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Wyoming lawmakers are voting on the state budget this week and are considering proposals to strengthen the energy industry in the state.

15 million dollars is proposed for a facility to study the capture, sequestration, and management of carbon emissions from a coal fired power plant.  Senator Jim Anderson of Glenrock says it’s important to the future of Wyoming Coal.

“Perhaps bring Wyoming into a new era and it would certainly in regard to our reliance on coal and other things that are carbon based be a blessing if in fact we could do this.”

Wyoming Mining Association Executive Director Marion Loomis says coal’s future is bright -- but that there’s a need for continued innovation -- both in extraction technology and emissions control.

“We’ve made such tremendous strides in reducing emission levels. We’ve increased coal production about 170 percent in this country in the last 20 years and reduced pollutants by over 85 percent,” says Loomis.

Marion Loomis has been with the Wyoming Mining Association, one of the state’s most influential interest groups, for almost 40 years. Earlier this week, he announced that he would be retiring that post in April. Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce caught up with Loomis at the Capitol to discuss his career and what the future holds for the state’s mining industry.

Port facilities that would export Powder River Basin coal through the Pacific Northwest are continuing to move towards construction.

In separate decisions this week, Washington and Oregon both announced progress on permitting for coal export terminals in their respective states.

Coal sales in western states are under increased scrutiny from lawmakers after revelations of problems including reserves of the fuel sold at prices below market value.

A letter from the U.S. Department of Interior Inspector General released Friday shows federal officials in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico accepted below-market bids for coal or sold the fuel without full appraisals.

Inspectors said that violated federal rules including the 1920 Mineral Leasing Act, which requires coal sales to be competitive.

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The Government Accountability Office released a report earlier this week that outlined problems in the federal coal leasing system. The report called the Bureau of Land Management’s process ‘out of date.’

A new report by the Government Accountability Office says the Bureau of Land Management’s coal lease valuation program is ‘out of date.’ The report says BLM offices around the country are not consistent in the way they calculate fair market value, don't always document the rationale behind accepting low bids and do not use independent reviewers to ensure calculations are correct.

It also says the BLM does not properly consider the export potential of coal when calculating fair market value of coal leases.

Governor Matt Mead and other elected officials made the case during a Jackson forum Wednesday that Wyoming's future depends on energy. They said that tapping state's energy resources, from coal to natural gas, is what pays the bills when it comes to building schools and other vital infrastructure.

But the governor said that doesn't mean producing energy should come at the cost of the environment. And that impressed Paul Hansen, who moderated
the forum.

Governor Matt Mead is proposing that Wyoming set aside $15 million to open a research center focused on new uses of carbon captured from coal-fired power plants.

The state already has an institute which looks at the use of captured carbon for enhanced oil recovery, but Mead’s policy director, Shawn Reese, says this facility would be used to develop additional uses of carbon like fertilizers, building materials, biochemical products, and synthetic gases.

Carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector increased about 2 percent in 2013 from a low point in 2012. The Energy Information Administration did the analysis. The agency attributes the increase to a small comeback by coal from a dramatic market share low in 2012.

The federal government is predicting that despite a recent uptick in consumption, coal will lose its dominance of the electricity market by 2030.

Natural gas will slowly edge out coal as the country’s leading source of electricity generation, according to the Energy Information Administration’s latest forecast.

In a press conference announcing the outlook, Coal and Electric Power Division Director Alan Beamon said coal is expected to make a rebound in the short-term, but that it won’t last.

Another proposed coal export terminal has folded. Ambre Energy is asking to be let out of a lease agreement with the Port of Corpus Christi, saying that shipping Powder River Basin coal out of Texas is no longer viable.

The company had planned to ship 1.5 - 2.5 million tons of coal out of the facility every year. Its decision to pull out is latest in a string of roughly half a dozen planned terminals that have been tabled or scrapped in the last year.

A project that proposes setting fire to deep coal seams in order to produce fuel is moving forward. At a hearing last week, the Environmental Quality Council rejected arguments that Linc Energy’s proposed underground coal gasification project would contaminate drinking water supplies in Campbell County. But as Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce reports, concerns linger about the safety of the technology.

At today’s energy law conference in Laramie, one Wyoming lawmaker urged the state to be proactive in the discussion about greenhouse gas regulations.

Amid a slew of disappointing quarterly financial results from Powder River Basin coal companies, some groups are raising questions about the commodity’s long-term viability.

The Boulder-based environmental group Clean Energy Action released a report Wednesday that predicts the country has already passed “peak coal” and that production will continue to decline because of rising costs. They include Powder River Basin coal in that prediction, even though it has the lowest production costs in the country.

With continued weak prices for coal, one of Wyoming’s largest coal companies is planning to reduce production.

During a meeting with investors to discuss third quarter results, Cloud Peak CEO Colin Marshall said the company is looking to cut 10 million tons at the Cordero Rojo mine near Gillette in 2015. That’s roughly 10 percent of the company’s overall production in the Powder River Basin.

Marshall said the plan won’t change unless prices rebound significantly.

“We're going down until things change enough to make it worthwhile going up.”

The recent Consensus Revenue Estimating Group, or CREG, report indicated some positive things for Wyoming's revenue picture, but within the report there are also concerns. 

Campbell County Representative Sue Wallis says one serious concern stands out.

"There's a very strong potential of a time...not very far out...when we've got a real problem with our education funding."

Governor Matt Mead says there’s no question that Taiwan and South Korea want Wyoming coal. Mead just returned from a trip to those countries where he met with government leaders, trona industry representatives, and attended events promoting tourism in Wyoming. He says exporting Wyoming coal is still a good idea.  

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An unfolding court case might change how Powder River Basin coal is taxed in Montana. Last week, a Montana district court heard oral arguments in a lawsuit pitting Cloud Peak Energy against the state.

The state is asking for $3.4 million in back taxes, arguing that Cloud Peak underpaid between 2005 and 2007 by selling to an affiliated company at below-market value.

A coal miner is dead after a bulldozer accident in the early morning hours on Sunday.

The incident happened at the Bridger coal mine near Rock Springs, which is jointly owned by PacifiCorp and Idaho Power. The Sweetwater County sheriff’s department says Mark Christopher Stassinos, 44, died after being thrown out of his bulldozer as it plunged over a highwall at the mine.

PacifiCorp spokesman Jeff Hymas says Stassinos had been working there for the last two years, and that mining operations have stopped pending an investigation.

DKRW Advanced Fuels, the company that’s proposing to build a coal-to-liquids conversion facility near Medicine Bow, has submitted yet another request to delay construction. The company announced its latest construction schedule in June. It's now asking to place that schedule on hold for up to 30 months. At the end of that period it would either provide all necessary information – including a new construction schedule, socioeconomic analysis, and updated housing plan – or lose its permit.   

The US Environmental Protection Agency has released a set of rules that would limit carbon dioxide emissions from coal and natural gas power plants. If finalized, the rules would be the first to set such a national standard. The rule caps carbon emissions from natural gas power plants at 1,000 pounds/megawatt hour and from coal power plants at 1,100 pounds.

The Bureau of Land Management received a single bid at today’s/Wednesday’s coal lease sale and it has rejected that bid. 

Kiewit  Mining Properties bid 21-cents per ton on the Buckskin Mine Hay Creek Two tract. The tract has about 167-million tons of mineable coal and is adjacent to the Buckskin mine, which Kiewit operates.

However, the bid is the lowest the B-L-M has received since 2001.

B-L-M spokeswoman, Beverly Gorney, says ultimately the bid did not meet the B-L-M’s secret calculations of what’s considered fair market value.

The Bureau of Land Management received a single bid at today’s coal lease sale, and it has rejected the offer.  Kiewit Mining Properties bid 21cents/ton on the Buckskin Mine Hay Creek II tract. The tract has about 167 million tons of mineable coal and is adjacent to the Buckskin mine, which Kiewit operates.

However, the bid is the lowest the BLM has received since 2001.

BLM spokeswoman, Beverly Gorny, says ultimately the bid did not meet the BLM’s secret calculations of what’s considered fair market value.

The Bureau of Land Management’s coal lease sale today coal lease sale received one bid. The Buckskin Mine Hay Creek II tract is adjacent to the operating Buckskin Mine in Campbell County. The bid came from Buckskin Mine’s operator, Kiewit Mining Properties, and amounted to 21 cents/ton for the estimated 167 million tons of mineable coal in the tract. If accepted, the tract could extend the mine’s life by about eight years.

The federal government is getting ready to unveil rules for carbon emissions at new coal-fired power plants, and they probably won't be what industry had hoped for.

While coal producers look to international markets to make up for a soft coal market at home, experts advise that Asian coal demand will not be as strong as had been expected.

During a recent teleconference, researchers and environmentalists discussed the financial viability of building coal export terminals in the Northwest US to ship Powder River basin coal to Asia. Ross Macfarlane works for Climate Solutions, a clean-energy advocacy group. He said domestic producers didn’t account for the evolution of the coal market abroad.  

The comment period closed Monday on the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Regional Haze Plan. The plan seeks to address the issue of air pollution produced by coal fired power plants. Wyoming put together its own regional haze program, but the EPA rejected parts of it, saying it wasn't strong enough, particularly when it came to nitrogen oxide emissions at four plants.

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The Bureau of Land Management is responsible for coal on federal lands. That coal makes up about 40 percent of total coal production in the U.S. Of the 314 existing federal coal leases, nearly a quarter of the leases are in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Companies acquire these leases by bidding on the right to mine the federal coal. It has generated a lot of income, which the federal government splits with states. But not everyone thinks the program is working as it should and that the government might be losing out on money.

Today’s coal lease sale of nearly 150 million tons of mineable coal in the Powder River Basin received zero bids.

It’s the first time the Wyoming office of the Bureau of Land Management has received no bids for a sale. Cordero Mining, a subsidiary of Cloud Peak Energy, asked BLM to open the tract in 2006. It's adjacent to an operating Cloud Peak mine.

But Cloud Peak CEO Colin Marshall says things have changed since then. In a press release, he cited current coal market conditions and regulatory uncertainty as factors in the company's decision not to bid.

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