Coal Tattoo

Bob Murray: MSHA inspections ‘total harassment’

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Yesterday, Hoppy Kercheval had Murray Energy CEO Bob Murray on the MetroNews show “Talkline,” ostensibly to talk about the growing financial challenges faced by Murray Energy and the vote coming up on Friday by United Mine Workers of America members on a second contract proposal with Murray.

Murray said, as he has before, that a new contract to replace the UMWA deal that expires at the end of the year, is essential to his company’s survival. The MetroNews summary of his comments went like this:

“The United Mine Workers turned it down last time. It is essential, the approval of it, to complete our four step program to avoid financial default in October,” Murray said.

Murray announced in July that 4,400 employees, 80 percent of his workforce, could lose their jobs. WARN notices were sent out.

But things veered away from that pretty quickly into another attack on the Obama administration and its efforts to better regulate coal mining.  Here’s Murray, responding to Hoppy’s softball questions:

I’ve worked night and day for 29 years building this company and creating these jobs only to have them destroyed by Barack Obama and his excessive regulations. Those regulations are coming out against coal, against the utilization of coal as well as the mining of coal faster than we can read them.

Murray went on:

Talk about harassment. In the first two days of this month, our mines had 89 federal inspectors from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration run by former UMWA safety man Joe Main. Eight-nine inspectors.

That means I had to take 89 management people off of inspecting the mines, off of doing safety training. It has nothing to do with safety. It is total harassment. Eighty-nine inspectors for 15 mines … All of which are cut back in production because they keep hiring these inspectors. They have nowhere to put them. It’s all harassment. It works against safety. There are so many ways that this federal government, under Obama, which Hilary Clinton has said she will continue trying to drive the coal mines out of business. It has nothing to do with safety. It has to do with eliminating underground coal mining.

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Trump keeps pandering to the coal miners

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump puts on a miners hard hat during a rally in Charleston, W.Va., Thursday, May 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

 

Certainly, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s statements about the coal industry aren’t the comments that are getting the most attention the last couple of days.  Still, for coalfield residents thinking ahead to this fall’s campaign — and not only to the presidential race, but others as well — looking at what Trump is trying to sell is worthwhile.

Chris Mooney at The Washington Post revisits it in a piece headlined, “Dear Donald Trump: This is what is really dismantling the coal industry.”

As Mooney notes, Trump talked about coal during his big economic speech Monday in Detroit:

Also critical to our economic renewal will be energy reform.

The Obama-Clinton Administration has blocked and destroyed millions of jobs through their anti-energy regulations, while raising the price of electricity for both families and businesses.

As a result of recent Obama EPA actions coal-fired power plants across Michigan have either shut down entirely or undergone expensive conversions. The Obama-Clinton war on coal has cost Michigan over 50,000 jobs. Hillary Clinton says her plan will “put a lot of coal companies and coal miners out of business.”

We will put our coal miners and steel workers back to work.

Clinton not only embraces President Obama’s job-killing energy restrictions but wants to expand them, including going after oil and natural gas production that employs some 10 million Americans.

But, citing the latest U.S. Energy Information Administration data, Mooney explains:

Sure, some Obama era regulations have been bad news for the industry. More broadly, coal is in a uniquely poor position, among energy sources, in the new environmental era that the world is now entering. Any utility company making decisions about its future energy mix will be thinking about this.

But equally bad news for coal has come in the form of  very cheap natural gas, which has arrived in this country precisely because the fracking-driven shale gas industry — with which Trump is also seemingly aligned — has thrived during Obama’s presidency.

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Miner dies after Wyoming County ignition

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Mine Explosion

 

Here’s the information we have so far from the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training about a West Virginia coal-mining death:

The West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training confirms Donald Workman of Gilbert, W.Va., died last evening from injuries he sustained from a mine incident that occurred on Friday, July 29, 2016.  The incident occurred at Spartan Mining’s Road fork 51 Mine  Road Fork #51 Spartan Mine in Pineville, Wyoming County.  Mr. Gilbert was a maintenance supervisor at the mine; he was 58 years old. The incident was reported to the Mine and Industrial Rapid Response System at 12:47 p.m. on July 29th

Initial reports indicate there was an ignition in the shaft of this underground mine.  The miner was on the surface at the time of the incident. 

Inspectors from the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training are investigating the incident and the cause of the ignition. Further details will be released when the investigation is complete. 

And here’s additional information, just provided by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration:

Coal District 12 was notified that a miner who was seriously injured on July 29, 2016, at the mine listed below, passed away yesterday.  Preliminary information indicates the following:

On July 29, 2016, two miners were performing welding repairs on a dewatering pump located on the surface near a shaft. The miners were welding threaded blocks that would be used to fasten guarding for the shaft.  One miner heard a roaring noise and moved away from the shaft.  The other miner was in the direct line of fire and received 2nd and 3rd degree burns and was transported to a medical facility.  The miner who was not burned said he saw a large blue flame exit the shaft.

blast_osm1

 

This just in from the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement:

At the request of the State of West Virginia, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) will fund an independent examination of existing research concerning the potential correlation between increased human health risks and living near surface coal mine sites in Central Appalachia. The $1 million study will be conducted by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) over a two-year period.

You can read the full press release here.

This announcement by OSM (which has otherwise ignored the growing concerns about human health effects of large-scale strip mining) comes more than a year after agency director Joe Pizarchik and his boss, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, promised to try to put together this sort of scientific review.

West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman kind of triggered a lot of this, after he said publicly that the growing body of peer-reviewed science on the topic deserved a closer look by regulators. Huffman and state Public Health Commissioner Dr. Rahul Gupta then announced a state review of the science, and asked federal officials for assistance.

Jim Justice

 

Here’s an unexpected announcement that just came in from the Jim Justice for governor campaign:

Yesterday, businessman Jim Justice visited Bridgeport High School in Harrison County and announced his plan to retrofit West Virginia’s older schools, public buildings, and commercial properties. In Harrison County alone, 19 school facilities have been upgraded and are already seeing lower energy bills.

By making older structures more energy efficient, Justice wants to cut costs and put people to work. His initiative is budget-neutral and aims to lower utility costs by retrofitting public schools, hospitals, college campuses, airports, libraries, state agencies, and other old buildings across West Virginia.

Justice said:

At The Greenbrier we’ve cut costs and put people to work by investing in energy efficiencies. I want to retrofit buildings across the state so that we can cut utility bills and create new jobs.

The Clarksburg paper had this story about the event yesterday.  And as Andrew Brown from the Gazette-Mail has reported, energy efficiency programs have not exactly been the most popular topic among political leaders and regulators in West Virginia.

It’s a pleasant surprise to hear Justice talking about an important, but not very sexy, issue like energy efficiency. He’s also presented what — for a candidate who has been harshly criticized for not really talking much about specific policies — is a somewhat detailed plan for tackling this initiative.

More broadly, though, it’s hard to understand how Justice can on one hand be promoting major energy efficiency efforts and then insisting that he’s somehow going to to make sure that West Virginia produces more coal than ever before.

But maybe this announcement is just a prelude to a really major move by Justice in which the Democratic candidate and coal operator will renounce his refusal to acknowledge the climate crisis and pledge to do all he can to help West Virginia do its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Democratic platform opposes mountaintop removal

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A story is making the rounds today that brings the focus back again to the potential public health impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining.  Writing for The Conversation website, Roberta Attanasio, a Georgia State University biologist, explains:

The U.S. coal industry is in rapid decline, a shift marked not only by the bankruptcy of many mine operators in coal-rich Appalachia but also by a legacy of potential environmental and social disasters.

As mines close, states, the federal government and taxpayers are left wondering about the costs of cleaning up the abandoned land, especially at mountaintop removal sites, the most destructive type of mining. As coal companies go bankrupt, this has left states concerned taxpayers may have to pick up the environmental cleanup costs.

But there are also societal costs related to mountaintop removal mining’s impact on health and mental health. As an immunologist, I reviewed the research literature for specific effects of mountaintop removal mining on the immune system. I did not identify any pertinent information. However, I did find plenty of clues suggesting that health and mental health issues will pose enormous challenges to the affected coal communities, and will linger for decades.

At the same time, a press release from the Alliance for Appalachia pointed out something to me that I wasn’t aware of — this language from the Democratic Party platform:

 

 

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump puts on a miners hard hat during a rally in Charleston, W.Va., Thursday, May 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

 

A lot of the news out of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been rightly focused on his comments attacking the parents of a Muslim American soldier killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq, and then on his remarks Monday night in which he called Hillary Clinton “the devil.”

But Trump is still talking about coal mining, and here’s what The Hill reported he said Monday during a campaign stop in Pennsylvania:

“I have friends that own the mines. I mean, they can’t live,” he said.

“The restrictions environmentally are so unbelievable where inspectors come two and three times a day, and they can’t afford it any longer and they’re closing all the mines. … It’s not going to happen anymore, folks. We’re going to use our heads.”

It’s not really clear what environmental inspections Trump is talking about that involve inspectors visiting mines two or three times a day. Complete safety inspections of underground coal mines are required once per quarter — and sometimes those inspections take so long that MSHA has people at larger underground operations every day. But surely Mr. Trump, a champion of coal miners, isn’t thinking about cutting back on safety inspections.

Here’s more via a CBS News Twitter feed:

Will coal country focus on hope or fear?

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Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton give a thumbs up after taking the stage to make her acceptance speech during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Thursday, July 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

 

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton didn’t provide as much mention of coal issues in her acceptance speech as former President Bill Clinton or President Barack Obama did earlier this week.

There was this brief mention:

My primary mission as President will be to create more opportunity and more good jobs with rising wages right here in the United States…

From my first day in office to my last.

Especially in places that for too long have been left out and left behind.

From our inner cities to our small towns, from Indian Country to Coal Country.

From communities ravaged by addiction to regions hollowed out by plant closures.

You can read the whole speech for yourself, or watch it here:

But there’s a tone underlying the election that we’re heading into that is in some ways far more important for the coalfields and our future than even the specific policy differences (in which the Clinton campaign offers a detailed plan for diversification and Donald Trump offers impossible dreams of the next boom that will never come).

I’m talking about the difference between fear and hope.

Anyone who watched the Republican convention or who pays any attention to the career campaign consultants in West Virginia knows that one side wants to make this all about fear. That’s what all of the “war on coal” and “our way of life” stuff plays into — the fears of hard-working coalfield residents.

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President Barack Obama speaks during the third day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Wednesday, July 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

 

Last night, during a remarkable speech at the Democratic National Convention, President Obama again included coal miners in the discussion about what this election is about. Here’s what he said:

It can be frustrating, this business of democracy … When the other side refuses to compromise, progress can stall. People are hurt by the inaction. Supporters can grow impatient and worry that you’re not trying hard enough, that you’ve maybe sold out.

But I promise you, when we keep at it, when we change enough minds, when we deliver enough votes, then progress does happen. And if you doubt that, just ask the 20 million more people who have health care today. Just ask the Marine who proudly serves his country without hiding the husband that he loves.

If you want to fight climate change, we’ve got to engage not only young people on college campuses, we’ve got to reach out to the coal miner who’s worried about taking care of his family, the single mom worried about gas prices.

You can read the whole speech here or watch it below:

It’s a great point, and it reminds me of the speech that AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka — who knows a thing or two about coal miners — made more than four years ago, urging the nation to have a broader, more meaningful and more inclusive discussion about the future of coal. Trumka talked about how the folks he grew up with understood climate change, perhaps in more meaningful ways that some of the world’s top scientists:

And to those who say climate risk is a far off problem, I can tell you that I have hunted the same woods in Western Pennsylvania my entire life and climate change is happening now—I see it in the summer droughts that kill the trees, the warm winter nights when flowers bloom in January, the snows that fall less frequently and melt more quickly.

And he reminded environmental groups that policies that change our energy system affect real people in places like Southern West Virginia:

When these folks hear “End Coal,” it sounds like a threat to destroy the value of our homes, to shut our schools and churches, to drive us away from the place our parents and grandparents are buried, to take away the work that for more than a hundred years has made us who we are.

So why, in an economy without an effective safety net, would the good men and women of my hometown and a thousand places like it surrender their whole lives and sit by while others try to force them to bear the cost of change.

The truth is that in many places – and not just places where coal is mined – there is fear that the “green economy” will turn into another version of the radical inequality that now haunts our society—another economy that works for the 1% and not for the 99%.

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Former President Bill Clinton speaks during the second day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Tuesday, July 26, 2016. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

 

For those who may have missed it last night, here’s the portion of former President Bill Clinton’s Democratic National Convention speech where he talks about West Virginia’s coal communities:

And you should elect her because she will never quit when the going gets tough. She will never quit on you. She sent me in this primary to West Virginia, where she knew we were going to lose, to look those coal miners in the eye and say, “I am down here because Hillary sent me to tell you that if you really think you can get the economy back that you had 50 years ago, have at it, vote for whoever you want to. But if she wins, she is coming back for you to take you along on the ride to America’s future.”

You can read the speech here or watch it (start at about the 39:00 ) mark:

 

 

Alpha emerges from bankruptcy

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Here’s the press release just issued by Alpha Natural Resources:

Alpha Natural Resources and its affiliates announced that the Company has today successfully emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The reorganized company is a smaller, privately held company operating 18 mines and eight preparation plants in West Virginia and Kentucky.

David Stetson, who was appointed CEO of the reorganized company, said, “By completing this restructuring, ANR emerges as a company with a solid financial foundation and a strong team to continue to mine and sell coal. We are now also better positioned to satisfy ANR’s environmental responsibilities. I am confident ─ even though coal markets continue to be challenged by both competitive and regulatory pressures ─ the company created by our Plan of Reorganization will have the structure, resources, and talent to successfully weather these challenges.”

Stetson continued, “There are many people to thank. ANR could not have successfully completed this process without the loyalty and work of employees across our organization. During the restructuring, we reached important agreements with key stakeholders that will create a more sustainable business model going forward, and we appreciate their support, which ensures our ability to continue serving our customers and playing a positive role in our communities.”

Read the rest here.

Blair Mountain

 

Word out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is that the Interior Department has dropped its challenge of a recent lower court ruling in favor of citizens and organizations trying to keep Blair Mountain listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Department of Justice lawyers for Interior’s National Park Service and the Keeper of the National Register filed this motion to voluntarily dismiss their appeal.

Readers may recall this ruling from April in which a district court judge vacated the Keeper’s decision to remove Blair Mountain from the register.

UPDATED:  Here’s a statement from the National Park Service:

The National Park Service decided to accept the district court’s April 11, 2016, ruling and to implement the court’s remand order by revisiting its December 2009 decision to de-list the Blair Mountain Battlefield site from the National Register of Historic Places.

EP-160509673

 

The view that electing Donald Trump as president will save West Virginia’s coal industry and return us to mining’s glory days was on display again in today’s Gazette-Mail, in a piece by David Gutman about Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s support for Trump. Here’s the bottom line:

“I am looking at our state, my state, that’s the principal-view lens at which I’m viewing this election,” Capito said in an interview at Charleston’s historic Craik-Patton House on Monday. “I mean, I’ve lived in this state my entire life. I’m 62 years old. I’ve never seen such pessimism, lack of vision for a future, really concern about where is that next generation going to go.”

“I’m laying a lot of this at the doorstep — not totally, but a lot of this at the doorstep — of the policies of the last eight years,” Capito said. “I can’t, I cannot stomach that. For where I live, it’s not a good future.”

In many ways, West Virginia weathered the financial crisis and ensuing recession better than most states in the last years of the George W. Bush administration and the first years of Obama’s presidency. More recently, though, West Virginia’s economy has been in a tailspin as the population shrinks and ages, fossil fuel prices plummet and a combination of cheap natural gas, depleted seams and federal regulation decimate the coal industry.

But a couple recent pieces by writer Tina Casey at CleanTechnica.com have raised some interesting questions about all of this.

First, there was a piece headlined, “The Donald Trump Coal Plan Vs. The Donald Trump Fracking Plan,” which started out like this:

Industry analysts widely agree that coal consumption in the US has been declining in recent years, primarily because of competition from low cost natural gas for electricity generation. Renewable sources have been a far less significant factor, and they are only just beginning to weigh in more.

Low cost gas is a side effect of the domestic shale fracking boom, which was touched off by a loophole in environmental regulations created under the Bush Administration.

So, blame President Bush for the decline in domestic coal consumption. The loophole has crippled the Obama Administration’s efforts to bring the fracking industry under the regulatory umbrella of the EPA, and this lack of oversight has helped to keep gas costs down.

The piece continued:

Longstanding federal restrictions on exporting natural gas have also played a role in the domestic gas glut, though the Obama Administration has made some cautious steps toward enabling more exports.

Coal supporters like Capito have been especially fond of nailing President Obama’s energy policies for the decline of coal in West Virginia and other states in the Appalachia region, but the fact is that Appalachian coal faces a triple whammy. In addition to new competition from natural gas for the domestic market, it also has to compete with coal from Wyoming’s Powder River basin, and compete globally with Australia and other coal-exporting countries.

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It was big news a couple years ago when CONSOL Energy sold its major West Virginia coal holdings to Murray Energy.  And now CONSOL, long a mainstay of West Virginia’s coal industry, has dropped this announcement, as reported by Taylor Kuykendall:

CONSOL Energy Inc. plans to divest itself of its Miller Creek and Fola mines in West Virginia, the last two coal mines the company held in Central Appalachia, by paying another producer $44 million to take the properties off its hands.

CONSOL, which has other mines run by its master limited partnership CNX Coal Resources LP in Northern Appalachia, will transfer the mines to Booth Energy’s Southeastern Land in exchange for Booth taking on $103 million in liabilities for the mines. An agreement disclosed in a U.S. SEC filing on July 25 said CONSOL will pay Booth $44 million over time, including $27 million at the closing of the sale.

CONSOL announced this move in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing yesterday. As the State Journal pointed out:

Miller Creek is still an active mine site, producing 2.1 million tons of coal in 2015, while the Fola site is idled and last produced 1.3 million tons in 2012.

The CONSOL SEC filing added:

The Miller Creek Complex is a premier asset in Central Appalachia, but no longer fits our portfolio. Taken together, the Miller Creek and Fola Complexes generated negative EBIDA in 2015 and are expected to generate negative EBITDA in 2016. These transactions constitute an important step in continuing to strengthen CEI’s balance sheet, enhancing liquidity, reducing our operational and regulatory risk profile and assisting with CEI’s transition to a pure play E&P business. In association with the transactions, the Miller Creek and Fola assets and liabilities are classified as held for sale in discontinued operations on CEI’s Consolidated Balance Sheets, their results of operations are included in discontinued operations on the Consolidated Statement of Income, and the reclassification of these assets resulted in an impairment charge of $356 million in the quarter. These assets were acquired in 2007 and the write down reflects the deterioration in the Central Appalachian coal market since then. The transactions are expected to close in the third quarter.

 

How coal miners die on the job

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Huff Creek Fatal Photo

U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration photo

There’s a new report out from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration that spells out the findings of the agency’s investigation into the death earlier this year of Mark Frazier, a miner at Arch Coal’s Huff Creek No. 1 Mine in Harlan County, Kentucky.

Here’s the summary of the report:

Mark FrazierAt 8:16 am, on Friday, March 25, 2016, Mark Frazier (victim) was fatally injured while operating a continuous mining machine in an outby area of the mine. The victim was loading material from a coal transfer chute construction site in the B-Mains No. 3 portion of the mine. A large section of rock rib/brow fell trapping him between the frame of abattery-powered ramcar and the mine floor. The rock rib/brow measured approximately 44 feet in length, 4 feet in width, and 2 feet in thickness. The portion of the rock rib/brow that struck the victim measured 8 feet in length, 4 feet in width, and 2 feet in thickness and weighed over 5 tons.

And here’s a bit of the MSHA description of events leading up to the death:

On March 25, 2016, Mark Frazier, Outby Construction Crew Member and Fireboss, and Brian Napier, Outby Construction Crew Member, entered the mine at approximately 5:00 am and traveled to the coal transfer chute construction site located in the No. 3 entry of the B-Mains No. 3 panel. No coal production was scheduled, but employees were scheduled to work to clean up the coal/rock debris created from the excavation of the transfer chute in an outby area of the mine. Upon arrival at the construction site, Napier began preparing the ramcar for use and Frazier began an examination of the area. In the meantime, Tim Daniels, Outby Construction Crew Member, and Keith Boggs, Mine Examiner, entered the mine. At approximately 5:50 am, Boggs arrived at the transfer chute construction site, boarded a permissible buggy, and began traveling his mineexamination route.  Daniels began the shift by operating a battery-powered scoop to push loose material from the No. 2 entry and adjacent right crosscut toward the transfer chute. There was a short delay in the clean-up process while the feeder was repaired. Frazier operated the continuous mining machine to load out the excavated coal/rock debris into the ramcar operated by Napier. The clean-up process continued until about 25 loads of material were loaded out. At that time, Willard Hickey, First Shift Foreman, arrived at the work site and proceeded to the area of the continuous mining machine.

Then:

At 8:16 am, a large section of the rock rib/brow fell from the right rib and trapped Frazier against the ramcar. Hickey was knocked to the mine floor but he was not trapped and not significantly injured.

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Does Justice campaign not care about the fines?

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Jim Justice

The Gazette-Mail’s David Gutman has a story today about the latest  back-and-forth nonsense between gubernatorial candidates Bill Cole and Jim Justice:

Does the Democratic nominee for governor of West Virginia support the Democratic president and the Democratic candidate to be the next president?

That’s the latest battleground in the race for governor, which has re-emerged with new TV ads and angry news releases after the political lull that followed the recent devastating floods.

State Senate President Bill Cole, Republican candidate for governor, unveiled an ad this week that attempts to tie Jim Justice, the Democrat in the race, to President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Here’s the ad:

But what’s really fascinating about this situation is this, in which Gutman describes the Justice campaign’s response:

Justice said that his donations were to support the re-election campaign of Steve Beshear, then the Democratic governor of Kentucky, not Obama.

His campaign was so eager to avoid the impression that Justice supported Obama that it sent a link to an unflattering article about environmental violations at Justice’s coal mines.

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Speaking of jobs …

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COAL TRAIN

A C.S.X. train loaded with coal winds its way into the mountains in this Nov. 21, 2004 file photo taken near the New River at Cotton Hill in Fayette County, W.Va.   (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)

There’s a new report out from Downstream Strategies and the WVU College of Law’s Center for Energy and Sustainable Development that takes a look at the opportunities that the Clean Power Plan could create for West Virginia’s coalfields.

You can read the report, “Expanding Economic Opportunities for West Virginia under the Clean Power Plan,” but here’s the conclusion:

Achieving compliance with the Clean Power Plan presents a number of challenges for West Virginia, which has historically relied on coal to generate most of its electricity and as an economic driver. Over time, coal-fired power plants in West Virginia will burn less coal, and other states that have historically imported West Virginia coal will also burn less coal. Increasingly stringent environmental regulations will converge with market forces that continue to make Central Appalachian coal less competitive—the development of cheap Marcellus Shale natural gas, the greater affordability of renewables, and the increasing cost of mining thinner and deeper coal seams. Even today, before Clean Power Plan implementation has even begun, coal production is decreasing, West Virginia coal miners are losing their jobs, coal companies are filing for bankruptcy, and severance tax revenues are declining.

West Virginia has the resources to meet these challenges, however, and can usher in new economic opportunities with appropriate planning and policies.

To do so, policymakers must take advantage of the opportunities presented by the Clean Power Plan and utilize the full flexibility provided by the rule to shape a strategy for West Virginia that reflects its unique circumstances and leverages its strengths. West Virginia is fortunate to have tremendous energy resources in addition to coal, and these other resources—including natural gas, renewable energy (wind, solar, hydropower), and energy efficiency—are relatively untapped. By implementing the legislative and regulatory policy changes outlined in this report, West Virginia lawmakers and regulators would provide an investment climate that attracts new investment in renewable and DG technologies, energy efficiency, and natural gas–fired generation. West Virginia can also spur innovation in other areas that would diversify the state’s electric power sector, reduce carbon pollution, and provide West Virginians energy savings and new economic opportunities. Taking advantage of the emissions trading opportunities contemplated by the Clean Power Plan would provide West Virginia with a fairly low cost compliance strategy, by incorporating the relatively abundant ERCs and allowances from surrounding states having greater zero- and low-carbon resources and energy efficiency savings, as noted in the DEP Feasibility Report, to enable coal plants to continue operating.

A better strategy would be to take advantage of the economic opportunities that will be created by emissions trading, through enactment of state policies that will encourage the development of zero- and low-carbon resources and energy efficiency savings within West Virginia. The state’s strategy for achieving compliance with the Clean Power Plan should focus not only on minimizing compliance costs, but should also consider the opportunities that are created by the economic activity stimulated by the Clean Power Plan.

Developing an all-of-the-above energy policy like those modeled in this report would help West Virginia take advantage of additional cost-effective compliance measures available under the Clean Power Plan, while at the same time capturing the other benefits of tapping into off of West Virginia’s energy resources. Leveraging all of West Virginia’s energy resources to reduce carbon pollution will also provide long-term benefits throughout the state as new jobs are created in new sectors of the state’s economy.

Navigating a path forward for West Virginia will require a comprehensive approach, both in terms of the energy resources deployed and the involvement of policymakers throughout both the state and federal government. Lawmakers, regulators, utility operators, and other stakeholders in West Virginia can build upon the results of this report and develop additional analyses to evaluate West Virginia’s options for meeting its obligations under the Clean Power Plan. Coordinating state planning efforts with other states and PJM will provide additional insights and new compliance avenues. West Virginia regulators deserve the full support of the state government to engage in regional planning discussions. Building on the analysis conducted for this report will enhance West Virginia’s ability to take advantage of the broad flexibility provided under the Clean Power Plan and serve the dual purpose of providing a framework for identifying opportunities to expand other sectors of the state’s energy economy and foster new opportunities for economic growth throughout the Mountain State.

 

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump puts on a miners hard hat during a rally in Charleston, W.Va., Thursday, May 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

As Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump prepares for his big speech tonight at the Republican National Convention, Trump’s promises about the coal industry are getting some attention again.

Remember that Trump was very clear when he spoke here in Charleston a few months ago:

If I win we’re going to bring those miners back.

Yet, as Fortune points out:

Donald Trump’s promise to bring coal mining jobs back to West Virginia is pure fantasy. Even if environmental protections are eased under a Trump presidency, demand for coal, especially West Virginian coal, will continue to decline due purely to market forces. If Trump wants to help West Virginia, he should support efforts to diversify its economy into something more sustainable, like tourism or healthcare.

Likewise, there’s this report from High Country News:

Amid the federal government’s reform of coal-leasing nationwide, new environmental regulations and coalmine cutbacks and layoffs, a new report from the Energy Information Administration suggests things are likely to get even grimmer for coal mining … While the EIA’s report shows that federal regulations have played a part in industry decline, historically cheap natural gas has outcompeted coal, making it harder for coal companies to stay in business.

And here’s another piece, from The Hill, in which even  a Trump supporter offers somewhat contorted projections for the future:

A key congressional ally to Donald Trump said the Republican presidential candidate would focus his coal policies first on slowing down the industry’s rapid decline.

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who acts as an informal adviser to Trump on energy policy, was asked at a Politico event near the Republican National Convention in Cleveland Wednesday how many new coal-fired power plants would open under a Trump presidency.

 But he didn’t promise a rosy future for coal.

“I think the first thing you have to do is stop the bleeding,” Cramer responded, going on to say that Trump would then look to encourage “new technologies” to make coal a cleaner-burning energy source.

“The problem is that if we have policies like we have today that are designed to keep coal in the ground, shut it down at all costs, the innovators that could create the solutions, they’ll be out of business before they can create the solution,” Cramer said. “And we’re well on our way to a solution. But I think the race is, can they kill coal before we get to that solution?”

Just as important, remember this piece from Coal Tattoo back when Trump visited West Virginia:

Just as important, though, is another issue that Trump didn’t talk about at all:  The growing crisis facing the pension and health-care funds that cover thousands upon thousands of United Mine Workers of America retirees and their families …

It’s important to remember that this looming crisis won’t go away, even if the coal industry were to suddenly rebound. The problems with the solvency of the UMWA pension plan, for example, grow from the 2008 financial meltdown (now, whose fault was that?). Even if employment were to return to pre-meltdown levels, many of the companies that were paying into the pension plan then have since been relieved of that obligation by the federal bankruptcy courts. And even if that weren’t the case, it’s far from clear that the rising contributions alone would be enough. The same goes for the union’s health-care plan financial problems.

As we’ve talked about before, President Obama has a proposal for dealing with this crisis.  In Congress, members of both parties — Rep. David McKinley and Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito — have a proposal. Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton has a proposal.

But when the presumptive Republican nominee for president had a huge audience of coalfield families in the palm of his hand over at the Civic Center, he didn’t think that this issue was worthy of mention.

Sen. Capito’s $15,000 worth of regulations

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Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., looks out from the podium during a sound check before the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Monday, July 18, 2016. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Last night, West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito got a prime-time spot speaking at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, and much of what she talked about was really no surprise. As the Gazette-Mail’s David Gutman reported:

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito assailed the environmental regulations of President Barack Obama and the email practices of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in urging the Republican National Convention to “turn the tide” to elect a Republican president in November …

She cited the gaffe infamous in West Virginia when Clinton, in describing her own plan to invest and diversify coalfield communities, said, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business” … “She has promised to devastate communities and families across coal country,” Capito said. “Hillary Clinton understands coal miners and blue collar workers about as well as she understands secure emails.”

Interestingly, though, Sen. Capito also threw this in, as Gutman reported:

Policy-wise, Capito’s focus was largely on federal regulations, which she said cost each American household $15,000 a year, repeating the figure four times. That number comes from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank, which admits it is a “back of the envelope” calculation that does not account for any for the benefits of regulations.

For more about that dubious number, check out this Fact Checker post — from 1 1/2 years ago — by Glenn Kessler at The Washington Post:

The factoid comes from an annual report, Ten Thousand Commandments, put out by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market group founded in 1984 to combat what it considered excessive government regulation. So already you have to take the analysis with a large grain of salt. Indeed, the report is billed as “An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State.”

The $15,000 is derived from an estimate that regulations cost at least $1.8 trillion a year …  (This number is calculated in a CEI working paper titled “The Tip of the Costberg.”) Then $1.8 trillion is simply divided by the number of American households. Presto, each household “pays” $14,974 annually in a hidden regulatory tax.

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