Coal in Wyoming Part 1 - The Downturn

Submitted: May 22nd, 2017

Reported by Aaron Groff

A PERFECT STORM FOR WYOMING'S COAL INDUSTRY. SWEEPING ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATIONS ON TOP OF COMPETITION FROM CHEAPER NATURAL GAS AND MILD WINTERS MEANING NORMAL ENERGY LEVELS WEREN'T NEEDED. 2016 WAS ONE OF THE WORST YEARS FOR COAL ON RECORD.

(Aaron Groff): "Was there a point where you looked up and said... this isn't good?"
(Travis Deti, Wyoming Mining association): "Well, yeah. Everyday for the last couple years."

TRAVIS DETI FROM THE WYOMING MINING ASSOCIATION ISN'T PLACING THE BLAME HERE. ASIDE FROM FEDERAL REGULATIONS AND MARKET INFLUENCES, THERE WERE BAD BETS.

ALPHA NATURAL RESOURCES, PEABODY, AND ARCH COAL ALL DECLARING BANKRUPTCY. AND WHEN THEY WENT UNDER SO DID WE. IN TOTAL NEARLY 1-THOUSAND MINERS LOST THEIR JOBS.

I HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK WITH CHARLIE TYRREL, A 15 YEAR VETERAN OF THE COAL MINES WHO RAN FOR CONGRESS LAST YEAR, WITH A MESSAGE ECHOED BY HIS COMPETITION - REPEAL REGULATION AND FREE THE ENERGY INDUSTRY.

ECONOMIC UNCERTAINLY THOUGH MEANT HIS CURRENT BUSINESS, CHARLIE T'S PIZZERIA TOOK A HIT. TYRREL, A LONG-SHOT TO BEGIN WITH, HAD TO LEAVE THE RACE

(CHARLIE TYRREL, CHARLIE T'S PIZZA): "Around that time I could see things were starting to slow down. Concered about the businesses health. And the stability of my workforce. Just made sense to drop out of the race and return to what I do best, and that's make pizzas."

MORE THAN 40 PERCENT OF THE COUNTRY'S COAL IS MINED IN THE POWDER RIVER BASIN, TYRRELS FORMER WORKPLACE. BUT IN 2016, A 20 PERCENT FREE FALL. UNDER 300 MILLION TONS OF COAL COMPARED TO NEARLY 470 MILLION IN 2008. COMBINE THAT WITH THE PREVIOUS YEAR'S PLUMMETING OIL PRICES AND NATURAL GAS. IT WAS A NAIL IN THE COFFIN.

(STEVE HARSHMAN, WYOMING HOUSE SPEAKER): "To what all three of them really crash, at the same time as quickly as it did in a matter of 3-4 months has never happened in the state's history."

VO: WYOMING HOUSE SPEAKER STEVE HARSHMAN SAYS THE STATE CAN DEAL WITH MOST REGULATION... BUT ONE HURT MORE THAN OTHERS. THE MORATORIUM ON FEDERAL COAL LEASES  -  THOSE LEASE BONUSES ARE THE MAIN SOURCE OF FUNDING FOR SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION AND OTHER INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS. WITH NEARLY HALF OF WYOMING'S TERRITORY, AND A MAJORITY OF MINING LAND OWNED BY UNCLE SAM, THESE PAYMENTS CURRENTLY SIT AT ZERO.

(HARSHMAN): OUR LAND. "When you say two-thirds of Wyoming is off-limits, you know that changes our state dramatically."

THIS LAST LEGISLATIVE SESSION SAW CUTS ACROSS THE BOARD, INCLUDING 34 MILLION DOLLARS OUT OF THE EDUCATION FUND. IT WAS A TIGHTENING OF THE BELT AND EVERYONE GOT THINNER. FEWER DOLLARS TO DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES, CITIES AND TOWNS.

ROUGHLY 2 BILLION DOLLARS IN RAINY DAY FUND SAVINGS WAS KEY IN KEEPING THE STATE AFLOAT. THE FUND WAS BUILT TO LAST A DECADE, BUT IF WE KEEP PULLING THE SAME AMOUNT FROM THE FUND, THE STATS SHOW IT COULD BE GONE IN FOUR.