Friday roundup, Nov. 9, 2012

November 9, 2012 by Ken Ward Jr.

President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks at the election night party at McCormick Place, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago. Obama defeated Republican challenger former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Understandably, the news and commentary this week was mostly stuff about the election, and where President Obama will take coal policy during his second term. Here are a few of the pieces I noticed:

— Politico reported that President Obama emerged “bruised but victorious” from the “war on coal”:

Mitt Romney’s strategy for picking up coal country was simple: paint President Barack Obama as the enemy of the region’s important industry.

But millions of dollars in advertising later, Obama still picked up Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia — states Romney needed desperately, leaving him with only West Virginia.

Romney did outperform John McCain, who picked up fewer votes in areas of Virginia most tied to the coal industry, but the numbers still weren’t enough to topple Obama, who also won the state in 2008.

— The Washington Post explained that Obama appears likely to continue efforts to curb greenhouse gases, push energy efficiency:

President Obama’s reelection, along with key wins by Senate Democrats, ensures that the federal government will press ahead with efforts to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency and to curb greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change.

But the scope of these policies could be constrained by congressional opposition and by concern over their economic impact, making it likely that a second Obama term will deliver some, but not all, of environmentalists’ top priorities.

Investors were quaking already, pummeling shares of coal-mining companies that waged a vigorous advertising battle against Obama’s reelection and which are potential casualties of any curbs on greenhouse gas emissions. Shares of Peabody Energy fell 9.6 percent Wednesday, Arch Coal plunged 12.5 percent, Consol Energy dropped 6.1 percent, and Alpha Natural Resources sank 12.2 percent.

“Obama’s re-election . . . provides the basis for positive movement on clean tech and climate action once the new Congress meets,” the banking giant HSBC’s global research group told investors in a research note. But it added, “Silence on climate issues during the campaign until the onset of Hurricane Sandy and continued Republican majority in the House means that scope for strategic action will remain limited.”

 — Writing for, Ken Silverstein explained:

When the major networks declared last night that President Obama had carried Ohio and had thus clinched the White House, the analyses concluded that it centered on the auto bailout, not the coal industry.

As it turns out, the president didn’t need to carry Ohio to win a second term, having secured enough of the battleground states to give him a comfortable margin of victory. But the state still represents a cross-section of voters that any candidate would love to have in their column. To that end, President Obama focused on the revival of the auto industry that is integral to the region while Mitt Romney pounded Obama for his administration’s “war on coal.”

— Reuters wrote:

Energy producers braced for tighter regulation in President Barack Obama’s second term, with coal companies expecting more emissions restrictions and drillers anticipating less access to federal land even as his platform promotes energy independence.

Opponents already believe Obama has waged a “war on coal” through the administration’s push for stricter regulation of greenhouse gas emissions by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Four more years of President Obama translates into additional pressure on the coal industry from the EPA and numerous environmental groups,” energy investment bank Simmons & Co said in a note to investors on Wednesday.


Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney emerges from backstage to concede his quest for President of the United State at his election night event at the Boston Convention Center in Boston, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Writing for The American Spectator, Debra McCown reported:

While the coal issue drove higher Republican voter turnout and percentages in Virginia coal country, it wasn’t nearly enough to change Tuesday’s election outcome in the state.

According to unofficial vote totals released by the Virginia State Board of Elections after midnight, President Barack Obama had won the state with 50 percent of the vote to challenger Mitt Romney’s 48 percent.

Virginia, a swing state that wasn’t called until hours after Obama’s victory was announced, had faced a constant bombardment from both sides with ads and campaign events.

The large but largely rural region of Southwest Virginia, which relies on coal mining as a key economic driver, had received a lot of attention from the Romney-Ryan campaign with visits in the weeks leading up to the election.

The strategy, supporters said, was to drive higher turnout in areas with strong support, in hopes of bringing swing state Virginia back to the Republican side of the election equation this year. But it wasn’t enough.

Also this week, the Herald-Leader over in Kentucky reported:

A Harlan County coal company and two supervisors admitted Wednesday that they willfully exposed miners to the risk of being hurt or killed by rock falls.

An attorney for Manalapan Mining Co. entered a guilty plea for the company on a charge that it had miners use equipment that did not have canopies or cabs to protect them if sections of the roof or walls fell.

The company could be fined as much as $250,000.

Jefferson Davis, who was operations manager at the company’s mine, and Joseph Miniard Jr., who was the superintendent, each pleaded guilty to a similar misdemeanor charge punishable by up to a year in jail.

Miniard also pleaded guilty to a felony charge that he signed off on inspection reports that failed to note hazardous conditions in the underground mine.

That charge is punishable by up to five years in prison.

The National Journal reported on one of the coal industry’s “new voices” in Washington, D.C.:

If there is a war on coal, as many Republicans have alleged in attacking President Obama’s environmental agenda, Robert (Mike) Duncan is the industry’s new general. And for this GOP campaign veteran and grandson of two Kentucky coal miners, the fight is personal.

Duncan has been at the heart of the Republican political machine since his first job in politics as the state youth chairman for Richard Nixon’s 1972 reelection campaign. He ran two community banks in Kentucky during the 1980s while taking on a series of roles in the Republican National Committee. Duncan was George H.W. Bush’s assistant director of public liaison, worked on the 1998 campaign for former Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., and was a regional chairman for George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign.

In 2007, Duncan became chairman of the RNC, and in 2010, he partnered with Bush political strategist Karl Rove to establish American Crossroads, the super PAC that drove the GOP takeover of the House.

So when a key lobbying group for coal companies, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, named Duncan its new president and CEO in September, it was widely seen as a sign that the industry was bringing in the big guns. Over the past four years, ACCCE has become the most visible and aggressive face of the coal lobby in Washington and across the country. Its members spend heavily on efforts to weaken and delay regulations aimemd at coal pollution, as well as on national television ads—featuring a lump of coal attached to an electric cord—to make the public case for coal-fired electricity. The coalition has helped make coal part of the national political conversation, and Duncan’s job is to supercharge those efforts.

“We’ll make the case for coal-based electricity and how it will help individuals,” he said.

A new analysis from Platts reports:

Coal-to-gas switching at US power plants will ease in the winter months as natural gas prices continue to settle well above their lows of earlier this year, analysts said, although they disagreed on the prospects of fuel switching in 2013.

“The forward curve is pricing in a level of coal displacement that is not sustainable,” said Shiyang Wang of Barclays Capital.

Wang noted the highest level of fuel switching came in April at about 9 Bcf/d, when prices averaged below $2/MMBtu, but it pulled back significantly in the summer and shoulder months as gas prices rallied and have climbed back up to the mid-$3/MMBtu range.

Coal displacement will come down by roughly 2.5 Bcf/d in winter 2012-2013 from the 6 Bcf/d to 7 Bcf/d average of this year, Wang said. In October, coal displacement has come down to slightly below 4 Bcf/d, she added.

I guess it’s not surprising that the Bluefield paper blasted EPA in an editorial about the King Coal Highway mining permit. But you might have thought they would consider mentioning that CONSOL Energy had actually agreed to a tougher water pollution permit, and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection threatened to sue EPA to block those tougher limits.

But the kicker this week in the regional media was an editorial from the Wheeling paper headlined Stop Retaliation Over Mine Safety:

During the past year, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration filed 39 requests that miners allegedly suspended or fired for expressing concerns about safety be reinstated. That was a one-year record, according to the agency – far higher than the 26-per-year average for the past three years.

Now, the Wheeling paper is pretty anti-Obama (see here, here and here). But it’s remarkable that not one of the 223 words in that editorial was “Obama,” given that it was the Obama administration’s MSHA that beefed up efforts to protect miners from being discriminated against for reporting or complaining about safety problems.

Have a good weekend everybody.

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