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Walter Energy Starts New Longwall at Mine No. 7

Walter Energy announced that it has started longwall production at its Mine No. 7 East expansion. The $175 million expansion, begun in 2005, is expected to generate approximately 2 million tons of incremental production in 2010 and up to 3.5 million tons in 2012. The additional production will increase Walter Energy’s rated capacity for premium coking coal to approximately 9.5 million tons in 2012. The footprint of the expansion is approximately 19.5 square miles and has sufficient reserves for approximately 20 years of production.

“Our Mine No. 7 produces some of the highest quality coking coal in the world. The expansion of the mine to an annual capacity in excess of 6 million tons makes it the largest low-vol hard coking coal mine in North America and the expansion is ideally timed to meet expected growth in demand for premium, low-vol hard coking coal,” said Victor P. Patrick, CEO, Walter Energy.

 

Senate Confirms Main as Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health

Joseph A. “Joe” Main was nominated by President Barack Obama as Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health (MSHA). He was confirmed by the Senate on October 21, 2009. Main is an internationally-recognized expert in mine health and safety issues. For more than 40 years, he has worked to improve every aspect of miner health and safety, both in the United States and internationally.

Main is a native of Greene County, Pa. He began working at coal mines in 1967 and quickly became an advocate for miner’s safety and health. He was hired by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) in 1974 to be an assistant to the international president. In 1976, he joined the Safety Division of the UMWA, serving as safety inspector, administrative assistant and deputy director.

In 1982, he was appointed administrator of the UMWA Occupational Health and Safety Department, a position he held for 22 years. In that position, Main managed the international health and safety program of the UMWA. He has served on a number of federal advisory committees, joint labor/management committees, mining industry partnerships and international tripartite committees relating to mine safety.

He has extensive hands-on experience inspecting and evaluating mining conditions, plans and systems, and has been involved in a number of mine emergencies and accident investigations. Before he accepted President Obama’s nomination, Main worked as a mine safety consultant. His recent work focused on research and analysis on prevention of mine accidents and disasters, development of training programs and facilities to prepare miners, rescue teams, and emergency responders for mine emergencies and international mine safety issues.

 

Court Rules for Drummond in Colombian Cases

In two rulings during early November, a federal district court in Birmingham, Ala., dismissed the latest efforts by Colombian plaintiffs, backed by the United Steelworkers and Colombian labor unions, to hold Drummond Co., Drummond Ltd. and certain Drummond employees liable for paramilitary violence in Colombia.

Three related lawsuits have been filed against the company in recent years. An initial lawsuit, brought by heirs of three murdered union leaders and other workers who claimed to have been threatened by paramilitaries, was tried to a jury in July 2007 and resulted in a complete vindication of the defendants. That judgment was affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals in December 2008.

A few months later, a number of plaintiffs backed by the United Steelworkers and Colombian labor unions filed two new lawsuits making similar allegations. The first, Baloco v. Drummond Company Inc., was brought by heirs of the deceased union leaders who claimed they were not bound by the judgment in the earlier trial. The court in its recent ruling found this argument to be “disingenuous,” and dismissed the lawsuit in its entirety on the grounds that plaintiffs either were bound by the prior judgment or lacked standing to bring suit for the injuries they claimed.

The third lawsuit, Doe v. Drummond, was brought by relatives of victims of paramilitary violence who alleged that the company enlisted paramilitaries to pacify the area of Colombia where Drummond mines and transports coal. The company moved to dismiss the lawsuit on several grounds, including the lack of a basis to find that the defendants conspired with or aided and abetted paramilitaries in acts of violence, and the lack of a basis to find that these acts were “war crimes” as claimed by the plaintiffs. The court agreed, finding the motion to dismiss “has clear merit.” The court stopped short of dismissing the case in its entirety because plaintiffs had requested leave to amend their complaint, and the court decided to allow them that opportunity before a final ruling. However, the court dismissed plaintiffs’ wrongful death claims based on Colombian law.

 

EPA Issues Revised Standards for Prep Plants

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is promulgating amendments to the new source performance standards for coal preparation and processing plants. These final amendments include revisions to the emission limits for particulate matter and opacity standards for thermal dryers, pneumatic coal cleaning equipment, and coal handling equipment located at coal preparation and processing plants. These revised limits apply to affected facilities that commence construction, modification, or reconstruction after April 28, 2008.

The amendments also establish emissions limits for thermal dryers and work practice standards to control fugitive coal dust emissions, which will apply to affected facilities that commence construction, modification, or reconstruction after May 27, 2009.

The agency also modified the definition of a thermal dryer to include both direct contact and indirect contact thermal dryers drying all coal ranks. It also modified the definition of pneumatic coal-cleaning equipment to include equipment cleaning all coal ranks. It amended the definition of coal for purposes of subpart Y to include coal refuse.

The final rule became effective on October 8, 2009. For more information, visit www.epa.gov.

 

West Virginia Pods Now in All Underground Mines

All underground coal mines in West Virginia now have emergency refuge chambers for trapped miners, according to the Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training (MHST). More than 300 shelters stocked with food, water, and the ability to supply oxygen have been placed in more than 180 mines, MHST reported. West Virginia mandated shelters within 1,000 ft of the working face of all underground mines after 14 men were trapped and killed in two accidents in January 2006. Getting shelters in place significantly improves safety in mines in the nation’s second largest coal producing state, said MHST. Shelters are designed as a last-chance refuge for miners who can’t escape fire and other accidents.