Danielle Elkins: Coal mining much safer, cleaner than in the past | CraigDailyPress.com
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Danielle Elkins: Coal mining much safer, cleaner than in the past

Danielle Elkins

Last week, I mentioned some of the reclamation and cleanup efforts taking place in Southwest Virginia on abandoned mine lands and creeks where coal that contained too much rock was dumped in the early 1900s, when coal mining and power plants across the nation didn’t typically take into account health, safety and the environment.

Coal mines and coal-fired power plants have come a long way since the early 1900s. Back then, men and children — whether born in the U.S. or immigrated — worked long hours in horrific, dangerous conditions for little pay.

There have been international, national and state efforts, as well as efforts by coal companies and power plants themselves, to “clean up” coal mining and coal burning practices, and protect workers.

The Surface Mining and Control Reclamation Act of 1977 established a program for the regulation of surface mining activities and the reclamation of coal-mined lands, under the administration of the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement within the Department of the Interior, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The law had minimum requirements for all surface coal mining on federal and state lands, including exploration activities and the surface effects of underground mining. Mine operators are required to minimize disturbances and negative impacts on fish and wildlife. The restoration of land and water resources is ranked high as a priority in the planning of reclamation, stated the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Under reclamation act, mines are no longer allowed to dump waste along creek banks or leave coal-mined lands stripped and abandoned.

“We always make sure to reclaim the land after we mine it. We do reclamation all the time,” said Jeff Taylor, owner of Omega Holdings in Cedar Bluff+, Virginia.

Southwest Virginia mines and power plants aren’t the only ones that take federal and state coal mining regulations seriously.

“Tri-State’s coal fired power plants fall under stringent federal and state laws. They have up-to-date emissions controls and are working on new ones,” said Senior Manager of Communications and Public Affairs at Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Lee Boughey. “Craig Station is currently installing additional emissions controls on Units Two and Three. Those emissions controls will further reduce nitrogen oxide emissions as required by federal regional visibility rules.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says that new technologies are being developed through the U.S. Department of Energy Fossil Energy program. This technology has the potential to eliminate the sulfur, nitrogen and mercury pollutants released when coal is burned. Additionally, new technologies may also make it possible to capture greenhouse gases emitted from coal-fired power plants, preventing them from contributing to global warming.

Colorado Mine Association said it has provided “longstanding support of efforts to incentivize clean ups of abandoned mines through Good Samaritan legislation.” In addition, CMA outlined that the industry is “already partnering with conservation interests on mine remediation efforts throughout Colorado and the west.” CMA added that its companies have won numerous awards for outstanding environmental practices.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration, a branch of the U.S. Department of Labor, is responsible for ensuring the health and safety of coal miners under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. MSHA conducts several annual inspections of both surface and underground coal mines to be sure that the mines are meeting health and safety standards, and it also requires proper miner training and mine rescue teams for underground mines.

Unfortunately, accidents are inevitable and mining, like many other occupations, can have its hazards, which makes those underground mine rescue teams a necessity.

Coal-fired power plants are also subject to strict laws concerning the health and safety of workers. Tri-State, among many, strictly adheres to these.

“The safety of our employees is our first priority,” Boughey said.

Coal provides 40 percent of the world’s electricity, according to National Geographic. We still need the resource for electricity, steel-making and other industrial uses. Coal mining practices are better than they were in the early 1900s — they now take into account the health and safety of miners, community members, wildlife and the environment.

Coal mine and power plant operators and employees across the nation — from Southwest Virginia, to Craig and everywhere in between — work tirelessly to meet the EPA’s emissions regulations, reclaim coal-mined lands, keep workers safe and protect the environment while keeping the lights on in billions of homes and businesses.

I, for one, am impressed at the progress made by coal mines and coal-fired power plants in leaving behind old, neglectful practices and making the shift toward responsible mining and electricity generation. Coal isn’t the irresponsible industry that many seem to think it is.

Danielle Elkins is a senior at Old Dominion University, which is based in Norfolk, Virginia. She’s completing her bachelor’s degree in communications through online courses. She will be interning at the Craig Daily Press through December.Danielle Elkins is a senior at Old Dominion University, which is based in Norfolk, Virginia. She’s completing her bachelor’s degree in communications through online courses. She will be interning at the Craig Daily Press through December.Danielle Elkins is a senior at Old Dominion University, which is based in Norfolk, Virginia. She’s completing her bachelor’s degree in communications through online courses. She will be interning at the Craig Daily Press through December.


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