Coal strip mined in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming is the source of 13% of US carbon pollution
A new report from the Department of Interior’s Inspector General highlights several problems with the way DOI gives taxpayer-owned coal to companies like Peabody, Arch, and Cloud Peak Energy, including flaws in the way DOI calculates fair market value (FMV) and a failure to consider increasing coal exports. The report reinforces the need for a moratorium on federal coal leasing, as outlined in a letter to Secretary Jewell on her first day in office which noted these and other concerns. The New York Times reports: Continue reading →
The ALEC repeal of NC’s renewable energy law was written by fossil fuel funded climate change deniers at the Heartland Institute.
Bitter from a lack of support for his attacks on clean energy incentives, North Carolina Representative Mike Hager is promising some new, dirty tricks to revive the effort. His colleagues in the NC Senate appear to be helping, today advancing the Senate version of Rep. Hager’s bill through committee without counting the votes.
Opponents of the bill loudly voted “No!” to show their frustration at the Republican chairman’s decision not to count individual votes. In what was clearly a razor-thin margin, both sides said they would have won if votes had been counted.
Peabody Energy, the largest coal company in the US and one of the largest in the world, is once again embroiled in controversy over shady treatment of employees.
In 2007, Peabody Energy created Patriot Coal, a spin-off company comprised of Peabody’s eastern US mines. According to lawsuits involving the United Mine Workers (UMW), Patriot was formed as a place to stash union mines in West Virginia and the Midwest, along with the significant pension and health-care obligations that these eastern mines held. According to UMW, Patriot was essentially a “company created to fail,” to give Peabody Energy and Arch Coal (another major US coal company who sold union mines to Patriot) an easy way to avoid paying union pensions and health-care benefits, while continuing to profit from their giant, nonunion surface mines in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming.
As anticipated, former Duke Energy engineer and North Carolina Representative Mike Hager has introduced a version of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s “Electricity Freedom Act” into the state’s General Assembly.
By introducing a bill to fully repeal North Carolina’s RPS law, Rep. Hager is backtracking on his own promise not to eliminate current renewable energy targets for NC’s dominant utility, Duke Energy. From the Charlotte Business Journal last December:
Hager says he does not support eliminating the renewable requirements. N.C. utilities already have committed to long-term contracts to meet the current level of renewable-energy requirements. So changing the rules could cause problems for the utilities, he notes. That is why he generally favors capping renewables at the current level.
But Rep. Hager abandoned this position, instead marching in lockstep with the American Legislative Exchange Council’s full repeal initiative.
Correction: this post listed KS Sen. Julia Lynn as a supporter of the RPS freeze–she is not and her name was removed below.
A recent flood of Koch-supported think tanks, junk scientists and astroturf groups from inside and outside of Kansas are awaiting the outcome of a bill this week that could stall progress on the growth of clean energy in Kansas.
States around the country, including Texas, Ohio, Missouri and North Carolina are poised to cut back on government support for clean energy jobs using model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC, which brings companies together with state lawmakers to forge a wish list of corporate state laws behind closed doors, is coordinating this year’s assault on state laws that require a gradual increase of electricity generated by clean energy sources.
This fossil fuel-funded attack ignores the good that wind energy has done for Kansas, a state known for its bipartisan support for its growing wind industry (see key report by Polsinelli Shughart). The state now has 19 operating wind farms that have brought millions to farmers leasing their land and millions more to the state, county and local levels (NRDC). The American Wind Energy Association says that Kansas wind industry jobs have grown to 13,000 with the help of incentives like the renewable portfolio standard.
Unfortunately, clean energy is not palatable to the billionaire Koch brothers or the influence peddlers they finance. Continue reading →
Ambre Energy's losses dwarf its revenues. From Sightline Institute, "Ambre Energy, Caveat Investor"
It’s not a good time to be a coal industry executive in the US. Last year, wind power made up nearly half of all new installed electricity generation, and domestic coal use is on the decline year after year. With dimming prospects at home, companies are in a race to export US coal to foreign markets. Some of the coal companies pushing to export US coal are relatively well known, especially for their long history of environmental and labor abuses - think Peabody and Arch. But until now, little has been known about Ambre Energy, the Australian company pushing two of the controversial coal export terminals in Washington and Oregon. A new report from the Sightline Institute, “Ambre Energy: Caveat Investor” digs deep into the inner workings and shaky footing of this startup – and for the communities and investors weighing Ambre’s promises, the results are not pretty. The report details the many challenges facing Ambre in its aspirations of becoming a true planet-destroying coal titan.
To begin with, Ambre has accumulated $124 million in losses, while collecting only $6.6 million in revenues over the last 7 years. An earlier coal project in Australia collapsed in the face of opposition from farmers and the local government, and Ambre now admits it lost $10.9 million in the process. With the cancellation of that Australian project, the company barely qualifies as a coal company – only because of two failing coal mines in Montana and Wyoming they purchased from previous owners who were planning to close them. Now, the company is on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in liabilities for mine reclamation and cleanup, retirement benefits, and other costs at those mines. Meanwhile, Ambre recently announced layoffs of 75 people at one them, the Decker mine, amid a lawsuit from its former partner Cloud Peak Energy. Continue reading →
One of the many subsidies that coal mining companies like Arch and Peabody enjoy is coming under increased scrutiny from federal regulators. The Department of Interior (DOI) announced that an investigation has been launched to determine if coal companies are using sister companies to reduce the royalties they owe when exporting taxpayer-owned coal to foreign markets. The federal probe follows a Reuters investigation that found that “By valuing coal at low domestic prices rather than the much higher price fetched overseas, coal producers can dodge the larger royalty payout when mining federal land.”
In a letter to Senators Wyden and Murkowski, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar promised that DOI’s Inspector General will “aggressively pursue any company found in violation of the laws and regulations related to the valuation of Federal coal.”
This internal investigation follows another investigation currently underway at DOI focused on the coal leasing program run by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Without proper oversight, sham “auctions” run by BLM have allowed coal companies to secure taxpayer-owned coal for around $1 per ton. According to a report by Tom Sanzillo of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, this has amounted to a $28.9 billion subsidy over the last 30 years. In addition to DOI’s internal review, the BLM’s coal leasing program is also under review by the General Accounting Office.
It appears that coal companies are trying to bilk taxpayers at every available opportunity, and so far our federal regulators seem to have been asleep at the wheel. Hopefully these investigations signal that they are starting to wake up. After all, there are some pretty aggressive drivers out there – here’s how a spokesperson for one of the coal companies tried to defend their approach: “In my neighborhood, I don’t stop at every block. I could. But that’s not where the stop signs are. You can say you don’t like the regulations, but we play by the rules.”
With the US coal industry desperately seeking shortcuts, we need more vigilance at the Department of Interior – and probably a few more stop signs.
Corporate polluters are taking aim this year at states with renewable energy laws, starting with an attack on North Carolina’s clean energy economy by a corporate front group known as ALEC with support from Duke Energy, ExxonMobil, and Koch Industries.
NC Rep. Mike Hager: ALEC member and former Duke Energy employee.
North Carolina state Representative Mike Hager says he is confident that he has the votes needed to weaken or undo his state’s clean energy requirements during his second term. Rep. Hager is a former Duke Energy engineer and a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. Duke and Progress Energy (now legally merged) have given Rep. Hager $14,500 for his last two election bids, outspent only by the NC Republican Party.
This is where ALEC makes things awkward for Duke Energy: the law that Rep. Mike Hager is targeting (2007 SB3) was created with input from Duke Energy, and Duke explicitly opposes ALEC’s “Electricity Freedom Act,” the model law to repeal state Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (REPS). Duke Energy re-asserted its support for North Carolina’s REPS law to the Charlotte Business Journal last April and Progress Energy publicly supported the law before merging with Duke.
Apparently, Duke forgot about supporting North Carolina’s clean energy incentives somewhere along the way. Duke Energy remains a paying member of the American Legislative Exchange Council. Continue reading →
Next week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is scheduled to hold an “auction” for 721 million tons of taxpayer-owned coal in the Powder River Basin. This is for the North Porcupine tract, and like the South Porcupine tract that BLM leased to Peabody last month, even though this coal is owned by you and me, the lease was drawn up by Peabody itself for its own profit. This is what’s known as a “lease by application,” and under BLM’s corrupt coal leasing program, Peabody will almost certainly be the only bidder and pay next to nothing – WildEarth Guardians’ 2009 report “UnderMining the Climate” found that over the last 20 years, only 3 of 21 lease by applications had more than one bidder. Since Peabody knows it will face no competitive pressure, it can simply offer the lowest possible price, secure in the knowledge that if it doesn’t meet BLM’s absurdly low minimum price, it can just try again later. In fact, that’s just what happened with the South Porcupine tract; Peabody’s initial offer of just $0.90 per ton was rejected as too low by the BLM – so they simply held another auction a few weeks later and accepted Peabody’s offer of $1.11 per ton. In both “auctions” Peabody was the only bidder. Now, the company is once again seeking cheap access to more of our coal, so it can strip mine it from public lands and export it to lucrative markets in Asia. (See Will the Bureau of Land Management subsidize Peabody’s plans to export coal to Asia?)
Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal company, will be bidding on Thursday for the privilege to mine hundreds of millions of tons of taxpayer-owned coal on a tract of land in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, hoping to score some bargain prices – so they can export much of it to Asia. Peabody’s offer last time for the South Porcupine tract – $366.6 million for 400 million tons of coal, just 90 cents a ton – was rejected by the BLM as too low, and a new auction was set for May 17.
This auction comes as the Bureau of Land Management is coming under increased scrutiny for subsidizing coal mining companies like Peabody at the expense of US taxpayers, ignoring the huge amounts of global warming pollution that will be generated when the coal is burned, and failing to account for Peabody’s plans to export increasing amounts of this US coal to foreign markets. Continue reading →