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Ken Ward Jr.

Staff writer
  • Phone 304-348-1702
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Chemical safety advocates want accident prevention plan enacted

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Henry Clark remembers growing up in the shadow of the huge Chevron refinery in Richmond, California. Leaks, fires and all manner of incidents were a common part of life.

“The air would be so foul that I had ...

UBB families ask judge to throw out gag order

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Families of the victims of the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster on Thursday asked a federal judge to lift her gag order in the Don Blankenship criminal case so they can testify freely to West Virginia lawmakers about bills...

Freedom’s Southern faces additional charges

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Former Freedom Industries President Gary Southern is facing two new criminal charges this week, after a federal grand jury in Beckley handed up an indictment that supersedes the one issued last month.

The

Debate highlights W.Va.’s inaction on energy diversity, efficiency

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As lawmakers move to dismantle West Virginia’s six-year-old alternative-energy law, they tout their action as another effort to help the state’s declining coal industry.

However, state records show th...

Changes could leave thousands of chemical tanks out of regulations

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Changes that industry groups are promoting for West Virginia’s new chemical tank safety law would allow thousands of tanks located “in close proximity” to drinking water intakes ...

Governor’s speech leaves out water, touts coal and urges more drilling

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The Freedom Industries chemical spill and the resulting water crisis a year ago didn’t make Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s State of the State address Wednesday night, but the governor did highlight his continued o...

Tomblin calls for study of increased deaths from gas-drilling boom

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Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is calling for a study aimed at reversing the increase in workplace deaths that has accompanied the boom in natural gas drilling and production from the Marcellus Shale fields in Northern West Virgi...

Study finds contaminants in natural gas wastewater

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Scientists from Duke University and two other institutions have discovered high levels of two potentially hazardous contaminants in wastewater discharged or spilled into streams and rivers from oil and gas operations in ...

Lines forming over climate-change curriculum

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Academics and citizen groups are gearing up opposition to the West Virginia Board of Education’s alterations to science education standards on...

MSHA finalizes ‘proximity detection’ rule for mines

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‘Proximity detection’ will save miners from being killed by continuous mining machines

By Ken Ward Jr.

Staff writer

Coal operators around the country will be required to install lif...

Audit: EPA pressure improved pollution permits

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Increased scrutiny by the Obama administration has led to better state Department of Environmental Protection reviews of water pollution permit applications from West Virginia’s coal-mining industry, according to ...

Fourth Freedom official released pending March trial

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The fourth former Freedom Industries official indicted in connection with last January’s chemical leak on the Elk River appear...

Blankenship in contact with ‘central witness’ in criminal case, court records show

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Former Massey Energy Co. CEO Don Blankenship has been in contact with what his lawyers called the “central witness” in the criminal case against him, but the defense lawyers said Blankenship has not tried t...

On MCHM leak anniversary, groups get set for push to relax water protections

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As they gathered to mark the one-year anniversary of the Elk River chemical leak, residents and a few government officials braced themselves for what they expect to be a major push to undo some new and some longstanding ...

Report outlines W.Va.’s chemical leak missteps

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In its most frank assessment since last year’s leak at Freedom Industries, the Tomblin administration said Friday that West Virginia had inadequate environmental regulations to prevent such an incident and lacked ...

Freedom Industries chemical leak: Where things stand

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Here is a roundup of where things stand on various aspects of the Jan. 9, 2014, Freedom Industries chemical leak story:

| Water testing — Despite

A year later: Chemical spills continue, and so do questions

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The 13 white tanks that lined the Elk River just north of downtown Charleston are all gone now. Bankrupt Freedom Industries ripped them apart, tore them down and sold them for scrap.

Feds: Freedom knew about problems for years

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Freedom Industries knew about serious problems with the spill-containment dikes at the company’s Elk River facility years before the leak in January 2014 that contaminated the drinking water s...

Unsealed records describe disputes over Blankenship travel to Las Vegas

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Former Massey Energy Co. CEO Don Blankenship was allowed to travel to Las Vegas for Thanksgiving but was blocked from taking a similar trip for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, according to newly unsealed co...

Judge refuses to drop gag order in Blankenship case

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A federal judge on Wednesday declined to lift a gag order that restricts access to most court records in former Massey Energy Co. CEO Don Blankenship’s criminal case.

U.S. District Judge Irene Berger did agr...

Marshall County plant loses fracking fight

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A West Virginia judge has thrown out new legal challenges to a plan for natural gas production near a Marshall County chemical plant.

Late in December, Marshall Circuit Judge David W. Hum...

Judge hears arguments in effort to boot Goodwin from Freedom prosecution

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A federal judge heard legal arguments Monday in an effort by former Freedom Industries executives to have U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and his staff removed from the criminal cases against those executives over their role...

Blankenship trial rescheduled for April

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A federal judge has rescheduled the criminal trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship to start in mid-April.

U.S. District Judge Irene Berger set the trial to begin at 9 a.m. on April 20 in federal court i...

McKinney resigns PSC post

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Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will soon be faced with filling another vacancy on the West Virginia Public Service Commission. Commissioner Jon McKinney is resigning, effective Dec. 31, the Governor’s Office confirmed Frid...

Feds: Southern’s wealth has ‘disappeared’ since Freedom chemical leak

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Federal prosecutors Thursday asked that Gary Southern be forced to post a secured bond, saying that $7 million of the former Freedom Industries president’s personal wealth has “dissipated or disappeared,&#x...

More charges could come in water lab case, prosecutors say

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Federal authorities are continuing a criminal investigation of falsified water sampling at a coal industry laboratory in Raleigh County and more charges may be filed in the case, prosecutors said this week in a court fil...

Judge asked to loosen gag order in Blankenship criminal case

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BECKLEY, W.Va. -- A lawyer for the Charleston Gazette and other media organizations on Wednesday urged a federal judge to loosen restrictions on information about Don Blankenship’s criminal case.

Also, Blank...

Freedom makes deal on charges, records show

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Freedom Industries, the company responsible for the January Elk River chemical leak, has told a bankruptcy judge that it has reached a criminal plea agreement with prosecutors, and federal officials have scheduled a news...

Lawmakers reject proposal ‘gutting’ water protections

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia lawmakers on Monday rejected a proposal to eliminate the current policy that aims to protect all rivers and streams statewide as potential drinking water sources.

Members of...

Water commission issues first report

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While some legislative leaders may be planning to revisit significant portions of the state’s new drinking water protection and chemical storage tank safety law, a commission studying the issue says it’s to...

Alpha agrees to curb mine conductivity pollution

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Alpha Natural Resources has reached an agreement with citizen groups through which the company will clean up conductivity pollution that is harming aquatic life in streams near two of its strip-mining complexes, accordin...

Freedom gets $3.2M insurance agreement

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Freedom Industries has reached a new agreement — for a more than $3 million payout — with its former insurance company, providing a momentum boost for the bankrupt company as it faces a...

Groups plan lawsuit over Hobet pollution

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Environmental groups said Thursday that they are planning a major lawsuit over water pollution from Patriot Coal’s huge Hobet 21 mountaintop removal mining complex along the Boone-Lincoln County line in Southern W...

DEP could improve water sampling oversight, board told

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West Virginia regulators lack a strong program to protect against falsification of coal company water samples, but could make changes that would improve their oversight of the industry and its laboratories, a state appea...

Judge sets hearing on Blankenship case gag order

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A federal judge has scheduled a hearing for next week on an effort by The Charleston Gazette and other news outlets who challenged a gag order she issued in former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship&#...

Criminal charges raise questions about funds in Freedom bankruptcy

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Criminal charges filed against a former top executive of Freedom Industries have raised new questions about whether officials overseeing Freedom...

Prosecutors oppose delaying Blankenship trial

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Prosecutors are opposing a request from former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship for a delay in his trial on criminal charges that he conspired to violate ...

Goodwin: More coming on Freedom criminal probe

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Bankruptcy fraud charges against former top Freedom Industries official Gary Southern are far from the end of a federal criminal investigation of the January 2014 chemical leak into the Elk Riv...

OSHA shelves rule on explosive dust

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Four years after an explosion and fire at a Hancock County metals recycling plant killed three workers, the Obama administration has basically shelved a regulatory proposal that could help prev...

FOIA bill clears Senate after Rockefeller hold

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Legislation that press freedom groups say would provide important reforms to the federal government’s open records law passed the U.S. Senate Monday, after being briefly blocked by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

Water commission finalizes recommendations

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Members of a special state commission on Monday finalized most of their recommendations as they rush to meet a legislative deadline of Dec. 15 to submit their first report on drinking water safety reforms required by the...

Many Alpha miners to keep jobs

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About 750 miners will continue working at eight Alpha Natural Resources strip mines and processing facilities in West Virginia that had been targeted by the company for potential closure in response to the continuing dow...

Blankenship seeks to delay trial

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Longtime Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship is asking a federal judge to delay his trial on criminal charges that he conspired to violate mine safety rules ...

OSHA investigating Tyler gas-well death

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Federal officials are continuing to investigate the death last week of a contract employee at an Antero Resources natural gas operation in Tyler County.

U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigat...

Media outlets challenge Blankenship gag order

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The Charleston Gazette and four other news organizations on Monday urged a federal judge to withdraw a gag order that has blocked access to court records in a criminal case filed against longtime Massey Energy CEO Don Bl...