energy

Erica Peterson

Environmental and community advocates in Appalachian coal communities are concerned about a new federal rule, finalized this week, that is changing the process that allows citizens to file complaints about polluting coal mining operations.

The Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement said in a Tuesday press release that the changes to the 10-Day Notice policy would “streamline” the complaint process. 

Under federal law and agency regulations, anyone can notify the agency about alleged mining violations. Under the original rule, the agency would share the complaint with state regulators. That kicked off a 10-day clock for the state to take action, either by forcing the company to fix the problem, or showing why action wasn’t necessary.

America Amplified

On a recent Saturday, over Zoom, a group of seven high schoolers from Wyoming, eastern Kentucky and West Virginia gazed at an image of a gleaming, pale blue, coal-fired power plant. 

“OK, so this one really interested us,” said Sarah Belcher, a senior from eastern Kentucky. “So we noticed your all’s coal facilities, they’re really new, state of the art. And around here, like they’re older, they’re really rusty. What has caused you all to be able to have that there?”

The power plant in the photo is Dry Fork Station, one of the newest coal-fired plants in the country. It’s located seven miles north of Gillette, Wyoming. The self-proclaimed “energy capital of the nation,” Gillette is surrounded by some of the most productive coal mines in the United States. In fact, Wyoming accounted for about 40 percent of all coal mined in the country in 2018.

 


Benny Becker

Ohio environmental regulators have canceled key permits needed for an underground natural gas liquids storage facility proposed along the Ohio River. 

According to an order from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, permits to drill three three Class III solution mining wells in Monroe County, Ohio were cancelled on Sept. 21. Cancellation was requested by Powhatan Salt Company LCC. The proposed wells are associated with the Mountaineer NGL Storage project, a multi-million dollar underground natural gas liquids storage project. 

Experts say natural gas liquid storage — like the proposed Mountaineer project — is crucial to building out the Ohio Valley’s petrochemical industry.

Still from CSPAN video

In 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump was all-in on the fossil fuel industry. In a 2016 rally in Charleston, West Virginia, the candidate proudly accepted an endorsement from that state’s coal association, donning a hardhat while he mimed digging coal. To thundering applause, he promised to bring back coal jobs to the struggling Appalachian coalfields. 

Four years later, there are fewer jobs in coal than ever, and that enthusiasm was largely absent from the energy pitch the Republican Party made to the American people in its four-night-long convention last week. That’s left stakeholders in Ohio Valley coal regions reading the tea leaves on what another four years of a Trump Administration might look like. 

 


DNC video

Democrats made their pitch to the American people during a largely virtual Democratic National Convention and addressing climate change emerged as a central tenet of the party’s plan. 

The party platform spells out a major investment in green energy jobs and infrastructure in order for America to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emission no later than by 2050. Environmental justice is a key component of the Democrat’s climate plan and it references ensuring fossil fuel workers and communities receive investment and support during this clean energy transition.

 


Bobby Balthis

The Mine Safety and Health Administration is declining to issue an emergency temporary standard that could protect coal miners whose jobs make them vulnerable to the coronavirus. 

That’s according to an August 14 letter from Department of Labor Deputy Assistant Secretary Joe Wheeler to West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. MSHA can issue emergency temporary standards only when it determines that miners are exposed to a grave danger. It has only issued a handful of such standards, MSHA said, typically in the aftermath of large-scale mining disasters. 

In the letter, Wheeler writes, “At this time, MSHA has determined it lacks evidence that COVID-19 poses a grave risk specific to miners.”

Brittany Patterson | Ohio Valley ReSource

Lawmakers from across the Ohio Valley have received nearly half a million dollars in campaign contributions from 2019-2020 from a political action committee associated with FirstEnergy Corp., the electric utility implicated in a $61 million bribery and racketeering scheme related to Ohio’s controversial energy bill that bailed out several struggling nuclear and coal plants. 

FirstEnergy’s PAC donated $484,490 to elected officials  in Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky. The elected officials came from both parties and encompassed a vast range of political offices — from the U.S. Senate and House to statehouses and even state auditors offices — according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission documents compiled by HEATED, a climate-focused newsletter written by journalist Emily Atkin.

Jeff Young

A major Ohio Valley coal producer announced last week it will speed up its exit from producing coal used to generate electricity. In a call with shareholders last week, Contura Energy, Inc., said the move is tied to the ongoing global transition away from fossil fuels. 

“We recognize that the world is transitioning toward an economy that relies less on fossil fuels for power generation, and we therefore have accelerated our strategic exit from thermal coal mining,” said CEO David Stetson.

 The largest market for coal has traditionally been “thermal” coal, or that used in power stations. A smaller but lucrative market exists for “metallurgical” coal, which is used in making steel.  Executives said Contura plans to focus its operations solely on producing metallurgical and expects to be out of the thermal coal business by the end of 2022.

Brittany Patterson | Ohio Valley ReSource

One of the country’s largest investor-owned electric utilities, with a large presence in the Ohio Valley, has emerged at the center of a $60 million bribery and racketeering scheme related to Ohio’s controversial energy bill that bailed out several struggling nuclear and coal plants. 

 On Tuesday, federal investigators arrested one of Ohio’s top lawmakers, House Speaker Larry Householder and some of his associates, in connection with the scandal. Dave DeVillers, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, said that in exchange for the $1.5 billion bailout contained in the controversial legislation, known as H.B. 6, utility FirstEnergy Corp., identified as Company A, funneled nearly $61 million into a dark money group controlled by Householder and his political allies.

 


Since the coronavirus hit the U.S., coal mines across the country have begun shutting down, laying off workers and slowing production.

paringaresources.com

Some of the employees at the Poplar Grove coal mine in McLean County, Kentucky, received a letter on Feb. 17 informing them that their employment will end Feb. 18.

The letter is from Hartshorne Mining Group, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Paringa Resources in Australia.

The letter said the project will transition from two mining units to one and some employees will be retained as the effort continues to seek additional financing or possibly the sale of the mine.

Paringa has encountered financial and geological problems at the Poplar Grove mine.

LG&E Proposes Largest Solar Field In Kentucky

Jan 27, 2020
Duke Energy

Louisville Gas and Electric is seeking approval from state utility regulators to build the largest solar array in Kentucky.

If approved, the 100-megawatt plant in Hardin County would be one of at least four utility-scale projects coming online in Kentucky in the next three years. The project would be 10 times larger than the current title holder, a 10-megawatt LG&E facility near Harrodsburg.

The push for more solar in Kentucky follows a countrywide trend as utilities increasingly turn to renewables for new electricity generation.

 


Ryan Van Velzer

Amid last year’s fight over net-metering legislation, a lobbyist working on behalf of utilities asked the regulatory agency that oversees utilities to weigh-in with a letter to lawmakers.

Gwen Pinson, the executive director of the Kentucky Public Service Commission, wrote back two hours later:

“Jason, The Commissioners and I are going to discuss your request this afternoon. So I will be in touch thereafter,” wrote Pinson.


Brittany Patterson

An attorney for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet told a federal judge Wednesday that the bankrupt coal company Blackjewel has accrued nearly 300 environmental violations since it entered bankruptcy in July.

“It’s essential that these violations are addressed, abated, and that they stop accruing,” Cabinet attorney Lena Seward told bankruptcy judge Frank Volk in the hearing. “There is potential for human and environmental harm.” 

 


Kentucky Leads The Country In 2020 Coal Retirements

Jan 21, 2020
Erica Peterson

Two of the largest coal-fired power plant retirements in the U.S. in 2020 are happening in Kentucky.

The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Paradise Unit 3 near Drakesboro is scheduled to shutter this December while Owensboro’s Elmer Smith Generating Station will cease operations in June.

These older, more inefficient power plants are the latest to be priced out of the market, and are now trudging toward the elephant graveyard of legacy coal-fired plants in the Ohio Valley.

Together, power generation from the two plants represents more than a quarter of the total coal-fired capacity set to retire this year, based on an analysis using U.S. Energy Information Administration data.

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