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Feds hear conflict on future coal leasing

Hundreds of people attended a Department of Interior meeting in Casper on Tuesday where officials collected public comment on potential changes to the federal coal leasing program — the foundation of Wyoming’s multi-billion dollar coal industry.

Stakes are high as the pending review of the program may determine no less than the future of Wyoming’s coal industry, as well as the nation’s energy and climate policy.

If there’s one thing Wyoming coal proponents and their declared adversaries agreed on it was that recent job losses and the new economic reality of a diminished coal industry hurts miners, families, and their communities — and that something needs to be done about it.

From there, perspectives diverge.

Proponents for curbing the use of coal held a rally prior to the Interior's federal coal leasing meeting in Casper on May 17. (Tim Kupsick/WyoFile)

Proponents for curbing the use of coal held a rally prior to the Interior’s federal coal leasing meeting in Casper on May 17. (Tim Kupsick/WyoFile)

Either the Obama administration should end its political ploy to foolishly and illegally wipe coal from the nation’s energy picture, or the administration should correct mismanagement of publicly-owned coal to address climate change and pave the road to a more sustainable energy future.

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“Really what this is all about, isn’t it, is destroying confidence in the [coal] industry so nobody will invest in coal companies,” U.S. House of Representatives candidate Rex Rammell (R) said. “I think the only solution to this whole problem is to transfer public lands from the federal government back [sic] to the state. And with it the abolition of the Department of the Interior … and we can have control over our future.”

“A good planet is really hard to find,” University of Wyoming professor emeritus Duane Keown said. Given the need to head off the worst case scenarios of a rapidly heating planet, and the role that burning Wyoming coal plays, Keown continued, the federal government should consider ending leasing coal altogether.

“The argument goes that Earth has natural heating and cooling cycles,” he said. “Yes, but they occurred over hundreds of thousands or millions of years. Not two hundred years. The pika or pollinators of food crops do not have this luxury. Nor do we.”

The Department of Interior is holding a series of public scoping meetings across the country to gather public input regarding the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement on Federal Coal Program. (Tim Kupsick/WyoFile)

The Department of Interior is holding a series of public scoping meetings across the country to gather public input regarding the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement on Federal Coal Program. (Tim Kupsick/WyoFile)

Federal officials heard very little common ground from about 100 people who spoke at the meeting — many who traveled hundreds of miles and spent the entire day for the opportunity to possibly persuade federal officials on the future of coal. Dozens of speakers were employed by Gillette-based coal company Cloud Peak Energy. Several described what they consider a hostile, politically motivated attack on coal — an affront to an industry and community that gets little thanks for providing affordable and reliable energy to the nation.

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Cloud Peak miner Penny Russell said that each mining job in northeast Wyoming supports an extended family, and that many families there have lost their main source of income along with their self-esteem — for no valid reason other than an agenda to kill coal.

“We don’t want to be forced into a welfare state, however the likelihood of [avoiding] that appears to be waning,” Russell said.

Others described the federal government as complicit in allowing the coal leasing program to be hijacked by a few coal corporations. The energy companies, they argue, have no regard for the climate, nor for dedicated miners now being laid off while CEOs of bankrupt companies pay themselves millions of dollars in bonuses.

“Sen. Enzi says coal supports families, and I agree,” House District 56 candidate Dan Neal (D) said. “But it’s the resource and not always the companies. They are fiduciarily responsible to their shareholders, and we’ve seen them take home millions of dollars while they plot to take away pensions and benefits.”

Stakeholders at the hearing also held dueling rallies for and against a return to coal’s starring role in the nation’s energy picture.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell’s true intent with the federal coal leasing review “is to stick a knife in our backs,” Cloud Peak Energy vice president of public affairs Richard Reavey told pro-coal rally-goers.

Cloud Peak Energy vice president of public affairs Richard Reavey was among several to speak at a Friends of Coal rally in Casper on Tuesday. (Tim Kupsick/WyoFile)

Cloud Peak Energy vice president of public affairs Richard Reavey was among several to speak at a Friends of Coal rally in Casper on Tuesday. (Tim Kupsick/WyoFile)

He continued, “Yet again, here we are at another Soviet-style show trial where the verdict is already decided.”

Wyoming Mining Association assistant director Travis Deti delivered a fiery speech to pro-coal rally-goers mocking concerns over climate change and insisting that the science is “doctored.”

“We’ll hear about how the science is settled,” Deti said, “which is their way of saying ‘shut up.’”

Deti continued, “In addition to raising royalty rates to crippling levels, the agency intends the incorporation of the social costs of carbon — whatever the hell that even means — in calculating fair market value for leased coal driving up the cost of leases even higher.”

Five more public scoping meetings are scheduled across the country to gather public input regarding the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement on Federal Coal Program. Visit the Bureau of Land Management website for details.

Wyoming Mining Association assistant director Travis Deti mocked concerns over climate change at a Friends of Coal rally in Casper. (Tim Kupsick/WyoFile)

Wyoming Mining Association assistant director Travis Deti mocked concerns over climate change at a Friends of Coal rally in Casper. (Tim Kupsick/WyoFile)

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Energy and policy reporter Dustin Bleizeffer recently completed a John S. Knight Journalism fellowship at Stanford University. He has covered energy and natural resource issues in Wyoming for 18 years. Follow Dustin on Twitter @DBleizeffer

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5 Responses to Feds hear conflict on future coal leasing

  1. Edith Cook May 27, 2016 at 7:14 am #

    Well done, Dustin! I love your reporting.

    Wheatland, Wyoming

  2. James Bishop May 25, 2016 at 7:12 am #

    From the article, ‘If there’s one thing Wyoming coal proponents and their declared adversaries agreed on it was that recent job losses and the new economic reality of a diminished coal industry hurts miners, families, and their communities — and that something needs to be done about it.’

    Yes, ‘…something needs to be done about it.’

    Coal is dead and must be so for the human race and other species to live. The sooner coal miners grasp that and go back to school, or begin to attend, the better chance they have to recover from the changes the death of coal will bring.

    As a nation, we should forgo building still another useless nuclear aircraft carrier, or airplane that doesn’t work such as the F35, and fund adult education for the displaced miners. The mine owners should go do some that is less, far less, destructive than is coal mining.

    How about having them spend the rest of their lives cleaning up the mess they have made?

    Cascade, Idaho

  3. Vicki Lindner May 24, 2016 at 11:31 am #

    I think that The Rainy Day Fund , so called, that coal workers produced should be used to give these workers UW tuition and living stipends to retrain them for other jobs in other fields, perhaps energy related. Meanwhile, the state should legalize Marijuana and tax the bejesus out of it, to make up for Coal revenues that have been lost. In addition to finding out all of the bad health and brain effects caused by marijuana, the state government should have a task force that finds out what job and tax benefits a concession to the new industry could bring. But wimping out on Climate Change prevention economies is not an option especially not for those who can’t afford private storm and tornado proof bubbles equipped with permanent supplies of water and food. Why are conservatives so unimaginative?

    Denver, Colorado

  4. Dewey Vanderhoff May 20, 2016 at 7:43 am #

    To whomever had that placard on their seat in the photo that says ” 40,000 Coal Jobs Lost Since 2011 ” , I remind them that in 2015 alone 35,000 jobs were added by the solar power industry in America. The total direct employment in the US solar power industry is already double the number of coal mining jobs and the gap is widening as more solar installers and sales people are added as coal miners are laid off. The Wind Industry in the US currently employs over 50,000 directly , and if the tax incentives to build new turbines were renewed for another four years, another 50,000 jobs would be created. Wind employs as many as Coal right now, and again the gap is widening in favor of alternative energy jobs. The economic future for all forms of Alternative Energy is very , very bright. Coal— not so much.

    Once folks get out of the Gillette- Powder River Basin fishbowl and take a look around at the Big Picture in global energy , we find their emotional arguments and bumper sticker rhetoric are quite shallow. Never mind that Wyoming’ few thousands of coal miners really have no clout, and the corporations they work for are really not concerned about their welfare and quality of life. The coal companies do care deeply about stockholders, though. Wall Street, not State Hwy 59

    Cody, Wyoming

  5. Earl DeGroot May 19, 2016 at 6:09 am #

    Rex Rammell (R) said. “I think the only solution to this whole problem is to transfer public lands from the federal government back [sic] to the state…” I wonder if Mr. Rammell knows how much sportsmen disagree with his position. Tens of thousands of us are Republicans. More then 70 percent of us hunt on federal land. And we vote!!!

    Cheyenne, Wyoming

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