Sep 15, 2019

Wyoming coal country struggling despite Trump's support

Ponds of coal bed methane water cover in the Powder River Basin near Gillette, Wyoming, 2007. Photo: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The coal mining industry in the top coal-producing region of the U.S. is struggling despite President Trump's efforts to prop up the coal industry nationwide, according to AP.

Why it matters: Many coal producers in the Powder River Basin in northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana are filing for bankruptcy or consolidating as U.S. coal production has slid 30% since peaking in 2008 and small rural communities across the nation face economic uncertainty.

Context: 3 of 9 coal producers in the Powder River Basin have filed for bankruptcy since March, while 2 others said they would merge.

  • Blackjewel, the owner of several mines across the country, in July dismissed most employees and shut down the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines, two of the highest-producing mines in the country. Negotiations to reopen the mines have stagnated.
  • Coal has buoyed the communities in the region and Wyoming's and Montana's state budgets for decades, but power companies are phasing out coal-fired power plants and switching to cheaper natural gas furnaces and solar and wind generators amid global concern about climate change.

By the numbers: About half of U.S. electricity came from coal-fired plants a decade ago, but coal now comprises only 30%.

  • Yes, but: The Powder River Basin still has a lot of recoverable coal left, and carbon-capturing technology installed in coal-fired power plants could make coal a viable option.

The bottom line: Carbon-capturing tech is still in its infancy, and experts say retrofitting power plants with the technology will be expensive.

Go deeper: The past and potential of replacing coal-fired power, heating with gas

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Indian states ending coal expansion advance goals of UN Climate Week

A session of the 2018 UN General Assembly. Photo: Alexander Shcherbak/TASS via Getty Images

The decisions reached this month by two Indian states, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh, to stop building new coal plants align with a renewed call by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to end all such construction by 2020.

Why it matters: India's pipeline of planned new coal plants ranks second in size only to China's. These commitments by its state governments come ahead of next week's Climate Summit at the UN General Assembly, where countries will face strong pressure to back off support for expanding coal facilities.

Go deeperArrowSep 18, 2019

The coal industry hits natural gas on climate change concerns

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

America's beleaguered coal industry is attacking natural gas for its role in fueling climate change.

Between the lines: It’s ironic because coal is considered far more damaging to the climate than gas.

Go deeperArrowOct 10, 2019

Stalled gas pipelines could push power grids back to oil and coal

Construction of a Spectra Energy pipeline in Peekskill, N.Y., in Aug. 2016. Photo: Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Hindering the expansion of natural gas pipelines could drive a reversion to dirtier energy sources like coal and heating oil, especially when sufficient infrastructure for renewable energy is not yet in place.

Why it matters: Greater demands on the power grid have led to more natural gas pipelines in the Northeastern U.S., but several proposed pipelines have been canceled or delayed due to public pushback. Inhibiting their construction could inadvertently produce greater emissions and lead to more air pollution.

Go deeperArrowSep 20, 2019