Saturday, February 24, 2018
A West Virginia newspaper is in bankruptcy. The powerful coal industry celebrates. By Steven Mufson The Washington Post Feb 17, 2018 Updated Feb 17, 2018
Thursday, February 8, 2018
Citizen science gathering planned Times West Virginian Sep 5, 2016
MORGANTOWN — The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is teaming with West Virginia University, Trout Unlimited and several other advocacy groups to hold a citizen science gathering later this month in Morgantown.
The event will be at the WVU College of Law on Sept. 24 from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will include presentations and roundtable discussions about the applications of citizen science.
Citizen science, or “citsci,” involves the collection of environmental data by concerned citizens. This data can sometimes be used to shape environmental policy, but often there is confusion on the part of the citizens about best practices for collection and presentation of that data. The purpose of this gathering is to help eliminate some of that confusion.
“Citizen volunteers and monitors are the backbone of a good regulatory program,” said Wendy Radcliff, the DEP’s environmental advocate. “They care about their community and work hundreds of volunteer hours each year to preserve and protect it.”
Renowned coal mine safety expert Davitt McAteer will speak on the legal applications of citizen science, and there will be presentations from WVU’s Michael McCawley, Gretchen Gehrke of PublicLab.org and Ryan Grode of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project.
The registration fee for the gathering is $20, and the registration deadline is Sept. 14.
To register or for more information, contact Diana Smith at 304-926-0499 ext. 1329 or firstname.lastname@example.org.DavittMcAteer.com Davitt McAteer & Associates
Trump DOJ urges court to not hear Blankenship appeal
- Ken Ward Jr.
The Trump administration Friday urged the U.S. Supreme Court not to hear former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship’s appeal of his conviction for conspiring to violate federal mine safety and health standards at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine, where 29 miners died in an April 2010 explosion.
U.S. Department of Justice attorneys filed a legal brief that asked the court to deny Blankenship’s petition seeking further review of his case. Blankenship had already served a year in federal prison, the maximum allowable for his conviction, but has been waging a self-funded public relations campaign saying he was wrongly convicted and arguing his widely-discredited theories about the cause of the Upper Big Branch explosion.
The Justice Department response comes three months after Blankenship’s defense attorneys filed their Supreme Court petition and follows the department twice receiving extensions of time from the court.
Blankenship’s lawyers argue that the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld his conviction, was wrong on two legal points: They say that U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger incorrectly instructed the trial jury that Blankenship’s “reckless disregard” of federal mine safety and health standards amounted to the criminal willfulness needed for a conviction and that Berger was wrong to deny the defense the chance for a second cross-examination of former Massey official Chris Blanchard, a major government witness.
In their 31-page response, the DOJ mostly repeats the findings of the appeals court and tells the justices that the 4th Circuit and Berger were correct.
Regarding the definition of criminal willfulness, the DOJ brief says that the 4th Circuit correctly held that a mine operator willfully violates a safety standard if he either knows that his conduct violates that standard or recklessly disregards the standard’s requirement.
A footnote says that Blankenship “could not plausibly argue” that he lacked knowledge of relevant safety standards, because “he received and reviewed ‘daily reports’ of citations” at Upper Branch that specifically identified the mine’s safety violations.
Justices have not yet decided if they will hear the case, but a Supreme Court petition is a long short. The court hears only about 80 cases a year out of the 7,000 to 8,000 appeals that are filed annually. About another 100 cases are decided by the court without a hearing, according to the court’s website.
WV coal miner killed Ken Ward Jr. May 19, 2017
A coal miner was killed late Thursday in Wyoming County, officials confirmed Friday.
Luches Rosser, 44, of Man, was killed while he was working at the Pinnacle Mine, an underground operation near Pineville, according to state and federal agencies and the United Mine Workers union, which represents hourly workers at the mine.
Rosser is the fourth coal miner to die on the job this year in West Virginia. Three miners died in West Virginia in all of 2016, according to data from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration. This year’s total of mining deaths is also greater than the state’s count of two for the entire 2015 calendar year. Seven coal miners have died on the job nationwide so far in 2017, according to MSHA.
The Pinnacle Mine is controlled by ERP Compliant Fuels, a firm started by a group called the Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund, which has been buying up troubled coal properties in the hope of using profits for tree-planting reclamation that would help fight climate change.
ERP general counsel Brent Mickum described Rosser’s death as having been classified as involving “haulage,” which would mean it occurred during the transport of coal or possibly supplies. Mickum said he had few other details, but that, “He was treated at the site to try to resuscitate him and those efforts, sadly, were not effective.”
Mickum said that Rosser was married and had four children. He said he had no other details.
The state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training said in a short prepared statement that Rosser was operating an electric-powered track- mounted underground locomotive at the time of the incident. The state said the incident occurred at 11:18 p.m.
Amy Louviere, an MSHA spokeswoman, said the accident happened Thursday night and that Rosser died Friday morning at a local hospital.
Preliminary information from MSHA was that Rosser and another miner were traveling in the supply locomotive when a pole that connects the locomotive to its power supply wire came off that wire, which is known as a “trolley wire.”
“While the locomotive was still moving, the victim raised up to grab the trolley pole to place it back on the trolley wire, when his head contacted the mine roof,” according to the preliminary information from MSHA.
Gov. Jim Justice’s office issued a statement in which the governor said he and his wife were praying for Rosser and his family.
“It’s never easy to see someone so young leave us and it breaks my heart when West Virginia loses a member of the coal community,” the statement said. “I spent many years of my childhood in Wyoming County and my roots are deep there. Great coal mining families always come together, and that’s what we have to do at this time.
Grant Herring, the governor’s press secretary, did not respond to a question asking what actions the administration was taking in response to this year’s increase in coal-mining deaths in West Virginia.
One of the four deaths occurred at a coal preparation plant owned by the governor’s family mining operation. The company, Justice Low Seam Mining, was fined the state maximum of $10,000 for a violation cited by state inspectors at the preparation plant, which was named the JC Jim Justice II plant for the governor.
Longtime mine safety advocate Davitt McAteer said Friday that the increase in deaths so far this year should be a concern for the state’s coal industry, for regulators and for political leaders.
“When you see the numbers drifting, then you have to say, ‘Is there something in the system that should be in place that is not being carried out?’ ” McAteer said. “You have to look at the pattern. It’s worrying and it’s something someone ought to take a hard look at.”
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at email@example.com, 304-348-1702
READ THE FULLCLICK HERE>>>>www.DavittMcAteer.com Davitt McAteer & Associates
Gazette editorial: WV’s disposable miners-Mar 22, 2017
Incredibly, Republicans who control West Virginia’s Legislature want to weaken coal mine safety policing. One bill, Senate Bill 582, would strip state inspectors of the power to issue violation notices to mines unless they can prove there’s “imminent danger” of death or injury. Instead, the safety agents could issue only tepid “compliance assistance visit notices.”
“It completely guts the state laws,” United Mine Workers union safety director Josh Roberts said. “You’re taking back decades of laws.”
Mine safety crusader Davitt McAteer said the GOP bill is “breathtaking in scope,” adding:
“It’s shocking that, after all these years and the number of West Virginians who have died in the mines, for the state to even consider this.”
The New York Times said of West Virginia’s backpedal:
The Upper Big Branch Miners Memorial is unveiled in Whitesville in 2012.KENNY KEMP | Gazette-Mail file photo
“President Trump’s vow to bring back the coal industry’s heyday is a delusion. But it’s already inspiring Republican legislatures in Appalachia to resurrect a grim element of those boom times: loose safety laws that endangered miners’ lives and protected owners’ profits.”
The national newspaper said the Trump administration is “stocked with anti-environment industry sycophants” who want to enrich mine owners. “To that end, it is moving to help surface mine operators by eliminating protections for Appalachian streams and hamlets inundated by mine wastes.”
It continued: “In West Virginia, the Republican-controlled Legislature is aiming to weaken mining law by replacing actual safety inspections with something termed ‘compliance visits and education.’ State safety and health standards, developed across years amid the grief of repeated mining disasters, would be eliminated. Powerful West Virginia lawmakers are behind the measure, which marks a sad retreat from the statehouse safety concerns voiced in 2010 when the Upper Big Branch disaster took 29 miners’ lives.”
Appalachian politicians traditionally pander to coal owners, the paper said, “but this latest bout, launched in tandem with Mr. Trump’s fantasy job promises, can only leave remaining miners in greater danger on the job.”
Even if all those coal jobs did come roaring back, West Virginia would still want its miners to come home after every shift. West Virginia lawmakers, of all people in the world, should understand that and work to make it happen.
www.DavittMcAteer.com Davitt McAteer & Associates
Wheeling Jesuit says outside review found no fraud The Associated Press Apr 19, 2012
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- An independent investigation of Wheeling Jesuit University's billing practices for federal grants and programs in 2008 found no violations of laws or regulations, the school's president said Wednesday.President Rick Beyer said the Board of Trustees voted Wednesday to turn that report over to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Wheeling, adding that the Catholic school in the Northern Panhandle is cooperating in the investigation.Federal investigators are looking into whether the university and a vice president, former Mine Safety and Health Administration chief J. Davitt McAteer, conspired to use millions of federal grant and program dollars from NASA and other federal agenices for personal gain.Some of the allegations against the school and one of the world's foremost experts on mine safety are contained in an affidavit filed by an agent in the NASA Office of Inspector General.Beyer, who issued a similar statement to the Jesuit community late Wednesday, said the administration could only speculate on the focus of the investigation until an affidavit in the case was unsealed. It then decided to release the 2008 report.The university's audit committee requested that review by "independent, special counsel experienced in federal grants who had served as general counsel for a major research university," Beyer said.That person, who was not named in Beyer's statement, "determined the university's cost-allocation method to be permissible under federal regulations and found no improprieties."The school is "committed to openness in all dealings" and to transparency in its cost-allocation methods, Beyer said. It has enlisted help from federal grant experts and a former United States Attorney to "aid us in full cooperation with this investigation," he added.The NASA investigator's affidavit said he has evidence to suggest McAteer and entities within the university fraudulently billed expenses to federal grant programs or cooperative agreements from 2005 through 2011.Those expenses range from McAteer's salary - which surged from $130,300 in 2006 to $230,659 by 2008 - to cellphones, computers, technical support and salaries for other staff, including a secretary in McAteer's Shepherdstown private law office.McAteer's attorney hasn't commented on the allegations, but the affidavit suggests he and the university could face five possible federal crimes - theft of federal funds; major fraud; conspiracy; false claims; and wire fraud.McAteer also is director of Wheeling Jesuit's National Technology Transfer Center and its Erma Ora Byrd Center for Education Technologies, which is named for the wife of the late longtime U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd.The technology transfer center does work on mine safety and health, missile defense, health technology and small business partnerships. The Center for Educational Technologies has housed the NASA-sponsored "Classroom of the Future" program since 1990. The space agency began construction of the center in 1993 and later helped build the educational technologies center.Between fiscal years 2000 and 2009, NASA gave Wheeling Jesuit more than $116 million, more than $65 million of that after McAteer took over the school's Sponsored Programs Office in 2005.A finance manager in that office told the investigator that McAteer created the Combined Cost Management Service Center when he took over. Merging the billing of the two centers allowed him "to control and consolidate all the expenses, regardless of whether such expenses were related to the federal awards."McAteer was hand-picked by West Virginia's former governor, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, to oversee thorough, independent investigations of three coal mine disasters since 2006. The Sago Mine explosion trapped and killed 12 men in January 2006, while the Alma No. 1 mine fire weeks later killed two more. McAteer also issued the first report on the 2010 Upper Big Branch explosion, which killed 29.The reports he authored are now among the evidence that federal investigators are studying.McAteer has also been a media commentator on cases ranging from the successful rescue of 33 Chilean gold and copper miners trapped underground for nearly 70 days in 2010 to the collapse of Utah's Crandall Canyon mine and the death of six miners, two rescuers and a federal inspector. READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE>>>
W.Va. college says internal review found no fraud- Associated Press
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The president of Wheeling Jesuit University says a 2008 internal investigation found billing practices now under investigation by federal prosecutors violated no laws.President Rick Beyer says the report by independent special counsel has been turned over to the U.S. Attorney's Office for review.He says the school has been and will remain transparent about its cost-allocation methods.Federal prosecutors are investigating whether the school and vice president Davitt McAteer conspired to misuse millions of grant dollars from NASA and other federal agencies for personal gain and the school's benefit.The allegations are contained in an affidavit that an agent in the NASA Office of Inspector GeneralBeyer says Wheeling Jesuit has enlisted help from federal grant experts and a former U.S. attorney to help it cooperate in the probe.
www.DavittMcAteer.com Davitt McAteer & Associates
WV Book Team: WVU Press digs deep on mine disasters Photo from DAVITT McATEER’s personal collection Apr 19, 2015
On the day after the explosion at Monongah, a large crowd gathered to observe as bodies were carried from both mines.Photo from DAVITT McATEER’s personal collection
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — At West Virginia University Press, we’re proud to publish books that uncover the circumstances behind mine disasters in West Virginia. Over the years, we’ve published books about the 1907 Monongah Mine Disaster, the 1968 Farmington Mine Disaster, and the 2010 Upper Big Branch Disaster, in the hopes of bringing attention to the oversights that cause these tragedies.
This month marks the fifth anniversary of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster. The trial of Don Blankenship, former CEO of Massey Energy, was scheduled to start April 20 but has been moved to July — with a long list of pretrial motions still to be resolved.
To bring attention to this disaster and its aftermath, we recently published a paperback edition of “Thunder on the Mountain: Death at Massey and the Dirty Secrets behind Big Coal,” by journalist Peter A. Galuszka, with a foreword by Denise Giardina, a writer, ordained Episcopal Church deacon, and community activist from McDowell County.
With “Thunder on the Mountain,” Galuszka pieces together the story behind the tragedy at the Upper Big Branch Mine, and in doing so he has created a devastating portrait of an entire industry.
This tragedy was the deadliest mine disaster in the United States in 40 years. “Thunder on the Mountain” alleges the deaths were rooted in the cynical corporate culture of Massey and its notorious CEO, and were part of an endless cycle of poverty, exploitation and environmental abuse that has dominated the Appalachian coalfields since coal was first discovered here.
Giardina provides an update on Massey and Blankenship, and recounts her own experiences with Massey Energy and the United Mine Workers in the 1980s.
Last year we also published a new paperback edition of “Monongah: The Tragic Story of the 1907 Monongah Mine Disaster,” written by mine and workplace health and safety expert Davitt McAteer. This new edition contains an introduction by Robert B. Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California-Berkeley and secretary of labor during the Clinton administration.
“Monongah” documents the events and conditions that led to the worst industrial accident in the history of the U.S. This mining accident claimed hundreds of lives on the morning of Dec. 6, 1907, and McAteer delves deeply into the economic forces and sociopolitical landscape of the mining communities of north-central West Virginia to expose the truth behind this tragedy. After nearly 30 years of exhaustive research, McAteer determines that close to 500 men and boys — many of them immigrants — lost their lives that day, leaving hundreds of women widowed and more than 1,000 children orphaned.
The tragedy at Monongah led to a greater awareness of industrial working conditions, and ultimately to the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, which McAteer helped to enact.
In “No. 9,” investigative reporter Bonnie Stewart scrutinizes the 1968 Farmington Mine Disaster by inspecting public records and conducting personal interviews.
www.DavittMcAteer.com Davitt McAteer & Associates
Latest coal death brings renewed call for mine safety action Ken Ward Jr. Aug 26, 2017
Longtime mine safety advocate Davitt McAteer is shown speaking at a public hearing held as part of his independent team’s investigation of the Sago Mine Disaster in 2006.The death on Friday of another West Virginia coal miner is bringing more calls for stepped up action to respond to an increase in mining fatalities in the state.
Owen Mark Jones, 51, of Pickens, was the sixth coal miner to die on the job in West Virginia so far this year. That’s twice the number of miners who died in the state’s coal industry in 2016. Nationally, Jones was the 12th coal miner to die on the job so far in 2017, compared to eight last year.
“The number is increasing across the country,” said Davitt McAteer, a longtime mine safety advocate who ran the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration during the Clinton administration. “This doesn’t have to happen.”
At the request of then-Gov. Joe Manchin, McAteer led an independent team that investigated the Jan. 2, 2006, explosion at the Sago Mine in Upshur County. Owen Jones was working there at the time and was among the miners who tried to rush back into the mine to try save their coworkers. Twelve miners, including Owen Jones’ brother, Jesse Jones, died. A great-grandfather of the Jones brothers had also died in an earlier mine explosion.
“Does the Jones family owe us something in West Virginia, or do we owe them something?” McAteer said Saturday. “Where is the outrage? Political leaders should be saying that this doesn’t have to happen.”
Details of what happened at the Pleasant Hill Mine on Friday remained sketchy on Saturday, while state and federal investigators continued their investigation.
Jones was “fatally injured while working” at the Pleasant Hill Mine near Mill Creek in Randolph County, according to a press release from Metinvest, a Ukranian metals and mining conglomerate whose subsidiary, Carter Roag Coal Co., operates the mine.
A production superintendent who called the state’s mine emergency hot line to report the death said that Jones’ body was found outside of the mine in a coal storage pile at about 2:15 p.m. Friday and that Carter Roag officials “have no idea” what happened. The superintendent said he didn’t know if Jones was working outside just prior to his death or if his body was carried outside on a conveyor belt into the coal pile.
“Our loader man called us and said he was moving coal and he was in the coal pile,” the superintendent told the state hot line operator.
In a prepared statement, Gov. Jim Justice said that he and his wife were “deeply saddened” by the news of Jones’ death and that it was “especially heartbreaking to learn that this family has been devastated twice in the last 11 years by losing loved ones in the mines.”
Butch Antolini, the governor’s communications director, did not respond to a request for information about what new mine safety initiatives Justice was launching in response to the rise in coal-mining deaths in the state.
One of the state’s coal mining deaths this year occurred at a preparation plant owned by the governor’s family. The plant operating company, Justice Low Seam Mining, is appealing state citations issued after the death.
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www.DavittMcAteer.com Davitt McAteer & Associates
Ex-MSHA chief talks of need for laws- Davitt McAteer
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The investigation of the underground explosion that killed 29 coal miners at the Upper Big Branch mine a year ago underscores the need for new and stiffer laws and better technology, the head of one probe said Thursday.Davitt McAteer didn't reveal any conclusions about the cause of the explosion from a special investigation he is heading for the West Virginia governor's office. McAteer said his report should be released in a matter of weeks.His remarks came during a presentation to about 60 people at an industry safety conference Thursday in Charleston. McAteer is a former head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration and was appointed to run a separate state investigation shortly after the April 5, 2010, blast at the Massey Energy Co. mine about 50 miles south of Charleston."First, we need to make advance notice of inspection a felony," McAteer said.Currently, such warnings are a misdemeanor. Upper Big Branch miners have told Congress that Massey had a practice of alerting crews underground when government inspectors arrived. An Upper Big Branch security official is facing federal criminal charges alleging he lied to the FBI about the practice. The official also is accused of directing the disposal of thousands of pages of security documents from the mine."We cannot subvert the inspection system," McAteer said. "Why do you think that the state police don't announce where they're going to place their cars on the highway?"McAteer also called for mines to be required to use more pulverized rock to control highly explosive coal dust. Federal investigators believe excessive coal dust across much of the sprawling underground workings contributed to the explosion that started with a small methane gas ignition. Massey has rejected that conclusion.Mines should be using rock dust barriers to knock down explosions and simply spreading more of the material more often, McAteer said."It is not an expensive fix, it is not a difficult fix, it is a time-consuming fix," he said. "It is a fix, which, if applied, provides that level of mitigation and provides that level of defense that we absolutely have to have."McAteer also called for mines to improve technology to track miners underground, detect methane gas and monitor ventilation equipment and more open investigations, among other things. READ FULL ARTICLE CHARLESTON GAZETTE HERE>>>
www.DavittMcAteer.com Davitt McAteer & Associates
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