Renee Shaw and her guests discuss energy policy. Scheduled guests: Tyler White, president of the Kentucky Coal Association; Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council; Bill Barr, co-founder and managing partner of BlackRidge Resource Partners and chair of the Kentucky Oil and Gas Association’s government affairs committee; and Sarah Lynn Cunningham, an environmental engineer and president of the board of directors of the Kentucky Conservation Committee.
Americans have been exceptionally fortunate in recent decades to enjoy robust power generation to heat their homes, refrigerate their food, and deliver clean drinking water. Unlike many countries, the United States maintains affordable, non-stop, 24/7 electricity. It’s an impressive feat in a nation of 325 million that continues to add more than 2 million people annually.
As America increases its use of intermittent wind and solar power, it’s important to examine whether the nation can continue to meet its overall energy needs. Recently, Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced a review of the stability of the nation’s power grid—and just as the nation faces conflicting energy problems. Nuclear power, which generates about a fifth of America’s electricity, appears to be winding down, thanks to prohibitive construction costs. And while natural gas generates a third of the nation’s power, export controls are being lifted—which could lead to price increases as both domestic and overseas demand is rising.
Secretary Perry has his work cut out for him, since the task of securing America’s energy grid could stumble into a perfect storm of higher prices. And much-touted renewable power faces its own troubling drawbacks—since the wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun doesn’t always shine. If Washington bets the farm on natural gas and renewables, it’s unclear whether the nation will still be able to meet base load power needs while also maintaining affordable pricing.
These are important issues for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to consider. But news of Secretary Perry’s study has stirred up controversy nevertheless. The nation’s wind and solar groups have expressed concern over Perry’s intent to conduct a thorough review of the cost-benefit ratios involved in power grid reliability. And with taxpayer-funded subsidies for renewable projects under scrutiny, these groups very much want to justify their position.
Notably, coal still undergirds America’s overall power generation. And with the DOE looking to keep the lights on, coal may play a surprisingly strong role in the coming years.
Right now, coal provides roughly one-third of total U.S. power generation. And 13 states depend on coal for more than half of their overall power supply. Unfortunately, this workhorse effort appears under-appreciated. For example, less than 10 percent of voters in a recent study correctly assessed the scale of emissions reductions attained by coal-powered plants over the past 40 years.
Evidently though, any discussion of coal’s strengths, or the subsidies parceled out to wind and solar projects, disturbs the renewable energy industry. In a recent letter to Secretary Perry, these groups argued that they shouldn’t share the blame for coal’s woes which, they insist, merely stem from low natural gas prices.
But Obama Administration regulations posed real consequences. As Duke University’s Nicholas School has reported, recent government regulations threatened the viability of 56 percent of U.S. coal plants, while competition from much-touted low natural gas prices threatened only 9 percent. Conversely, mounting federal subsidies for renewable energy have shielded the wind and solar industry from competition at the expense of competing sources like coal.
According to the Institute for Energy Research, government policies have meant solar power being subsidized by over 345 times more than coal, and wind being subsidized over 52 times more. And this subsidization is costly. DOE data reveals that each energy sector requires vastly different labor inputs: one coal worker equals two natural gas workers, or 12 wind industry employees, or 79 solar workers. And while coal creates 7,800 jobs per Megawatt-hour, wind yields only 2,200, and solar 98. Without subsidies, wind and solar would fare poorly in the free market against coal and natural gas.
States need to protect their base load power, and Secretary Perry is taking a prudent approach in examining such considerations. The heavily subsidized growth of renewables is indeed impacting other power sources, leaving U.S. taxpayers paying more for a less diverse supply of energy. Thus, Perry is right to consider whether America is still on track to meet future power needs, and at a price that consumers can afford.
Terry Jarrett is an energy attorney and consultant who has served on both the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and the Missouri Public Service Commission.
For the Kentucky Coal Association, the election of President Donald Trump gave us hope. Instead of vilifying coal like President Barack Obama did, the Trump administration recognizes that coal is a reliable and affordable source of energy.
Coal powers our homes and businesses, and the low energy costs it provides gives the commonwealth a competitive advantage when attracting new employers and jobs. Most members of Kentucky’s congressional delegation have been fighting against the “war on coal” for many years, and Trump has been a fierce ally in getting meaningful regulatory relief across the finish line.
I want to take this opportunity to thank our elected officials who’ve been working to undo some of the damage from the last eight years.
When Trump entered office, Congress and this administration came together to overturn the Obama-era stream buffer rule that attempted to make coal too expensive to mine or use. Even worse, the rule could have put as many as one-third of coal-related jobs at risk.
Sen. Mitch McConnell used his role as majority leader to prioritize the repeal of this regulation by introducing a resolution to overturn this anti-coal rule, the first regulation overturned by the Senate this year. I was proud to stand with McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul as Trump signed the resolution into law, signaling a new era for federal treatment of Kentucky coal.
Next, Trump used a pair of executive orders to dismantle other devastating anti-coal regulations. First, he stopped a rule that tried to extend the federal bureaucracy into nearly every pothole, ditch and puddle — often referred to as the waters of the U.S. rule. Then, his Energy Independence Executive Order initiated the repeal of a pair of regulations seeking to close existing coal-fired plants across the nation and prevent new ones from being built.
KCA also thanks Trump for his recent decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. McConnell and Paul joined a letter in the Senate and representatives Andy Barr and James Comer signed onto a similar letter in the House urging the president to protect Kentucky coal communities and withdraw the U.S. from this unattainable agreement.
In addition to helping deliver regulatory relief to struggling coal communities, Kentucky senators and representatives have also secured new research funding to support technological advancements for coal. The most recent government-funding legislation included over $660 million to support a Department of Energy program focused on developing new coal technology, which is important to keeping coal competitive.
The industry simply wants to get Washington bureaucracy out of the way so that coal can compete on the open market. Those who blame coal’s downturn on cheap natural gas prices are missing the full picture and are too quick to forget natural gas’ characteristic price volatility. When the Obama administration put coal at a disadvantage, the marketplace followed that direction.
Although it will take some time to recover from the Obama administration’s regulatory damage, I am encouraged that we have recently seen slight increases in coal production in some places and some federal projections estimate increased production over the next few years. It’s too early to say whether a trend in increased coal production will come to fruition, but the regulatory relief has restored some hope.
Trump and leaders in Congress like McConnell have created an optimism about coal by offering their support to struggling communities. As a result, we have seen idle mines start back production and new companies begin operations in some of the most devastated regions of our state. We know that there is still much work to do for Kentucky’s coal country but together we are making strides in a positive direction.
Tyler White is president of the Kentucky Coal Association.
John Oliver — and a giant squirrel — made the king of coal seriously angry.
Robert Murray, the CEO of one of America’s largest coal companies, filed a defamation lawsuit against Oliver on Wednesday. The lawsuit claims the HBO comedian executed a “meticulously planned” and “ruthless character assassination” designed to boost TV ratings and hurt his mining company.
The lawsuit named Oliver, the show’s production company, his senior news producer Charles Wilson, HBO and Time Warner () (which owns CNN). The complaint alleges that Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” episode on Sunday “incited” viewers to “do harm to Mr. Murray and his companies.” It also claims the miner’s website was hacked as a result of the segment, and that Oliver’s statements constitute “false light invasion of privacy” and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
During his June 18 show, Oliver lambasted President Trump over his promises to bring back thousands of coal mining jobs, a pledge the comedian says is a false promise to an industry that’s been in a steep decline for decades.
The segment, which has been viewed 4.5 million times on YouTube, devoted several minutes to Murray, the CEO of Murray Energy, and a vocal champion of the coal industry. Oliver told the audience that Murray had warned him he would sue and bring the case all the way to the Supreme Court if he failed to “cease and desist” any effort to “defame, harass, or otherwise injure Mr. Murray or Murray Energy.”
Oliver said on air that he would “proceed with caution,” and then he launched into a monologue comparing the 77-year-old coal exec to a “geriatric Dr. Evil.” The segment chronicled Murray’s career in mining and his handling of a 2007 mine collapse in Utah that left six miners and three rescuers dead.
“An honest conversation about coal and its miners needs to be had,” Oliver said, “and we should neither cease nor desist from having it.”
But the complaint alleges that Oliver and the show “intentionally, falsely, and outrageously” suggested that Murray had no evidence to support statements that the mine collapse was caused by an earthquake. The lawsuit claims Oliver ignored studies supporting Murray and quoted others out of context.
Oliver later recounted a story — that Murray has denied happened — that the CEO told workers the idea for starting a mine company came to him from a squirrel.
At the end of the show, the HBO host trotted a man dressed in a giant squirrel costume onto stage to address Murray directly. “Bob, I just wanted to say if you plan on suing, I do not have a billion dollars, but I do have a check for three acorns and 18 cents,” the squirrel said.
“It’s made out to ‘Eat sh*t Bob!,” the squirrel said, while holding up a giant fake check with “kiss my ass!” scrawled in the memo field.
Oliver acknowledged during the show that Murray is “probably going to sue me.” He added, “You know what? I stand by everything I said.”
In a statement, HBO said: “We have confidence in the staff of Last Week Tonight and do not believe anything in the show this week violated Mr. Murray’s or Murray Energy’s rights.”
Murray Energy’s complaint referred to Oliver, who is British, as a “foreign national residing in New York.” The company, in a separate statement, called Murray a “patriotic American.”
The lawsuit also described Murray as seriously ill, saying he depends on an oxygen tank, needs a lung transplant and “does not expect to live to see the end of this case.”
“Nothing has ever stressed him more than this vicious and untruthful attack,” the complaint said, adding it has caused “significant emotional and physical distress.”
Murray Energy said that after the Oliver show, its website was attacked three different times by hackers who attempted to crash it. On the third attempt, Murray Energy said it had to take down its website to implement new security measures.
Murray Energy also said it received “numerous harassing telephone calls,” including from callers who simply said: “Eat Sh*t, Bob.”
The coal magnate has spoken out publicly to criticize environmental restrictions on the coal industry and has described former President Barack Obama’s agenda as “evil.”
Murray also filed a libel suit against the New York Times earlier this year for statements it made about the Utah mine collapse. The Times said it has moved to dismiss the suit.
ACOSTA, PA. — On a warm June morning, a large crowd gathered in the lush, gentle folds of the Allegheny Mountains to hear President Donald Trump live on video.
“I’m absolutely thrilled to be speaking with you on this great, great day,” he said. “The miners of Pennsylvania are mining coal again.”
On a stage, five men unfurled a gold banner that blared, in large black letters: “Trump Digs Coal,” as the audience went wild.
For the first time in nearly a decade, a new coal mine has opened here, and a US president has rallied alongside an industry deemed by many as obsolete.
The Acosta Deep Mine in Somerset County marks a dramatic upturn for the area. And while President Trump cannot claim that he brought the industry back here personally (this new mine was already being developed before the election), he is an effective cheerleader for folks who’ve been discounted by the political elite.
“We will begin by employing 70 to 100 miners and we hope to open a total of three new mines in the next 18 months — and that will mean additional hiring,” said George Dethlefsen, CEO of Corsa Coal, which owns the mine.
More than 400 people applied for the first wave of jobs that will pay from $50,000 to $100,000, Dethlefsen said.
In a region where the median household income is $29,050, and nearly 12 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, the economic injection is huge.
‘I don’t think people outside of our small town understand how life-changing this development is.’
– Greg Griffith, coal miner
It also creates a ripple effect: For every new job generated by the mine, even more jobs like waitresses, hotel workers, barbers or grocery workers are needed to support the community.
“The money essentially stays here in our hometown,” said Greg Griffith, owner of Griffith Excavating, who was working the mine last week with his crew. He has hired new people to take on the workload and will employ even more as the other mines open.
“I don’t think people outside of our small town understand how life-changing this development is.”
He’s right about that. Just days after the event, progressives on Twitter slammed the mine, comparing the opening of an energy-supplying coal pit to the launching a VCR factory in the digital age. In their minds, it’s a waste of time.
And the response from the people of Acosta? Stop treating other Americans like the enemy.
They also point out that the criticism is wildly misinformed. The coal from this mine is not going to be used for energy — instead, it will be used for the production of steel for the next 15 years. (According to the World Steel Association, coal is used to make 70 percent of the steel today.)
Every single one of us relies on steel in our daily lives. It’s found in our cars, bikes and public transportation. Those wind turbines so loved by environmentalists? Made of steel. The utensils we use to eat? Steel. Medical devices used to save lives? Steel.
Roads, bridges, appliances and even iPhones and computers all contain steel.
Meanwhile, digital business publication Quartz also knocked the mine, pointing out that 70 new hires is a significantly smaller number than the 92 jobs one supermarket opening would create.
But most folks in a grocery store don’t earn $50,000 to $100,000, and making an apples-to-oranges comparison (retail vs. mining) demonstrates a lack of understanding about coal country and its work force.
It also encourages the delusion that hiring just 70 people won’t create an economic engine for a community.
“That could not be more wrong-headed,” said Sean Isgan, president of CME Engineering, located right across the street from the Somerset County courthouse.
Because of the new mine, Isgan’s business will also expand. “We will hire geologists, surveyors, engineers, computer draftsmen, biologists, wetland people . . . you know, different kinds of sciences,” he said. “So they’re all good-paying jobs, full benefits.”
The life of a coal miner has changed dramatically in the past 100 years. Even in the last decade, the work has become safer, the processes better regulated.
“There is a tremendous amount of regulation that’s involved in coal mining, whether it’s environmental or safety, both of which are extremely critical and valued parts of our business,” Dethlefsen said.
His company has 20 staffers dedicated to environmental issues — clean water, clean air and reclaiming mine sites.
“We are committed to environmental protection, we are committed to safety, we are committed to restoring land to its original contours,” he said. “We do all those things every day, and we spend millions of dollars doing it. It’s a 24/7, 365-day-a-year effort. That is a big change versus the past.”
But many Americans aren’t aware of this modernization. So having a president who believes in this industry, and rallies publicly for it, means a lot. Trump has “created an optimism in the business community that has trickled down from big companies to small, and for all of their workers,” Dethlefsen said.
It’s this support that compelled the people of Somerset County to give Trump their vote. His loyalty won them over months ago, and it won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
President Trump promised to revive the coal industry while on the campaign trail and his efforts are falling into place.
For the first time in about seven years a coal mine has opened in the United States. The Acosta mine, in Somerset Country Pennsylvania, is open for business sparking optimism about the sector.
Last week, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said the coal industry is on the upswing, hiring thousands of workers since President Trump’s election.
“We’ve had almost 50,000 jobs created in the mining and coal sector alone. In fact, in the month of May, almost 7,000 jobs,” Pruitt told Fox News’ Chris Wallace on Sunday. “
In an interview with FOX Business’ Stuart Varney, the CEO of one of America’s largest coal companies agreed with the EPA chief’s coal job assessment and said President Trump will continue to restore coal country.
“He’s [Trump] already save 25,000 coal mining jobs alone on his clean power plant overturn on top of the 46,700 jobs in mining that he’s restored that saves 25,000 jobs on top of the 63,000 that the Sierra Club, Silicon Valley, Democrats, liberal elitist and the media destroyed under eight years under Obama,” Murray Energy CEO Bob Murray said.
According to Murray, 30 percent of America’s electricity is produced by coal mining plants and any reduction will leave the U.S. with an unreliable electric grid.
“Anyone that says we go below that [30 percent] will force people to freeze in the dark, people die in the operating table,” he said.
Despite all the attention paid to the convulsive political change President Trump has brought to Washington, relatively little attention has been focused on a very significant policy shift. For the first time in almost a decade, the Department of Energy (DOE) will once again manage energy issues instead of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Most Americans probably can. It would likely strike them as sensible to move the EPA back to basics so that it can once again focus on its core mission of clean air and water under Administrator Scott Pruitt — and leave the stewardship of the nation’s electricity grid to Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
But as so often happens, what middle America views as sensible strikes Washington as deeply concerning. Take the recent announcement that the DOE will study the impacts of federal regulations on America’s electrical grid. Perry said he will examine “critical issues central to protecting the long-term reliability of the electric grid,” including whether “regulatory burdens” and “mandates and tax and subsidy policies” for renewable energy are forcing coal units into retirement.
This fundamental consideration was completely ignored by the Obama-era EPA while it busily cobbled together the Clean Power Plan. And the Federal Energy Reliability Commission (FERC) also declined to assess the plan’s impact despite the wholesale “transformation” of the power grid promised by an agency heavily staffed with air quality statisticians and wetlands hydrologists.
The results of these regulations are now painfully evident. In 2012, the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards rule — which limits emissions from power plants — alone forced almost 20 percent of coal plants into retirement, and saddled the power industry with almost $10 billion in annual costs — and all for a mere $6 million in public benefit. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated that the Clean Power Plan would cut coal production by 240 million tonsannually.
And contrary to the self-serving argument that natural gas, not EPA regulations, caused coal’s decline, researchers at the Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment reported that government regulations threatened the viability of more than half of the country’s coal plants while low natural gas prices threatened less than 10 percent.
All of these findings suggest the need for just the kind of impact study the administration is now proposing.
Evidently, though, Perry crossed a red line. In an April 28 letter to the secretary, the nation’s wind and solar trade groups expressed shock at the audacity of the Energy Department to study energy.
Why? Because his findings could raise awkward questions about the massive impact of regulations and renewable energy subsidies on grid reliability and energy diversity. Even some in Congress weighed in against the secretary, accusing him of a “thinly disguised attempt” to harm renewables in favor of “less economic electric generation technologies” like coal.
This is nonsense. Since 2008, the EPA has enjoyed an unprecedented authority over the U.S. energy grid, giving renewable fuels a free ride. Federal portfolio requirements, net metering — which gives consumers credits for returning unused energy to the power grid — and annual subsidies have sheltered the renewable energy sector from market competition. And what amounted to roughly $1 billion in assistance 10 years ago has swelled to more than $11.6 billion today.
Now that Pruitt is getting the EPA out of the energy business, energy supply issues are sensibly being handed back to the DOE. Thus there are palpitations aplenty among fledgling renewable projects, fearing a less generous benefactor may force them to struggle in the Hobbesian “war of all against all” energy market ruled by natural gas.
Apparently, it’s okay for coal to struggle against cheap natural gas. But renewable fuels would rather not, thank you very much.
The problem isn’t the undeniably impressive growth of wind and solar power. It’s how this growth has come about. Consider the largesse extended to renewables in recent years: When a friendly government lowers your operating costs with tax breaks, raises your competitors’ costs through regulations and mandates a market for your product — all while shielding your customers from paying for the grid they use — that growth isn’t real, much less revolutionary. It’s easy to get pricing power if you have enough political power.
Subsidies are never free, though, especially not for the millions of Americans who now describe themselves as “lower class.” Even measured by the jobs required to generate electricity, renewable fuels are costly. Wind creates 2,200 jobs per megawatt hour, while solar creates 98 jobs. But coal creates a whopping 7,800 jobs per megawatt hour.
To some, green subsidies are necessary sacrifices that taxpayers must make to help wind and solar win the race for power market domination and potentially help affluent consumers indulge their green vanity. But U.S. taxpayers left paying more for energy — and for a smaller supply of it — may soon disagree.
Publication of the Associated Press article, “Ex-coal mining CEO asks Trump to resist punishing coal exec,” is another example of the Herald-Leader negatively impacting perception of the coal industry.
Don Blankenship does not speak for the industry and, more specifically, does not speak for Kentucky’s coal industry. Nevertheless, the Herald-Leader chose to run with an article presenting irrelevant, uninformed, and biased opinions because it might help promote anti-coal views and the false notion of coal executives who do not care about employees.
Over the past eight years, Kentucky coal production has fallen from 121 million tons in 2008 to just 42 million tons in 2016, directly resulting in the loss of over 11,000 jobs. The impacts of the “war on coal” have devastated our coalfield economies. However, during this unprecedented decline of the coal industry in Kentucky, through cooperative efforts with state and federal regulators and the hard work of producers, coal mines are safer than they have ever been.
In fact, the injury rate for underground coal miners has declined 30 percent since 2008.
Our miners work extremely hard to provide for their families and provide America’s source of affordable, reliable energy. This resource provides a competitive advantage for all manufacturing industries, especially those vital to Kentucky such as aluminum, automotive and steel. Whether they are executives or equipment operators, they approach their jobs every day with the best interest of all employees and coworkers at heart. The real stakeholders in the coal Industry are committed to working toward new and innovative ways to improve mine safety.
There is certainly room for a healthy and honest discussion regarding the proper size, extent and effectiveness of regulations related to the mining industry. Unfortunately, that becomes considerably more difficult when newspapers like the Herald-Leader continue to give a voice to outsiders in order to fuel their own biased agendas.
PRESIDENT, KENTUCKY COAL ASSOCIATION
A new coal mine is opening up in western Pennsylvania, signaling a small reversal of fortune for the beleaguered coal industry.
The Acosta Deep coal mine will create 70 to 100 direct full-time jobs and another 500 indirect jobs, according to Corsa Coal, the company building the mine. The site is expected to produce 400,000 tons of coal a year, mostly for U.S. and Chinese steel companies.
“The opening of the Acosta Deep Mine marks a return to coal industry job creation in Somerset County, Pennsylvania,” Corsa Coal officials said in a statement. “Metallurgical prices have risen to record levels on the strength of strong steel demand and supply scarcity.”
The Acosta mine is the first of four new coal mines slated to open up this year as coking coal prices continue to soar. The price of coking coal, which is used in steel making, doubled in the last year because of supply disruptions in Australia and Chinese policies to curb some coal-fired energy production.
China also halted coal imports from North Korea and began importing U.S.-mined coal.
Hundreds of coal mines shut down during the Obama administration and thousands of miners lost their jobs under the pressure of stricter federal regulations and decreasing demand for coal.
There were 86,000 coal miners in January 2009, but that number dramatically shrunk to 50,000 just eight years later, according to employment data from the Federal Reserve.
The Acosta mine will begin commercial operations in June. Corsa Coal funded the new mine with private capital and a development grant from the state of Pennsylvania.