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Report: Owner of 2 Wyoming Mines Paid $20 Million for Another Company to Take Them Over
New company filings show that that the owner of two well-known coal mines in Wyoming paid more than $20 million for Blackjewel Inc. to takes possession of them in December. Contura Energy had owned the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines as a result of Alpha Energy’s bankruptcy reorganization in 2016 during an industry downturn that has continued: “Some say the deal heralds bad days to come. Others are more diplomatic about the challenges for Wyoming coal, but agree that the sale is telling of how the sector has changed in a few short years.”
Wyoming Has Added Only 5 Full-Time Coal Jobs Since 2016
The latest government jobs report shows Wyoming, the biggest coal-producing state in the U.S., having added only five full-time coal-mining jobs since 2016. The industry is hampered by the rise of natural gas and renewables alongside customer preferences for clean electricity generation. “When companies don’t see a lot of positive on the horizon, they’re always reluctant to hire again,” said one Wyoming official.
Ruling on Montana and Wyoming Federal Coal Lease Policy Another Setback to Mining Industry
In a blow to the coal industry in Montana and Wyoming, a federal judge has ruled that the Bureau of Land Management must consider potential impacts on climate change in deciding on further permitting of federal coal leases. The case could ultimately put a legal limit on the amount of coal mined in the region. “This ruling is the latest example of courts forcing the federal government to be honest with the American public,” one plaintiff said.
Wyoming Moves to Protect Taxpayers When Coal Companies Break Cleanup Promises
Wyoming, home of the Powder River Basin and the largest coal reserves in America, is moving to hold coal companies more accountable around their mine-cleanup promises. At issue is industry “self-bonding,” which left taxpayers holding the bag with the bankruptcy last year of companies that included Alpha Natural Resources, Arch Coal, and Peabody Energy. “It’s a recognition that these sophisticated multinational companies were able to take advantage of those loopholes in the older regulations and that there’s some commonsense fixes that could be put into place that make sure that companies aren’t going to leave Wyoming taxpayers hanging,” said one critic of the historical system.
In Wyoming, a Population Exodus
Wyoming is reporting its biggest population drop in a quarter century after about 8,300 people moved out of the state in 2017, mostly from the Powder River Basin, where the economy is heavily dependent on coal mining. Campbell County was among the hardest hit areas, losing 2,500 people, or 5.2 percent of its population. Conversely, Lincoln County, which is more reliant on tourism, and Albany County, home to the University of Wyoming, reported census growth of about 1 percent each. “Migration is mostly driven by changes in employment, which is particularly true for Wyoming,” said the chief economist for the State of Wyoming’s Economic Analysis Division.
Coal company with mines in several states is in financial peril
An analysis of Colorado-based Westmoreland Coal shows that it is in deep financial peril, a situation that may affect communities in Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, and Wyoming as the company’s customer base dries up. “The cost inherent in coal-fired power are moving (utilities) away from coal," says the study’s author.
Michigan’s Biggest Utility, Buyer of Wyoming Coal, Is Shifting Direction
Consumers Energy, the biggest utility in Michigan and an important customer of Wyoming mines owned by Arch Coal, Peabody Energy, and Cloud Peak Energy, is phasing out its coal-fired generation in favor of other power sources. The utility supplies electricity to more than 60 percent of Michigan’s 10 million residents. “We believe we’re going to be on the right side of history on this issue,” said Consumers CEO Patti Poppe.
As Coal Revenues Dry Up, Wyoming Considers Turning to Property Taxes for School Funding
The state senate voted unanimously to move forward with a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow school districts to pay for new school construction with property tax revenue. The plan is a departure from reliance on coal leases from public lands and is being pursued as a way to replace $1 billion in such funding, which has all but disappeared in recent years.
Coal Mine Sale in Wyoming Is Another Indication of Declining Market
Contura Energy’s unexpected sale of its Belle Ayr and Eagle Butte mines in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming raises questions about the persistent market difficulties facing U.S. coal producers: “The Powder River Basin, the biggest producer of American coal, does not need another coal company trying to succeed off marginal reserves in a falling market.”
In Powder River Basin Exit, Coal CEO Wishes Miners ‘the Very Best’
Contura Energy, the company created last year from the bankruptcy of Alpha Natural Resources, has jettisoned its mines in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming: “CEO Kevin Crutchfield extolled the virtues of the Wyoming mines and miners in his sendoff statement Monday, wishing ‘them the very best.’”
Governors Are Leading U.S. Energy Transition
Wyoming is among the states developing renewable energy for export, one example of many in which “state leadership and energy markets are already headed toward renewables and away from fossil fuels, a trend federal policy changes won't deter.”