This story was produced by MapLight in partnership with WyoFile.
After a trio of high-profile public hearings that have featured heavy criticism of the Trump administration’s plan to repeal limits on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, the nation’s third-largest coal producer is taking steps to avoid a fourth round of attacks at a final hearing on Tuesday.
Cloud Peak Energy, the Wyoming mining company, and its employees have given $375,000 in contributions to PACs and political candidates since 2010 and spent another $1.9 million on federal lobbying. Emails obtained by MapLight through a public records request show the company is pushing for more industry support at the Environmental Protection Agency’s fourth and final public hearing on its Clean Power Plan repeal plan in Gillette.
“We encourage you, and your colleagues, friends and family, to stand up and let your voice be heard; help President Trump and the EPA repeal the rule in order to keep existing coal-fueled power plants open,” wrote Michelle Butler, a public affairs manager for Cloud Peak Energy, which operates three mines in the Powder River Basin. “We all know how much this impacts our organizations, businesses and communities,” she wrote.
Butler said that Cloud Peak Energy was organizing a meetup just before the EPA’s listening session, where members of Wyoming’s congressional delegation would speak in support of repealing the Clean Power Plan. She sent along talking points, which included the assertion that the rule “was designed to punish the U.S. coal industry, all for negligible environmental benefits.”
Thirteen Cloud Peak Energy employees have registered to speak at the listening session, according to a preliminary list released by the EPA. The approach of sending coal company workers to the Clean Power Plan hearings, however, hasn’t worked completely to the industry’s satisfaction. Despite a contingent of hard-hatted Murray Energy miners attending a November meeting in West Virginia, the plan drew harsh criticism from environmental advocates.
A Cloud Peak Energy spokesperson did not respond to MapLight’s request for comment.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced in October that the agency would repeal the Clean Power Plan, devised by the Obama administration to cut carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030. Power plants are responsible for more than one-third of all carbon dioxide emissions, and coal-fired plants especially are considered to be major culprits behind rapidly accelerating climate change. Pruitt previously fought to block the rule as Oklahoma’s attorney general.
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While the coal industry has opposed the Clean Power Plan, the rule may pose a unique threat to Cloud Peak Energy, since the company only sells its coal to electricity providers. In its annual report last year, company officials wrote that if the Clean Power Plan was implemented as written, “demand for coal could … be further decreased, potentially significantly, and adversely impact our business.”
The company apparently has a friend in Pruitt. Campaign finance records show that Cloud Peak Energy donated $25,000 to the Republican Attorneys General Association in 2015-16. As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt served as the organization’s chair for two years and sat on its executive committee while its members worked with donors to challenge Obama-era environmental rules.
In August, Pruitt visited Cloud Peak Energy’s office near Denver and pledged to bring “a degree of humility” to governance, according to a press release from the company. “Our country is so rich in resources and so strongly committed to clean air, clean water, and a great environment, that we don’t have to make a choice,” Pruitt said. “We can have energy-driven growth and strong environmental stewardship.”
The National Mining Association, a trade organization representing mining companies, held its board of directors conference at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., in October, just days before the administration moved to repeal the Clean Power Plan. Cloud Peak Energy CEO Colin Marshall was listed as one of the National Mining Association’s directors in tax documents between 2014 and 2016.
Wyoming is the nation’s leading coal producer, providing about 40 percent of the U.S. supply. Pruitt is scheduled to visit Wyoming later this week.
What I find sad it there are people who live in our great state and still want to get rid of the one thing that brings in money to our state. These people have no clue that there is technology that can successfully clean the coal as it is being burned for power.
They want to get rid of a low cost, high producing power source, for power sources that are for one eye sores, and two kill hundreds of protected bird species, and three that are built but never added to the power grid.
They blame the coal for destroying the environment but don’t research that coal mines actually help protect the environment and reclaim the land better then it was.
And these same people think that the world is moving away from coal when in reality the world is turning back to coal because it is such a reliable energy source.
It is sad that these people are still out there, the ones who buy into the whole climate change scam ( remember when it was global warming, but the earth didn’t heat up like they thought so they changed it to climate change to sucker in all the sheepeople.)
If these people truly cared about the environment they would approved of logging the dead and diseased trees, they would approved of decreasing the wolf program to help protect the rapidly decreasing elk and moose populations, they would have an outcry against the wind and solar farms for killing protected birds, they wouldn’t want to get rid of CO2 because plants and plankton need it as a food source to survive.
So in reality these people don’t care about the environment all they care about is their own agenda and that agenda is trying to control every one and bending them to their will.
Notwithstanding that neither this article nor the meeting in Gillette to discuss Clean Power seemed to mention natural gas or alternative energy , Wyoming needs to take off the blinders when viewing Powder River Basin coal. When you step back for the wider view and look back about ten decades on the timeline, the picture better reflects the contemporary reality of Coal as a fuel for power generation. Basically, there is very little future for coal as an electricity maker. Coal is no longer used to drive industry or boats and locomotives like it once was. Remember, this is not the first bust wyoming has seen in its coal industry . Back during the 1950’s the railroads got out of coal and converted locomotives to diesel. The nation as a whole had peak employment in coal mines back in the 1920’s ( pre-Depression ) of nearly 800,000 miners, mostly in the underground seams of Appalachia. Employment in coal mining has not been above 100,000 since the spike in coal production r esulting from the Arab oil embargo in 1973, and today is hovering around the 50,000 mark — most of those jobs in Appalachia mining anthracite coal used for metallurgical production in the smelters , something Wyoming coal is not suited for. The Bottom Line in coal mining jobs is they are going away and are not likely to ever come back anywhere near former levels. Wyoming will always have a few hundred mining jobs at best , or worst , depending on your zip code.
Which brings me to another point. The total number of coal jobs lost in Wyomng since the advent of fracking to create the glut of natural gas, and the sharp decline in MARKET DEMAND globally due to leveraged response in mitigating climate change — the jobs lost around Gillette seem like a large number , but only by Wyoming units of measure. How many jobs lost here ?—Two thousand give or take ? That’s the employment of 3-4 school districts or Wal-mart stores. Or one factory closing in the MidWest, or 1/10th the jobs lost from one corporation downsizing after a merger and acquisition. It only seems like a lot of jobs and money because it’s Wyoming, the least populated state. The larger point is this state has been utterly negligent since the 1960’s busts in energy to diversify the state economy away from being dependent on minerals and energy. Wyoming failed to act in its own self interest and prepare for a future without coal and crude oil ( and not developing the means to sell its natural gas beyond state lines, for that matter ). Now we face the consequences of our gross denial.
This meeting in Gillette to discuss the future of coal is misguided at best , since there is no future. it was NOT regulations and the federal government that slashed the coal jobs in Gillette, it was the global market and the very dynamic response to thev eryr eal apparition of global climate change. Here in Wyoming we are ind enial about those two things, as shown by our quasi-official state sports of ” Obama Bashing” or ” Fed Bashing”. As if whining about mining to blame Obama or the EPA will do anything to restore the coal markets. Most of those horses have either left the barn . Or have died, and we really should quit trying to kick them back to life.
One final point, and I’m looking straight at Matt Mead and Gillette’s own Mike Enzi when I say this : There is no such thing as economically viable Clean Coal. The laws of thermodynamics and physical chemistry can be bent a little, but they cannot be broken. There is no way to treat damp subbituminous PRB coal to make it burn cleaner, and recover or sequester the emissions affordably. It’s a losing proposition , chemically and financially. Clean Coal technology is a promise made by the medieval alchemist mentality .
The only path forward for PRB coal is its use in stocking carbon tech manufacturing, not as bulk thermal energy . Making things from carbon provided in bulk by coal is promising,as a replacement for iron, steel, aluminum, and even plastics . But Wyoming will not be selling hundreds of milliions of tons of carbon ore if that comes to be. Just thousands of tons. At least there is promise in v alue-added factory jobs and products for making carbon composites on site. But don’t get too hopeful: Wyoming is the world’s leading producer of trona ( sodium carbonate ) from the mines in the lower Green River Basin and Red Desert, yet there are nof actories there making glass, chemical products, or value added things based on native trona.
It’s embarrassing to admit that the State of Wyoming has no real clue how to diversify it’s economy. We’ve spent too long believing that red meat on the hoof, wool, and timber would always carry us at the bank… but ignoring the business models thatd epend on heavy subsidy of same to make money at it.
FInal thought to those who attended the Clean Power hearing in Gillette: Obama, the EPA, the federal government regulations are not the enemy . But Climate Change and a tectonically shifting global market might be…
So the argument is that the whole planet should suffer rather than take a reasonable, managed approach to decreasing the use of coal in order to save one coal company? We need to try to avoid abrupt disruptions to the economy. We also need to avoid clinging to an economic sector out of misguided loyalty. Wyoming has other energy resources that we can transition to in a coordinated way to control impacts to both families and companies. But we first need to recognize the imperative to change energy practices for both economic and environmental reasons. The Clean Power Plan provides a framework for decreasing reliance on coal and moving forward in a responsible way. No industry is immune to becoming obsolete. If there is money for huge campaign contributions, PACs, and industry lobbyists, then there is money to invest in transitioning to a different business model that relies on multiple sources of energy. Where are the creative thinkers in the energy sector? No industry can survive and thrive if its ability to adapt is limited to doing what it has always done. If they are nimble enough to replace workers with machines, then they must be nimble enough to add other sources into the energy stream, including those where there are more jobs.