Coal Report for October 19, 2016

Photo by Thomas Biggs

Photo by Thomas Biggs

(Quote)“As we look to the future, we see no natural mechanisms that will permit coal to recover.  If you’re a power plant operator, and you see gas supply is continuing to increase and natural gas can do the job cheaper — by a lot — the decision to switch from coal to gas is pretty easy.” (end quote)  said Walter Culver, a founding member of the Great Lakes Energy Institute Advisory Board at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.  Culver is a co-author of the peer-reviewed study, published in The Electricity Journal, which found that a 23% drop in coal consumption for electricity between 2008 and 2015 correlated with the with the increase of extracting natural gas from shale.  By their estimates, this reality far outweighs the burden of regulations as cause for the decline of the coal industry.  Because of economic and technological advantages of burning natural gas over coal the team believes that this trend will continue some decades into the future.  While we have seen some increases in the price of metallurgical coal strengthening the markets, what we know is these prices are greatly dependent on the Chinese and their decisions regarding coal production in their country.  So, which is it – coal for the comeback or coal on the out?


In 2014 the United Kingdom consumed about 30% of its electricity by burning coal.  The United States uses coal for approximately 33% of its electrical needs by comparison.  In November 2015 the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in the UK announced proposals to close the remaining coal-fired power stations in the country by 2025. Correspondingly, in May of 2016 the UK recorded more than twelve hours of powering their country without burning coal for the first time in 100 years.  But, what does transitioning away from coal look like when it isn’t a pleasant spring day?  In July of 2016, the country announced that they will retain an emergency plan which will pay 10 coal and gas fired power plants to remain on standby in the case that this winter’s weather brings days which require more capacity for electricity production than what currently powers the grid.  Another strategy was to bring one coal fired power plant partially back onto the grid and to cut off a subsea power cable used to export electricity to Ireland.  The 10 power plants on standby will be paid 122 million pounds to be ready to fire when given the word this winter.  The plants will be paid millions of more pounds if they are actually required to fire up.


The eKentucky Advanced Manufacturing Institute in Paintsville plans to accept its first class in February. The 16-week program trains people to operate advanced computer numeric control machines, and hopes to help out-of-work miners receive training which will allow them to again be employed.  Workers in the field of advanced manufacturing average about $20 an hour and Gov. Matt Bevin’s office said there are at least 200 vacancies within commuting distance of Paintsville.  Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program will pay tuition for out-of-work coal miners to complete the program.


After coming out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Alpha Natural Resources has announced that it has sold its last remaining properties in eastern Kentucky.Alpha Natural Resources said it has sold the assets of its Enterprise Mining Corp. affiliate to Kingdom Coal, a subsidiary of Keystone-Kingdom Resources in Fort Worth, Texas.  Enterprise had an underground mine called the EMC No. 9 in Knott County and a preparation plant at Roxanna in Letcher County.  Operations at the mine idled in July and 85 employees lost their jobs.  There is some talk of interest in restarting the mine by Kingdom Coal.  There’s no certain announcement as to if or when that would take place.


The Coal Report is a weekly production of WMMT. It is assembled from newspapers and press services and reports coal-related material as these sources give it. It does not represent the opinion of WMMT on the matters discussed. Our aim is to reflect both local developments regarding coal and the big picture we’re a part of. For feedback, comments, or questions, email

Art Matters: Mikie Burke & Russell Wright “Griswald” with Adrian Wright

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In continuation of his interviews with artists that he feels influenced by, host John Haywood decided to focus this show on young artists who have come to him for instruction.  In turn, his art has been influenced by watching them grow, and learn.  Haywood’s guests for this episode are Mikie Burke and Russell Wright “Griswald both artists, musicians and Letcher County natives.  The trio discuss the importance of passing art down and how it can help us deal with the changing economy, emotions, etc… Mikie talks about the new drop-in center at the old Boone Motor Building for youth ages 14-22, and an upcoming art auction.  Russ then speaks about a motivational talk he will be giving at the drop-in center next week.

The guys talk about being from the hills and getting into urban things like rock-n-roll, skateboarding and more.  And as a Halloween special guest, they get Louisville artist and tattooer Adrian Wright on the phone to discuss art shows in haunted houses and the folk art in passing down the tradition of tattooing.  Adrian also offers his encouragement to other artists. 

By Adrian Wright

By Adrian Wright













WMMT’s Art Matters is a monthly, visual-art-centered talk show.  It airs live on the 3rd Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m., and during each program, your host interviews local artists of all shapes and stripes.  For more, “like” the show on facebook, or click here to listen to past episodes.

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Coal Report for October 12, 2016



‘Justice Delayed’ 
Benny Becker

ANCHOR INTRO: A review of records by NPR and the Ohio Valley ReSource finds that billionaire coal operator and West Virginia gubernatorial candidate Jim Justice’s companies owe more than twelve million dollars in county, state, and federal taxes. Justice’s companies also owe over two million dollars in delinquent fines for mine safety violations–the most of any coal operator in the country–and have left mine lands in disrepair. 
Benny Becker reports from eastern Kentucky, where officials and residents are dealing with the debts and damaged land that Justice has left behind.


BB: Jim Justice is West Virginia’s Democratic Candidate for Governor. He’s also the wealthiest person in the state. Back in April, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported that Jim Justice owed at least 3.9 million dollars to six West Virginia counties. Justice responded by making this promise:

Jim Justice: Every single tax obligation that I have in West Virginia will be paid before the end of the month of April.

BB: That month, Justice did pay down a lot of the property taxes he owed to counties in West Virginia, but the review of records by NPR and the ReSource found those payments covered only a fraction of the back taxes that he owes. 3.7 million dollars in West Virginia state taxes, and more than 3 million dollars in overdue federal taxes. Justice also owes over 5 million dollars to counties outside West Virginia, mostly in an area that could really use the money.

Zach Weinberg: All of Eastern Kentucky is in a financial crisis.

BB: That’s Zach Weinberg, the top elected official in Knott County, Kentucky. His county has been among the hardest hit by the coal industry’ recent declines. One of Justice’s companies is making it even harder for the county to pay its bills.

Zach Weinberg: They owe over 2.3 million dollars.

BB: It’s not just taxes. Justice’s companies are more than 2 million dollars behind in paying mine safety fines, and in Kentucky, state officials took Justice to court for failing to restore his companies’ minelands. There’s been steady progress since then, but Justice’s companies still have a lot more reclamation work to do, and some unreclaimed mines have already caused serious damage.

[enter running water]

Bevin’s Branch is a Justice-owned surface mine in Pike County, Kentucky. One night this past June, a heavy rain fell on the abandoned mine site and turned this little stream you’re hearing into a flood of debris.

Mollie Smith: It was a total disaster 
Chad Keene: It was like a bomb went off. All you could see was a wall of water, rock, trees, dirt and everything that had washed from the mine site.

BB: That’s Mollie Smith and Chad Keene. Their road was washed away, so the couple had no way out. Keene and Smith told me they were really unhappy with how the company responded.

Mollie Smith: The mines at first denied that they had any wrongdoing. Well I said it don’t rain rocks and trees and that much dirt from the sky.

BB: There was a second stream of mud and debris rushing down the mountain that night. Laura and Elvis Thacker say it flooded their property just ten minutes after the rain started.

Laura Thacker: The water came so fast that our cats drowned. 
Elvis Thacker: It’s molded the whole inside the house, it’s seeped through the walls. It’s $148,000 worth of damage

BB: The Thackers told me that Justice’s company has offered them some money, but not nearly enough to get back to the stable situation they’d been working toward for years.

Laura Thacker: He lost a coal job 7 years ago. After that, I worked two jobs, he worked two jobs. We’ve lost everything, and we’re gonna have to start all over.

BB:: The company fixed the ditch that breached about a month after the flood, but there are still outstanding reclamation issues on that mine site, and Smith says it’s still a cause for concern.

Mollie Smith: You always worry when the next one’s gonna break, and you always just live in fear.

BB: Jim Justice and his team didn’t responded to our interview requests, but here’s how Justice defended the delays back in April.

Jim Justice:Jim Justice has never bankrupted any company. I promise you that every single obligation that I ever have will be fulfilled.

BB: Back in Knott County, I asked Judge Weinberg what he thought about that defense.

Zach Weinberg: If they eventually pay it, that’s probably true, but if they don’t pay it, it’s not better at all.

BB: After NPR and the ReSource asked Justice for comment, his companies began making payments on several of their long-overdue tax bills, including in Knott County. It’s a start, but there’s still a lot of money owed, and in many cases, damage has already been done.

For the Ohio Valley ReSource, I’m Benny Becker, in Knott County, Kentucky.

The Coal Report is a weekly production of WMMT. It is assembled from newspapers and press services and reports coal-related material as these sources give it. It does not represent the opinion of WMMT on the matters discussed. Our aim is to reflect both local developments regarding coal and the big picture we’re a part of. For feedback, comments, or questions, email

WMMT’s Benny Becker Collaborates with NPR to Report the Recent News on West Virginia’s Jim Justice

Jim Justice, gubernatorial candidate in West Virginia and the nation’s top delinquent mine owner is the topic of the next Mountain News & World Report. Benny Becker (WMMT and Ohio Valley ReSource) teamed up with NPR’s Howard Berkes to find Justice owes more than $12 million in county, state, and federal taxes on top of debts in 5 other states. Becker talks with Knott County Judge Executive Zach Weinberg and families in Pike County to show the effects Justice’s neglected responsibilities are having in our Kentucky communities. Mountain News & World Report will air Benny’s coverage along with Howard Berkes’s story for NPR and an interview conducted by Ashton Marra of WVPB (West Virginia Public Broadcasting) as an episode next Thursday, October 20th. Catch the show at 6pm on 88.7FM or right here  You can also find the show after the air date as a podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud, or Stitcher.

In the meantime, you can read more about the findings of the investigative team at the Ohio Valley ReSource.


Mtn. Talk Monday: Gail Brion Ph.D – Problems with Water Systems Infrastructure in Eastern Kentucky

In this episode of Mountain Talk Monday, Benny Becker (WMMT and Ohio Valley ReSource) talks to University of Kentucky Engineering Professor Gail Brion Ph.D, who is also a waterborne illness expert. Brion and Becker discuss our crumbling water systems infrastructure throughout the eastern Kentucky coalfields. The pair also relate the current efforts to remedy these issues with the early movement of environmental activism to show how the distinct difference between environmental justice and environmental change are behind the lack of action we see today.

Mountain Talk is WMMT’s twice-weekly community space for conversation, airing each Monday & Wednesday from 6-7 p.m.  Mountain Talk programs focus on a variety of topics related to life in the mountains, including: food, community issues, art, health, and more.  Click here to hear past programs.