Thursday Roundup: Miners, Keystone and Monsanto

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Coal companies are having trouble finding underground miners, according to Business Week. 

Despite the high pay — miners can earn six figures after three years on the job — young people are turned off by the risks. Meanwhile, older miners are retiring, leaving coal companies short of workers. The companies are sending out recruiters.

Drug use in these communities is also cutting down on the number of qualified workers. 

And why would potential mine workers be worried about their safety? Well, they might have read Wednesday’s Charleston Gazette, which reports that underground mine refuge shelters are potentially faulty.

Federal and state officials have known about the problems with the shelters (which would be deployed in case of a mine fire or explosion) for months, but have not acted, reports Ken Ward Jr. 

The shelters were ordered after the 2006 Sago Mine Disaster and Aracoma Mine fire that killed 14 miners. The shelters were to provide miners with food, water and air as they awaited rescue.

• The politics of the Keystone XL pipeline get dicier. The Washington Post reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has written Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to say he has “serious concern” about allowing the pipeline to be built from Canada to the Gulf Coast. 

The $7 billion pipeline will carry oil sands oil from Canada to U.S. refineries and is opposed by environmentalists and by Great Plains ranchers and farmers who fear spills could ruin their water supplies. The State Department must grant a permit for the project to proceed.

Meanwhile, labor unions and another group of Democratic members of Congress back the project. And the Environmental Protection Agency is getting ready to release its analysis of the pipeline, reports InsideClimate News. 

• Cabot Oil & Gas has been delivering water to homes in Dimock, Pennsylvania, since residents found methane in their water in early 2009. Now state environmental officials are saying the water is okay and has allowed Cabot to suspend deliveries.

Cabot is drilling in a shale gas formation using techniques that residents say are ruining water supplies. 

• Urban Outfitters has agreed to drop the word “Navajo” from about 20 items it’s selling, including a “Navajo Flask” and the “Navajo Hipster Panty.” 

The Navajo Nation had sent the hip clothing store a cease and desist order earlier in the month, saying it had a trademark on the word “Navajo.”

• A writer for a conservative think tank says ramping up wind energy will be enormously expensive and will do little to reduce carbon emissions. 

Robert Bryce, with the Manhattan Institute, estimates it would cost $850 billion to provide 20% of the nation’s power needs by 2030. Bryce argues that wind is not a good substitute for other forms of power production because little of the power is available at hours of peak demand.

• A coalition of 1,200 organizations is asking the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to protect ag research funding levels. The organizations say that every $1 spent on research generates $20 in economic activity. 

DTN’s Katie Micik notes that the massive dust storms that swept across the Texas Panhandle come as Congress is considering a reduction in conservation spending. 

• One local newspaper is printing up buttons that say: If You Want to Occupy Wall Street, Shop Main Street! Buy Local.

• Monsanto is getting into the produce business.

The company already dominates seed sales for both corn and soybeans. Now Monsanto is making seeds to produce onions that don’t make you cry, broccoli that lowers your cholesterol and sweet corn that is Roundup-ready.

Monsanto officials say they expect profits from produce seeds to match its take from soybeans in the next decade, the L.A. Times reports

Some scientists worry about introducing genetically-modified seeds into produce. 

“Clearly, the company wants to keep its options open,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist with the food and environmental program at Union of Concerned Scientists. “But I think they understand it’s a dicey proposition to move into [genetically engineered] foods that are widely consumed, rather than foods that are highly processed or used as animal feed.” 

 

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