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A year after Trump’s election, future of coal remains bleak

Reuters/Mike Blake
Reuters

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A year after Donald Trump was elected president on a promise to revive the ailing U.S. coal industry, the sector’s long-term prospects for growth and hiring remain as bleak as ever.

A Reuters review of mining data shows an industry that has seen only modest gains in jobs and production this year – much of it from a temporary uptick in foreign demand for U.S. coal rather than presidential policy changes.

U.S. utilities are shutting coal-fired power plants at a rapid pace and shifting to cheap natural gas, along with wind and solar power. And domestic demand makes up about 90 percent of the market for U.S. coal.

“We’re not planning to build any additional coal facilities,” said Melissa McHenry, a spokeswoman for American Electric Power, one of the largest U.S. utilities. “The future for coal is dictated by economics … and you can’t make those kinds of investments based on one administration’s politics.”

Reuters

Coal plants now make up 47 percent of AEP’s capacity for power generation, a figure it plans to shrink to 33 percent by 2030.

(For a graphic on coal production, demand and employment, see: http://tmsnrt.rs/2zKY1tQ)

The situation highlights the limitations of presidential policy on major industries and global economic trends. As some energy experts have said all along, the forces that will make or break mining are well beyond the powers of the Oval Office.

A White House official did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump has likely done all he can do to help the industry, said Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association, which represents major U.S. coal companies.

“The government is no longer against us,” he said. “We now only have market forces to contend with.”

Trump has taken action on many promises he made to coal interests in states that helped him win the election.

The president started the process of killing former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, meant to reduce carbon emissions from power plants; ended an Obama-era moratorium on coal leasing on federal lands; ditched limits on dumping coal waste into streams; and started withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Reuters

Now Trump’s Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, is attempting to push a rule through the independent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that would subsidize power plants that store at least a 90-day supply of coal on site. The goal is to extend the life of some coal burning power plants, a move Perry says will make the electric grid more reliable.

While the full impact of Trump’s coal policy could take years to understand, the changes so far are unlikely to boost domestic demand, energy analysts and utility officials said.

Reuters

“BACK 100 PERCENT”

Trump has cast the coal industry as a victim of burdensome regulation.

The industry has lost more than 40 percent of its work force in less than a decade and seen production drop to its lowest levels since 1978. Its share of the power market has fallen to less than a third from about half in 2003.

“We’re going to bring the coal industry back 100 percent,” Trump said at a rally in Virginia in August of 2016.

So far, progress has been limited.

U.S. coal production is on track to rise more than 8 percent in 2017 over the previous year, to 790 million tons, according to the Energy Information Administration. But 2018 output is expected to decline.

The number of coal miners has also risen slightly to 51,900 in October, up about 2,200 since November 2016 – but down about 70 percent from a 1985 peak, according to the Labor Department.

Reuters

On November 1, Trump cited the modest production increases in a Tweet, saying, “It is finally happening for our great clean coal miners!”

But these increases are largely attributable to demand for U.S. coal from Asian steel mills after temporary outages from their usual suppliers in Australia, according to James Stevenson, a coal analyst at IHS Markit.

During the first six months of 2017, Asian countries took in 7.5 million short tons of U.S. coal, up 97 percent over the same period in 2016, according to the EIA.

That demand will soon fade, Stevenson said.

“We are not going to get a repeat of 2017,” he said of the spike in exports.

Reuters

“OBSOLETE”

Forecasts from utilities and the U.S. government reveal little reason for hope of a sustained coal rebound.

Utilities are expected to shut down more than 13,600 megawatts of coal plant capacity in 2018. That follows a loss of nearly 8,000 MW this year and 13,000 MW in 2016, according to EIA and Thomson Reuters data.

By 2025, coal-fired power plant capacity will dip to 226,380 MW, down about 30 percent from 2011, according to EIA.

Three Texas coal plants owned by Vistra Energy Corp subsidiary Luminant are among the latest to close, bringing the number of plants that shut, or plan to, to 265 since 2010 – a figure higher than the 258 plants that remain, according to the Sierra Club, which has campaigned against coal.

Reuters

Vistra said the closures were forced by lower prices for natural gas and renewable power – and not by environmental regulations.

Duke Energy, one of the country’s largest utilities, has shut down more than 5,400 MW of coal capacity since 2011 and plans to shed another 2,000 MW by 2024.

Over the next decade, Duke plans to invest $11 billion in new natural gas and renewable power – and nothing in new coal-fired generation, said spokesman Rick Rhodes.

A Nov. 2 report by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis – which has two of the largest coal producers in its district, Peabody Energy Corp and Arch Coal Inc – said coal-fired power plants “may eventually become obsolete.”

Coal companies believe they can survive despite the troubling market outlook.

Reuters

Peabody expects a “modest number” of coal power plant retirements in the coming years, with some of that lost capacity shifting to remaining plants that will increase output, spokesman Vic Svec said. Arch spokeswoman Logan Bonacorsi offered a similar forecast.

Robert Murray, the chief executive of privately-held Murray Energy Corp – one of America’s biggest underground miners – said Trump could do more for the industry. The administration, Murray said, should end tax breaks for wind and solar power and reverse an EPA finding that carbon emissions endanger human health.

But Trump’s tax bill last week preserved most solar incentives, which have bi-partisan backing. And the EPA has so far steered clear of the so-called “endangerment finding” on emissions that is the basis of many fossil-fuel regulations, given the breadth of scientific evidence that would be needed to reverse it.

Murray Energy, meanwhile, announced on Oct. 31 it will buy a 30.5 percent stake in a coal-mining partnership in Utah called Canyon Consolidated Resources, LLC.

The deal might help the companies cut costs, but it’s unlikely to help workers: Murray said about 200 of 1,000 jobs in Utah could be lost.

 

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; additional reporting by Scott Disavino in New York; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Brian Thevenot)

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Charles Manson is really f*#$ing dead

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Charles Manson, the nefarious leader of the Manson Family cult that slaughtered seven people in 1969, is dead. He’s really fucking dead. Manson was 83 years old.

Debra Tate, sister of Manson’s most famous victim, Sharon Tate, told TMZ she received a call from the prison where he was serving nine consecutive life sentences with word that Manson died at 8:13 p.m. Sunday.

On Aug. 9, 1969, Manson directed his followers to kill Sharon Tate, a 26-year-old pregnant movie star, at her California home. The other victims were coffee heiress Abigail Folger, celebrity hair stylist Jay Sebring, Voytek Frykowski and Steven Parent. The following night, Manson ordered his followers to kill Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary. Even though the vicious two-day killing spree took place more than 50 years ago, the murders remain an infatuation in popular culture and is still considered one of the most horrifying murder sprees in American history.

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LAPD officer accused to planting drugs on suspect

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The Los Angeles Police Department will investigate allegations of misconduct against at least one officer, the department said on Friday, after an attorney said video captured police putting cocaine in his client’s wallet before arresting him.

The allegations threaten to embarrass the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) at a time when civil rights activists, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, are pressuring it to more routinely release body-camera footage.

“The LAPD takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and, as in all cases, will conduct a thorough investigation to determine whether the alleged actions are supported by reliable evidence,” the department said in a statement.

Body-camera footage played in court on Thursday showed police planting drugs on an African-American man when they detained him after a vehicle collision in April, said Steve Levine, the man’s attorney.

The man, Ronald Shields, 52, was arrested and charged with possession of cocaine, illegally having a gun in his car and a hit-and-run vehicle collision, Levine said.

Local television station CBS 2 first reported the attorney’s allegation of drug planting and broadcast the footage.

In body-camera video from one officer, which was shown on CBS 2, the officer appeared to pick up a small bag of white powder from the street and tuck it into the suspect’s wallet.

The same officer could also be seen and heard approaching other officers to tell them cocaine was found in the wallet.

“I still don’t understand why he did it, other than maybe he just wanted to brag about it and move his career along at my client’s expense,” Levine said by phone.

The police report for the arrest said the cocaine was found in the suspect’s front pocket, not the wallet, according to CBS 2, which showed the document.

Levine could not provide the full name of the officer who he said was caught on video putting the bag of white powder in the suspect’s wallet. The attorney added he believes multiple officers were complicit.

The Los Angeles Police Protective League, a labor union for officers, disputed Levine’s allegations.

“A criminal defense attorney’s selective use of body worn camera footage does not tell the entire story,” it said. “We believe the truth will be uncovered upon the completion of the internal review and we believe the officers will be vindicated.”

In Baltimore this year, prosecutors re-examined dozens of cases and dismissed some after body-worn camera footage showed police officers apparently staging the discovery of evidence.

 

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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Trump’s travel ban is allowed to take partial effect

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A U.S. appeals court in California on Monday let President Donald Trump’s latest travel ban go partially into effect, ruling the government can bar entry of people from six Muslim-majority countries with no connections to the United States.

A three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals partially granted a Trump administration request to block at least temporarily a judge’s ruling that had put the new ban on hold. Trump’s ban was announced on Sept. 24 and replaced two previous versions that had been impeded by federal courts.

Reuters

The action means the ban will apply to people from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Chad who do not have connections to the United States.

Those connections are defined as family relationships and “formal, documented” relationships with U.S.-based entities such as universities and resettlement agencies. Those with family relationships that would allow entry include grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins of people in the United States.

The ruling does not affect people from the two other countries listed in Trump’s ban, North Korea and Venezuela.

The state of Hawaii, which sued to block the restrictions, argued that federal immigration law did not give Trump the authority to impose them on six of those countries. U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson in Honolulu ruled last month that Hawaii was likely to succeed with that argument.

Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin said the court’s decision tracked what the Supreme Court said in June when it partially revived Trump’s second travel ban, which has now expired.

“I’m pleased that family ties to the U.S., including grandparents, will be respected,” Chin added.

Trump issued his first travel ban targeting several Muslim-majority countries in January, just a week after he took office, and then issued a revised one after the first was blocked by the courts. The second one expired in September after a long court fight and was replaced with another revised version.

Trump has said the travel ban is needed to protect the United States from terrorism by Muslim militants. As a candidate, Trump had promised “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

Critics of the travel ban in its various iterations call it a “Muslim ban” that violates the U.S. Constitution by discriminating on the basis of religion.

The 9th Circuit is due to hear oral arguments in the case on Dec. 6. In a parallel case from Maryland, a judge also ruled against the Trump administration and partially blocked the ban from going into effect.

An appeal in the Maryland case is being heard on Dec. 8 by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia. The Maryland case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents several advocacy groups, including the International Refugee Assistance Project.

In announcing the newest travel restrictions, the White House had portrayed them as necessary consequences for countries that did not meet new requirements for vetting of immigrants and issuing of visas. Those requirements were shared in July with foreign governments, which had 50 days to make improvements if needed, the White House said.

A number of countries made improvements by enhancing the security of travel documents or the reporting of passports that were lost or stolen, the administration has said. Others did not, sparking the restrictions.

The Justice Department had no immediate comment.

 

 

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

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