The largest coal producer in Wyoming declared bankruptcy this week. Companies like Arch Coal, and Alpha Natural Resources have done so as well over the past year, but this filing is particularly symbolic of the industry’s struggles, because of the company’s size. Peabody Energy is the largest privately-owned coal company in the world. Our Inside Energy reporter Leigh Paterson joins Bob Beck.


It’s hard not to notice the influence of the oil and coal industries at the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck. Inside the Continental Resources-sponsored Inspiration Gallery you can learn about coal reclamation, touch the Bakken shale, and guess which everyday products are made of petroleum. You can buy oil-themed chocolate at the gift store. Fossil fuel companies are some of the largest donors to this museum, which reopened in 2014 after a $52 million expansion and renovation.

Wikipedia Creative Commons

What does bankruptcy actually mean on the ground?

For now, not very much. In Chapter 11 bankruptcy a company reorganizes but doesn’t shut down. In a statement, Peabody said it plans to continue operating its mines as usual while it restructures.


Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Wednesday. The filing comes on the heels of several other bankruptcy declarations from major coal companies, including Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources.

Just a few days after hundreds of workers were laid off at two Wyoming coal mines, another company offered buyouts to some of its employees. 

Cloud Peak Energy announced last week that it is offering what's called a voluntary separation benefit. The company wouldn't give details on what's actually in the buyout but it is available to hourly employees who are either 65 years old or 55 and have been with the company for ten years.



There’s a lot going on at Wyoming’s 7 community colleges. Tuition hikes, a new funding formula, and a budget crunch. The colleges are also poised to play a big role in the state’s economic recovery. Wyoming lost more than 2 percent of its jobs last year. And just last week, nearly 500 coal workers were laid off in the Powder River Basin.

Jim Rose is the executive director of the Wyoming Community College Commission. Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank sat down with Dr. Rose—and started by asking how community colleges will help retrain workers amid the downturn. 

Peabody Energy / Wikimedia Commons

Last Friday, anyone driving past the Holiday Inn Express in Douglas, Wyoming, might have remarked on the large number of American-made pickup trucks in the parking lot. If they stuck around for a while, they would have seen that most of those pickup trucks belonged to stoney-faced men, who emerged from the hotel one-by-one, clutching blue folders.

“They put us all in one room and they told us all they were sorry, it was a layoff,” Kyle Christiansen recounted.

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. 

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.

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.

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.”

Arch Coal will not develop a massive coal mine in southeastern Montana.

The company based Thursday’s decision on a weakened global coal market and an uncertain permitting process.

Coal advocates say the decision will cost Montana thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in lost tax revenue and wages.

They blame the project’s failure on environmentalists and political heel-dragging on behalf of Governor Steve Bullock’s administration.

Alpha Natural Resources filed a plan today outlining how it hopes to emerge from bankruptcy. At the heart of the plan is a proposal to sell the company's core assets, including its Wyoming mines.

Google Earth

Peabody Energy is one of the largest coal companies in the world and operates mines all over the United States. But some of its senior lenders are now recommending bankruptcy, as the company faces potential defaults on several loans.

Oregon Says No To Coal-Fired Electricity

Mar 4, 2016
David Hanson

Oregon lawmakers have passed a landmark clean-energy bill that lays out a timeline for Oregonians to stop paying for electricity from coal-fired power plants through its two largest utilities, PacifiCorp and Portland General Electric.

Peabody Energy / Wikimedia Commons

Peabody Energy, one of Wyoming’s largest coal producers, appears to be teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

Bob Beck

Wyoming lawmakers are addressing a revenue shortfall that could reach 600 million dollars by 2018, by making some budget cuts and using some of the nearly $2 billion dollars they have in savings. But things could get worse very soon, especially since the state is losing a major source of income for school construction, which is coal. 

With Industry In Turmoil, Energy Players Meet In Houston

Feb 26, 2016
IHS Energy/CERAWeek


The energy industry is in turmoil. Coal and oil prices are way down, there are big changes to environmental regulations in the works, and more and more renewables are coming online. Some of the biggest players in the industry met at a conference in Houston this week to weigh in on what it all means. Inside Energy reporter Jordan Wirfs-Brock was at IHS CERAWeek. She spoke to Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce from the conference about the biggest issues on the table for the energy industry.  


Recent coal company bankruptcies pose a significant risk to taxpayers, the Secretary of the Interior told a U.S. Senate committee Tuesday.

Some of the largest coal companies in the country were never required to put up cash or obtain third-party insurance to cover their reclamation costs.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the federal government is concerned there is little cleanup money set aside as the coal industry slides deeper into financial trouble.

In January, the federal government notified the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality that bankrupt coal company Arch Coal could be in violation of mining regulations. On Monday, DEQ responded to the notice, writing that it has already dealt with the alleged violation which relates to Arch Coal's reclamation bonding.

Regulators cited an agreement that would require Arch to put aside some funds for future coal mine clean up as one of the steps it has taken to ensure the company's reclamation obligations are covered. 

In a surprise move earlier this month, the Supreme Court put the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan on hold while legal challenges are resolved.

On Thursday, speaking at a conference in Cheyenne, an official with the Environmental Protection Agency suggested that the delay may give states more time to comply with the rule if it is ultimately upheld. 

The federal government notified regulators in Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico this week that one of the world's largest coal companies may be out of compliance with coal mining regulations. 

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

Cloud Peak Energy, one of Wyoming’s largest coal producers, reported a $205 million loss in 2015. 

"Clearly 2015 was a tough year for domestic coal producers with demand being driven down by anti-coal regulations and very low gas prices. Unfortunately, 2016 looks like it's going to be even tougher," Cloud Peak CEO Colin Marshall told investors on a conference call. 

In response to a federal inquiry about potential mining violations by bankrupt coal company Alpha Natural Resources, Wyoming regulators say they are in compliance with the law. But, regulators did note that the challenges created by "the dramatic decline in Alpha's financial condition... highlight certain systemic problems with self-bonding." Self-bonding references a financial tool that gives companies a pass on putting aside funds for clean-up if they can prove financial strength. 


The number of train cars carrying coal on U.S. railroads has dropped thanks to falling demand and warmer-than-usual winter temperatures.

Total train traffic during the first week of February was down slightly, just 1.4%, from the same week last year. But the number of train cars carrying coal plummeted by around 30%. Transportation analyst Tony Hatch says railway companies are trying to diversify by transporting new products.