coal

Germany UN

  

Over the last three years, the German embassy has donated about $20,000 dollars toward educating University of Wyoming students about the fall of the Berlin wall and German history. Recently, the German Ambassador Peter Wittig visited the campus himself and, while he was here, Wyoming Public Radio's Melodie Edwards sat down with him to talk about what Wyoming can learn from Germany’s own coal downturn and the refugee crisis.

Germany UN

Last week, Germany’s ambassador to the United States, Peter Wittig gave a lecture at the University of Wyoming on the importance of maintaining a strong trans-Atlantic alliance.

He said the German-U.S. relationship is more important than ever as terrorism and mass migrations continue. He said Germany has taken in 1.1 million Syrian refugees in the last year, which would be equivalent to the United States taking in 4.4 million. He said each country must take its own needs and preferences into account when deciding how to respond to the refugee crisis.

Stephanie Joyce

Some states are better positioned than others to weather the downturn in coal, oil, and gas according to data from the credit ratings agency Moody’s.

Analysts considered factors like economic diversification, budget structure, and how much savings states set aside.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Radio

A federal judge has confirmed Arch Coal’s plan to emerge from bankruptcy.

Arch declared bankruptcy in January, citing a weak market for coal and a high debt load. The company’s bankruptcy attorney, Marshall Huebner, told the court Tuesday that through restructuring, Arch has positioned itself to emerge as a viable company.

“To make it a lean mean fighting machine for the coming era, which will remain challenging and complicated for the U.S. coal industry,” he said. 

Arch shed $4.7 billion in debt through bankruptcy. 

A federal judge will consider Arch Coal's updated plan to get out of bankruptcy Tuesday. As part of that new plan, the company says it will replace its self-bonds in Wyoming with something more secure.

Arch Coal has more than $400 million in estimated cleanup obligations at its Wyoming coal mines. In the past, Arch was allowed to self-bond those obligations—effectively making a promise to clean up, without putting up cash or collateral to insure those obligations.

From Stan Burling’s house at the end of Main Street, it’s a minute walk to downtown Hazen in central North Dakota.

The street sports a thriving business community in this town of 2,400 with amenities like a drug store, an insurance company, a Chevy car dealer.

Power plants surround Hazen, along with the coal mines that feed them.

“They support the local economy,” Burling said.

About half the residents work in the industry, or in a related job.

“They buy their vehicles here, groceries, support the local retail businesses,” he said.

Aaron Schrank

Amid a wave of historic coal bankruptcies, states like Texas and Colorado have taken proactive steps to make sure coal companies are on the hook for their future cleanup costs while in Wyoming, over $1 billion of these cleanup costs have gotten tied up in bankruptcy court.

Why are there different outcomes in different energy-rich states?

Carbon emissions from burning natural gas are projected to surpass emissions from coal by around 10 percent this year. 

Stephanie Joyce

The federal government is changing its rules for mine reclamation, to ensure there is money available for cleanup even when companies declare bankruptcy. 

Stephanie Joyce

 

 

Glance at a satellite image of northeast Wyoming, and you can’t miss the coal mines. Even zoomed out, the square-cornered grey blotches stand out—stretching north to south over more than 70 miles. But if all goes according to plan, someday, when the mining is done, those scars will disappear, erased from the landscape by intensive reclamation efforts.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

With the downturn in the coal market, the federal government is encouraging states to reconsider whether to allow coal companies to self-bond. Self-bonding allows coal companies to avoid putting up cash or other assurances to guarantee their cleanup obligations.

The practice has come under scrutiny in the last year as many of the nation’s largest coal companies have declared bankruptcy with more than $2 billion in self-bonded cleanup on their books.

Coal giant Peabody Energy is asking a bankruptcy court to approve up to $11.9 million in bonuses for six top executives.

Stephanie Joyce

Record heat in much of the country is good news for the struggling coal industry. 

Hotter temperatures mean more people running their air conditioning, which in turn means more power plants burning more coal. 

“The hot start to summer has greatly improved the outlook, after a very slow first half [of the year],” said Colin Marshall, CEO of Cloud Peak Energy, one of the nation’s biggest coal producers, on an earnings call with investors. 

Coal Dependent School Budgets In Crisis

Jul 29, 2016
Ann Marie Awad / KUNC

  

This story originally aired on Inside Energy partner station KUNC. 

Colorado's coal country is experiencing the same slump that is gripping the heart of more traditional mining locales, like Wyoming or West Virginia.

"We see the trains and we hear the trains, and they used to be often. Daily," says Darci Mohr, the superintendent for South Routt County School District. "Now we hear one every five to six days."

STEPHANIE JOYCE / WYOMING PUBLIC RADIO

On April 1, 2016, Frank Thompson lost his job as a mechanic at Peabody Energy’s North Antelope Rochelle mine. He was one of almost 500 coal miners laid off that day by Peabody and its competitor, Arch Coal. At the time, Thompson, who is a single dad, was most concerned about what being laid off would mean for his son.

"He’s seven years old, so he kind of sees it as some time to hang out," he told Inside Energy's Stephanie Joyce. "But I don’t think he really realizes that this could be us moving away from here."

Rhodium Group

President Obama called for Democrats to offer aid to miners in coal country during his speech to the Democratic National Convention Wednesday. It was just one of several recent attempts by Democratic party leaders to reach out to voters in largely conservative coal states. 

Earlier in the day, Hillary Clinton’s energy policy advisor told the audience at an event hosted by the news organization Politico that Democrats cannot forget coal country.

Flickr via Creative Commons

Despite the major layoffs in the coal industry this year, the unemployment rate in Wyoming rose slightly in June, up by .1% to 5.7% since May. Although that rise isn’t significant, it is a serious increase from last June when it was only 4.2%.

A report from the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services says almost every county in Wyoming has seen increases in unemployment since last summer. Senior Economist David Ballard says the largest of these increases were seen in the more energy dependent counties. Natrona, Converse, and Campbell County all increased by over 3%.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

Alpha Natural Resources emerged from bankruptcy Tuesday as a much smaller company. 

As part of the bankruptcy deal, Alpha sold its core assets, including its mines in Wyoming, to a new company, Contura. Alpha will continue to operate a handful of mines in Appalachia, while Contura will take over the company's more lucrative mining operations in the Powder River Basin and elsewhere.

Contura is majority-owned by a group of Alpha’s former senior lenders. Employees of Alpha in Wyoming are now employed by Contura, which is being headed up by Alpha’s former CEO.

A federal bankruptcy court judge gave Peabody Energy the go-ahead on Wednesday to pay nearly $30 million in property taxes in four states while the company makes its way through bankruptcy.

Peabody Energy can now make payments to counties in Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and Indiana. One missed payment of around $1 million hit a small Colorado school district particularly hard. The state had to dip into its emergency fund to bail out the South Routt School District after taxes were not paid in June.

Stephanie Joyce

Senators from Wyoming, Colorado and North Dakota are among those asking the government to suspend its review of the federal coal program.

In January, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced a comprehensive review of the federal coal program, and a moratorium on new coal leasing while that review is underway.

In a strongly-worded letter sent Friday, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality accuses the federal government of “political theater.”

  

With hotter summer temperatures in the forecast, natural gas consumption is expected to increase in coming months, and prices along with it. 

Electricity demand is at its highest across much of the U.S. in the summertime because of air conditioning. The Energy Information Administration predicts this year, natural gas will provide a majority of that power, overtaking coal as the largest source of electricity for the first time.

According to federal regulators, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality did not take appropriate action against Alpha Natural Resources when it was in violation of coal mining regulations. 

The issue, outlined in a letter sent by the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) to DEQ, was that the bankrupt company was mining coal without enough reclamation bonding in place to cover its hundreds of millions dollars in reclamation liabilities.  

If new carbon regulations go into effect, U.S. coal production will fall by around 25% by 2040, according to updated projections by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). The Clean Power Plan is the first-ever federal rule that would limit carbon emissions from power plants. The rule is now on hold while legal challenges against it are resolved. 

A judge in Richmond, VA approved coal giant Alpha Natural Resources' plan to get out of bankruptcy Thursday. The approval went through, in part, because Alpha agreed to put up real financial assurances to cover future reclamation costs, which totaled hundreds of millions of dollars. 

"The terms of the settlement provide a managed route for the company to restructure and continue operating, while also taking responsibility for mine land reclamation as a result of former disturbances of private and federal lands," a Department of the Interior representative wrote in a statement. 

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

The Wyoming Department of Workforce Services is applying for a federal grant to help retrain workers affected by coal’s downturn. 

The $2 million dollar Department of Labor grant would be available to anyone laid off in seven affected Wyoming counties. It is part of a larger Obama administration initiative to help retrain workers in coal country.

energy.gov

One of the great hopes for saving the coal industry is the development of a cheap, efficient way to permanently store the carbon emitted from it, but so far, carbon capture and storage has struggled to live up to expectations.

STEPHANIE JOYCE / WYOMING PUBLIC RADIO

 

Just before midnight on a recent evening, Chris Loman was still busy checking people in and out of the Oak Tree Inn in Gillette, Wyoming. She asked one guest about his wife and ribbed another about a past visit.

“They’re like family to me,” Loman said. “And I am to them.”

The Oak Tree Inn is not a typical hotel. It has private rooms, key cards, and fresh towels, but most of its guests work for BNSF, one of the nation’s largest railroads. Until recently, the entire hotel was under contract to the railroad.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Radio

New rules from the Department of the Interior aim to close what many have called a loophole in how federal coal resources are valued.

Most of the coal mined in Wyoming is owned by the federal government. Companies pay royalties for the right to mine that coal—in theory, 12.5 percent of the sale price.

In a reversal of its previous position, Arch Coal now says it would likely be able to obtain third-party insurance for its clean-up obligations in Wyoming, if necessary. 

Arch is currently allowed to self-bond its more than $400 million in reclamation obligations in the state, meaning it has promised to pay for future clean-up, but has not been asked to guarantee that promise with third-party insurance or cash. 

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