Coal Mining

As Our Energy Wants Change, Where Does Coal Stand?

Jul 28, 2016
Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Radio

As of 2015, Coal production is at its lowest level since 1986, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That means coal companies are struggling to operate in a weak market.

A local effect is that Routt County, home to the Twentymile Mine, found its budget falling short due to a missed tax payment. The small school district there was counting on those funds and the state had to step in with a loan – although Peabody Energy did eventually get permission from the bankruptcy court to pay its taxes. But the decline of the coal industry is massive and widespread.

Colorado's coal country is experiencing the same slump that is gripping the heart of more traditional mining locales, like Wyoming or West Virginia.

"We see the trains and we hear the trains, and they used to be often. Daily," says Darci Mohr, the superintendent for South Routt County School District. "Now we hear one every five to six days."

Cheaper natural gas has dealt a blow to the coal industry -- and to Mohr's school district. Before the district opened an all-day preschool in the small town of Yampa, there wasn't an affordable day care program for this mostly working class community. When Peabody Energy, owner of Routt County's Twentymile Mine, went into bankruptcy and failed to pay property taxes, it would have been the first thing to go. But Mohr wasn't about to let that happen.

Wyoming Wants Wind Energy Factory Jobs. Colorado Has Them

Jul 26, 2016
Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

Wyoming has lost hundreds of coal mining jobs in 2016. In contrast to coal, the renewables industry is growing nationwide. Generation capacity is projected to jump more than 50 percent by 2040, even in the absence of new environmental regulations. With that growth, there's a need for more components like blades and towers to build wind farms.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead's long-term energy strategy for the state includes plans to attract this kind of manufacturing. You only have to look to the state's neighbor to the south, Colorado, to find those kind of production jobs.

The last fully operational coal mine in the western part of the state announced layoffs Thursday.

The West Elk Mine outside of Paonia is owned by Arch Coal. The company filed for bankruptcy in January and says it’s letting go of 80 workers.

For three generations, Tanya James' family has worked the coal mines of West Virginia. James is no different. She began working in the mines in 1979, when only about 1 in 100 coal miners were women — and she didn't begin under the happiest of circumstances.

Her father died when she was 17, leaving her mother to take care of the family. Out of necessity, Tanya's mother took a mining class, and Tanya would go down with her every day — so the instructor invited Tanya to join the class.

Six months later, Tanya was working in the mines as well.

F Delventhal / Creative Commons/Flickr

Colorado capped off 2015 with solid job gains and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation. The state added 10,700 jobs in December, finishing the year with a historically low unemployment rate of 3.5 percent.

"The last time we had an unemployment rate lower than that was in May of 2001, when it was 3.3 percent," said Alexandra Hall, Chief Economist for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

Homemade Holiday Pie Or Not, You Can't Escape The Energy Costs Of Modern Food

Dec 22, 2015
Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

Buy your holiday pie or bake your own? While there is something special about homemade, every cook knows it takes a lot of your own time and energy. On the other hand, you can let Sara Lee, Marie Callender or Pillsbury do it for you.

The modern food system gobbles up around 10-15 percent of the country's total energy pie. Much of it goes to the approximately 30,000 food processing plants in the U.S., which are bringing more and more pre-made pie dough, chopped garlic, shredded cheese, and bagged kale right to your table.

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

Carbon dioxide emissions have a pretty bad reputation. The dirtiest fuel -- coal -- still supplies nearly 40 percent of the electricity in the U.S. and even more in many developing countries. The good news is CO2 isn't always destructive. Carbon dioxide can be turned into the building blocks for all sorts of products that we use every day.

Wyoming, a state heavily dependent on coal for jobs and revenue, has joined the furious race to control carbon -- with the twin goals of slowing climate change and keeping its coal on the market.

The Arguments Against Action On Climate Change Aren't Monolithic

Dec 8, 2015
Mark Dixon / Flickr - Creative Commons

Global leaders are gathered in Paris to make a plan to combat climate change. There is broad scientific consensus that climate change is real, serious and caused by humans — but political consensus in the United States has been elusive, often clouded by doubt. Over the years, climate denial arguments have changed, but the result has stayed the same: blocked action on climate change.

Will Coal's Slump Leave States Like Wyoming On The Hook For Cleanup?

Dec 1, 2015
Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

Among the top 10 coal producing states, over one million acres of land has been "disturbed" for coal mining operations, according to data from the U.S. Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement. Reclaiming those mines, filling them with dirt and recreating the ecosystem that once was is expensive. As the coal industry downturn rapidly advances, companies may no longer have the cash on hand to pay for billions of dollars in cleanup costs.