Photo by Vivian Stockman, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.
Earlier this week, The New York Times had the latest of the recent national stories to take a stab at explaining the impending crisis regarding the cleanup of decades of pollution problems related to coal mining. The Washington Post had its own version of this story a few months ago.
Here’s a couple of the “nut graphs” from the Times piece:
Regulators are wrangling with bankrupt coal companies to set aside enough money to clean up Appalachia’s polluted rivers and mountains so that taxpayers are not stuck with the $1 billion bill.
The regulators worry that coal companies will use the bankruptcy courts to pay off their debts to banks and hedge funds, while leaving behind some of their environmental cleanup obligations.
The industry asserts that its cleanup plans — which include turning defunct mines back into countryside — are comprehensive and well funded. But some officials say those plans could prove unrealistic and falter as demand for coal remains weak.
The Post summarized the situation in a similar way:
A worsening financial crisis for the nation’s biggest coal companies is sparking concerns that U.S. taxpayers could be stuck with hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in cleanup costs across a landscape of shuttered mines stretching from Appalachia to the northern Plains.
Worries about huge liabilities associated with hundreds of polluted mine sites have mounted as Peabody Energy, the world’s largest publicly traded coal company, was forced to appeal to creditors for an extra 30 days to pay its debts. Two of the four other biggest U.S. coal companies have declared bankruptcy in the past six months.
Under a 1977 federal law, coal companies are required to clean up mining sites when they’re shut down. But the industry’s plummeting fortunes have raised questions about whether companies can fulfill their obligations to rehabilitate vast strip mines in Western states — many of which are on federally owned property — as well as mountaintop-removal mining sites in the East.
It’s great that these issues are getting national attention. But this attention is long overdue. And one thing that is a bit worrisome is that there is a tone in the stories that sometimes makes it seem like this all came out of nowhere — that no one possibly could have imagined this crisis.
West Virginia billionaire businessman Jim Justice announces that he is running for governor of West Virginia as a Democrat in 2016 in White Sulphur Springs , W.Va., Monday, May 11, 2015. (AP Photo/Chris Tilley)
There was troubling news out of the coalfields of Kentucky over the last few days about billionaire coal operator Jim Justice, the Democratic candidate for governor here in West Virginia. Here’s the Courier-Journal report from my friend Jim Bruggers:
Kentucky environmental regulators spent the weekend and Monday investigating a mudslide at a Pike County surface mine owned by West Virginia coal baron Jim Justice that they say contributed to local, damaging flooding last week.
State officials Monday confirmed their investigation was centered on Justice’s Bent Mountain mining operations, which had significant reclamation deadlines last year and are the subject of ongoing enforcement activities.
All of this undoubtedly provides more fodder for the Republican campaign this fall in support of Justice’s GOP opponent for governor, current Senate President Bill Cole. Whether Justice and the Democrats like it, this stuff is fair game, especially since Justice’s major argument for electing him is that he’s such a successful businessman. If he wants voters to believe he would run the state the way he runs his mining operations, then it’s reasonable for the campaign to include a focus on exactly what Justice’s business model looks like.
At the same time, if the Cole campaign and its supporters want to go down this road, it’s also worth asking them about their own views for regulating the coal industry to stop incidents like the one over the weekend in Kentucky.
It’s hard to believe that it took Hoppy Kercheval at MetroNews until today to try to twist into some sort of politically motivated effort to destroy our way of life what was really little more than a bungled effort by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s at explaining her coalfield economic aid package.
But never fear, because Hoppy’s commentary doesn’t disappoint. He paints the real point of Secretary Clinton’s comments — that she wants to help coal communities that are suffering because of complex changes in our nation’s energy economy — as some sort of afterthought that she cooked up after Sen. Joe Manchin complained about the one sentence that industry has jumped on:
By Tuesday, Clinton was walking back her comment in a letter to Manchin. “Simply put, I was mistaken in my remarks,” she wrote. “I wanted to make the point that, as you know too well, while coal will be part of the energy mix for years to come, both in the U.S. and around the world, we have already seen a long-term decline in American coal jobs and a recent wave of bankruptcies as a result of a changing energy market—and we need to do more to support the workers and families facing these challenges.”
But Hoppy is hardly the worst among our state’s media when it comes to misinforming the public on this particular story. Here’s the Wheeling paper’s editorial:
Clinton, comfortably in the lead for the Democrat Party nomination for president, now seems positively boastful about her plans for the coal industry and for the coal-fired power plants on which tens of millions of Americans rely for reasonably priced electricity.
She wants to shut down as many mines as she can. She plans to use draconian taxes to make it impractical for utilities to use coal for power generation.
And then, remarkably:
During the same campaign stop, Clinton insisted that as president, she would help miners who lose their jobs because of her policies. She has not been specific about that, no doubt because if she has a plan, it is much like the socialist government strategies of the past: Offer laid-off workers a few years of unemployment benefits, then forget about them.
The Wheeling paper is just wrong. Like her plan or not, Secretary Clinton does have a plan and it’s actually reasonably specific (though the Gazette-Mail’s David Gutman did note in this story that how the total figure was reached was not entirely clear). Those folks at the Wheeling paper can read about the plan here.
Hoppy and the Wheeling paper are hardly alone. You can see how much attention this one sentence is getting with a quick Google News search. Within the space of two days, The Associated Press had put out two separate stories that described the comments from Secretary Clinton as her having “declared” that she was going to put coal miners and coal companies out of business.
Declared? Well, you can watch the video yourself and decide if you think that’s an accurate characterization. Someone at AP must not have — because after they put that out on the wire a second time, the write-thru of the story changed the wording and actually put the comments in a little bit more of the proper context.
But the damage was done. And I’m not talking here about damage to Secretary Clinton’s campaign. That’s her problem. The damage we should all be concerned about is the damage to our already severely weakened ability to actually discuss what’s happening in our coalfield communities, understand what’s driving changes in our energy economy, and try to find ways to come out the other side as a stronger, better state.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., flanked by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., left, and Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, right, talks to reporters following a closed-door policy meeting at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, March 15, 2016.
As predicted, the media obsession with one sentence from one presidential candidate continues, but it’s interesting to dig deeper into some of the reactions to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s comments about her plans for helping the nation’s struggling coal communities (by the way, I’ve posted Secretary Clinton’s letter to Sen. Joe Manchin here).
… When President Obama was a candidate, he boasted that his energy tax policies would make electricity prices skyrocket for American families. When President Obama took office, his administration declared a war on coal families and on their jobs. For a time, his administration tried to deny it was declaring war on anyone, but now we hear boasting from the highest ranks of the Democratic Party that these policies are going to put coal miners out of business Miners in Kentucky and across the country know that coal keeps the lights on and puts food on the table. What they want is to provide for their families. But here is how more Democrats seem to view these hard-working Americans and their families: just statistics, just the cost of doing business, just obstacles to their ideology. This is callous, it is wrong, and it underlines the need to stand up for hard-working, middle-class coal families. That is what I have done here in the Senate. That is what I will continue to do. I hope our colleagues will join me.
I understand the Republican leader’s concern about coal not being the way it was. It is simply that the American people have made a decision that we are going to have to look for another way to produce energy. There is still a place for coal in our society, but everyone has to acknowledge that it is not as it was a few years ago. I wish the Republican leader cared more about moving to help the pensions of these coal miners. They are desperately looking for support. We support them on this side. All the coal miners support it. We can get no support from the Republicans. We tried during the work we did at the end of the year. We came close, but Republicans said no.
I want all those coal miners from Kentucky and around the country to understand that we are trying to help them with their pensions, but unless we get some help from the Republicans, there will be no support. That is too bad. We are trying. We are trying. We are trying.
For decades, coal has been the dominant energy source for generating electricity in the United States. EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) is now forecasting that 2016 will be the first year that natural gas-fired generation exceeds coal generation in the United States on an annual basis. Natural gas generation first surpassed coal generation on a monthly basis in April 2015, and the generation shares for coal and natural gas were nearly identical in 2015, each providing about one-third of all electricity generation.
The recent decline in the generation share of coal, and the concurrent rise in the share of natural gas, was mainly a market-driven response to lower natural gas prices that have made natural gas generation more economically attractive.
Environmental regulations affecting power plants have played a secondary role in driving coal’s declining generation share over the past decade, although plant owners in some states have made investments to shift generation toward natural gas at least partly for environmental reasons. Looking forward, environmental regulations may play a larger role in conjunction with market forces. Owners of some coal plants will face decisions to either retire units or reduce their utilization rate to comply with requirements to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants under the Clean Power Plan, which is scheduled to take effect in 2022 but has recently been stayed by the Supreme Court pending the outcome of ongoing litigation.
And who would have thought:
Beyond the growing market share for natural gas-fired generation over the past decade, coal’s generation share has also been reduced by the growing market share of renewables other than hydroelectric power, especially wind and solar. Unlike the growth of natural gas-fired generation, which has largely been market-driven, increased use of nonhydro renewables has largely been driven by a combination of state and federal policies. The use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar has also grown rapidly in recent years so that generation from these types of renewables is now surpassing generation from hydropower.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Democratic speaks at the Ohio Democratic Party Legacy Dinner at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio, Sunday, March 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Well, it’s pretty clear that the coal industry got a potentially valuable soundbite last evening from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Secretary Clinton was asked to “make the case to poor whites who vote Republican why they should vote for you and your economic policies” and in offering one example, Secretary Clinton explained:
I’m the only candidate which has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity using clean, renewable energy as the key, into coal country. Because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business. And we’re going to make it clear that we don’t want to forget those people.
Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health, often losing their lives to turn on our lights and power our factories. Now we’ve got to move away from coal and all of the other fossil fuels. But I don’t want to move away from the people who did the best they could to produce the energy that we relied on.
As my friend Jim Bruggers at the Courier-Journal in Louisville points out, part of Secretary Clinton’s comment — “…We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business” — sounds a lot like then-candidate Barack Obama’s remark in 2008 about how he would “bankrupt the coal industry“. Of course, the industry and its Republican friends have continued for years to take now-President Obama’s comments out of context. As I wrote during the 2008 campaign:
During a Jan. 17 interview with the Chronicle’s editorial board, an editorial writer noted that Obama co-sponsored a bill to encourage turning coal into liquid fuel for vehicles, an approach energy experts warn would likely create more greenhouse emissions than traditional gasoline. The editorial writer asked Obama how he squared his support for coal with the need to do something about climate change.
Obama responded that the country needs to “figure out how we can use coal without emitting greenhouse gases and carbon,” and that he believes a “cap-and-trade” emissions program is the best way to do that.
Such a program would put an overall ceiling on greenhouse gas emissions. Companies would need “allowances” from regulators for every ton of carbon dioxide their facilities pump into the atmosphere. Companies could reduce their emissions to meet the caps. Or they could buy or trade for “allowances” to keep using older facilities.
“That would create a market in which whatever technologies are out there being presented, whatever power plants are being built, they would have to meet the rigors of that market, and the ratcheted down caps that are imposed every year,” Obama told Chronicle editors. “So if somebody wants to build a coal power plant, they can, it’s just that it would bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”
The Beckley paper decided to take it on, with a very strong editorial that explained how we ignore science at our own risk:
It is clear Delegate Phillips is ignoring facts. Even the kids know that coal, which leaves a heavy carbon footprint in its wake, is a major contributor to global warming. Coal is a fossil fuel just like natural gas. When it is burned, it releases carbon dioxide into the environment. There, it helps trap heat and moisture in our little dome of life. It’s called the greenhouse effect — a pretty simple concept to grasp for anyone paying attention. And so, it gets hotter here on Earth and we get more extreme weather events. Even the oceans are warming up. It is undeniable. It is science. It has been researched. It is a fact. It is the truth.
But forget all of that. Forget the mountains of research. Forget all of the climate scientists around the world who have poured their intellectual curiosity into their work. According to Phillips, one winter weekend storm was all the evidence we needed.
Coal companies are asking an appeals court to block implementation of the second phase of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration plan for addressing coal miners’ exposure to respirable dust, the cause of black lung disease.
Parties such as Murray Energy Corp., the National Mining Association, Walter Energy Inc. and the Alabama Coal Association are seeking to block implementation of the remainder of the rule ahead of its Feb. 1 rollout date. The rule was unveiled in April 2014 and aims to lower occurrence of black lung, a disease that has been a contributing factor in the death of 76,000 coal miners since 1968.
As that report, from SNL Financial’s Taylor Kuykendall, continues:
The industry argues the rule was unlawfully promulgated without the participation of the National Institute for Occupation Safety and Health. Already, the filing states, the rule has imposed substantial burdens and costs in the form of re-engineering mines, purchasing expensive equipment, training and hiring personnel and new government certifications.
“These costs have hit a coal industry substantially weakened financially even compared to the already-weakened state it was in when the dust rule was promulgated in 2014,” the filing states.
The coal industry is seeking to forestall new standards aimed at cutting miners’ exposure to breathable dust that can cause deadly black lung disease.
Feb. 1 is the start date for the second phase of the rule. It would require miners to wear continuous personal monitors to check their exposure to dust, and companies would have to do more frequent sampling to check for compliance with dust limits.
A federal court denied a request by more than a dozen states on Wednesday to temporarily block the Obama administration’s carbon regulations while they mount a full legal challenge to the rules.
The decision is an early victory for the Environmental Protection Agency, which completed the rules last month calling for carbon emissions from power plants to be cut 32% by 2030 from 2005 levels. The regulations are the cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s climate plan, and Wednesday’s ruling is an early legal salvo in what is expected to be a yearslong court battle over Mr. Obama’s climate agenda.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has been leading the legal fight against the EPA rule. You can read the court’s brief decision here.
In this Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton listens to a home care worker during a roundtable discussion in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
In her 2008 bid for the White House, Hillary Clinton cast herself as a blue-collar Democrat who was unabashedly pro-coal, a stance that helped her beat opponent Barack Obama easily in primaries in states that produced or were reliant on coal.
Eight years later, a Reuters review of her recent campaign speeches and policy announcements shows that the great-granddaughter of a Welsh coal miner is now talking about the coal industry in the past tense.
The little-noticed shift in rhetoric speaks volumes about how the United States’ energy landscape has changed since Clinton last campaigned in 2008: oil and gas fracking have exploded and cheap natural gas has taken a huge bite out of coal.
In the intervening years the Obama administration has also proposed aggressive measures to tamp down greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels like coal, while once-powerful coal companies like Arch Coal, which declared bankruptcy last week, have lost their political clout.
The shift by Clinton is not without significant political risk. She will have to walk a fine line in trying to please the progressive activists she needs to win her party’s nomination and working-class “swing” voters whose support will be crucial for the general election in November 2016. Ohio and Pennsylvania, in particular, have a lot of electoral votes, which are key to electing a new president.
Mindful of that, Clinton has been careful to pay tribute to the contribution coal miners have made to the American economy, but she has also made clear that they should be helped to find new jobs, and a new way of life.
Ed Rendell, former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania and Clinton ally, said an economic case for addressing climate change could resonate in his state, where the coal industry employs more than 36,000 directly and indirectly, according to the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance.
“Citizens, coal miners and executives are not dumb and they see the handwriting on the wall. Someone needs to tell them the truth and make it clear,” he said in an interview.
The next sentence seemed familiar:
Clinton’s campaign declined to comment on the shift in her coal message or how she plans to appease both environmentalists and coal workers.
The final version of President Obama’s signature climate change policy is expected to extend an earlier timeline for states to significantly cut planet-warming pollution from power plants, according to people familiar with the plan.
If enacted, the climate change plan, the final version of which is expected to be unveiled as early as Monday, could stand as the most significant action ever taken by an American president to curb global warming. But some environmental groups have cautioned that a later deadline for states to comply could make it tougher for the United States to meet Mr. Obama’s climate change pledges on the world stage.
This is just the latest in a series of press reports that try to predict when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is going to issue the final version of its Clean Power Plan and what that EPA plan will say.
“We are very optimistic and confident that it will be stronger, in particular in the areas of renewables and efficiencies,” NRDC President Rhea Suh said during a press briefing Wednesday at the organization’s headquarters in the nation’s capital.
U.S. EPA appears to be leaning toward giving states an extra two years — until 2022 — to start cutting carbon emissions from power plants under a final Clean Power Plan rule expected to be rolled out as early as Monday.
The rule will also provide more time for states to submit final plans, according to a timeline E&E obtained that was posted to EPA’s website.
Moving out the compliance dates could strengthen support from states friendly to the Obama administration’s climate plan and assuage the concerns of some critics. Across the political spectrum, state officials and energy companies have said more time is a concession EPA could grant in a final rule that would make it easier to cut greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 (ClimateWire, July 27).
In countless meetings on the Clean Power Plan with states and energy companies, the most common plea to U.S. EPA has been for more time. More time to work on plans, more time to allow coal plants to retire and more time to move toward final goals.
It’s an easy concession for EPA — one that could go a long way toward ensuring flexibility under the rule without undercutting climate goals, knowledgeable observers say.
In particular, EPA has heard it should relax the rule’s interim goals, which require states to reach an average emissions rate between 2020 and 2029.
It’s a “big problem, and an unnecessary problem, with respect to the real goals of this regulation,” said Ken Colburn, a principal at the Regulatory Assistance Project, which advises state regulators tasked with writing carbon-cutting plans to meet state-specific targets.
West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tombin, a Democrat, waves at the conclusion of his inauguration speech on Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, in Charleston, W.Va. (AP Photo/Randy Snyder)
Late last week, the Washington Post’s Joby Warrick had what certainly appeared to be a pretty interesting story with a Hazard, Kentucky, dateline:
Even after years of talk about a “war on coal,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell startled some of his constituents in March when he urged open rebellion against a White House proposal for cutting pollution from coal-fired power plants.
The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan is “extremely burdensome and costly,” the Kentucky Republican said in letters advising all 50 states to boycott the rule when it goes into effect this summer.
The call for direct defiance was unusual even for McConnell, who has made a career of battling federal restrictions on coal. Yet more striking is what has happened since: Kentucky’s government and electric utilities have quietly positioned themselves to comply with the rule — something state officials expect to do with relatively little effort.
In this coal-industry bastion, five of the state’s older coal-burning power plants were already scheduled to close or switch to natural gas in the next two years, either because of aging equipment or to save money, state officials say. As a result, Kentucky’s greenhouse-gas emissions are set to plummet 16 percent below where they were in 2012 — within easy reach of the 18 percent reduction goal proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency in a draft of the agency’s controversial carbon-cutting plan.
“We can meet it,” Kentucky Energy and Environment Secretary Leonard Peters, speaking at a climate conference, said of the EPA’s mandate.
The nut graph:
The story is the same across much of the country as the EPA prepares to roll out what is arguably the biggest and most controversial environmental regulation of the Obama presidency. Under the Clean Power Plan, states will have to find ways to achieve dramatic cuts in carbon pollution over the next 15 years, with reduction quotas topping 50 percent over 2012 levels for some states. But despite dire warnings and harsh political rhetoric, many states are already on track to meet their targets, even before the EPA formally announces them, interviews and independent studies show.
Later on, though, a problem cropped up when Joby wrote:
Six governors have taken up McConnell’s call to “just say no” to the EPA’s proposal. Five are Republicans — including presidential contenders Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Scott Walker of Wisconsin — and one, Earl Ray Tomblin of West Virginia, is a Democrat.
The Gazette-Mail’s David Gutman pointed this out, and noted he didn’t recall Gov. Tomblin actually going along — at least publicly — with Sen. McConnell’s plan. So I checked in with the governor’s communications officer, Chris Stadelman. And sure enough, Chris told me in an email message that Gov. Tomblin “has not made a final decision” on Sen. McConnell’s proposal but “will do what’s in the best interest of WV residents.”
Really, isn’t anyone — outside of the people who wrote it — fooling themselves if they think they already understand all of the implications of the new “Stream Protection Rule” proposal made public this week by the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement?
Gosh, I mean, the rule itself is 1,238 pages long and the accompanying Environmental Impact Statement is 1,267 pages long. As I wrote in today’s Gazette story, though, really solid, definitive reactions from industry officials and their political allies were flying out literally as Interior Department officials were making these documents public.
For example, here’s West Virginia’s senior U.S. Senator, Democrat Joe Manchin:
This Administration’s long list of overreaching regulations is absolutely crippling West Virginia families and businesses. This proposed rule would have a devastating impact on our families, jobs and economy, and it fails to strike an appropriate balance between the economy and the environment.
Meanwhile, the Interior Department is trying to downplay the economic impact on coal states like West Virginia.
Several years ago a draft of the report leaked, saying the updated stream buffer rule would result in the loss of 7,000 jobs. The outcry was intense, but the Interior Department patched that up by just using a different formula to come up with new numbers… and voila!
Now the agency claims, with no hint of irony, that the rules will preserve “economic opportunities.” Specifically, according to their consultant’s revised calculations, 460 jobs will be lost, but 250 jobs will be created in mine reclamation work.
If we get many more of these Washington “opportunities” we’ll have to turn out the lights.
Here’s the thing, though, if Hoppy had actually read the rule or the EIS, he wouldn’t have used that 460-jobs figure — because it’s not in the report. It was mistakenly given to media during a conference call. I don’t know if Hoppy was on that call or saw the number in another media account, but he sure didn’t look at the actual economic impact numbers in the EIS, or he would have noticed the problem.
To be fair to Hoppy, I doubt any of the reporters who had to cover this story on deadline yesterday finished every single page of both documents. I certainly didn’t. But any reasonable reading of my story will not see the broad, sweeping conclusions he’s already drawing. I specifically noted:
The exact contents of the rule — such as how well it protects streams inside mining permit area “footprints” or toughens the definition of “material damage” to streams that isn’t allowed under the law — were still being digested by all sides Thursday.
It may only be a matter of time before Alpha Natural Resources seeks bankruptcy court protection. As the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week:
Alpha Natural Resources Inc. is in talks to obtain financing for a potential bankruptcy filing early next month as it grapples with a severe downturn in coal prices, according to people familiar with the matter.
The Bristol, Va., coal miner is negotiating the terms of a “debtor in possession” loan with its loan holders and senior bondholders, the people said. The new financing would help see Alpha through bankruptcy should it file for chapter 11 protection in early August, around the time some of its convertible bonds come due, the people said.
The loan could total around $300 million to $400 million, one of the people said. Jointly providing the loan could align the interests of the two creditor classes, potentially smoothing Alpha Natural’s efforts to restructure its debt.
The story was what folks in the business call “a good read,” and obviously a lot of folks with a keen interest in all things Blankenship and in the pending criminal case (myself included) were posting the link and commenting on it through various social media outlets.
Gazette photo by Lawrence Pierce of the Kanawha River Plant in Glasgow, W.Va.
There’s been a fair amount of hand-wringing about the planned closure by American Electric Power’s Appalachian Power subsidiary of the Kanawha River, Philip Sporn and Kammer power plants (see especially Daily Mail stories here and here). Several years after the company’s decisions were announced, all this consternation led staff over at the state Public Service Commission to ask the PSC to investigate the closures.
Lawyers for Appalachian Power responded initially by pointing out that they have actually already provided the commission with a great deal of information on the matter as part of several previous cases. That wasn’t good enough for the PSC, and commissioners ordered the power company to provide more details. Appalachian lawyers did that yesterday, providing this 90-page filing.
Among the more interesting parts of Appalachian’s response:
— Almost all of the operating employees of the Disposition Units have been reassigned or have retired or taken severance.
— Compliance with the MATS Rules would require significant construction work. It might be possible for Disposition Units to meet the requirements of the MATS Rule by constructing Selective Catalytic Reduction (“SCR”) and Flue Gas Desulfurization (“FGD) systems … The installation of SCR and FGD systems would require installation of material handling systems, wastewater treatment systems, Absorber vessels, new ductwork, new stack exhausts, and numerous other systems. APCo has not undertaken any design work for SCR or FGD systems for the Disposition Units because the costs were deemed to be prohibitive, in light of the age and condition of the units.
— Because of the time for the construction of such systems, any Disposition Units at which it was decided to construct these systems could not be returned to service for a minimum of approximately five ( 5 ) years from the date such construction projects were begun.
— The Company has not performed any detailed cost estimates because the order of magnitude of the costs was so tremendous that APCo deemed it imprudent, given the age and condition of the Disposition Units, to have its customers bear such costs, particularly over the comparatively short anticipated lives of any of the conversion or retrofit projects discussed above.
Coal mining crews work near the St. Nicholas Coal Breaker in Mahanoy City, Pa. on Wednesday, April 29, 2015. The old breaker is about 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia in a region that holds nearly all of the nation’s anthracite, a pure grade of coal that spawned the railroads, powered America’s Industrial Revolution and dominated home heating in the East. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Matthew Boulton was the Steve Jobs of 18th– century England — a visionary entrepreneur with a love of technology and flair for drama. When asked by King George III what he was working on, Boulton announced he was producing “a commodity which is the desire of kings.” Namely, “power, your majesty.”
It was a grandiose promise, but he delivered. Boulton’s business partner was James Watt, whose new steam engine would soon drive the Industrial Revolution. It was a breakthrough that gave humanity a way to efficiently convert the concentrated energy of coal into useful mechanical power. And even before its impact was felt, Boulton had perceived that this new engine would be more than a technology – that there is a link between coal and kings, between the physical power a society taps into and the political power it ultimately supports.
This undated photo provided by Reading Anthracite on April 29, 2015 shows the St. Nicholas Coal Breaker in Mahanoy City, Pa. In the early 20th century, St. Nicholas opened as the crown jewel of a relatively safer, more modern anthracite industry. The breaker and its twin at Locus Summit operated around the clock to meet the nation’s dwindling but still substantial need for anthracite. (Reading Anthracite via AP)
Coal-fired industrialization would go on to create kings of its own, in industry and in politics. Today, the economic outlook for coal is bleak, in part because of the urgent need to rein in its destabilizing effect on the climate. More than two centuries after Boulton’s promise, coal may finally be exiting the economic stage, making room for a new generation of energy technologies.
What will be the social and political implications of coal’s fall? Two of coal’s intrinsic features, its concentrated form and its highly polluting nature, were especially significant in shaping the power dynamics of the coal era. We are starting to replace coal with technologies that are just the opposite — intrinsically dispersed, and environmentally much cleaner. If we keep moving in this direction, the consequences will be particularly profound. Coal’s retreat promises to reshape the world again, and as we start to consider what that will mean, we can find clues in the history of coal’s rise.
The piece continues, with some sharp analysis of the current situation we find ourselves in:
The coal industry blames its current woes on what it calls President Obama’s “war on coal,” but coal’s problems run much deeper. Climate change isn’t going away, and as carbon dioxide concentrations and global temperatures keep rising, so too will the pressure to move away from coal, which emits much more carbon per unit of energy than other fuels. Even with our reduced dependence on coal, the nation’s coal plants still emit more carbon than all its cars, trucks and buses combined.
It’s possible that a Republican in the White House could reverse some of the regulation that is making coal less competitive, but in the long run coal is unlikely to see anything more than a long, managed decline in its national importance.
So what will be the social and political implications of coal’s decline? Obviously, it will mean less influence for the coal industry and job losses in mining regions, continuing a decades-long trend in some places as the industry has mechanized. The economic hardship that coal communities face is real. It can be reduced through planning, diversifying local economies and retraining workers, but there are no easy solutions. Coal is not the major employer it once was; in Kentucky, for example, less than 1 percent of the state’s workforce is employed by the mines, but that is small consolation to those facing job losses.
In this July 2, 2010 file photo released by The Greenbrier Resort, The Greenbrier Resort owner and chairman Jim Justice attends the gala opening of The Greenbrier Casino Club, in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini for The Greenbrier Resort, File)
Last evening, The Associated Press picked up on a new lawsuit filed against billionaire coal operator/businessman/gubernatorial candidate Jim Justice:
A lawsuit says two of billionaire Jim Justice’s affiliated companies owe $2 million from a 2013 coal deal.
In Tuesday’s complaint in Beckley federal court, Pennsylvania resident Thomas K. Lampert sued Tams Management, Inc. in Beckley and Southern Coal Corporation, a Delaware company doing business in Roanoke, Virginia.
The lawsuit says the companies didn’t pay $2 million from a March 2013 agreement for equity and membership interests in Newgate Development of Beckley, LLC.
It says Lampert’s trust never received the agreed-upon $4 per ton for the first 500,000 tons of coal mined and sold.
The AP report was short, and didn’t contain these interesting details from the suit:
One such specified act or omission is any failure to comply with the “Purchaser Permit Approval Obligation,” whereby Tams was required to pursue and secure approval, within ninety (90) days, of the transfer of all applicable permits for the Three Marie Mine located in the Slab Fork District of Raleigh County, West Virginia.
Tams further agreed that “time shall be of the essence” with respect to the Purchaser Permit Approval Obligation, and that any failure to meet the Purchaser Permit Approval Obligation “shall be a material event of default.”