Coal Tattoo

Friday roundup, April 19, 2013

This April 4, 2013 photo shows an 80-foot thick coal seam at Cloud Peak Energy’s Spring Creek strip mine near Decker, Mont.  From the time coal is blasted from strip mines in remote southeastern Montana to the point where it reaches customers in Asia, the fuel’s price gets marked up by five times or more, offering a lucrative emerging market for the companies that ship it overseas. But as the federal government investigates whether companies are unfairly bilking the treasury by paying royalties based on a far lower coal price, one of the industry’s main players, Cloud Peak Energy, is defending the practice.  (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

There’s an interesting piece this week over at Yale Environment 360. It’s headlined,Will global coal boom go bust as climate concerns increase? Author Fen Montaigne writes:

Today, the global economy annually consumes at least 80 times more coal than was burned in 1850 at the height of the Industrial Revolution. The International Energy Agency said that global coal use — now close to 8 billion tons a year — could increase by 65 percent by 2035 if current energy trends continue.

A recent independent analysis reported that 1,200 new coal-fired power plants are being proposed worldwide, three-quarters of them in India and China. The planet still has so much coal underground that if industrial economies mine and burn this fossil fuel at current rates, known reserves would last for more than a century.

The problem, as the world’s climate scientists point out, is that to continue burning coal at the ever-expanding pace of recent years means that there is little hope of holding global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). To combust even a third to a half of the world’s proven reserves of coal would — barring the widespread adoption of carbon-capture technologies — lead to a climate-destabilizing rise in temperature far in excess of 2 degrees C, according to recent studies.

All of which means that the most important question facing the world today as it confronts the challenge of global warming is this: Can the coal boom be rolled back before it irreparably harms the planet’s climate system?

The piece goes on to explain:

The coal industry presents the continuing growth of coal as inevitable, maintaining that in the coming decades it is the only cheap, abundant, and reliable energy source capable of allowing rapidly developing countries such as China and India to continue to advance economically. Milton Catelin, chief executive of the World Coal Association, a London-based industry group, says that focusing primarily on coal’s contribution to climate change while ignoring its pivotal role in economic development — helping, for example, to lift more than 600 million Chinese out of poverty — is misguided.

But a growing number of people in the environmental and financial communities are questioning the inexorable march of coal, which accounts for 43 percent of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions and roughly the same percentage of electricity production. They contend that a host of factors — including rising concern about global warming, air pollution, and water shortages — will lead in the next decade or two to a decline in coal consumption and a realization that investing in coal mining and coal-fired power plants is an increasingly risky financial proposition.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported:

You might have been wondering whether the Obama administration was going to impose the first-ever greenhouse gas limits on new power plants, since the deadline is April 13.

We reported nearly a month ago that the Environmental Protection Agency was likely to delay the rule to bolster their legal case for imposing the new carbon restrictions.

On Friday, EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson confirmed that the agency would not finalize the controversial proposal on time.

Johnson said in an e-mail that the agency was still reviewing more than 2 million comments on its proposal.

“We are working on the rule and no timetable has been set,” Johnson said.

And earlier this week, Bloomberg reported:

Power producers such as Dynegy Corp. (DYN) and Duke Energy Corp. (DUK) are bracing for new U.S. rules on the water they discharge, standards that may impose further costs on the embattled coal industry.

The Environmental Protection Agency is scheduled to issue a proposal tomorrow for toxic-waste disposal in water, and environmentalists are pressing the agency to ban use of slurry ponds for the disposal of waste left over after coal is burned to generate power. The EPA says power plants are the biggest industrial source of water contamination


In this April 4, 2013 photo, a mechanized shovel loads a haul truck that can carry up to 250 tons of coal at the Spring Creek coal mine near Decker, Mont.  (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

And in other coal news and commentary:

— The folks at WyoFile report:

A federal jobs stimulus project that paid more than $1 million in salaries and benefits to a wealthy Colorado businessman and his Wyoming representative has been suspended by federal officials for accounting irregularities and referred to a U.S. Attorney for review, WyoFile has learned.

— The Pump Handle blog had a rundown on the latest Mine Safety and Health News accounting of which coal operators aren’t paying their safety fines.

— There was this report from China Daily:

Seven people in Southwestern China’s Yunnan province were sentenced to prison, from three to six years, over a fatal mine accident, Fuyuan county people’s court said on Tuesday.

A gas blast at a coal mine in Shizong county on Nov 10, 2011, killed 43 people and resulted in economic losses of up to 39.7 million yuan ($6.4 million).

According to the court, the safety supervision bureau in 2008 expressed concern at the mine’s safety procedures.

This resulted in its safety permits being withheld from November 2010 to November 2011. However, the mine continued to operate.

The court found that the mine operators exposed miners to unsafe working conditions.

— And there was this from New Zealand:

The company that owned the Pike River coalmine has been blamed for causing the deaths of 29 men in the November 2010 blast.

Almost two and a half years after the nation was rocked by the disaster in the underground West Coast mine, a damning judgment today found Pike River Coal Ltd (in receivership) guilty of nine health and safety failures.

Judge Jane Farish released her interim decision this afternoon in the Greymouth District Court, convicting the company after a two-day hearing last month.

Failures by Pike River Coal relating to three charges were ”causative of the explosion and the subsequent deaths of those men who perished”, she said.

”In this case, there were fundamental breaches of the Health and Safety in Employment Act which led to the unnecessary deaths of 29 men.”

Finally, I wish I could be down in Harlan, Kentucky, this weekend for Appalachia’s Bright Future, a conference about finding a transition path for our region. I’ll look forward to hearing what ideas come out of this important event.

Have a safe weekend everybody, and remember to keep calm and carry on.