Natural Resources & Energy

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Stephanie Joyce

How much should climate change factor into decisions about coal mining on federal land? 

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A bankruptcy judge has authorized up to $12 million dollars in bonuses for executives of the bankrupt coal mining company Alpha Natural Resources.

Coal Downturn Makes It Harder To Clean Up Its Dirty Past

Jan 22, 2016
Reid Frazier / Allegheny Front

When she was growing up, Julie Bundy’s parents forbade her from playing on the "slate dumps." That was their shorthand for the hundred-foot-tall pile of loose rubble that sat right in the middle of Fredericktown, the southwestern Pennsylvania coal town where her grandparents lived.

“My grandparents lived in the yellow house on the corner with the slate dumps in the back yard. As long as I can remember, it was there,” Bundy says.

Bundy, 36, now lives across the street from the dumps, a coal-refuse pile left over from a defunct mining operation that ended decades ago.

The federal government sent two notices to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality today, wanting regulators take a closer look at hundreds of millions of dollars in clean-up costs held by two bankrupt coal companies.

It is called a Ten-Day Notice. The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) sends these out if it believes there is a violation of coal mining regulations. 

14 years ago, the state’s bighorn sheep herds were dying from pneumonia that was thought to have been contracted from grazing domestic sheep. Since then, the state has worked with wildlife advocates and ranchers on the so-called Wyoming Plan which designates areas for each species. Last year, the Legislature passed bills formally adopting the Wyoming Plan in hopes of keeping domestic sheep from spreading pneumonia to wild sheep.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

The Forest Service has issued a draft environmental impact statement for a proposed rare earth metals mine in northeastern Wyoming. 

The Bear Lodge project near Sundance would be the first new rare earth mine in the United States in decades.

Rare earth elements are used in various high-tech applications, from smartphones to precision-guided missiles. Currently, most of the world’s supply comes from China. The only U.S. rare earth mine, in California, shut down last year after its parent company, Molycorp, declared bankruptcy.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

The federal government has come out strongly against a proposal by bankrupt coal miner Alpha Natural Resources to pay its executives up to $12 million in bonuses. 

In filings with the bankruptcy court, the United States Trustee, an arm of the Department of Justice, excoriates the proposed bonuses, saying they are completely unjustified.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

  

In President Obama’s recent State of the Union address, there was a line that caught the ear of people in the energy industry.

“I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet,” he said.

Citing concerns over pricing and pollution, the Obama administration on Friday unveiled a moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands. The change won't affect existing leases, which generated nearly $1.3 billion for the government last year.

The Department of the Interior says it wants to make sure the money it's charging for coal leases takes into account both market prices and what's often called the "social costs" of coal — its impact on climate change and public health.

The agency says federal lands account for roughly 40 percent of all U.S. coal production.

nps.gov

An interagency Board of Review released a report of last summer’s fatal grizzly attack in Yellowstone National Park.

Several organizations, including representatives from the national parks, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and the U.S.G.S. Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, compiled a report on the death of Lance Crosby. Crosby was hiking alone, off trail, and without bear spray when he was attacked and killed by an adult female grizzly bear in Yellowstone last August.

Catherine Jamieson

Shipping oil by rail took off in recent years, as pipelines struggled to handle all the new crude oil being produced in the U.S. But now, with the price of oil in a slump, crude-by-rail companies are seeing their business drop off. 

Tiger Transfer Chief Operating Officer Rueben Ritthaler says now, with drilling slowing down, his rail yard is quiet.

“The pipelines are handling it, productions down and the need for the oil movement, it’s just stopped.”

White House

President Obama called for an overhaul of the nation’s energy system in his final State of the Union address. 

Obama criticized climate change deniers in the speech, saying it’s time to stop debating and start innovating. He praised investments in wind and solar energy and called for moving away from “dirty” energy sources.

“And that’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet,” he said.

A militia group occupying a wildlife refuge in Oregon argues that Westerners want to turn federal lands over to states and private interests. But a new poll released Monday shows that’s not the case.

A majority of voters in seven Rocky Mountain states say they oppose state or private control of public lands. Wyoming was more split on the subject with about 54% of respondents in agreement, compared to 87% in Utah, 59% in Colorado and 63% in Arizona.

Another coal giant, with operations all over the US, declared bankruptcy today.

St. Louis-based Arch Coal hopes to get rid of $4.5 billion dollars in debt through this Chapter 11 reorganization. The company mines coal in Wyoming, Colorado, Illinois, and Appalachian states and says it expects operations to continue during bankruptcy proceedings.

 

U.S. coal production in 2015 was lower than it has been in nearly 30 years, according to a report released by the Energy Information Administration today. 

EIA data projects that the U.S. produced 10% less coal in 2015 than it did the year before. Analysts attribute this drop to a combination of low natural gas prices, a slowing of international demand, and environmental regulations. Brian Park, an industry economist on the EIA's coal statistics team says Appalachia has been hit hardest by far. Wyoming's Powder River Basin in comparison, has lower operating costs.

Coal-Fired Power Plants Clean Up Their Act

Jan 8, 2016
Reid Frazier / Allegheny Fron

 

In Wyoming, nearly 90 percent of electricity comes from coal.  In North Dakota, 80 percent, and in Colorado, 60 percent. Even before the Obama Administration's Clean Power Plan is implemented, these power plants must make retrofits to comply with current law that requires scrubbing emissions of dangerous air pollutants like mercury. Most of the nation's coal-fired power plants are racing to comply.

How does that retrofit happen? Reid Frazier of the Allegheny Front takes us to the Homer City Generating Station in Pennsylvania to see.

Stephanie Joyce / Inside Energy

This is a story about accounting.

I know, you're already clicking out of the story, right?

But wait. This is a story about accounting for your money. Lots of money you may not even know you had. It’s buried on federal and tribal lands in the form of natural resources, in states like Wyoming and Colorado. For the past few years, a controversy has been quietly raging over how much companies owe you when they extract those resources, and how much you’re allowed to know about it.

April Barnes

You might think of the Grand Canyon as one of the wildest places in the U.S. But the fact is, the Colorado River that runs through that canyon is not wild at all. Here’s a quote from Cadillac Desert, a documentary on water in the West.

"This river, the Colorado, can be turned on and turned off down to the last drop on orders from the Interior Secretary of the United States," a voiceover tells us. "This was the first river on earth to come under complete human control."

Wyoming’s largest utility is backing an initiative that would make Oregon “coal-free” by 2030. 

Oregon currently gets a third of its power from coal, even though it has only one coal plant in the state. The rest comes from power plants in the region, including Wyoming’s Jim Bridger plant. Under the proposed bill, Oregon ratepayers wouldn’t pay for any electricity from coal plants after 2030.

Pacificorp, the parent company of Wyoming’s Rocky Mountain Power, is supporting the initiative. 

National Digital Library of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service

A draft of a tri-state grizzly management and hunting practices agreement between Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming has been making the rounds on media sites, prompting outcry from some animal rights groups.

The memorandum plans for a possible delisting of the grizzly bear from the endangered species list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It sets population goals, target mortality rates, and, most controversial, percentages of the management area outside the national parks that could possibly be used for hunting grizzlies. 58 percent of the hunt would occur in Wyoming. 

It’s that time of year again when Yellowstone’s herd of 4,900 bison start migrating down to lower elevations, often taking them outside park boundaries. Ranchers worry the animals will spread brucellosis to cattle and since the 1980’s the bison herd has been culled in response.

A new winter management plan released Tuesday says this year 600-900 bison can be killed through hunting or by capturing as they leave the park. Park spokesperson Sandra Snell-Dobert says the decision isn’t the park’s preference.

Duncan Harris, Flickr Creative Commons

Colorado regulators say the state is changing its approach to ensuring coal mines get cleaned up.  

The change involves self-bonding, a program that gives coal companies a pass on putting aside money for future mine clean-up, if they can pass a test of financial strength.

Even though many coal companies are struggling in a steep market downturn and some have even declared bankruptcy, many of them are still self-bonded. The problem? It's no longer clear whether those companies will actually be able to pay for future coal mine reclamation.

tetonwildlife.org

The Jackson area may have a raptor center to rehabilitate birds of prey, but when other species are injured, there’s nowhere to take them. 

So wildlife biologists Renee Seidler and Lindsay Jones have been working with wildlife agencies in Wyoming and Idaho to start the Teton Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.

Teton Wildlife Rehabilitation Center co-founder Lindsey Jones says she and her partner, Renee Seidler, especially want to help animals injured in conflicts with people.

Melodie Edwards

U.S. natural gas prices in 2015 were at their lowest since 1999, despite a dramatic increase in use of the fuel in the power sector.

The U.S. benchmark natural gas price averaged just $2.61 per MMBtu, although it dropped considerably lower than that at points during the year. 

A new paper in the journal Science argues current wolf management policies in the northern Rockies are unsustainable. The region’s grey wolves were removed from the endangered species list in recent years, and each state manages wolf hunting independently.

The paper argues states allow hunters to over-harvest because there is no clear target population level.

Stephanie Joyce

Companies are shutting down pipelines in the Midwest in response to record flooding.

There are dozens of oil and gas pipelines running under the Mississippi River. Several companies have proactively shut down those lines, in order to avoid accidents.

Spectra Energy has shut down its Platte pipeline, which runs from Guernsey, Wyoming to Wood River Illinois.
"Obviously there will be some delays in deliveries," said Spectra spokesman Devon Hotzel. "But any December volumes that were affected by the shutdown will be delivered in January."

Flickr

A federal judge ruled this week that a case can move forward against the State of Wyoming over two new laws that make collection of data across private property to access public lands illegal. Several environmental and media groups had sued over the laws. Western Watersheds executive director Travis Brunen says the judge didn’t buy the state’s argument that the laws just reinforce existing trespass rules.

National Elk Refuge

A partnership between the National Elk Refuge and the Teton Raptor Center will bring new programming to the refuge starting next month.
“Feathered Fridays” at the refuge’s visitor center will feature live appearances by birds from the Teton Raptor Center, such as hawks, eagles, and owls, and will allow guests to see raptors up close. Lori Iverson with the National Elk Refuge says bringing the two organizations together was a no-brainer.

Gayle Woodsum

Solutions to hunger and obesity are often best developed by local community groups. That’s the message a delegation of food security advocates from Wyoming took to a global meeting in South Africa last month.

The conference, called the Action Learning Action Research Congress, brought together advocates from all over the world to discuss how to create lasting social change. 

Brian Dierking

In response to a 15-year drought around much of the West, the U.S. Interior Department announced a new initiative called the Natural Resources Investment Center. The idea is to make it easier for the private sector to invest in water conservation projects like water transfers.

Water Resources Director Jimmy Hague with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership says such transfers allow water to be stored and moved to places where it’s needed most during dry spells.

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