Monday, January 18, 2016

Coal in the news this week, from Appalachia to the Rockies

Here and here are two stories, both focusing on Wyoming, about the Obama administration's moratorium on new coal mining on public lands.  The latter, from NPR this morning, focuses on the consequences for state and local government budgets.  Stephanie Joyce, reporting for Wyoming Public Radio, includes this quote from Wyoming State Senator Michael Von Flatern, who represents Gillette, a in the middle of the state's coal region:  
MICHAEL VON FLATERN: Well, I think the first thing the state government will have to do if they truly believe this is going to be our future is to consider what the state will look like with 100,000 less people in it. 
JOYCE: That's maybe a little dramatic. But if the industry does stop expanding, it will have a big impact locally, and people are scared. You know, until recently, Wyoming has been relatively insulated from the coal industry's downturn, which has mostly affected those higher cost mines in Appalachia. And now that appears to be changing. Let's hear from Travis Deti with the Wyoming Mining Association. 
TRAVIS DETI: When the markets look at this and when the utilities look at this, it sends that signal that, hey, that coal's going to stay in the ground. You know, the administration has ravaged the industry back east, too, so this is just our little piece of the pie.
But the "other" coal country was also in the news recently, including this story out of Kentucky, with Steve Inskeep reporting under the headline, "In Kentucky, the Coal Habit is Hard to Break."  Inskeep reports from Webster County, Kentucky, population 13,226.  Here's an excerpt highlighting how well-paying coal mining jobs have been--often $100K or better annually, depending on overtime.
When we toured a Webster County mine that is still open — the Dotiki mine, operational since 1967 and owned by Alliance Coal — our producer Ashley Westerman had a surprise. Westerman, who is from Webster County, discovered one of her elementary school classmates working underground as a foreman. 
She went off to an East Coast university; he ended up in the mine. Depending on his overtime in a given year, it's likely that he is the one who is paid more.
Of course, with mines closing, those well-paying blue-collar jobs are drying up, as are local economies.  As Inskeep notes, Arch Coal, the county's second largest coal producer, filed for bankruptcy protection this week, as "companies are squeezed between fierce competition and efforts to fight climate change."

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