March 2, 2008

Old King Coal Was A Merry Old Soul

Good morning and welcome to Monterey Bay’s home of what my brother Brad refers to as a hybrid of a photo blog. Last Saturday a big storm paid a conjugal visit to the central coast. It didn’t pack the wallop forecasters had predicted and but it still made for a somewhat epic day on the coast. We’ll take a look at the wave action on Wednesday but today we’ll scope out the sunrise before the storm.

When I woke up that morning and looked out the window and saw the ways the clouds were lining up I jumped out of my Buzz Lightyear pajamas and raced out of the house faster than Roger Clemens hightailing it from Congress. When I got down to West Cliff the sky had a beautiful glow and I knew I was going to be in for something special. Then the clouds took over and performed their magic and the Monterey Bay sky was a picture of puffy perfection. The final shot is looking west as the sun was starting to peek up in the east. But then the real drama began. Within minutes, the sun disappeared into clouds and western sky turned dead gray. It had changed faster than you could say, “what recession?” There was high drama that morning at the point and it was as spectacular as Kobe Bryant’s 52 point outburst yesterday in Laker’s overtime win over the Mavericks.

The sun is the big kahuna when it comes to natural energy. What we don’t hear a lot about in the west is coal, a slightly dirtier energy source. Well, the country’s fourth-largest coal producer, Massey Energy Company, will pay a $20 million fine as part of a settlement with the government over allegations that it routinely polluted hundreds of streams and waterways in West Virginia and Kentucky with sediment-filled wastewater and coal slurry. Well, there goes the fly fishing trip I had planned over spring break in Appalachia.

The agreement settled a complaint filed by the Environmental Protection Agency last May complaining that the company violated the federal Clean Water Act on at least 4,500 occasions between January 2000 and the end of 2006 by discharging mining waste and sediment-including hazardous metals into hundreds of streams and waterways and failing to control spills of coal slurry during its mining. Some of the waterway discharges were more than 10 times the amount allowed by the state permits. Besides those tiny indiscretions, they were a perfect neighbor. And like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

According to the EPA, the maximum penalties facing the company for thousands of violations and days when permits were exceeded could have been as high as $2.4 billion. The $20 million civil penalty is the largest ever for discharge permit violations under the Clean Water Act. According to the EPA assistant administrator for enforcement Granta Nakayama, “This is a landmark settlement for the environment and raises the bar for the mining industry.” Coincidentally, when the announcement of the fine was made, top executives from Massey could be seen drowning their sorrows at that same bar without a lifeguard in sight. They got off easier than Mel Gibson at a UJA fundraiser.

As part of the agreement, Massey will be establishing new pollution prevention measures that are expected to keep an estimated 380 million pounds of sediment and other pollutants from the water of the three states (including Virginia) that the company mines out of. I’m getting a little sedimental just reading this. Massey had been routinely releasing metals (gold, silver and lebronze), sediments and acid mine drainage into streams and rivers at amounts 40 percent or more than allowed by state permits. They also failed to control spills of coal slurry which contained sediment and metals, which then clogged streams and harmed fish habitat. A spokesman for the fish says it will be a coal day in hell before they forgive the company.

Massey, which posted a $89 million profit on revenue of nearly $2.7 billion for the first nine months of 2007, is the largest coal producer in Appalachia, operating 19 mining complexes in southern Virginia, southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. The company issued a statement acknowledging their wrongdoing and vowed in the future to only pollute the streams at only 20% more than is allowed by state permits. Now that’s progress.

So that’s it for a little taste of March madness. On Wednesday we’ll check out the surf that slammed into the coast last weekend. Yesterday (March 2) was the anniversary of the Wilt Chamberlain’s monster night back in 1962 in Hershey, PA when he scored an NBA record 100 points against the New York Knicks. But as some of us know, Wilt the Stilt later admitted that he also did a lot of scoring (20,000) off the court. I guess that’s why they called him “The Big Dipper.” Hey, I just report the facts. So welcome to March, enjoy the sunrise and we’ll catch you for Big Wave Wednesday. Aloha.


  1. WOW – what a spectacular sunrise. Only thing that would have been more impressive to me would have been a photo of you in those Buzz Lightyear pajamas. Thanks again for all the effort.

    Comment by brad — March 3, 2008 @ 4:00 pm

  2. Those colors aren’t too shabby and it’s nice to know that you aren’t using Photoshop to enhance the photos. Mother Nature does alright on her own.

    If Wilt really did reach 20,000, is that because one year he averaged 50 per game?

    Comment by Pistol Pete — March 3, 2008 @ 7:43 pm

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