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Texas company plans to restart E. Ky. operations


The Mountain Eagle

A Texas company has purchased the idled Enterprise Mining Corporation LLC assets, which include the EMC #9 mine in Knott County and the Roxana Preparation Plant in Letcher County, and has indicated it plans to restart operations.

Alpha Natural Resources Holdings, Inc. and ANR, Inc., and Enterprise Mining, late last week announced the sale of nearly all of Enterprise’s assets in eastern Kentucky to Kingdom Coal, a subsidiary of Keystone-Kingdom Resources, of Fort Worth, Tex.

Enterprise was shut down in July, but for the first six months of 2016 the #9A mine produced 393,000 tons of thermal coal for power plants. The EMC #9 mine was the only mine that fed the Enterprise Preparation Plant on Hwy 160 at Roxana.

ANR CEO David Stetson said the sale of Enterprise is part of the company’s strategy to divest itself of “non-strategic” properties.

“As we review divestitures of properties, identification of third parties that will retain our team members and resume operations is paramount. In this case, we were pleased that Kingdom Coal has indicated a desire to restart the Enterprise mines and retain many of our team members.”

Other assets of Alpha could be sold later.

The purchase of Enterprise assets fits into Kingdom Coal’s strategy of mining high quality coal and weathering economic storms. According to its web site, Kingdom prefers to mine high quality coal that can be shipped directly to customers without having to be washed. While the terms of the sale were not released, Kingdom says on its web site that it is targeting lowcost mining operations that do not require large amounts of capital investment. The strategy also includes buying mining operations located near its customers or near a distribution hub.

Kingdom describes itself as a “vertically integrated coal and natural gas operation including coal extraction, coal processing, coal wholesaling and distribution and natural gas through Devonian shale.”

Its business model is “built around niche, localized and scalable low cost operations in southeastern Kentucky.”

According to its website, Kingdom “utilized a zero tolerance safety policy within the operations while also attempting to minimize the impact on the environment during our extraction, processing and/or distribution of fuel products.”

Coal demand is projected to increase by 0.1 percent between 2010 and 2035, despite steep declines beginning in 2011. U.S. coal production dropped below 1 billion short tons in 2013 for the first time since 1993.

Cheap natural gas has affected the price and demand for coal in recent years, but exports of coal have continued to expand. Production increased to a little more than 1.2 billion short tons in 2014, reversing the trend, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Increased exports and changing weather patterns should help offset the movement from coal to gas, according to the Kingdom Resources web site.

 'This is a great day for coal miners in the U.S.' leading coal operator says 

The Environmental Protection Agency has been ordered to study the effects of President Obama's Clean Power Plan regulations on jobs, Ken Ward reports for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. A federal judge in West Virginia said Monday that EPA has "14 days to submit a plan for completing the study of both the general jobs impact of air-pollution rules and the specific effects of such regulations on the coal industry."

U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey "cited a section of the federal Clean Air Act which states that the EPA 'shall conduct continuing evaluations of potential loss or shifts of employment which may result from the administration or enforcement' of the law, including 'where appropriate, investigating threatened plant closures or reductions in employment allegedly resulting from such administration or enforcement'," Ward writes. "Bailey noted that Congress required such evaluations 'to provide information which could lead the EPA or Congress to amend . . . prior EPA actions'."

The case was brought by Robert E. Murray, CEO and owner of Murray Energy Corp., the largest independent coal producer in the U.S., an outspoken foe of the regulations, Ward writes. Murray said in a statement: “This is a great day for coal miners in the United States, and for all citizens who rely on low-cost electricity in America. We will continue to vigorously pursue this lawsuit, and all of our litigation initiatives, in order to protect the lives and livelihoods of coal miners and their families, to defend the rule of law, and to preserve reliable and low-cost electricity in our country.” (Read more)

Written by Tim Mandell Posted at 10/18/2016 10:06:00 AM


Eric Conn’s disability clients treated unfairly by government, judge says

Prosecutors say Conn falsified medical documents to make his clients appear disabled and paid doctors $300 to $450 each to sign completed evaluations supporting his clients’ appeals

The Social Security Administration erred by terminating disability benefits for hundreds of Eric C. Conn’s clients in Eastern Kentucky without first giving them a fair hearing where they could show evidence of their ailments and rebut the government’s fraud claims against them, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

The SSA believes that roughly 800 of Conn’s clients are not truly disabled because Conn, a Floyd County lawyer, is criminally charged with defrauding the benefits system by rigging disability applications in cooperation with a Social Security administrative law judge, who also has been charged, U.S. District Judge Amul R. Thapar wrote. The men are awaiting trial next year.

However, Thapar wrote, it’s possible that Conn rigged his cases and that his clients are disabled, but they had the misfortune of hiring a lawyer who preferred to take shortcuts with applications. The burden rests on the SSA to give Conn’s clients due process before it cuts off their benefits, he wrote.

Thapar’s decision directly affects seven plaintiffs in his court, led by Amy Jo Hicks, who sued the SSA after their benefits checks were ended. But it potentially could help hundreds of other Conn clients who were cast out of the benefits system after “redetermination hearings” that essentially assumed their previous medical evidence was fraudulent, Thapar wrote. Some of those claimants are now suing the SSA in federal court in Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee, alleging a violation of their due process.

In 2007, Conn helped Hicks win disability benefits, citing her headaches, depression and anxiety as well as injuries to her right arm, neck, back, head, legs and hips.

Prosecutors say Conn falsified medical documents to make his clients appear disabled and paid doctors $300 to $450 each to sign completed evaluations supporting his clients’ appeals. Inside the Social Security bureaucracy, Judge David B. Daugherty arranged for Conn’s appeals to be assigned to himself, collecting $9,000 to $9,500 every month from the lawyer in exchange for guaranteed approvals, prosecutors allege. Conn and Daugherty were indicted last spring.

Whatever the government believes of Conn, it must give his clients a fair chance to make their own cases, Thapar wrote.

“If the government threw Amy Jo Hicks in jail because she was a member of Al Qaeda, she would get a chance to challenge that factual assertion before a neutral arbiter,” Thapar wrote. “If the government fired her because she lied on an employment form, she would get a chance to challenge that factual assertion before a neutral arbiter. And if the government took away her stove because she was late on her installment payments, she would get a chance to challenge that factual assertion before a neutral arbiter.”

“But when the government redetermined her right to disability payments — and categorically excluded some of her medical evidence because it had ‘reason to believe’ the evidence was fraudulent — she never got a chance to challenge that factual assertion before anyone,” Thapar wrote.

Since last year, the SSA has held 1,487 redetermination hearings for Conn’s clients, with about half keeping their benefits and half losing them, said Ned Pillersdorf, who is Hicks’ attorney. The redetermination hearings are “straight out of the McCarthy era, where you are confronted with evidence that you’re not allowed to see and not allowed to question,” Pillersdorf said.

“What we’re hoping — what should logically follow — is that now that a distinguished federal judge has ruled this way, the SSA will wave the right flag and do the right thing here,” Pillersdorf said.

Dorothy Clark, a spokeswoman for the Social Security Administration, declined to comment on the ruling Wednesday.

In his order, Thapar granted Hicks’ request for summary judgment against the SSA. He ordered an administrative law judge to conduct a supplementary hearing for Hicks where she can discuss the medical evidence that Conn submitted on her behalf a decade ago. If the administrative law judge concludes that the evidence “deserves some weight,” then he must reconsider the decision to end Hicks’ benefits, Thapar wrote.

“Hicks might or might not have sufficient evidence to warrant benefits,” Thapar wrote. “Rather than guess at the facts, the court will give the professionals a chance to determine them.”

By John Cheves
Lexington Herald-Leader

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