Coal in Wyoming - Parts 1, 2 and 3

Submitted: May 26, 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. 






YOU TALK TO PEOPLE IN WYOMING AND THEY SHARE A WORD NOT HEARD FOR SOME TIME, OPTIMISM.

THE UNEMPLOYMENT RATE IS BACK BELOW THE NATIONAL AVERAGE, AND THE COUNTRY SAW A SURPRISE ON NOVEMBER 8TH. THE ELECTION OF DONALD TRUMP.

WYOMING GAVE PRESIDENT TRUMP HIS LARGEST MARGIN OF VICTORY, 58 POINTS, MUCH TO DO WITH HIS PRO-COAL, PRO OIL RHETORIC DURING THE CAMPAIGN. RIGHT NOW, HIS PROMISE OF JOBS IS A REAL ONE IN THE COWBOY STATE.

(CHARLIE TYRREL, FORMER COAL MINER/OWNER, CHARLIE T'S PIZZERIA): "We are seeing people come back and say they are getting jobs back. That's what Trump said he was going to do and by god he's doing it."

ONE THOUSAND OF THE 10 THOUSAND ENERGY JOBS LOST SINCE JANUARY 2015 RETURNED, NOT MUCH BUT ITS A START. COMPANIES LIKE PEABODY, ARCH COAL, AND CONTURA, THE FORMER A-N-R, HAVE EMERGED FROM BANKRUPTCY, NATURAL GAS PRICES ARE RISING SHARPLY SINCE A LOW EARLY LAST YEAR.

THAT OPENS OPPORTUNITY IN COAL. FROM JUST 59 MILLION TONS IN THE 2ND QUARTER OF 2016, PRODUCTION HAS BEEN OVER 80 MILLION EACH QUARTER SINCE. THAT IS STILL NOWHERE NEAR PEAKS FROM A FEW YEARS AGO, BUT ENOUGH THAT OFFICIALS TELL US THE INDUSTRY IS STABILIZING.

TO SEE HOW CURRENT OPERATIONS STAND I WENT TO CLOUD PEAK ENERGY'S CORDERO ROJO MINE, THE 4TH LARGEST MINE IN THE UNITED STATES.

THE COAL-RICH POWDER RIVER BASIN IS BY FAR THE LARGEST COAL-PRODUCING REGION IN THE COUNTRY. THE SHALLOWNESS OF ITS COAL MAKES EXTRACTION CHEAPER AND MORE EFFICIENT.

(RICK CURTSINGER, CLOUD PEAK ENERGY): "The geology that's here allows for very efficient, low cost production. So PRB coal is able to compete with natural gas and other fuels at much lower costs than other coal basins around the country."

WE ARE ALSO SEEING A PUSH TO MEET NEW ENVIRONMENTAL STANDARDS. WHILE REPEALING REGULATIONS REMAIN A GOAL, THEY HOPE COAL WON'T BE IGNORED NOW.

(TRAVIS DETI, MINING ASSOCIATION): "Just because of the change in administration, you're not going to wave a magic wand and all of a sudden the climate change issue and carbon dioxide issue is going away. And we want to have a seat at that table."

THEN THERE IS THE INTEGRATED TEST CENTER IN COAL CAPITAL GILLETTE. COMMISSIONED BY GOVERNOR MATT MEAD AND THE LEGISLATURE, ITS GOAL IS TO FIND A WAY TO BETTER CAPTURE CARBON EMISSIONS, ALSO RECYCLE THEM INTO BUILDING MATERIALS AND OTHER CHEMICALS AND PLASTICS.

(STEVE HARSHMAN, WYOMING HOUSE SPEAKER): That's the thing about America. We've always solved problems with engineering and science. There's really a lot of good activity and really a lot of hope.







THE WORST SEEMS TO BE OVER. COAL PRODUCTION IS BEGINNING TO DIG ITSELF OUT, AS DID THE COMPANIES EMERGING FROM BANKRUPTCY. GILLETTE'S INTEGRATED TEST CENTER IS STUDYING NEW WAYS TO CAPTURE EMISSIONS, IMPROVING OPERATIONS AT COAL-FIRED POWER PLANTS. AS OF 2015, OVER 80 PERCENT OF WYOMING'S ELECTRIC GENERATION COMES FROM COAL.

Rocky Mountain Power just announced retirement dates for all Wyoming coal plants. Naughton as early as 2028, Dave Johnston in 2027, Jim Bridger and WyoDak by the end of the 2030s.

(Paul Murphy, RMP Spokesperson): "By the end of 2027, we expect that we have paid for the power plant or that our customers have paid for the power plan (butted to) provide the lowest cost of energy but if we can provide it in a way that reduced the amount of emissions, then that's the best scenario possible."

(Tim Swain, Dave Johnson Power Plant Manager): "Sure we talk about it a lot. Our employees are all aware."

ROCKY MOUNTAIN POWER TELLS US THEY HAVE NO PLANS TO BUILD ANOTHER COAL PLANT. INSTEAD, A THREE BILLION DOLLAR INVESTMENT IN WYOMING WIND PROJECTS, CITING SUBSIDIES THAT MAKE IT A MORE FINALLY EFFICIENT OPTION IN THE WINDIEST STATE IN THE COUNTRY. SPOKESPERSON PAUL MURPHY BELIEVES THIS ACTUALLY MAKES THE COAL MORE IMPORTANT.

(Paul Murphy, Rocky Mountain Power Spokesman): Coal will be used less, but it will become more valuable if that makes sense, because we still need something that will provide power all the time."

WYOMING HASN'T BEEN THE MOST WIND FRIENDLY STATE. AS RECENTLY AS LAST LEGISLATIVE SESSION, WE SAW A BILL PROPOSING TO FINE COMPANIES LIKE ROCKY MOUNTAIN THAT GENERATE ELECTRICITY FROM RENEWABLES. BUT THAT WAS QUICKLY STRUCK DOWN. OPINIONS CHANGING.

(REP. STEVE HARSHMAN, WYOMING HOUSE SPEAKER): "I know myself personally have not been a fan of, but its not the enemy of coal. And if we're truly going to be all of the above, then we have to talk about those things."

CLOSING POWER PLANTS IS CONCERNING TO COAL MINES. THERE IS NO PRODUCTION WITHOUT A BUYER. JUST AS WIND HAS BEEN ON THE FAVORABLE END OF GOVERNMENT REGULATIONS, CLOUD PEAK ENERGY SAYS THEY WOULD LIKE PROTECTION AS WELL.

(RICK CURTSINGER, Cloud Peak Energy Public Affairs): "We need a regulatory environment that creates certainty for those utilities to be able to continue using coal long term."

NONE OF THIS IS DEFINITE. RETIREMENT DATES ARE TENTATIVE. WYOMING IS THE ONLY STATE THAT TAXES WIND. MORE TAXES AND THE PENDULUM COULD SWING BACK OUT OF WIND'S FAVOR

(MURPHY): "If that cost goes up higher, then wind might not be effective for our customers. (butted to) If takes still remain where they are, we think we're going to be able to add more wind and provide more jobs and more tax revenue.

SPEAKER HARSHMAN SAYS UNDER THE RIGHT CIRCUMSTANCES, COAL WILL CONTINUE TO KEEP THE LIGHTS ON.

(REP. HARSHMAN): "I think if coal is given the opportunity in the free market, and really with science, I think coal will win."