8 months ago

Greg Reed: ‘God put’ coal on earth for a reason; Alabama’s miners have strong ‘sense of pride’

JASPER — Yellowhammer News on Thursday held the fourth of its 2019 News Shapers events: “West Alabama and the coal industry.”

Hosted at Musgrove Country Club, top stakeholders from industry, government and academia came together to discuss the coal industry’s impact on Alabama.

Yellowhammer co-owner Tim Howe moderated the forum, which featured Alabama Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper); Philip Saunders, vice president of engineering for Warrior Met Coal; Ken Russell, director of workforce solutions for Bevill State Community College; Judith Adams, vice president of marketing for the Alabama State Port Authority; and Brett Bussman, senior vice president and general manager for Tractor & Equipment Company.

Areas of focus included analysis on the past, present and future of the industry, highlighting the industry’s state and regional impacts, related workforce development efforts and community influence.

‘For me to represent those folks — it’s important’

Reed was the first panelist to speak and kicked things off by emphasizing how much the coal industry has meant to West Alabama historically — and how that special importance remains today.

He said the impressive standing room only crowd, which included a bevy of state legislators, local elected officials and representatives from various state agencies, was a tribute to the continuing impact coal has throughout the Yellowhammer State.

“Some of you have heard me say this before, but I pride myself on saying that I’m ‘the coal senator.’ And it’s because I represent Walker, Winston, Fayette, Tuscaloosa and Jefferson Counties,” Reed said. “If you look at the numbers, those are the top coal-producing counties in the state of Alabama.”

“But you go a long way back — I’m 54 years old and I grew up in Cordova, Alabama, down on the Warrior River in south Walker County,” he continued. “And just about everybody was involved in some way with the coal industry… It’s just a fiber of who I am. My wife Mitsy is with me tonight. Her grandfather was a coal miner. Her daddy was a coal miner. Both my grandfathers were retired coal miners. So, the roots run deep in this community in regards to the significance of coal.”

“And the reality is God put something in the ground, and he gave men and women the intellect to know how to extract it, be able to then use it to produce all kinds of fantastic things that are so important to our lives. So, there is a certain sense of pride in knowing that’s who you are and what you do. For me to represent those folks — it’s important.”

Reed then said while Alabama’s coal industry has experienced “ups and downs,” the present state of affairs looks relatively good.

“[T]hings are back, and they’re positive,” he advised. “They’re exciting.”

However, that has not always been the case, recent times certainly included.

Reed outlined, “We’ve had some difficult times, too. I remember — you may know (Alabama Secretary of Labor) Fitzgerald Washington … this was only, during my tenure in the Alabama Senate, only about five or six years ago. We had an event at the Jasper Civic Center that was a job fair for coal miners (who were unemployed). At that time, I had about 1,000 men and women in my district that were out of work. And the coal industry had run on tough times. That day, we signed up 1,100 men and women that were standing in there with their resume, waiting for an opportunity to ask somebody for a job when they had spent their whole life being a coal miner. The good news is most all those folks have gone back to work (in the coal industry since then). And we’ve got folks that are on the panel with me here and those of you that are sitting out there (in the crowd) that know that the industry has hired hundreds and hundreds of new folks that are making big money doing what they enjoy doing and love doing, which is a great benefit to our community.”

Jobs, jobs, jobs

Bussman then spoke about the steam/thermal coal (which is burned for power generation) industry, explaining the high startup costs that these surface miners in the state face. He said a fleet of equipment alone would easily run someone $15 million off the bat.

Not only is this equipment supporting indirect jobs in Alabama, but so is maintaining the equipment. Whether that means highly skilled mechanics or giant specialty tires for the trucks, this is still big business. Additionally, there are tools and resources needed that have provided many secondary jobs from the industry, including the mining explosives provided by companies such as Nelson Brothers. That is not even to mention the transportation jobs supported by coal, from trucking to rail to inland waterways.

Saunders built off of this in his remarks, explaining that the modern mining industry is now what people perceive it as.

Using pictures to make his point, Saunders said that long gone are the days when coal mining entailed miners using pickaxes picking out rocks out of stores of mined coal by hand.

Now, the equipment is massive, high tech and, yes, very expensive.

However, high tech equipment also calls for highly trained workers to operate and maintain them.

This is why miners at Warrior Met Coal are also highly paid, with starting annual salaries of $80,000.

Through the company’s unique collaboration with Bevill State, Saunders and Russell outlined that Warrior Met Coal has trained 600 new miners this year alone.

Saunders stressed that this public-private workforce development effort is integral to the company’s ability to thrive and grow, which in turn is crucial to the surrounding community.

This past legislative session, Bevill State’s groundbreaking mine training facility was given another major boost via an approximately $1 million grant for longwall mining training. Reed spearheaded this effort, according to the Alabama Coal Association.

A major theme from the industry and academia panelists on Thursday was that the state’s support of workforce development initiatives and infrastructure investments are crucial to the coal industry, as well as many other jobs juggernauts in Alabama.

Adams said this especially included the Rebuild Alabama Act, which will make possible the deepening and widening of the Port of Mobile’s ship channel in order to compete at the highest level of international trade.

In fact, the met coal (coal used for coke, which is a necessary component in steel and iron making) industry is by far the port’s biggest commodity exporter– and Warrior Met Coal is the port’s largest single customer by tonnage. Overall, coal accounts for 50% of the port’s total business.

Looking forward, Adams predicted that deepening the ship channel will allow Alabama’s coal exports to make a significantly increased dent in Asian markets especially.

Saunders advised that Australian met coal producers are currently Warrior’s biggest international competitor, and the Rebuild Alabama Act’s effects are expected to make the state’s met coal industry even more of a player on the worldwide stage.

Adams hailed state leaders, such as Governor Kay Ivey and the Alabama Legislature, for the infrastructure package and especially singled out the stalwart efforts of Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) for his support of the port improvements.

“We see the money that’s being invested and what that means for these shippers. And this industry up here (coal), they’re going to be able to load more coal,” she said. “They’re going to be able to put 20/30,000 tons more per ship, and for the first time, we think we’re going to have a competitive edge in the Asian market. We already serve Latin America and Europe… We’re excited about it.”

While things look up from this perspective, Saunders also advised that Warrior Met Coal was seriously looking into another expansion.

He said that its Blue Creek Mine has been identified as one of the largest untapped coal reserves in America. The company is studying the economic feasibility of the project, with a decision to likely come near the end of this year or early 2020.

If Warrior Met Coal does move forward with this expansion, it would probably mean another 450-700 high-paying jobs in the area.

‘This is a big deal’

This type of industry optimism can continue, with the support of the state and federal governments, Reed said.

“We’re proud of the fact that we are a pro-business state,” Reed emphasized. “We are looking for ways … minimize regulatory requirements that would cause us to not be able to see the kind of investment and growth that we have.”

He then recounted a story a vendor told him this past session that provides powerful perspective into the impact of Alabama’s coal industry across the globe and back here at home.

Met coal mined in the state is being shipped by barge down to the Port of Mobile and then shipped out to European steelmakers. Some of that steel is then sent back through the Port of Mobile to Mercedes-Benz’s manufacturing facility in Tuscaloosa, and those automobiles are enjoyed worldwide, thanks, in part, to the contributions of hardworking, proud Yellowhammer State coal miners.

“For West Alabama, this is a big deal,” Reed concluded. “And I’m just excited to be a part of it.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

11 mins ago

Merrill outlines how Alabama will spend election-related federal stimulus money

Included in the recently enacted $2 trillion federal coronavirus (COVID-19) stimulus package was $400 million to be allocated to the states to protect the integrity of the nation’s electoral process.

Alabama Secretary of State John H. Merrill’s office on Monday released information detailing that the Yellowhammer State will receive $6,473,611, which will further be matched 20% by the secretary of state’s office ($1,294,723) for a total of $7,768,334.

This funding will cover both the primary runoff on July 14 as well as the general election on November 3.

“Our intentions are to use this funding to reimburse counties for various preparation and election expenses including, but not limited to, masks, gloves, disinfectant spray, hand-sanitizer, alcohol wipes, and professional cleaning services to return the polling places back to their safe and sanitary pre-election condition,” the secretary of state’s office stated.

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An application for county commissions to request reimbursement will be provided on the official website of the secretary of state’s office as soon as the money is made available to the State.

Additionally, $900,000 of the total will be allocated to reimburse absentee election managers for increased costs resulting from the lengthened absentee voting period, and $1,000,000 will be used to compensate poll workers with an additional $25.00 on Election Day.

“I am extremely grateful for the leadership displayed by Senator Mitch McConnell and Senator Richard Shelby and for their listening to the concerns I expressed as well as the advice and guidance provided by other chief election officials from across the country. It is important that those at the state and local level are granted the flexibility to address the needs of their respective communities,” Merrill said.

“This funding will protect the health and safety of our voters, poll workers, and others involved in the electoral process,” he added. “I also appreciate the assistance provided by Governor Kay Ivey’s Office, the State Comptroller’s Office, and the Association of County Commissions of Alabama.”

Reports of state spending will be submitted to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission for full transparency and public inspection. All resources must be expended for these purposes no later than December 31, 2020, Merrill’s office advised.

RELATED: Keep up with Alabama’s confirmed coronavirus cases, locations here

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

48 mins ago

Ivey urges Alabamians to practice social distancing — ‘With faith and perseverance we’ll get through this together’

Governor Kay Ivey released a video Monday urging Alabamians to practice social distancing, staying six feet apart from each other, during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“For now and for the foreseeable future please consider staying safe at home,” says Ivey near the beginning of the video.

The governor’s video comes on the same day President Donald Trump approved a State of Emergency for Alabama that will make it easier for the federal government to provide assistance in recovering from the coronavirus.

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Ivey tells the public that now is a time for neighborliness. She urges people to let others help them if help is needed.

To conclude the message Ivey quotes part of 1 Peter 5:10. She says, “The God of all grace, after you have suffered a little while, will restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

Watch:


Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

2 hours ago

UAB will test a COVID-19 vaccine candidate created by Altimmune Inc.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham is launching a collaboration with the biopharmaceutical company Altimmune, Inc. for preclinical testing of a potential vaccine to prevent COVID-19 disease.

The testing at UAB will investigate immune responses to the vaccine in mice — a key step before the Gaithersburg, Maryland-based Altimmune can launch a Phase 1 human safety and immunogenicity trial in patients in Q3 of this year. The COVID-19 vaccine, called AdCOVID, is a single-dose vaccine candidate that is delivered by an intranasal spray.

Altimmune created AdCOVID in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic. The company has significant experience in the development of intranasal vaccine candidates for respiratory pathogens, including a seasonal and pandemic influenza vaccine and a vaccine for inhalation anthrax. The anthrax vaccine candidate is being developed under a $133.7 million contract with the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

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“We are eager to collaborate with Altimmune on this important project,” said Frances E. Lund, the Charles H. McCauley Professor and Chair for the UAB Department of Microbiology. “The expertise and infrastructure at UAB will be invaluable to the rapid progression of this vaccine into clinical studies,” she added.

Six UAB labs will work together on this urgent collaboration with Altimmune. “This project will be our highest priority for the group in the next few months as the goal is to get the data to Altimmune as rapidly as possible, so that they will use the information gained from the preclinical study to design their clinical trial in people,” Lund said.

In addition to Lund’s lab, the labs are led by Troy Randall, Ph.D., professor of medicine in the UAB Division of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology; Kevin Harrod, Ph.D., professor in the UABDepartment of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine; and three more UAB Department of Microbiology labs led by Rodney King, Ph.D., assistant professor, Todd Green, Ph.D., associate professor, and John Kearney, Ph.D., professor.

“It is critical that the biotechnology industry and academic institutions work together to prevent the further spread of COVID-19, and UAB is an ideal partner to support us in this effort,” said Vipin K. Garg, Ph.D., president and chief executive officer of Altimmune. “UAB has an impressive track record of cutting-edge research in virology and immunology, as well as in the clinical development of vaccines. In fact, Altimmune was founded through a technology license from UAB in 1997. We are excited to collaborate with UAB in our efforts, and we look forward to addressing this crisis together.”

UAB also has extensive experience in conducting clinical studies of vaccines and has participated in studies sponsored by the Vaccine Evaluation and Trial Unit, part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.

Altimmune expects that the COVID-19 vaccine candidate will activate mucosal and cellular immune responses, as well as a strong antibody response in the blood, as was found for its influenza vaccine candidate, which uses the same proprietary intranasal vaccine technology. If the AdCOVID vaccine candidate is as stable as Altimmune’s influenza and anthrax vaccines candidates, that may allow inexpensive and efficient distribution of the millions of doses needed for widespread vaccination of populations.

At UAB, Randall holds the William J. Koopman Endowed Professorship in Rheumatology and Immunology, Harrod holds the Benjamin Monroe Carraway, M.D., Endowed Chair in Anesthesiology and Kearney holds the Endowed Professorship in Immunology.

(Courtesy of UAB)

4 hours ago

7 Things: Trump extends social distancing to April 30, bleak outlook with the coronavirus ahead, Rogers wants medical equipment manufacturing done in America and more …

7. Trump handling of the economy and favorability hit all-time highs

  • Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump are locked in a dead heat, according to a new poll, but that poll also shows there has been a “rally around the flag” moment for President Trump with the president receiving his highest average approval rating (47%) and rating on the economy (57%) of his presidency. 
  • Granted, the approval numbers are not great, but he has never been able to get great approval from Democrats, including when he was a candidate. It also doesn’t help that the mainstream media have been on a mission to destroy his presidency from day one. 

6. Florida stopping people from coming in

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  • In an effort to crack down on travel to Florida and slow the spread of the coronavirus, there have been checkpoints set up on the state line, including Alabama’s border with Florida. 
  • At checkpoints, people will have to provide the address of where they intend to quarantine themselves for two weeks. Florida has also stopped vacation rentals for at least two weeks due to the number of people who were going to the state because of coronavirus lockdowns. 

5. Alabama could be getting medical supplies from South Korea and Apple

  • On behalf of Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, the Hyundai Motor Corporation is requesting that the South Korean government send medical supplies to Alabama to assist in fighting the coronavirus. 
  • Governor Kay Ivey has announced that Alabama healthcare providers have received 63,000 masks from Apple to help in the coronavirus outbreak. 

4. China is still lying

  • While the American media is cheering the fact that America now leads the world in reported cases of the coronavirus, U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) reminds the world that the Chineses government lied when all of this started and is still lying now.
  • Senator Cotton made it clear, and minced no words, saying, “The Chinese Communist Party is still lying.” He added, “They say they’ve only had 2,500 cases that resulted in deaths or so, yet a single mortuary has ordered more than 5,000 urns. You can look at these basic facts to know that the Chinese Communist Party is still lying today, as they were in December and January, and that’s why what could have been a local problem in Wuhan turned into a global pandemic from which more than 2,000 Americans have now died”

3. Rogers wants more medical equipment made in America

  • U.S. Representative Mike Rogers (R-Saks) has come forward with the idea that the United States needs to be producing 50% of “personal protective equipment, medical devices that we use in this country” domestically.
  • Rogers has argued that this would be a measure we could take so that we aren’t reliant on China, reasoning, “They literally own the marketplace for a lot of this medical equipment, personal protective equipment and devices.” 

2. Dr. Fauci thinks there could be 100,000 deaths

  • Director for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci was on CNN on Sunday to discuss the coronavirus in the United States, and Fauci said they don’t have a “firm idea” about how the virus could grow in America. 
  • Fauci went on to say that he thinks there will be 100,000 to 200,000 deaths and millions of coronavirus cases in the country but added that “it’s such a moving target that you could so easily be wrong and mislead people.” There are currently serious problems in New York and New Orleans.

1. Social distancing guidelines extended until April 30

  • With 140,000+ instances of the coronavirus and 2,400 deaths in the United States thus far, President Donald Trump has announced that he is keeping his proposed social distancing guideline in place another month, saying, “Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before victory is won. It’s very important that everybody strongly follow the guidelines.”
  • The state of Alabama has seen as many as 10 coronavirus deaths, with four confirmed by the Alabama Department of Public Health, in 827 cases across the state.

5 hours ago

Things you can do today to help improve your mental health amid COVID-19 outbreak

Overwhelmed. Anxious. Distracted. Lonely. These are a few words that might describe the feelings of those who are transitioning into working from home, or limited work, during the novel coronavirus outbreak.

News cycles are dominated by COVID-19 news. While coverage is a pertinent necessity during a pandemic, it can be overwhelming to experience every news outlet’s abandoning its daily beat for serious COVID-19 news only. There is little to no positive news — currently, most pieces of communication are tracking ever-increasing infection and fatality numbers.

Sitting on the receiving end of virtually every possible news outlet pushing COVID-19-centric news leads to feeling distracted and overwhelmed.

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“Despite the outbreak, it’s important to remember that life still goes on and that there are a number of strategies people can use to cope with this type of stress, said Laura Dreer, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Sciences. “We know that people have a tremendous ability to flourish in light of what one might consider life-altering situations.”

Dreer’s clinical research is on resilience of patients and caregivers in coping with traumatic injuries and chronic medical conditions and supports individuals overcoming adversity.

Ready to focus, experience mindfulness and boost your mood?

Help someone else

Helping someone else is a great way to feel more empowered about the impact of your day-to-day life. Virtually reach out to struggling co-workers or others in the community with support and encouragement, and check (again, virtually) on any elderly or vulnerable members of your community and offer to assist them through grocery shopping, picking up their medications or cutting their lawn.

Practice mindfulness

“Mindfulness means being fully present in the moment,” Dreer said. “It is easy for many of us to get caught up in things that have happened in the past or in the future while missing out on living in the present.”

Combat the pinging notifications and things vying for your attention by practicing a bit of mindfulness at the start or end of your day — or even as a lunchtime break. Check out mindfulness platform Headspace or the Resilient Option, which is offering free unlimited access to its online program.

Read a book

Whether you choose to read a positive book, a murder mystery or even a manual, reading still has proven health benefits. According to Scholastic, regular reading can decrease your stress levels by up to 68 percent and can lengthen your life by up to two years.

Watch a positive movie or television show

Birgit Wolz, Ph.D., a psychotherapist at the Zur Institute, facilitates cinema therapy groups. Wolz stated that watching a movie can bring “insight, inspiration, emotional release or relief, and natural change.”

Al.com has created a list of 51 hopeful movies that will make you feel good about life, now streaming on Netflix and more. Dreer also encourages watching shows focused on humor; they can also help to relieve stress as there is evidence for humor and laughter’s effects on your emotional well-being.

Stay socially connected

Dreer advocates for the importance of staying socially connected throughout this outbreak, especially when social distancing is recommended and businesses, schools, entertainment, social, and sporting events/activities are halted.

“When people are socially isolated, they can become at risk for loneliness and depression, particularly among older adults living alone or among other vulnerable groups of individuals,” Dreer said. “Stress and loneliness can weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to illnesses. There are many ways to continue to engage socially and during outbreaks, and it may take some creativity.”

  • Play games with your family using virtual multi-player games. Do not forget to include out-of-state family members!
  • Write down questions to ask relatives/friends in an effort to get to know more about them. “Tell me about the last time you remember laughing so hard. What was it about?” or “Tell me about something you learned recently.”
  • Eat a meal together at home with family and/or virtually when other family/friends might be eating. Cook with family, if possible.
  • Do a puzzle together.

Limit your sources and amount of news intake

“Constantly listening to news and/or cable talk shows will only add to one’s anxiety in times of an outbreak or disaster,” Dreer said. “While it’s important to stay updated, limiting updates to once a day will help you stay more in the moment and lower your stress levels. This is particularly important for parents with young children and to be mindful of keeping the news to a minimum.”

Streamline your incoming news by picking a few reputable sources rather than relying on potentially unreliable social media. You can also get good information from sources such as the

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)UAB, World Health Organization, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Get moving and get outside

Restaurants, movie theaters and everything else might be closed; but sidewalks and trails are not! There are benefits to staying active, including boosted energy, improved mood, lowered blood pressure and reduced risk for chronic health conditions.

Getting moving is a good way to get your mind off the negative and remember the hope that is just around the corner! Fresh air and sunlight will give you a new perspective and keep you interactive in the world as daily routines are affected.

UAB News has also outlined “Six ways to stay healthy while keeping your distance” if you are looking for more ideas.

Start (or end) your day with gratitude

Taking a moment to remember all the things you are grateful for in life can be a great way to focus on the positive. To take stock of the ways in which you count yourself lucky or blessed allows you to re-center on your priorities. Dreer often gives exercises such as a 30-day gratitude challenge to her patients with vision impairments and their family caregivers. She recommends making a list of the things you are grateful for and keeping a gratitude journal.

Keep your regular routine

Try to keep regular routines and schedules, which will help you get the sleep you need and keep structure for yourself as well as your children. It may feel good at first to have no structure, sleep in, etc.; but the more you can keep yourself on your regular routine, the better your long-term mental health. Try to eat healthy foods and engage in routine exercise, even simple walks outside.

UAB Department of Psychology Professor Diane Tucker, Ph.D., shares her thoughts on making a plan for positive coping during the COVID-19 time. You can read more about her advice for positive action here.

Talk about your feelings, concerns

Dreer advocates the importance of talking about your feelings and concerns with close family and friends, neighbors, mental health provider, and/or clergy. Talking with others can help process your concerns, give you a different perspective and make you think of things in a different way.

Share with children how you deal with your own stress so that you model that for them. Limit their exposure to news and social media that may have inaccurate information.

Expand your knowledge and stimulate your mental activity!

“Now is a perfect time to pursue those things you wish you had more time to do or learn about various topics,” Dreer said. “Use YouTube to learn to play an instrument or how to fix or make something, or view TED Talks to help further your outlook and perspective on various topics.

Spend time with a pet

There is much to be said about the comfort of a pet during times of stress. Dreer says there is a body of evidence supporting the beneficial impact of having a pet on mental health.

Pets can have a calming effect on us, allow us to relax, breath slower and lower our heart rate and have been found to keep us more physically active when taking them on walks as well as socially interactive in terms of meeting new people when out on a walk. And, pets do not have to be just dogs or cats to have a beneficial impact. Even watching a fish has been found to positively impact mental health and lower stress and blood pressure.

(Courtesy of UAB)