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Kentucky is on track to comply with the EPA’s upcoming federal regulations on greenhouse gas emissions—even if no further actions are taken.

The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report Wednesday outlining Kentucky’s progress in complying with the yet-to-be announced federal standard. It estimates that by 2020, the first year the state will have to meet greenhouse gas limits, Kentucky will have already cut its emissions to 113 percent of the goal.

In all, 14 states are on track to meet or surpass the expected federal benchmarks. In an article published last week, Inside Climate Progress came to similar conclusions.

But this isn’t news to Kentucky, or to the state’s utilities. In a report released more than a year ago about the economic challenges greenhouse gas regulations could pose to the state, regulators estimated that Kentucky’s electric utilities would emit 73.8 million tons of carbon dioxide by 2025. This is solely through power plant retirements that have already happened, or have been set in motion and will happen next year. The EPA’s limit for Kentucky is expected to be 94.7 million tons by 2020.

U.S. Energy Information Administration

A federal judge in Colorado has ruled the federal government should have taken the indirect environmental effects of expanding the Colowyo and Trapper coal mines into account before issuing a permit.

These “indirect effects” include the environmental toll of burning the coal in power plants. But because of differences in the way western and eastern coal mines are regulated, it’s hard to say what effect, if any, this ruling could have on Appalachian mines.

In the west, most of the coal is on federal lands. So as part of the permitting process, coal companies have to get approval from the Office of Surface Mining and the Secretary of the Interior. Under the National Environmental Policy Act, the federal government is required to analyze the environmental impacts of mining.

But NEPA only applies to the federal government, not to states, and Kentucky has been delegated the authority to manage the commonwealth’s coal mining by the federal government.

“To say it’s apples to oranges, it’s not even that,” said Jeremy Nichols of Wild Earth Guardians, the environmental group that sued OSM over its decision to grant the permits to the Colowyo and Trapper mines. “It’s like apples to carrots. The state permitting processes are very different. And even though there’s some environmental accountability in place, it’s not as explicit as it is under the federal law.”

The inspector general of the Labor Department is conducting an audit of the Mine Safety and Health Administration's handling of delinquent mine safety penalties.

Coal jobs in Kentucky declined sharply in the first quarter of this year, according to the state’s latest quarterly coal report.

As of April 1, there were an estimated 10,356 people employed at Kentucky coal mines. That’s a decrease of 1,230 jobs—or 10.6 percent—from Jan. 1. And the job losses weren’t limited to Eastern Kentucky, where market conditions and power plant retirements have hit hardest. Western Kentucky coal mines shed 13.7 percent of coal jobs during the quarter, while the Eastern Kentucky coal workforce decreased by 8.7 percent.

And these numbers will likely decline further. Division for Energy Development and Independence Assistant Director Aron Patrick said there are several hundred layoffs pending that will likely be reflected in the next quarterly report.

Coal production in both basins decreased too. Kentucky mines produced only about 16.6 million tons of coal in this quarter. For Eastern Kentucky, production is only a third of what it was in 2008.

For the first time in about a century, there are no working union coal miners in Kentucky. The state’s few remaining union coal miners were laid off New Years Eve when Patriot Coal’s Highland Mine in Western Kentucky shut down.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Erica Peterson of WFPL reports that the union is struggling to appeal to younger coal miners, but others feel organized labor still has a role to play.

Kentucky’s coal production and employment dropped only slightly in 2014, but sharper declines are likely in the future.

The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet released its quarterly coal report for the fourth quarter of 2014 today. Preliminary data suggest the state produced 3.7 percent less coal in 2014 than in 2013. Coal employment declined by 2.8 percent over the same time period.

The declines are less stark than they were a year ago. In 2013, the Energy and Environment Cabinet estimated that the state had lost 2,300 coal jobs. In 2014, 317 jobs were lost. But these losses add to the troubles the coal industry has faced recently. The fourth quarter of 2014 is the 14th consecutive quarter where coal employment has declined in the state, and Eastern Kentucky’s coal production in 2014 was only about 41 percent of what it produced as recently as 2008.

Alliance Corporation

An Alliance coal mine in Hopkins County is set to close in early 2016 as the Elk Creek site runs out of coal. But Madisonville-Hopkins County Economic Development Corporation President Gerald Cook says the closure will likely have a minimal impact on the community.

“Some of the other areas they have ramped up and are doing well in their other locations and actually expanding in some of those areas,” he said.

Cook says the announcement was a surprise, but not unusual.

Nearly 370 people work at the Elk Creek mine.

“If those employees are transferred to some of their other operations around here, and there are a lot of operations going on around here now, if they’re transferred into the others well there’s going to be a negligible impact to the community.”

Mine officials would not say if any layoffs are expected.

Chao Steps Down From Bloomberg Charity Over Coal Issue

Jan 21, 2015
Alix Mattingly

Elaine Chao has resigned from the board of Bloomberg Philanthropies as the foundation revs up its commitment to its clean energy initiative.

Chao was Secretary of Labor in President George W. Bush’s cabinet and is also the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. She stepped down from the board Wednesday after the philanthropic  group announced $48 million in clean energy grants.

Patriot Coal will idle two large coal mines in Western Kentucky, beginning today. As many as 650 workers could be affected.

Patriot warned layoffs could be coming earlier this month, when it issued WARN notices to employees at its Highland and Dodge Hill mines. 

EPA Sets First National Standard For Coal Waste

Dec 19, 2014

The Obama administration has set the first national standards for waste generated from coal burned for electricity. The regulation treats it more like household garbage rather than a hazardous material.

Environmentalists had pushed for the hazardous classification, citing the hundreds of cases nationwide where coal ash waste had tainted waters. The coal industry wanted the less stringent classification.

The rule issued Friday ends a six-year effort that began after a massive spill at a power plant in Tennessee.

The EPA said that the regulation addresses the risks posed by coal ash sites and that the record did not support a hazardous classification.

The rule does not require all sites failing to meet the standards to close. Sites at shuttered power plants also are not covered.

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