Fly-Ash Dams Found Hazardous in West Virginia

About two-thirds of coal-ash dams in West Virginia might need repairs and a quarter of them are ranked in poor or unsatisfactory condition as to pose a hazard, according to a report by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP), which launched the 10-month comprehensive review after the failure of a coal-ash impoundment in East Tennessee last year.

WVDEP inspectors found stability problems such as seepage and erosion. The findings prompted at least five enforcement actions at landfills where dry waste products from coal-fired plants were dumped.

WVDEP Secretary Randy Huffman said the agency is exploring options for more frequent inspections of the 20 coal-ash impoundments under its dam-safety jurisdiction. The report said eight of the 20 coal-ash dams were found in satisfactory condition, with no “existing potential” safety deficiencies. The 12 others were found unsatisfactory.

After a dam collapsed at a Tennessee Valley Authority coal-fired power plant in December 2008, The Charleston Gazette reported that most of the coal-ash dams in West Virginia had not been visited by a state dam inspector in at least five years.


Black Thunder Surpasses 4 Million Employee-Hours with Perfect Lost-Time Safety Record

Thunder Basin Coal Co.’s Black Thunder mine surpassed 571 days and 4 million employee-hours without a single lost-time injury on November 20, 2009. “The dedicated workforce at Black Thunder mine has shown that together we can achieve a perfect zero in safety incidents,” said Kenneth Cochran, president and general manager, Thunder Basin. “This record-setting safety achievement highlights one of the core values upheld throughout the Arch Coal family of companies.” Black Thunder’s 1,600 employees produce roughly 12% of the annual U.S. coal supply from the single largest coal-mining complex in the world. Black Thunder mine is located in the Powder River Basin near Wright, Wyo.


DoI Strengthens Coal Mining Oversight, Announces Initiatives to Better Protect Streams

The Department of the Interior (DoI) is taking immediate actions to strengthen oversight of state surface coal mining programs and to promulgate federal regulations to better protect streams affected by surface coal mining operations, Interior officials announced.

“America’s vast coal resources are a vital component of our energy future and our economy, but we have a responsibility to ensure that development is done in a way that protects public health and safety and the environment,” said Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Wilma Lewis. “We are moving as quickly as possible under the law to gather public input for a new rule, based on sound science, that will govern how companies handle fill removed from mountaintop coal seams. Until we put a new rule in place, we will work to provide certainty to coal operations and the communities that depend on coal for their livelihood, strengthen our oversight and inspections, and coordinate with other federal agencies to better protect streams and water quality.”

The Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) is publishing an advance notice of proposed rulemaking regarding the protection of streams from the adverse impacts of surface coal mining operations. The notice requests comments on alternatives for revising the current regulations, which include the stream buffer zone rule issued by the Bush administration in December 2008.

The 2008 rule modified a 1983 rule that prohibited the dumping of overburden within 100 feet of a perennial or intermittent stream except when such activities “will not cause or contribute to the violation of state or federal water quality standards and will not adversely affect the water quantity or quality or other environmental resources of the stream.” The 2008 rule allows a surface coal mine operator to place excess material excavated by the operation into streams if the operator can show it is not reasonably possible to avoid doing so.

While the new rule is being developed, Interior is taking immediate actions to strengthen protections for streams and communities in coal country, provide regulatory certainty for industry, and bolster OSM’s oversight and enforcement activities.

“We are moving as expeditiously as possible in the rulemaking process, but we will not take shortcuts around the law or the science,” said OSM Director Joe Pizarchik. “Until we complete the new rule, we have to manage the shortcomings of the 2008 rule. OSM will establish a new practice for reviewing permits under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) that will improve consistency and coordination with other Federal agencies.”

Under the new practice, the review and approval of SMCRA permits must be coordinated with reviews and authorizations required under the Clean Water Act. OSM will work with the Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency to coordinate these permitting processes and ensure effective and coordinated compliance with provisions of the Clean Water Act.

Lewis and Pizarchik also announced a number of proposed actions to improve the agency’s effectiveness in overseeing state implementation of their approved surface coal mining regulatory programs. Under these proposed actions, OSM would, for the first time since coal-producing states assumed responsibility for their regulatory programs, conduct independent inspections of operators with state-issued surface coal mining permits. OSM would also conduct more oversight inspections, place greater emphasis on reducing the off-site impacts of mining, and review more state-issued surface coal mining permits and state permitting processes in an effort to improve state permitting decisions. The new OSM oversight and enforcement policy would also include revised guidelines for conducting oversight inspections.

“Through tougher oversight and stronger enforcement of SMCRA, we are putting all hands on deck to ensure that Appalachian communities are protected,” Pizarchik said. The reforms announced are consistent with the Obama administration’s commitments in a June 11, 2009, Memorandum of Understanding among the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Army Corps of Engineers to reduce the harmful environmental consequences of Appalachian surface coal mining.

The public is invited to review and comment on the proposed rulemaking and on OSM’s proposed Oversight Improvement Actions. The advance notice of proposed rulemaking will be sent to the Federal Register. Beginning on the date of publication, comments may be submitted using the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at The document has been assigned Docket ID: OSM-2009-0009.

The public is also invited to review and comment by January 19, 2010, on OSM’s proposed Oversight Improvement Actions, which can be accessed at The preferred method for submitting comments is via e-mail to [email protected] Comments may also be mailed to: Administrative Record (MS 252 SIB), Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, 1951 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, 20240.


TVA, Commonwealth of Kentucky Sign Pact on Energy Resources

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the Commonwealth of Kentucky are pledging to work together to ensure a clean, reliable and affordable energy supply over the next decade. TVA officials recently signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the state’s Energy and Environment Cabinet committing both agencies to a list of goals for the development and use of energy resources through 2020.

“This agreement is an example of our long-term commitment to providing clean and renewable energy sources to the Tennessee Valley,” said TVA Senior Vice President of Environment and Research Anda Ray. “This effort is important not only to the environment, but also to the region’s economy and the welfare and quality of life for the residents of Kentucky.”

The memorandum reaffirms TVA’s goal of reducing peak electricity demand on its system by up to 1,400 megawatts by 2012 and to generate at least 50% of its electricity from clean energy resources by 2020. The TVA also pledges to continue programs such as Green Power Switch and Energy Auditing and to keep working on more programs that are mutually beneficial to the state and the TVA.

Kentucky’s EEC agrees to work with other state agencies to promote clean energy resources through expedited permitting of such energy-resource projects; to promote and establish requirements and incentives for construction of energy-efficient homes, businesses and industries; support the development of infrastructure for alternative-fueled and electric vehicles; and to assist local governments and small businesses in improving energy efficiency of existing buildings.

“This agreement works hand-in-hand with Kentucky’s seven-point strategy for energy efficiency and will help us work with the TVA in bringing about energy and environmental changes that will better serve the public,” said Energy and Environment Secretary Len Peters.

Both parties also agree to work together to educate the public, including teachers and students, about the prudent use and conservation of energy.

The agencies will also produce an inventory of renewable energy resources in Kentucky. The state will participate in the TVA’s process to upgrade its integrated resource plan to explore future energy and resource stewardship needs across the Valley.

As part of the process, the TVA will hold public meetings around the state to enhance public involvement as well as an annual public meeting on the development and use of energy resources. A complete copy of the memorandum can be found at or


MSHA Launches Comprehensive Action Plan to Tackle Black Lung

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) announced a multifaceted, comprehensive strategy to end new cases of black lung among the nation’s coal miners. Black lung is a collection of debilitating and potentially fatal diseases from respirable coal mine dust exposure. These diseases have been on the rise in recent years. MSHA’s initiative to curb black lung will include focused enforcement, targeted education and training, rulemaking, and collaboration with stakeholders.

“The Department of Labor is absolutely committed to ending black lung disease,” said Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis. “We will use all of the tools necessary to control dust in coal mines and reduce the risk of disease to our nation’s coal miners.”

“While considerable progress has been made in reducing miners’ exposure to respirable coal mine dust, miners continue to develop black lung and silicosis,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant labor secretary for mine safety and health. “Having a comprehensive strategy is essential to tackle the occurrence of this highly preventable condition. I am pleased that the National Mining Association, the United Mine Workers of America and the Bituminous Coal Operators Association have announced their support of our goal to end black lung once and for all.”

Based on recent data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), cases of black lung are increasing among the nation’s coal miners. Even younger miners are showing evidence of advanced and debilitating lung disease from excessive dust exposure.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 10,000 miners have died from black lung over the last decade. The federal government has paid out over $44 billion in compensation for miners totally disabled by black lung since 1970, according to the Labor Department’s Office of Workers’ Compensation. The major components of MSHA’s action plan are described below:

MSHA held four public informational events in coalfield communities. In addition to the December 4 kickoff in Beckley, W.Va., the events took place December 7 in Washington, Pa.; December 10 in Lebanon, Va.; and December 11 in Frankfort, Ky.

MSHA is disseminating new materials on a variety of dust-related topics, including black lung, controlling respirable dust, on-shift examinations, and controlling exposure to coal mine dust containing quartz and exposure at surface mine facilities. MSHA will also post additional reports, educational materials and resources on its “End Black Lung” Web page at

MSHA’s outreach efforts include a series of regional one-day workshops jointly sponsored with NIOSH. “Best Practices for Controlling Respirable Dust in Coal Mines” will bring together groups of dust control experts to share their knowledge and experience on practical dust control tools and techniques to prevent disabling occupational lung disease in coal miners. The first workshop was held at the Mine Health and Safety Academy in November. Others are scheduled for March 2010 in Birmingham, Ala.; April 2010 in Evansville, Ind.; and June 2010 in Grand Junction, Colo.

During the week of December 7, MSHA initiated its Dust Sweep, when every coal mine inspector will dedicate a part of each inspection to health-related activities and apply the lessons learned during the “Special Dust Emphasis Inspection Program” that took place earlier this year. Based on these lessons learned, MSHA will review the quality of dust controls stipulated in approved ventilation plans-focusing on the primacy of engineering controls-and evaluate respirable dust practices during regular inspections. MSHA training specialists will monitor the quality of training provided by industry personnel on the risks of black lung and silicosis to miners and prevention methods.

MSHA’s rulemaking agenda includes work on a final rule concerning the approval of coal mine dust personal monitors. The rule would update approval requirements for existing monitors and establish criteria for approval of a new type of technology, the “continuous personal dust monitor (CPDM),” which reports exposure to dust levels continuously during a work shift. MSHA is considering rulemaking on the recommendations in the NIOSH Criteria Document and the Secretary of Labor’s Advisory Committee on the Elimination of Pneumoconiosis Among Coal Mine Workers. Some of the recommendations include lowering the level of exposure to coal mine dust, developing a separate exposure level for coal mine dust and silica, and using the CPDM to identify dust exposure and, as appropriate, for compliance.