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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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Armed deputy who failed to confront gunman at Florida school resigns

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The armed sheriff’s deputy assigned to the Florida high school where 17 people were shot dead has resigned rather than face suspension after an internal investigation showed he failed to enter the school to confront the gunman during the attack, the county sheriff said on Thursday.

Deputy Scot Peterson, who was on duty and in uniform as the resource officer posted at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was the only law enforcement officer present on Feb. 14 when the rampage started, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said.

Peterson’s actions were caught on video during the massacre, which ranks as the second-deadliest shooting ever at a U.S. public school, carried out by a lone gunman wielding a semiautomatic AR-15-style assault rifle.

Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old former student, was later arrested and charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder in the assault.

“What I saw was a deputy arrive at the west side of Building 12, take up a position and he never went in,” Israel said, referring to the building on campus where authorities said the bulk of the shooting occurred.

Israel told reporters the shooting in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Parkland lasted six minutes, and that Peterson reached the building under attack about 90 seconds after the first shots were fired, then lingered outside for at least four minutes.

Asked what the deputy should have done, Israel replied, “Went in. Addressed the killer. Killed the killer.”

Peterson has not given a reason for why he did not enter the building, Israel said. Neither the deputy nor any representatives could immediately be reached for comment.

Israel said he had decided on the basis of his review of the video to suspend Peterson, but the deputy resigned first.

The sheriff said two other deputies have been placed on restricted duty pending an internal investigation into whether they properly handled two telephone tips, received in 2016 and 2017, warning that Cruz might be inclined to commit a school shooting.

Authorities have said that Cruz, who was expelled from Stoneman Douglas High last year for unspecified disciplinary problems, made his getaway moments after the shooting by blending in with students fleeing the school for safety.

LAW ENFORCEMENT RESPONSE UNDER SCRUTINY

Police officers arriving on the scene from the adjacent city of Coral Springs thought the gunman was still inside as they searched the building, based on a security camera video feed that they mistakenly believed was showing them real-time images but was actually footage from 20 minutes earlier.

Coral Springs Police Chief Tony Pustizzi told reporters on Thursday that the confusion stemmed from human error and a “communication failure,” not malfunctioning equipment. He insisted that the mishap did not put any lives in danger.

Still, the disclosure may help explain the time lapse between the shooting and the suspect’s arrest.

The Broward sheriff has said Cruz, after slipping away from the school, casually spent more than an hour drifting through a Walmart store and visiting two fast-food outlets before he was spotted and taken into custody without a struggle.

The shooting has renewed a national debate between proponents of gun rights, as enshrined in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and advocates for tougher restrictions on firearms.

High school students from Stoneman Douglas and elsewhere around the country have launched a protest and lobbying campaign demanding new curbs on assault weapons. U.S. President Donald Trump has suggested school gun violence could be abated by arming teachers.

On Thursday, the head of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, lashed out at gun control advocates, accusing liberal elites of politicizing the Florida mass shooting to try to attack “our firearms freedoms so they can eradicate all individual freedoms.”

The carnage also has raised questions about whether law enforcement agencies did all they could to detect and follow up on possible warning signs of last week’s gun violence in advance.

The Broward sheriff’s office received at least 18 calls for service or tips about Cruz during the past decade, and internal affairs detectives are still reviewing two of them to determine if they were properly handled, Israel said.

In one instance from February 2016, the sheriff’s office received information from a neighbor’s son that Cruz “planned to shoot up” a school, based on an Instagram post with a picture of a “juvenile with guns,” according to an agency fact sheet released to the media. A deputy subsequently determined Cruz possessed knives and a BB gun and notified a school resource officer, the document said.

In a more recent incident dated Nov. 30, 2017, a caller told the sheriff’s office that Cruz was collecting guns and knives and “could be a school shooter in the making,” according to the fact sheet. The tipster, it said, advised that the weapons were kept at a friend’s house at an unknown location.

A deputy in that case referred the caller to the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office because Cruz was said to have moved to that jurisdiction, the Broward sheriff’s office said.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation prompted widespread outrage last Friday when it said it had failed to act on a tip warning that a man, since identified as Cruz, had possessed a gun, the desire to kill and the potential to commit a school shooting.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Tom Brown and Lisa Shumaker)

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South Korea’s ‘Penis Park’ Grabs Attention of Olympic Visitors

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There’s a park full of giant penises in South Korea.

Believe it or not, the statues were erected for a sweet reason. Watch and find out why.

South Korea's 'Penis Park' Grabs Attention of Olympic Visitors

Get a load of this. There's a 'penis park' in South Korea.

Posted by Better than the Weekend on Wednesday, February 21, 2018

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‘I am not going back to school until lawmakers, and the president, change this law’

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By Katanga Johnson

Dozens of students and parents from the Florida high school where 17 teens and staff members died in a shooting rampage boarded buses on Tuesday for a trip to the state capital Tallahassee to push for a ban on assault rifles.

Reuters

Last week’s massacre, the second-deadliest shooting at a public school in U.S. history, has inflamed a national debate about gun rights and prompted teens from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and across the United States to demand legislative action. The incident has galvanized advocates for stricter gun controls, including many survivors of the shooting.

“I am not going back to school until lawmakers, and the president, change this law,” said Tyra Hemans, an 18-year-old senior, referring to Florida’s law permitting the sale of assault rifles. “Three people I looked to for advice and courage are gone but never forgotten, and for them, I am going to our state capital to tell lawmakers we are tired and exhausted of stupid gun laws.”

Fourteen students and three educators were killed in the Feb. 14 attack at the school in Parkland, near Fort Lauderdale. Authorities have charged Nikolas Cruz, 19, with 17 counts of premeditated murder for allegedly returning to the school from which he had been expelled and opening fire with a semiautomatic AR-15 assault rifle.

The youth-led protest movement that erupted within hours of the shooting attracted a prominent celebrity supporter on Tuesday when actor George Clooney and his wife Amal, a human rights lawyer, said they would donate $500,000 to help fund a planned March 24 gun control march in Washington.

Reuters

A Washington Post/ABC News opinion poll released on Tuesday showed 77 percent of Americans believe the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress is not doing enough to prevent mass shootings, with 62 percent saying President Donald Trump, also a Republican, has not done enough on that front.

Trump said on Tuesday he had signed a memorandum directing the attorney general to draw up regulations banning devices that turn firearms into machine guns, like the bump stock used in October’s mass shooting in Las Vegas.

MARCHES IN FLORIDA, TENNESSEE

Students in states including Florida and Tennessee staged sympathy protests on Tuesday, according to local media reports. Miami’s WTVJ-TV showed video of about 1,000 teens and adults marching from a high school in Boca Raton to the site of the Parkland shooting, about 12 miles (19 km) to the west.

Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature has taken up at least two bills during its current session intended to provide broader access to guns. On Tuesday the state House turned down an attempt to bring up a bill that would block sales of assault rifles, News Service Florida reported.

State Senator Bill Galvano, the chamber’s next president, called for a bill to limit sales of assault rifles to people at least 21 years old, with some exceptions, up from the current minimum age of 18. The legislature’s current session ends on March 9, leaving little time for a vote.

Current U.S. high school students were born after the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado in which a pair of teen gunmen killed 13 people. There have been numerous mass shootings, not just in schools, since then in the United States, and students in this age group have grown up in an environment where they regularly train for the possibility of being targeted by a shooter on the loose in school.

Gun ownership is protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and remains one of the nation’s more divisive issues. The Washington Post/ABC News poll found that fewer than seven in 10 Republicans support the idea of a ban on assault weapons, the reverse of Democrats, 71 percent of whom support it. A federal ban on assault weapons, in force for 10 years, expired in 2004.

Funerals continued for the young victims of Wednesday’s attack.

Reuters

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point on Tuesday said it made a rare posthumous letter of acceptance to Peter Wang, a student of the school killed in the shooting. A Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadet, Wang had aspired to attend the elite academy.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Frances Kerry and Lisa Shumaker)

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