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Coal industry seeks exports to Asia while U.S. market falters

America’s No. 2 coal-producer, Arch Coal Inc., announced last week that it paid $25 million to acquire 38 percent interest in Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview, LLC, one of dozens of companies scrambling to boost coal export capacity from the West Coast to customers in Asia.With the Millennium Bulk deal, Arch joins Peabody Energy Corp. — both major producers of Powder River Basin coal in Wyoming — in banking on the Asian coal market for growth. Wyoming coal producers Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, Cloud Peak Energy and railroads Union Pacific and BNSF Railway have all expressed interest in boosting coal exports from the West Coast.

Niobrara oil drilling saps county road budgets

Local officials know their rural roads were never meant to handle this kind of industrial traffic. “We’ve seen some of the roads disintegrate. These roads were designed for pickups and horse trailers, not the 100,000-pound loads we’re seeing,” said State Rep. Matt Teeters, R-Veteran. Laramie County Road and Bridge Supervisor Don Beard said bad weather conditions worsen the damage caused by heavy trucks. “They don’t care if the road is frozen, if it’s raining, or snowing, too hot, too dry, too windy, or too cold. They’ll operate on those roads and that’s where the damage begins to occur,” Beard said.

Group with ready-made legislation spurs calls for more disclosure

Though members of Wyoming's citizen Legislature pride themselves on being closely connected to their constituents, voters might be surprised to learn that some laws proposed and passed in Cheyenne are first shaped by state lawmakers and major corporations during privately funded junkets in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere. As the 2011 legislative session convenes this week, some watchdog groups — and at least one legislator — are calling for better disclosure from lobbyists and greater transparency from groups that seek to influence or propose specific laws.

High court takes up interstate river battle

The Supreme Court this week wades into a dispute between Montana and Wyoming over water rights to two rivers that flow through both states. Montana claims Wyoming farmers and industries are using too much water in a region where it remains a scarce resource. At issue are the waters of the Powder and Tongue rivers, both tributaries of the Yellowstone River, which run into Montana from Wyoming.

Back on Track: Wyoming coal rebounds amid market, regulatory uncertainty

Wyoming coal producers fared well during a tumultuous year for the industry nationwide, increasing output by an estimated 2.6 percent in 2010. It’s a modest recovery in production, after slipping 7.8 percent in 2009. Wyoming’s year-to-date coal production as of December 25 was 434 million tons, and the industry was on track to finish the year at 442.5 million tons, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data.

BLM's Conservation Experiment

Under the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's mandate to manage for "multiple use and sustained yield," grazing, mining and drilling have historically trumped conservation, while lands with significant scenic, biological or cultural resources were usually relinquished to the National Park Service. Then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt tried to change that in 2000 when he created the National Landscape Conservation System, now totaling 27 million acres of national monuments, wilderness study areas, wild and scenic rivers, and historic trails. It's like a more rugged version of the national parks, complete with scenery, wildlife, and archaeological and cultural sites.

Casper’s Last Neighborhood Grocery Struggles to Survive

Bill and Nancy Wayte own Grant Street Grocery, the last neighborhood grocery store in Casper. In its heyday, Casper had 99 neighborhood grocery stores. The Waytes sell high-quality goods, donate to local nonprofit groups and help distribute locally grown produce. But all their efforts may not be enough to keep the store’s doors open. Small, locally owned stores often have higher inventory and per-customer operating costs, and face intense competitive pressures from billion-dollar corporate chain stores.

‘Cluster Developments’ Slow to Catch on in Bighorn Basin

Six years after developers announced their plan to build a 104-lot gated subdivision on 550 acres between Cody and Yellowstone National Park, the Copperleaf subdivision is now owned by the bank that financed it. Critics of the project have said its homes would be spaced close together on small lots, or clustered, in a way not in keeping with the surrounding rural community. Copperleaf is not the only project in the area to draw fire for being a “cluster development.” But proponents say it is a useful technique to help preserve open space and encourage strong ties between rural neighbors. They see cluster developments as preferable to vast checkerboard subdivisions of small ranchettes, each with their own septic tank, horse pen, workshop and outbuildings.

Whitebark Pine Trees Face Long Odds for Survival

For millennia, whitebark pine trees have held firm to the cold, rocky timberlines of the northern Rockies, Cascades and Sierra Nevada, providing shelter, food and other ecosystem services for mountain wildlife. But before long, the hardy, snow-battered tree whose nutritionally dense seeds are a delicacy for grizzly bears, red squirrels and mountain birds may become functionally extinct. In numerous reaches of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and southern Canada, whitebark pine trees have declined by as much as 90 percent, experts say, and their prospects for recovery seem to be growing dimmer by the year.

Industry, Regulators Square Off Over Fracking Disclosure

A major fight is set to erupt over how much information oil and gas drillers should be required to publicly disclose about the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, government and industry lawyers said during a seminar last week. Disagreement over the issue could even interfere with a $1.9 million congressionally mandated U.S. EPA study designed to determine whether the widespread use of the drilling practice is contaminating drinking water supplies, said Avi Garbow, EPA’s deputy general counsel.