance of coal and the rising unemployment. Despite claims by the coal industry, the Brattle Group finds that competition with Natural Gas is the greatest factor in the decline of coal in the United States. With a boom of shale drilling across the U.S. there is an abundance of natural gas; maybe you’ve seen the drilling trucks headed across Rt. 50 or the hillsides of Wetzel County. It’s not just the EPA and the Sierra Club who are causing problems for coal; Chesapeake Energy has spent millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions in the last two years. The way that these drilling companies have tapped into the shale reserve is not without controversy or its own path of destruction, but the fact remains that the abundance of natural gas has driven the costs of coal down.
The extraction of natural gas isn't the only methodical change that’s affected the employment numbers in the coalfields. According to West Virginia Mine Health, Safety, and Training (WVMHST), the mining industry has only employed 21,146 people in WV as of August 2012, a third of what Bill Raney told us. These numbers include miners, equipment operators, drivers, and other coal related professionals. Of those twenty one thousand employees, 5,483 of them work on surface mines. Surface mining this year has accounted for 31 million tons of coal production, while underground mining has accounted for 63 million tons. In 2011, each surface miner averaged 110 tons of coal production more per day than their underground counterparts.
Change in mining methods is nothing new; the twentieth century saw a major drop in the number of miners used to dig the coal out of our West Virginia hills. At my elementary school in Charleston we were taught that the modern continuous miner used below ground led to a decrease in the labor force. My third grade teacher wasn't exactly wearing a red bandanna around her neck when she taught this lesson; she was simply teaching the mathematical facts associated with WV coal mining. This same math should be applied to the use of MTR. Think about it. Is it cheaper to clear cut trees, or dig a tunnel hundreds of feet below the surface? From the perspective of liability, do you want to drop miners and heavy equipment down a basket all day or haul it up a dirt road? As a big coal executive, the biggest price drop you’re going to experience with MTR is in labor costs. Using ammonium nitrate is not only much cheaper than paying for man-hours, but it’s also more effective at blasting away rock, coal, and other things lying under the ridge tops.
In 2009 the late Senator Byrd said, “The increased use of mountaintop removal mining means that fewer miners are needed to meet company production goals. Meanwhile the Central Appalachian coal seams that remain to be mined are becoming thinner and more costly to mine. Mountaintop removal mining, a declining national demand for energy, rising mining costs and erratic spot market prices all add up to fewer jobs in the coal fields.” When the reduction of a labor force involves shifting extraction methodologies, sudden surpluses of alternative fuels, and geological complications, it’s no wonder that the coal industry looks for a scapegoat.

Every Valley Shall Be Filled

Another argument in support of MTR that’s been gaining some traction is the apparent need for flat land in West Virginia.  Randy Huffman, of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) made this case before Congress in 2009 when he said that MTR provides an opportunity that “is very important in the southern West Virginia coal mining region where no flat land exists.” Joe Manchin has publicly echoed this argument over the years calling this aspect of MTR a ‘principal tool’ in the redevelopment of these areas. Valley Fills are areas of plateau created by coal companies as they cover streams and fill in hollows with the rubble that once stretched toward the sky on the ridge tops of southern WV. There’s no reason to argue the industry’s point that they’re done with skillful engineering, however, it doesn’t take an engineer or a camera loving politician from Fairmont to know that it doesn’t take a strip mine to build facilities in the state of West Virginia.
Maybe Senator Manchin has taken too many helicopter rides over the last decade to remember what his predecessor accomplished right smack-dab in the middle of Manchin territory. Right along I-79 there’s the NASA complex, the WV High Tech Consortium, the FBI fingerprinting lab, and Lockheed Martin operations. We all know that Senator Manchin has spent a considerable amount of time up in Morgantown which is not only famous for being the home of the Mountaineers these days. Morgantown recently held the lowest level of unemployment in the entire country at 2.7%. The expansions of NIOSH, Mylan Pharmaceuticals, and the WVU Hospital complex, as well as the development of condos, shopping plazas, and student housing has created one of the fastest growing local economies in the country. The Morgantown area also experienced a boom of the peripheral job market extending to the service industry, which for some reason we haven’t seen in the billion dollar coalfields. By the way, none of the facilities I’ve listed in Harrison, Marion and Monongalia Counties required the use of MTR.
I would gather that Joe Manchin has traveled the technology corridor enough to know all of this. He should also know that MTR really makes it more difficult to bring new companies to the region. If it were only as simple as flat land there wouldn’t be so many decomposing industrial complexes up around Cleveland and Detroit. Anyone who's traveled the two lane road system of West Virginia knows the damage that’s been done by speeding overweight coal trucks. Every truck that does this creates the same amount of damage to the roads as tens of thousands of cars. Our coalfield highways are in such frequent need of repair that the state has set up a hotline to report speeding trucks.
The roads and bridges aren’t the only infrastructural problems that provide obstacles to prospective businesses. There are major concerns over the quality of air and water in areas near the mining complexes. Coal dust frequently covers homes while ‘fly rock’ shoots out of the blasting areas; all of this makes for very toxic and dangerous living conditions. Pauline Canterberry told Appalachian Voices, "For the past 8 years, life in the community of Sylvester, West Virginia, has been a living hell of black coal dust, nerve shattering noises and broken promises, while we have watched our homes destroyed. Many of those problems still remain unsolved. We do not oppose coal mining, but we do demand that it be done responsibly so as to protect our town and its citizens.”
Aerial Photo of Sylvester, WV 2010

 An increase of flash flooding during heavy rain has caused many people to abandon their properties in southern Appalachia, as neither the active mountaintop mining sites nor areas of reclamation do anything to absorb or slow down the water before it heads to the hollows. These conditions would make it impossible for local residents to sell their homes and for prospective industries to set up business. The horrors that residents of the coalfields are forced to live through are considered ‘acts of God’ by these multibillion dollar corporations.
Clean coal operations also provide an ominous future. Over the last forty years there have been 61 coal slurry spills throughout Appalachia which flooded miles and miles of mountain streams with toxic sludge. Four years ago, a coal ash spill in Tennessee flooded the community of Kingston with several feet of thick slurry with floating ‘bergs’ of mercury-laden ash. The whole town, homes and businesses were ruined.  According to there are 73 coal slurry impoundments in southern WV.  One thing is clear when looking toward the future; not many of these issues will be addressed when you have so many untruths about job creation being told by elected officials, and state bureaucrats.

Friends of Collusion

The power of the coal industry in our state is, and always has been, prolific. These days, that power is cleverly marketed as a friendly ‘grassroots movement’. According to their Facebook page, Friends of Coal WV is an organization who ‘understands the importance of coal mining to the state’s economy and its people’. According to commercials, Senator Joe Manchin, Nick Rahall, Shelly Moore-Capito, and Governor Tomblin are all devout friends of coal. According to the West Virginia Coal Association website, the Friends of Coal board members are chief executives and high officials of Patriot Coal, Arch Coal, Alpha Natural Resources, and Consol Energy to name a few. And there’s no wondering why Joe Manchin is such a friend of coal. According to, he received more than $1 million in campaign contributions from the mutual friends that he and the coal industry share. These corporations have invested a lot of money into the one renewable source of energy they’ve been able to muster over the decades, political power.
Over the last two years the top five coal corporations (Peabody, Arch, Consol, Alpha, and Patriot) have contributed a combined 4.1 million dollars to political campaigns and spent a whopping 22 million dollars on lobbying. Many of the lobbyists that these companies hire have direct ties with our government, for instance more than 80% of Peabody lobbyists once held government positions, even elected office. Peabody Energy, who recently received a 61 million dollar tax break from the city of St. Louis where it’s headquartered, has recently been sued by the UMWA for dumping their miners’ pensions into their subsidiary Patriot Coal, which was arguably designed to fail by the parent company. Patriot Coal didn’t even last five years before it filed for bankruptcy. In those same five years Peabody Energy spent more than $37 million on lobbying in Washington D.C. I would hope that a true friend of WV coal miners wouldn’t accept money from a corporation who creates disposable income by disposing its commitment to our fellow West Virginians.
In order to look out for the best interests of those in our state with whom we share our two hundred year history, we have to be willing to look past the fa├žade being put forth by out-of-state multibillion dollar industries. Being out here in St. Louis, I’ve walked by the Peabody Building and I’ve seen the jewelry store in their lobby, and the outdoor bistro and coffee shop. I wonder if the disabled miners of WV who are suing for their pensions could afford a pumpkin latte this season. The Friends of Coal can call themselves whatever they want on Facebook, we’re all a little guilty of a exaggerating on social media. But when you have coal companies who have used their power over the years to fight against safe working conditions, black lung benefits, environmental regulations, and the climate bill of 2009, it’s clear that we are not dealing with a grass roots organization.
In 2009 the U.S. House of Representatives passed the climate bill (H.R. 2454) which would have set limitations on carbon emissions and green house gases. It ran into a wall of opposition in the Senate after more than 1000 firms registered to lobby on this bill. This type of influence will always guarantee votes against climate legislation, even from Democrats like Jay Rockefeller, who in 2010 said “I don’t want the EPA turning out the lights on America.” Global warming has been hit-and-miss in our political dialog but was recently swept back to the front page with the surging waters of Hurricane Sandy and the melting of summer ice in the Arctic. An increasing number of climatologists and skeptics have come to a consensus that our planet is getting hotter.  Overseas, countries like Germany and Spain are getting as much as 25% of their overall energy from solar power, but thanks to the political buying power held by the mining industry, coal will be keeping the lights on for quite some time in the U.S. My friend Roger Banks, of Man, WV recently commented that in addition to the lights, “coal powered electricity also kept my father’s ventilator running over the years before he died of black lung disease.”

Old Black Gold, You've Taken My Lungs

I recently talked to Roger about his father who worked in the mines from the 1960’s to the 80’s. “Dad was a post-depression child of a coal miner who died in the mines in the 1950’s. He was the hardest working, most driven, focused man I have ever known. His one and only job in life was to take care of his family and set his children up for a better life than his. Dad’s hope for my sister and me was having the chance at going to college. He taught us to give a man a day’s work, but don’t let anyone take advantage of us”. Robert ‘Bob’ Banks worked for several subsidiary mines, as well as Arch and Consol over the years. He was a strong union man who upheld the ideals of John L. Lewis. “He always fought for safety and would not enter an unsafe mine. He built a culture of safety because he knew it paid off.” Because of unsafe conditions “he had to walk on occasion. Dad knew how to use the system for his protection.”
Despite their concerns for safety, many miners chose not to use the protection offered against black lung because it was too bulky and inefficient.  Many men, like Bob Banks simply chewed tobacco in hopes that it would keep too much dust from entering their lungs. In the late 80’s, Bob Banks was diagnosed with silicosis and black lung. “Dad was smart and attended to the mind numbing paperwork. He got legal assistance from a reputable lawyer. My mom used the same attorney to get survivor black lung benefits, which took years.” Bob Banks followed doctors’ orders to the letter and lived to the age of 72. “Dad was an independent bull who showed me what is possible with hard work and a good heart.”
Roger told me that his father vehemently opposed mountaintop removal; his love for working in the mines did not exceed the love he had for the mountains. Like most of us in the state, Mr. Banks would have seen the blaze orange streams winding through the hollers. The toxic mess along the Cheat and Coal River, and the red industrial stains across the rocks of Douglas and Pringle Falls are some of the most visible effects left by the coal industry. I lived along Decker’s Creek up in Morgantown, which at the time ran over those reddish acid stained rocks all the way from Richard to the Monongahela River. It’s hard to erase the images of all of those tributaries running red, and it’s hard to accept that mining companies are exempt from liability as long as the damages started before 1977 thanks to the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.
Acid Mine Drainage pouring into the Cheat River just north of Albright in 2002
Courtesy Google Earth

This legislation set up the Abandoned Mine Land fund, which is now the only way to deal with the waste created by toxic water building up in these abandoned mines. But we have to remember, there is really no such thing as an abandoned mine in West Virginia. When a company wishes to relinquish its operations, there are procedures that must take place through the WVDEP in order to release the bond. The term ‘abandoned’ might give us the impression that these areas were simply cast aside and forever forgotten which simply isn’t true. The term ‘abandoned’ might better suit the disabled miners who are still forced to sue over black lung benefits, disability, and pensions. The term ‘abandoned’ might better suit the people in two coalfield communities who pleaded with the WVDEP for years to help them while they experienced a deadly outbreak of contamination.

The Waters were Teaming with Life

In 2005, people in the two communities of Prenter and Rawl started noticing serious problems with their well water. These two areas had depended upon their wells for generations, but all of the sudden they were forced to change filters every week or so while the water ran orange and black. During the 1970’s, coal companies began washing their coal to satisfy requirements of the Clean Air Act. Billions of gallons of the leftover slurry has been injected into old mine shafts across Appalachia. In the Prenter and Rawl areas it’s clear that this toxic pollution found its way into the well water, despite early DEP claims that it wouldn’t have been possible.
More than 700 people in this area were affected by reckless coal slurry injection. Courtesy Google Earth

It took years for the people of Rawl to get a DEP inspector to come look at their water, according to D.I. Sammons. In a 2007 interview (Toxic West Virginia) he showed the camera a heaping pile of medicine bottles prescribed to him, and said that his doctor is amazed that he’s still alive after having so much lead in his system. Lead is only one of the toxins being monitored in this community where more than 700 people filed a class action suit against Massey Energy. His neighbor, Donetta Blankenship, tells me “breathing problems came from gases coming up through the sinks. At night we would wash the dishes and the kids would all take a shower or bath. The next morning we’d get up and be gone during the day. When we came home it would still smell like rotten eggs.” Many children who were diagnosed with asthma in this community were actually suffering from hydrogen sulfide gas poisoning. “When we moved here, my son ended up breathing so bad they had to keep watch on him, but after we got the city water he’s had no problem.” After 13 years of severe health problems the Mingo County community finally received municipal water lines, but the residents still suffer from lingering effects. Donetta told me that her home still looks like a pharmacy because of so many prescription medicines she’s taking.
 She also told me that at least 50 people died of conditions that were being monitored as a part of the lawsuit. The residents were also treated for manganese, beryllium, selenium, and sulfuric acid poisoning. At 45 years old, she is sure that she is suffering from dementia. “Just ask my husband”, who works as a mechanic in the garage of their small business. “Not even before he is out of my sight, I’ve already forgotten what I was going to do”. When I asked her whether or not it had anything to do with the contamination she told me, “Some of it is too much stress; some of it I’m not sure. They say some of the chemicals will cause some of that.” Unfortunately, her trips to the doctor won’t be over anytime soon. “I’ve had some osteoporosis and I just found out these toxins can cause bones to deteriorate.” She also said that she was diagnosed with four new conditions in August of this year, one of which might require a visit to a neurologist.
It’s hard to believe that her current physical health is arguably an improvement. In 2005 she was forced to go to the emergency room because of liver failure. “I didn’t have a problem before I moved here in 2001. But in 2005, I was dying”. She had to go back to the ICU in 2006 for more liver problems. “My enzymes were in the thousands and I was yellow all over.” Ever since she and her family started using the city water, her liver function has return to normal. “What does that tell you?” she asked repeatedly.
Aerial photo of Prenter, WV 2002 featuring several coal impoundments and MTR sites. Underground slurry and blasting is a deadly combination. Photo courtesy Google Earth
There were another 350 people who filed a class action suit against several coal companies in Prenter. The people in this Boone County community were experiencing deadly brain tumors, miscarriages, liver cancer, cysts, boils, and kidney failure; children were suffering from severe tooth decay, respiratory illnesses, and mental delays. In one small area, 98% of the people who were asked in a community-driven health survey needed their gallbladders removed. Even during the height of the crisis, and with so much overwhelming evidence, there was reluctance among some people in the community to blame the coal companies, according to longtime resident Maria Lambert.
“People were afraid! They thought when we got up enough nerve to speak that we would shut down the mines, so some of us purposely held back what we really wanted to say so more folks would decide on their own what was happening”. She even went as far as to say that “if it happens again and is covered up again, it will probably be here. There’s too many greedy people and greedy companies.” People in these communities were forced to drink, bathe, and cook with the contaminated water until an organization that Maria worked with, the Prenter Water Fund, hauled in barrels of clean water. Most of the residents of this area now have water lines.

Research and Controversy

The survivors of coal slurry injections and black lung disease aren’t the only ones who account for the human toll associated with coal mining. Over the past several years a group of researchers from the likes of Duke University, Wheeling Jesuit College, the USGS, and our own West Virginia University have taken on the health issues that have affected so many Appalachians living near MTR mining sites. Dr. Michael Hendryx has created a body of research over the last 5 years that’s looked into hospitalization patterns, mortality, lung cancer, and other health problems that have been linked to mountaintop removal coal mining. In 2011 Dr. Hendryx published a study which found a specific link between MTR and poverty that doesn’t exist in non-mining and underground mining areas.  Another of his studies, coauthored by Dr. Nathaniel Hitt of the USGS, found “significant links between coal mining, decreased ecological integrity, and increasing cancer mortality rates. These findings indicate that West Virginians living near streams polluted by mine waste are more likely to die of cancer.” 
The most controversial research that Dr. Hendryx has published came out last year. The Association of Mountaintop Removal and Birth Defects in Live Births in Central Appalachia demonstrated “significantly higher prevalence rates for birth defects overall, and for six of seven types of anomalies examined in mountaintop mining areas versus other mining and non-mining areas. The [prevalence rate ratios] have become significantly worse in mountaintop mining areas in more recent years for four anomaly types and for birth anomalies overall.” He concluded that “The findings documented in this study contribute to the growing evidence that mountaintop mining is done at substantial expense to the environment, to local economies and to human health.”
Soon after this study was released, the coal industry came out swinging. They attacked his research on the grounds that it was conducted through statistical analysis, and ‘not science’. The coal industry, of all people, accused him of ‘having a dog in the fight’. Bill Raney said “It is a shame that this WVU researcher seems to take delight in maligning our state, our industry and its people with statements that are based on the researcher's personal opinions and subjective suppositions.” Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association was not as nice. “Dr. Michael Hendryx is an anti-coal ideologue who is masquerading again as an objective researcher.” He went on to say, “From speaking engagements to environmental activists to a failed attempt to influence the Kentucky General Assembly, his research always comes to a conclusion against the mining of coal to fit his personal bias and political objectives."
Shortly after the release of this study, a New York law firm representing the coal industry accused Dr. Hendryx of cherry picking statistics to suit his agenda. In a public statement, attorneys for the Crowell Moring firm said "The study failed to account for consanquinity, one of the most prominent sources of birth defects". The lawyers were referring to an old Appalachian stereotype, “which, incidentally, they misspelled,” Hendryx said in an interview with Jeff Young. He went to say that “consanguinity is a term that really means inbreeding; they tried to say that the birth defect rates that are higher in mountaintop mining areas are really because of inbreeding. It’s an insulting comment. There’s no evidence that levels of inbreeding are any higher in Appalachia than in any other area. I think it’s a little window into the true motive of the coal industry, that their respect for people who live in these areas is in fact low.”
Recently I asked Dr. Hendryx about the questions of reliability in his research. He told me, “If we had done one or two studies and found correlations between mining and public health, I would be much more cautious about saying that mining impacts health.  We now have over 20 studies that have documented these effects.  The evidence is much stronger than saying that we only have a correlation.  It is stronger because it shows a pattern of effects.” In explaining these patterns, he says that his studies indicate that “the health problems that we see get stronger as levels of mining increase; the worst problems are where mining is heaviest, intermediate where mining is intermediate, and health is best where mining is absent.  The health problems are stronger in MTR areas vs. areas where other forms of mining are practiced.”
Big Coal’s question of statistical analysis is a moot point when you’re dealing with environmental agents that are known to cause illnesses. “We are seeing higher levels of silica in the air in mining communities, and silica is a well-established lung carcinogen.  Higher levels of dust, in general, are associated in the literature with increased risks of lung and heart disease.” The effects of sulfides, lead, mercury, selenium, manganese and other mining related toxins are also well understood in the scientific community.
Mountaintop mining over Clear Fork, WV. Photo by Vivian Stockman, courtesy of OVEC
Statistical research is not the only type of study being conducted by Dr. Hendryx in the coalfields. “Colleagues of mine who run animal studies exposed rats to the dust from the mining communities.  The dust caused microvascular dysfunction, or more specifically, resulted in ‘blunted dilation’ which means that the normal ability of a blood vessel to dilate under increased pressure did not occur; this type of a response increases the risk for cardiovascular disease. The next steps are to try to understand better the biological mechanisms by which exposure to MTR dust causes dysfunction.” I am cautiously optimistic that Dr. Hendryx and others in the field will come upon the ‘big tobacco’ moment and scientifically prove what anyone living in the coalfields can already tell you; Mountaintop Removal is killing people.
I would certainly take a man at his word after he has invested so much of his time researching the sick and abandoned people of the coalfields. I would definitely take his word over industry officials who are responsible for thousands of safety violations, thousands of environmental violations, a rise in black lung disease, and business practices that have left retired miners with disabilities in poverty. Dr. Hendryx received his Ph.D. from Northwestern University in 1986, the same year MTR began on Kayford Mountain in Raleigh County. In the years since, Dr. Hendryx has clearly lived up to any researcher’s ethical standards while the headwaters of Cabin Creek have increasingly run red. The Friends of Coal have the right to dispute these studies all they want, but their argument doesn’t ring too loudly when it’s clear that some of these coal companies haven’t even been telling their shareholders the truth. If we can’t count on the polluters to stop, or the bureaucrats and politicians to make them stop, then it’s going to be entirely up to all West Virginians to step in and demand that our neighbors in the coalfields receive their unalienable right to live.

Montani Semper Liberi

West Virginia, I plead with you to stop voting solely on name recognition. Through this process, you’ve allowed the well known names of Manchin and Moore to leave our borders for the green pastures of Washington D.C. These names carry a legacy of disappearing funds, felony corruption, impeachment, and imprisonment. Now they serve as blind friends to a coalition of out-of-state corporations with the recent history of over-polluting our rivers, defrauding their pension holders, and covering up the premature deaths of our neighbors which they’ve, in fact, caused with their reckless practices. Maria Lambert from Prenter said that it’s also important “to ask the state legislators to make sure the laws are upheld with the greatest of diligence, and that their votes depend on it. They say it cost too much money and profits to hold to the regulations, but I say it costs too much and too many lives not to”.

The people of West Virginia need to cast aside politicians who would introduce and sponsor such bills as the Stop the War on Coal Act of 2012 (H.R. 3409, 2012) which would tie the hands of the EPA and give even more control to state level environmental protection. This bill would also end the EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and permanently prevent our government from ever creating a carbon tax. In the ever-warming real world, this type of governance is unacceptable and as hopelessly archaic as burning coal for the purposes of boiling water. The same politicians, Manchin, McKinley, and Rahall, who have publicly supported this bill, have done nothing to promote the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act (H.R. 5959, 2012) which would place a moratorium on MTR permitting until health studies are conducted by Health and Human Services. None, Zero, of the 26 co-sponsors of this bill come from the Mountain State. While neither of these symbolic bills will ever reach the desk of the President, they have definitely given the Senators and Representatives of our state an opportunity to answer the question sung by many a West Virginia coal miner- Which side are you on?
It’s important to remember that most of the environmental protection laws are written and enforced at the state level. This creates problems in West Virginia when there is an army of both Democrats and Republicans who are self-proclaimed friends of a filthy rock, and a WVDEP that spends too much of its time worrying about jobs instead of protecting the environment and the people of West Virginia. Only after we break free of this collusion will our coalfields break free of its persistent poverty, and will we live up to our wonderful state motto. The coal industry and its paid politicians are destroying our beautiful hills, poisoning our ancient rivers, wrecking our economy, and killing the most resilient people our nation has ever known. We must end Mountaintop Removal.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

An Open Letter to UMSL's Chancellor George Regarding the Peabody Environmental Engineering Lab

This is my third year at UMSL as a student in the college of education. From what I’ve seen in St. Louis schools, the reputation of our university precedes itself in the community as an institution that puts forth very qualified and effective teachers. I promise to work hard and to live up to that reputation in the coming years. I am writing to you today with regards to the good name of our school, and its association with a company known throughout the Appalachian region where I’m from.

Earlier this month, you accepted a $750,000 gift from Peabody Energy to update two engineering labs on campus. In return for this gift, Peabody was given the naming rights for our Environmental Engineering Laboratory. As a longtime resident of West Virginia I have to tell you; if you want to see Peabody’s idea of environmental engineering, then come and look at the dead river systems and mountaintops that have been blown apart.  On my recent trip to West Virginia over Labor Day, I drove through a dust cloud drifting off of Peabody’s surface mine in Lynnville, Indiana. The visible dust that draped the trees for several miles around the 40 mile marker of I-64 was a sight that I’m not unfamiliar with.

Studies conducted by West Virginia University have linked this particulate matter consisting of sulphur and silica to microvascular dysfunction, which could explain increases of cardiovascular disease in areas of close proximity to mountaintop removal sites. These coal companies unapologetically blast toxins into the air, while allowing lead, selenium, and arsenic to seep into the river systems. The one bit of environmental engineering that these companies seem to be proud of, ‘clean coal’, involves blindly injecting heavy water used in the cleaning process into abandoned, unsealed mines; several Appalachian communities have been a part of medical monitoring systems as a result. The financial costs have been in the millions due to the contaminated water table that thousands of West Virginians rely upon for drinking, cooking, and bathing. Of course, we cannot put a price tag on the many people who have died of their illnesses.

How Peabody Energy could have the audacity to put their name on an environmental engineering lab is beyond me. As far as UMSL’s engineering department is concerned, I really wish you would have found a more appropriate means of keeping the lights on. As your student, I must ask you to return the money to Peabody Energy, and perhaps allow them to use it for the pensions that they are about to be sued for by the United Mine Workers of America. I would like to think that $750,000 is an unfair price for the integrity of our institution. Any students or faculty members who are interested in working with me on this issue should contact me at

David Scott
Senior, Elementary Education