coal

The federal government has agreed to give state regulators an extension to respond to its inquiry into potential violations of mining regulations.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, OSMRE, sent two Ten-Day Notices to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality on January 21st. The notices asked the state to take a closer look at whether two bankrupt coal companies are out of compliance with federal and state mining regulations.

Stephanie Joyce

Wyoming regulators have asked for more time to respond to the federal government's concerns about potential lapses in state oversight of coal mine reclamation.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement sent two ten-day notices to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality on January 21st. The agency believes that two bankrupt coal companies, with hundreds of millions of dollars in outstanding clean up costs, could be in violation of federal mining regulations.  

Stephanie Joyce

A panel that makes recommendations on whether new federal coal projects should move forward has given the green light to two proposals in Montana and Wyoming.

Cloud Peak Energy and Lighthouse Resources want to mine a combined 644 million tons of coal from government reserves. The Powder River regional coal team recommended that the Bureau of Land Management begin the environmental review process for both projects.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

As Arch Coal's financial health continues to decline, Western landowner groups are raising concerns about the company's ability to clean up its mines in the future. 

The Western Organization of Resource Councils, including the Powder River Basin Resource Council, filed a formal complaint today with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality over Arch Coal's ongoing mining operations.

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

Carbon dioxide emissions have a pretty bad reputation these days. The Paris Climate Conferencebrought together delegations from all over the world in an effort to cut carbon emissions and avoid catastrophic global warming. But right now, the dirtiest fuel - coal - still supplies nearly 40% of the electricity in the U.S. and in even more in many developing countries.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

The New York Stock Exchange is threatening to de-list Arch Coal, one of Wyoming's largest coal companies.

Companies listed on the exchange have to meet certain criteria, including maintaining a market value above $50 million. Arch's value has been below that threshold for more than a month. 

The company has 45 days to submit an appeal, in the form of a plan for how it will return to compliance with the exchange's criteria.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

Proposals to export Wyoming coal through ports on the U.S. West Coast are in limbo, facing environmental opposition and lengthy permitting processes, but an export terminal in British Columbia just got the green light from regional authorities.

Port Metro Vancouver approved the coal facility’s permit on the same day global leaders kicked off climate talks in Paris. The port authority determined that the port would not have a "significant adverse environmental impact." As it’s currently proposed, the facility would be able to ship 4 million tons of Powder River Basin coal a year.

Flickr Creative Commons

This month, global leaders are gathered in Paris to make a plan to combat climate change. There is broad scientific consensus that climate change is real, serious and caused by humans—but political consensus in this country has been elusive, often clouded by doubt. Over the years, climate denial arguments have changed, but the result has stayed the same: blocking action on climate change.

As an energy reporter in Wyoming, the nation’s largest coal-producing state, it’s not uncommon for me to hear climate change denial. For example:

Wyoming Public Media

Today, nearly 40% of all coal produced in the U.S. comes from Wyoming. In order to access that coal, companies use huge machines to move dirt out of the way. That means a lot of land, over 170 thousand acres, is currently dug up by mining operations in the state. And reclaiming it- restoring it to what it once was- is expensive.

Wyoming's Congressional delegation says the state could receive over $500 million in abandoned mine land payments thanks to a provision in the massive federal highway spending bill

Money to clean up old, abandoned coal mines comes from current mining operations. Companies pay a fee on each ton of coal they mine which goes into the abandoned mine land fund. About half of AML money comes from Wyoming mining operations but because of a cap, the state only get a fraction of that back.  

With the Paris climate talks just around the corner, environmental groups are asking the Department of the Interior to consider climate change when approving coal mine projects. 

The letter, signed by activists like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club calls on DOI to deny five proposed mine expansion plans in Wyoming, North Dakota, Utah, Montana, and Colorado. 

Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality

As coal companies struggle to remain afloat, Wyoming regulators are reviewing the state’s rules for how companies put money aside for clean-up. 

 

Under threat of being held in contempt of court, a Wyoming advocacy group is backing down from its challenge of a bankrupt coal company's mining permits.  

The Powder River Basin Resource Council argues that Alpha Natural Resources shouldn't be allowed to renew its mine permit because it doesn’t have sufficient bonding in place to ensure mine clean-up, which is something that is required by law.

EMILY GUERIN / INSIDE ENERGY

Everyone knows North Dakota is an oil state. But it’s the state’s coal industry that’s feeling the heat from the federal Clean Power Plan, which targets carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Under the final version of the plan, North Dakota will have to cut its emissions by 45 percent – more any other state except Montana.

Google Earth

Standing on a windy stretch of highway with Karla Oksanen, we peer into a vast, dark, open-pit mine near Gillette, Wyo. She and her husband live so close to Eagle Butte Mine that when operators detonate dynamite to clear dirt away from the coal seams, they can feel it.

“The shaking from the blasts, yeah,” Oksanen said with a laugh. “It’s kind of like an earthquake!”

  

The New York attorney general and Peabody Energy have come to an agreement over the company’s disclosures related to climate change.

The attorney general’s office launched the investigation in 2007. Over the weekend, the office agreed to drop the investigation if Peabody includes certain disclosures about the risks of climate change in its future filings with regulators.

archcoal.com

After reporting a $2 billion loss in the third quarter, Arch Coal says it could declare bankruptcy in "the near term."

Amid low prices and weak demand, Peabody Energy has withdrawn an application to lease additional coal on federal land in the Powder River Basin.

Companies nominate coal tracts for leasing and then are invited to bid on them at auction. Peabody expressed interest the Antelope Ridge tracts back in 2011. They contain an estimated one billion tons of coal.

The company withdrew its application last month. The move follows a recent drop-off in federal coal sales in Wyoming—there hasn’t been one since 2012. Arch Coal also pulled one of its applications earlier this year.

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