Natural Resources & Energy

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Stephanie Joyce

Wyoming needs to start planning for a lower-carbon future, according to panelists at a University of Wyoming discussion about the Clean Power Plan, an Obama administration rule that would cut carbon emissions from power plants.

The panel of coal and utility industry representatives and academics was largely critical of the rule, calling it a clumsy vehicle for carbon reduction. But at the same time, the panelists all agreed that with or without the rule, carbon reduction will happen. 

Wyoming Natural Diversity Database

When you think of pocket gophers, you may think of their holes covering large swaths of land. But in Wyoming’s Red Desert there’s a very rare species of pocket gopher and an environmental group is concerned it could soon become extinct.

This week, WildEarth Guardians filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to have the Wyoming pocket gopher listed as endangered. Erik Molvar is a wildlife biologist for the group and he says the problem is that the species only lives in a specific brush called the Gardner's saltbush.

Wyoming Game and Fish

Wolverines have adapted to live in snowy climates with their snowshoe-shaped feet and alpine snow dens, and some scientists say a warming climate would affect them drastically. But in 2014 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dismissed such conclusions and withdrew a proposal to list the species as endangered. On Monday, a Montana judge ordered the feds to revive that proposal.

Duncan Harris, Flickr Creative Commons

Thousands of miners gathered in Pennsylvania on Friday to advocate for their rights as the coal industry struggles. 

Bankruptcies are sweeping the industry and coal production is down. Recently, around 465 workers were laid off from two mines in Wyoming's Powder River basin.

John Smallwood, a miner from West Virginia said the coal industry's troubles are hurting his town too. 

Wyoming Workforce Services

In the wake of layoffs at Wyoming’s two largest coal mines, the state has set up resource centers in Douglas, Gillette and Casper where laid-off workers can get help from state agencies.

Peabody Energy and Arch Coal announced Thursday they are each cutting 15 percent of their workforce, about 500 total jobs, at the North Antelope Rochelle and Black Thunder mines. 

Flickr Creative Commons, by Tom Brandt

(In a previous version of this story we indicated the entire plant was closing while only Unit 3 is closing. We regret the error.)

Stricter federal emission rules for power plants are having an effect in Wyoming. Rocky Mountain Power says plans to convert one unit of a coal-powered plant to natural gas in western Wyoming fell through and instead they’ll shut it down at the end of 2017.

With some 465 Powder River Basin coal mine workers laid off it’s been busy at the Gillette Workforce Services Center.

Gillette Workforce Services Manager Ramona Peterson says it was probably the busiest day she’s ever seen. A steady stream of displaced coal workers have stopped in to figure out their next step. For some, it's help with updating their resume, for others it's explaining what their options are. Peterson admits that there aren’t a lot of jobs at the moment.

GOOGLE EARTH

The country's two largest coal mines are each laying off roughly 15 percent of their employees. Peabody Energy and Arch Coal both announced the layoffs Thursday morning. The cuts will affect roughly 235 workers at Peabody’s North Antelope Rochelle mine and 230 at Arch's Black Thunder mine.

The layoffs are the first major cuts in Wyoming, which had, until now, avoided the job losses that have affected Appalachia.

Peabody Energy / Wikimedia Commons

Responding to a federal inquiry, the State of Wyoming defended itself against accusations that it is allowing coal giant Peabody Energy to continue operating in violation of mining regulations.

Hydraulic fracturing or fracking has contaminated water resources in the Pavillion area, according to a new study from Stanford University. Dominic DiGiulio, the lead author of the study, also wrote the 2011 Environmental Protection Agency draft report that first linked fracking to groundwater contamination in the Pavillion area.

Alpha Natural Resources is asking a bankruptcy judge for permission to cancel certain labor union agreements and to cut retiree benefits. 

 

Wikipedia Creative Commons, by Dcrjsr

A new mule deer migration route has been discovered crossing 45 miles over the Teton Range into Idaho. The discovery of the new migration route was confirmed this year when Grand Teton National Park collared and tracked several deer using GPS technology. Grand Teton Wildlife Biologist Sarah Dewey says they were amazed to see what lengths one doe went to get to her winter range.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced a new rule this week that aims to better protect workers from something called silica dust. It replaces standards that were more than 40 years old.

Silica is found in materials like sand, granite, and concrete. Breathing in too much of the dust that results from working with these materials can cause a lung disease called Silicosis and lung cancer.

The Department of Labor estimates that around 2.3 million workers like sandblasters and brick makers are exposed to silica at work.

Wikipedia Creative Commons

Several environmental groups filed a petition Wednesday with the Environmental Protection Agency in an effort to overhaul a program that exempts underground aquifers from protection under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

In a December report, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality concluded that fracking is likely not to blame for water problems in the Pavillion area. The Environmental Protection Agency, in public comments on the report, questions that conclusion.

EIA

The ratings agency Standard and Poor's has dropped its credit rating for coal giant Peabody Energy to the lowest possible level, after the company failed to make a major interest payment last week.

Peabody has said it is in talks with its creditors and hopes to restructure its debt, but Standard and Poor's writes that it doesn't see a sustainable future for Peabody absent "comprehensive restructuring." In other words: bankruptcy.

The Bridger-Teton National Forest is changing some of its rules for this year’s antler rush to make it safer by giving people a head start.

Recent court documents show that Arch Coal paid executives more than $8 million in bonuses just days before the company declared bankruptcy. 

Arch Coal filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in early January. In the days leading up to that filing, the company gave its CEO John Eaves, a bonus of $2.7 million and made payments to other top executives.

Wikipedia Creative Commons

 

In an effort to strengthen Bighorn Sheep herds in the Seminoe-Ferris Mountains near Rawlins, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has relocated 24 sheep from Devils Canyon. Transplants from Oregon in 2009 and 2010 and from Devils Canyon near Lovell in 2010 helped establish the Seminoe-Ferris Herd, but blizzards and years of wildfires reduced the herd. Game and Fish Wildlife Biologist Gregg Hiatt joined Bob Beck to explain that the previous transplant has been a success, but they want to build on that.

Melodie Edwards

Listen to our summer podcasts. 

We trek through knee-deep snow along the banks of the Gros Ventre River near Jackson until we come to a heap of bones and grass. It's what remains of an elk calf.

“Here you go,” he says. “This is what it looks like. And I can tell you on Friday, we were standing in a foot of snow. I tracked the whole attack.”

WDGF

Recently the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service announced that it was moving forward with a delisting of the Grizzly Bear. As part of that delisting Wyoming is to come up with a management plan that could include the hunting of Grizzly Bears.

The Game and Fish Commission will soon be holding hearings across the state to discuss that issue. Game and Fish Director Scott Talbott joined Bob Beck to discuss that option. 

Wyoming Outdoor Council

This May, the University of Wyoming will award an honorary doctoral degree to Tom Bell. Bell is 92 years old, a writer, World War II Veteran, and renowned conservationist. In 1967 he founded the Wyoming Outdoor Council and in 1970 started High Country News. He joined Wyoming Public Radio’s Caroline Ballard to talk about how conservation has changed since he first came to Wyoming.

Wyoming Outdoor Council

Longtime conservationist Tom Bell will be awarded an honorary doctoral degree from the University of Wyoming. Bell is 92 years old and founded both the Wyoming Outdoor Council and High Country News.

Bell says when he founded the council in 1967, no one was paying attention to the health of the planet. Over time, he says people have slowly changed their minds about conservation for a few reasons.

In 2016, for the first time ever, natural gas could overtake coal as the main source of electricity in the U.S.

A decade ago, coal accounted for almost 50 percent of electricity generated in the U.S. but in 2015, it was down to 33 percent. The dramatic decline has been fueled largely by utilities switching from coal to natural gas, as gas prices have fallen in recent years because of the fracking boom.

Now, the Energy Information Administration is predicting that in 2016, natural gas will surpass coal as the country’s leading power source, although only by a narrow margin.

ecowatch.com

In financial documents filed this week, one of the largest coal companies in the world warned that it may file for bankruptcy, in part, because the company may not be able to make upcoming debt payments.

Just this week, Peabody Energy missed around $70 million dollars worth of interest payments and instead chose to take advantage of a 30-day grace period. 

Bob Beck

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead has unveiled a new energy plan that still pays a lot of attention to coal, but also looks to boost renewable energy. Mead says Wyoming needs to diversify its energy economy, but denies that the decline of coal did not lead to that choice.

“It was never, hey, coal is having a tough time now and so we are going to move away from coal and to renewables. In fact in some ways I’d say it’s a doubling down on coal and a very good start on renewables.”

Federal regulators have rejected a proposed pipeline that would have carried Wyoming and Colorado gas to an export terminal in Oregon. The 230-mile Pacific Connector pipeline would have linked an existing pipeline to the proposed Jordan Cove terminal, where the gas would have been liquefied and loaded onto ships bound for Asia.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found the public benefits of the project did not justify the potential negative impacts on landowners whose properties the pipeline would cross.

Wikimedia Commons

Seven dead elk were found in the Great Divide Basin of the Red Desert last week. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department in Green River suspect the deaths were a result of the elk ingesting toxic lichen.

Wyoming Game and Fish Wildlife Supervisor Steve DeCecco said this is not the first time elk have died from lichen toxicosis in Wyoming. During the winters of 2004 and 2008, more than 500 elk died in the Red Rim area south of Rawlins from eating the stuff. DeCecco said the lichen itself doesn’t kill the elk.

Coal giant Peabody Energy announced plans to cut jobs at its Caballo and Rawhide mines near Gillette Thursday.

The company won't say how many people will lose their jobs. It released this statement: “In response to market conditions and customer needs, Peabody has implemented a small number of job reductions at its Caballo and Rawhide Mines. We regret the effect of these actions on employees and their families, and the company is taking steps to ease the transition through severance and outplacement support for those impacted.”

Todd Guenther

Researchers at Central Wyoming College in Riverton are studying the possibility that prehistoric people may have lived year round above timberline in the Wind River Range.      

Anthropology Professor Todd Guenther says until recently the conventional wisdom was that prehistoric hunters spent most of their time at low elevation and only summered at high altitudes where they hunted bighorn sheep. 

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