‘Stunning Collapse’ of Coal Industry Reveals the Risk to Taxpayers in Companies’ Self-Bonding Allowances

first_img FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享William Yardley for the Los Angeles Times:For four decades, mining companies have been required to repair land they mine to a form and function similar to its previous condition. The process is called reclamation, and, done well, it can be convincing. Some of the smoothest slopes and meadows here were shaped not by time and the elements but by federal law and heavy equipment.“What you’re looking at right now just won a national award,” Mark Dunn, the environmental manager for Cloud Peak Energy’s Cordero Rojo mine, said this month, pointing to a panorama that included active mining to the west and a restored stream and wetlands to the east. “We try to make it close to the way it was before — or better.”Now, however, amid a stunning collapse of the coal industry that has prompted some of the nation’s largest mining companies to file for bankruptcy, there are new questions about how the giant holes dug in Wyoming and elsewhere across the West will be filled and who will pay to fill them. Wyoming produces nearly 40% of the nation’s coal used for electricity.Under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, for mining to go on, reclamation has to go on. But in some cases, big companies have persuaded government regulators to let them operate under terms that seem to turn the law upside down: For reclamation to continue, mining has to continue.Last month, prompted by a complaint from environmental groups, the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement challenged Wyoming regulators to show that two major companies that have both filed for bankruptcy in the last year, Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources, have enough money to do the reclamation work they are obligated to do.In the weeks since then, following more complaints from environmental groups, the agency has made similar demands related to mines operated in Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Indiana and Illinois by another imperiled company, Peabody Energy.All three of the companies have been allowed to meet many of their financial commitments for reclamation through a process called self-bonding. Under self-bonding, the companies do not have to pay a third party to guarantee that reclamation money would be there if the mining company suddenly failed. Instead, the companies essentially are allowed to say their financial strength is proof enough that they could meet their obligations.“The problem with self-bonding, basically, is that it’s based upon this notion of these companies being so wealthy and substantial,” said Mark Squillace, who teaches environmental law at the University of Colorado Law School. “It’s sort of like the banks being too big to fail, right?”Full article: Mining companies’ declining fortunes imperil the restoration of land they’ve mined ‘Stunning Collapse’ of Coal Industry Reveals the Risk to Taxpayers in Companies’ Self-Bonding Allowanceslast_img read more

On the Blogs: No Place for Partisanship in North Carolina Energy Transition

first_imgOn the Blogs: No Place for Partisanship in North Carolina Energy Transition FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享SoutheastEnergyNews.com:It is the reality of the world in which we live — Republicans and Democrats in the North Carolina General Assembly are often divided on complex social and economic issues. However, over 80 percent of legislation, including energy-related bills, are passed with strong bipartisan support.True, there have been some contentious debates over the right path to expanding the renewable energy economy in North Carolina, but earlier this summer it appeared as though we had turned a corner in building consensus on prioritizing renewable energy as an economic driver in our state. The North Carolina House voted 108-11 to pass an energy bill that had been hammered out over the course of a year.Before the vote, more than 30 meetings were held with a diverse set of energy stakeholders  that included utilities, the renewable energy industry, environmental groups and customer advocates.  These groups don’t often collaborate. But it happened here, and we were hopeful that North Carolina would continue to be recognized for its leadership in making renewable energy projects a reality.These investments and the jobs they create are urgently needed, especially in the rural areas across North Carolina. According to a recent report prepared by RTI International, renewable energy projects have been responsible for nearly $800 million in major investments in the counties that we represent, where unemployment remains stubbornly high.Solar and wind energy have provided one of the few economic bright spots in our corner of the state that is too often ignored by the private businesses that power our state’s economy, as well as by many policymakers who help guide it.In the end, after contentious negotiations and compromise, the bill that Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law included much to celebrate. House Bill 589 modernizes our state’s solar policy and introduces new ways for home and business owners to transform their rooftops into energy generators. But despite our strong opposition, it also placed an unnecessary 18-month moratorium on wind energy development, which jeopardizes up to $1 billion in new investments by two wind projects in some of our most economically distressed counties.Senators who pushed for the moratorium claimed more study is needed to ensure that wind turbines don’t interfere with military operations. But as one recent newspaper editorial stated, that’s absurd – our military officials already have an extensive and thorough review process to ensure nothing interferes with our valuable military operations, including wind turbines, cell towers, tall buildings or trees.While we wholeheartedly agree on the importance of the military’s presence in our state, the recently built Amazon Wind Farm U.S. East in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties has shown beyond a doubt the thoroughness and workability of the existing permitting process at the local, state and federal levels.Further state study on the matter, as required in the legislation, is not needed. Our military and wind projects can co-exist successfully. And as legislators representing eastern North Carolina, we are united in working to keep these two new wind projects on track, so they can receive their final approvals and be built as soon as this ill-conceived moratorium ends.More: Commentary: Renewable energy is an economic issue, not a partisan onelast_img read more

World Bank to finance storage development in Asia, Africa

first_img FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享ECN News:Solar energy could be a huge source of power in Africa, but its potential has been stymied by storage batteries that are too expensive and inadequate for use in poor countries.The World Bank aims to break through that bottleneck, announcing plans Wednesday to invest $1 billion—and leverage it by another $4 billion—to boost developing countries’ energy storage capacity from 4.5 to 17.5 gigawatt hours by 2025.Africa, where solar power is an “unmissable” source of energy, will be the first to benefit, said Riccardo Puliti, head of energy practice at the World Bank. Bangladesh and other developing countries of Southeast Asia also will benefit from the World Bank’s investment, which aims to stimulate a fledgling market and to create a “virtuous circle.”“We want to develop the market for batteries in developing countries,” Puliti told AFP. “Storage has a great future.”Lithium batteries are available today, but they are made principally for electric vehicles. Instead, the World Bank would like to see affordable batteries that are scaled to village life, capable of lasting seven or eight hours at night, resistant to extreme temperatures and require little maintenance.The cost is a crucial factor. Today, the best batteries available in industrialized countries cost $200 to $300 per kilowatt hour of installed capacity, or less. In developing countries, they are prohibitively expensive, ranging in price from $400 to $700 per kilowatt hour. The World Bank’s goal is to bring those prices down in the coming years.More: World Bank bets big on batteries for solar energy boost World Bank to finance storage development in Asia, Africalast_img read more

EIA: Continued decline in coal generation expected this summer

first_imgEIA: Continued decline in coal generation expected this summer FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Associated Press:U.S. demand for coal to generate electricity will keep sliding in coming months, federal officials said Thursday, despite efforts by the Trump administration to shore up the struggling industry.Renewable energy sources including wind, solar and hydropower are expected to fill much of the gap left by coal’s decline, according to the Energy Information Administration. It’s particularly true for Western states, where renewables will provide almost a quarter of the power to households and businesses during the peak summer season, the agency said in its projections.Natural gas is expected to remain the fuel of choice for power generation with an expected 40% share of U.S. markets this summer.Coal’s share of power generation is projected to be 25% this summer. That’s down roughly half over the past decade and follows a wave of coal plant retirements by utilities seeking cheaper and cleaner-burning alternatives.“This decline is relentless,” said Seth Feaster, who tracks the coal industry for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. The Ohio-based group advocates for a transition to more sustainable energy sources. “The question is how low can it go,” Feaster added. “Coal is really facing tremendous obstacles in terms of competition from natural gas from fracking and continuing price declines for renewables.”Meanwhile, plant retirements continue to stack up, including in the heart of coal country. PacifiCorp announced in late April that one Wyoming coal-fired power plant and part of another could be retired as early as 2022 as the company tries to keep down costs for its customers. The Oregon-based utility plans to significantly increase the amount of electricity it generates from wind turbines and solar farms.More: Officials: Coal to keep sliding as renewables, gas fill gaplast_img read more

North Macedonia considers scrapping aging coal plant, replacing it with solar

first_imgNorth Macedonia considers scrapping aging coal plant, replacing it with solar FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享PV Magazine:North Macedonia’s state-owned electric company Elektrani na Severna Makedonija (ESM) is planning to expand the generation capacity of the solar project it is building at its 125 MW TPP Oslomej coal plant near Kičevo, in the west of the country.Originally tendered in April as a 10 MW solar facility, the project may be expanded to completely replace the lignite coal plant, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has announced.The bank, which is backing the €8.7 million project with €5.9 million, said the utility is evaluating scenarios to fully replace the old power plant. ESM is planning to expand the PV field and could eventually reach 125 MW of solar capacity through a modular approach, according to the EBRD.“This project of 10 MW is very important to us because it’s a nice unit – the first large scale plant,” announced the utility. “It can then be cloned and multiplied to fulfill our strategy further down the line. It’s a pilot project for the future and it’s a power plant all by itself.”The EBRD said the Oslomej coal plant is being kept active at a minimum service level and is being used mainly as a reserve in case of problems elsewhere in the system.The utility has planned for years to prolong the life of the 39-year-old coal plant by another 30 years, even though the associated lignite coal mine in Kičevo is almost depleted. In 2015, the utility conducted a feasibility study into modernizing the plant by using imported coal with higher calorific value. The study concluded such a move would cost €145 million and require a four-year construction timeframe. “According to the estimations, the production price of electricity after the eventual modernization of TPP [thermal power plant] Oslomej is estimated to be above €61/MWh,” the ESM said in a document about the feasibility study.More: North Macedonian utility embraces solar at expense of coallast_img read more

Best Run Ever and Body Heat

first_imgBest Run EverBill Gentry, Grottoes, VAMy buddy Bob and I traversed the Greenbrier River Trail, a 77-mile rails-to-trails park that runs from Cass to Lewisburg in West Virginia. Here are a few of the highlights:The crunch-crunch-crunch of a couple hundred thousand footfalls. The simple solitude of the Greenbrier River, at times a roar but most often a silent companion. Peaceful views across a land largely untouched by time.A trail so canopied by trees that we could have gone shirtless without sunscreen and not picked up a burn. Two cool tunnels and 51 bridges. One lone town, Marlinton, directly on the trail, so what an amazing blessing to have Bob’s work friends driving all over Hell’s Half-Acre with our aid.The interesting self-reflection that happens when you spend the first 30 minutes and then the final hour of the same run in darkness. The funny tricks your brain plays on you as you try to do simple math involving the following: a 77-mile-long trail with a stone marker at each mile, but with the markers labeled from Mile 80 to Mile 3. The amazing success we had with a 7-minute run/3-minute walk routine that kept us strong and steady the entire time.Fighting back just a few hours of mid-afternoon stomach problems and having to take a half-dozen potty breaks because Friday night’s kielbasa/onions/home fries mix ranks as the dumbest pre-run meal I’ve ever consumed.Finding a golf ball in the middle of the trail in the middle of nowhere around Mile 30. Wanna guess what the brand name was? Ultra. Spooky, huh? Yeah, I still have it. Good luck charm, I figure.Seventy-seven miles. 17:17:16. 17 rabbits. 14 deer. Two new friends. Lots of gravel. Lots of laughs. Having a cold beer while flat on my back with feet propped up at trail’s end, beaming with the joy of effort well spent, a plan well executed, a long day out of which we squeezed every ounce.Bill GentryBill GentryBody HeatKristina Garcia Wade, Free Union, VADuring my freshman year of college, three friends and I went on a winter camping trip in the Appalachians.I assumed my friends (all guys) knew what they were doing. They brought the tents and the stove and the food. All I had to bring was myself. I borrowed a hat from one friend, a jacket from another, a pair of canvas army pants held up with twine… you get the picture.To top it off, I brought a three-season purple sleeping bag, which was fine for the camping I did in September, but with nights at minus twenty, it might as well have had Hello Kitties cavorting along the zipper. On the first night, after the sun went down, I started shivering uncontrollably. A friend finally took pity on me and swapped his sleeping bag for mine. I slept like a log. He wrestled with that bag all night. When he finally woke up, all he could say was, “It’s purple.”On the second night, we decided to beat the cold by sleeping all together in one of the two-person tents. All settled in the tent, I rolled over…well, I turned my head at least—I couldn’t actually roll over without displacing the shoulders of the two people lying next to me—and asked, “What time is it?” The answer?Seven p.m.We spent eleven hours in that tent, unable to sleep, the tent walls perspiring with condensation, giggling at every interval. Someone was snoring. Someone’s hair smelled like wet wool (mine, probably). Someone was eating beef jerky. Ah, wild Spring Break memories. But not once did I ever think: I could have gone to Cancún.last_img read more

The Goods: Yakima Hold Up Bike Carrier Review

first_imgA few months into using the Yakima Hold Up, I am left wondering why everyone is not using this bike rack. Rarely do I feel this confident that a product outshines its competition to the degree that the Hold Up does. The rear mounted bike rack can be installed in less than five minutes. It literally takes longer to read the directions than it does to mount the rack onto a hitch.Once in place, it securely transports two 29er mountain bikes or 700 cc road or cross bikes. Having utilized roof racks in the past, which result in tired arms and frustrations after a long ride, not to mention the ever present danger that you just might drive into the garage forgetting your bikes are up top, I find the Hold Up to be the perfect solution. It also outperforms other rear mounting racks that function by suspending bikes by the top tube. In my experience, that style of bike rack allows the bikes to bang together and can also result in worn out bearings if the wheels are not secured for long trips.Perhaps the best feature of the Hold Up is the mindless simplicity it lends to bike loading, unloading and transport. The rear tray sports a cradle for the back tire with an adjustable security strap. The front wheel of the bike is secured in its tray with a moveable arm that locks in place over the front of the tire. The front arm also has a built-in cable lock to allow you to secure your bikes if you decide to stop by your favorite watering hole or brewery post-ride. An additional feature for SUV’s and minvans is the easy to use built-in pivot system of the rack. Even fully loaded, the rack can be easily lowered to allow you to access the cargo area of a minivan or SUV. The rack can then be raised back up once you are finished loading or unloading your bike accessories. If you are still not convinced that the Hold Up is the best bike rack on the market, did I mention it sports a bottle opener? That’s right, pop a top on a cold one while you watch your poor riding companions struggle to load their bikes on top of their car long after you’ve loaded up your ride on the Hold Up.MSRP $439.00 (Extension for 2 more bikes $329.00); yakima.comlast_img read more

This Land is Your Land

first_imgPrivatization and commercialization of public lands is increasing. More companies are being allowed to manage national forests and other federal and state-owned lands, and fracking and mining firms are often permitted to extract the minerals beneath. Partnerships between public lands managers and the private sector are also on the rise. For example, in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of the restored log cabins in Cades Cove is “brought to you by Log Cabin Maple Syrup,” with a plaque advertising the brand and logo.Carter_Sheilds_Cabin,_Cades_Cove_IMG_5003_FIXWhat to think of all this? Everyone knows our parks and forests are short on funds, but where should we draw the line between corporate money and public land management?BRENT MARTIN, Southern Appalachian regional director for The Wilderness Society, is concerned about the potential harms of privatization and commercialization, especially over the long term.What are the greatest potential harms from privatization of public lands? Martin: There are many, including a lack of oversight in environmental protection, overuse, unsustainable exploitation and depletion of natural resources, no guarantees of public access, and a lack of public input regarding management.   Which public lands in the East are most vulnerable to privatization? I think that Eastern national forests are particularly vulnerable. National forests are the largest concentration of public lands we have and were acquired after decades of degradation and exploitation. The purpose of acquiring these lands after the passage of the 1911 Weeks Act was largely to protect watersheds from this type of degradation in the future. Since then, these lands have come to provide much more than watershed protection, including protection of biodiversity, a wide spectrum of recreational uses, and special designations such as Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers. Any threat from privatization by default threatens the common good.What about agencies that need the cash from selling public lands, or at least selling the mineral rights? Would you be willing to pay higher taxes to keep public lands public and those minerals in the ground? I’m not sure it has to do with a lack of money or having to pay higher taxes. It appears to be more of a political issue, and one that’s partisan and driven by particular economic interests. However, if one of the states truly needed money, I would pay higher taxes in order to protect public lands.What’s wrong with a state or national park allowing a private company to “sponsor” something in exchange for cash? Is this public-private partnership a realistic way to bring in much-needed funds? I don’t think anything is necessarily wrong with the idea of sponsorships like this. I wouldn’t, however, want a billboard inside a park advertising Log Cabin Maple Syrup, nor would I want the parent company influencing park policy. Also, sponsorship messages should be presented tastefully and not in an obtrusive or glaring manner. Sponsorships such as these could be a good way to raise much-needed money, but there should be parameters on what the sponsors can expect in return, and it shouldn’t diminish the visitor experience in any way.Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute supports arguments in favor of privatization.In your view, what are the main arguments in favor of privatizing public lands?O’Toole: Public lands are poorly managed due to their ownership status. Lands are managed for their most politically productive, rather than economically productive, uses. But the political system encourages people to polarize the public in order to get the biggest share of the public-land pie. In contrast, markets encourage people to cooperate in order to produce the greatest net value.Isn’t it wrong to sell off public lands—which, by definition, belong to everyone—to the highest bidder?Most public lands are dedicated to various special interest groups and don’t truly benefit everyone. If they could be sold to the highest bidder, the revenues would help everyone by contributing to debt reduction or paying for other essential government services. For example, Forest Service studies have found that the market value of most public lands for recreation is many times greater than other uses combined. Recreation would be the dominant use if the lands were managed for maximum economic value.Don’t we have a responsibility to preserve public lands for future generations instead of using them for short-term corporate gain?Public land managers often become just as exploitative of the land for short-term gains, especially when their agencies are allowed to keep some or all of the receipts from resource sales. Elected officials can rarely see beyond the next election, while private businesses have been known to sell 99-year bonds or make investments that aren’t expected to pay off for decades.Even if just mineral rights are sold, won’t the exploitation of those minerals severely diminish the wilderness character of many public lands?Open-pit mining can conflict with many other resources. But many minerals can be extracted in ways that aren’t so damaging. Oil and gas production, for example, uses very little land. In private hands, the owners would balance uses among various groups and what they’re willing to pay.How far should commercialization go? Should companies be allowed to sponsor buildings or even geologic features in national and state parks? Absolutely. Private sponsorship of recreation, scenic, and historic resources makes perfect sense. That doesn’t mean spelling out Exxon or Shell Oil in giant letters on the landscape. But many museums and other urban facilities receive private donations, so there’s no reason why public lands couldn’t do the same.last_img read more

Fonta Flora Brewery Expands

first_imgThe Morganton, NC-based Fonta Flora Brewery announced yesterday that it is opening a new location on a historic farm site near Lake James and the Linville Gorge.The new facility will be situated on 8 acres just three miles from the the brewery’s namesake—a defunct community which was evacuated and flooded during the creation of Lake James late in the 19th century.Fonta Flora, which is widely touted throughout Western North Carolina and the national craft beer community for its “farm-focused”approach to brewing, secured the expansion with help from the Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina.“After more than two years of crafting beer in a tiny building in downtown Morganton, we are damn pleased to officially announce our expansion plan and vision,” Fonta Flora wrote in a Facebook post issued shortly after yesterday’s announcement.“Although it has taken the better part of a year we have secured one of the most scenic and historic pieces of property in Burke County. Nestled at the foot of the Linville Gorge, we have acquired 8 acres of land, adorned with historic stone barns that use to house Whippoorwill Dairy Farm.”Plans for the new facility include the construction of a 4,500 square foot barn which will house the future production floor and the renovation of a stacked-stone milking parlor which will be used for packaging and barrel cellaring.Fonta Flora plans to continue and expand on its farm-focused philosophy by using the acreage, which butts up against the Linville River, to grow much of its own produce.“In keeping with our brewing philosophy of utilizing local agriculture into our craft beers, we plan to cultivate the land through annual gardens and a perennial hop yard and orchards. We will plant harder-to-find fruit trees such as paw paw fruit, persimmons, figs and elderberries to help us craft beers with a true sense of place. In addition, brewing adjuncts such as carrots, beets, fennel and bloody butcher corn will all come from the property.”The brewery says its current location in downtown Morganton will remain open and  the new location will open sometime before the end of the year.You can learn more about Font Flora Brewery and stay up to date with their unique expansion project by following them on Facebook.For more info about farm-based brewing operations throughout the Blue Ridge region click here.[divider]Related Articles[/divider]last_img read more

Trail Mix – Martha Spencer

first_imgFans of old time string band music throughout the mountains of Southwest Virginia, Western North Carolina, and Northeast Tennessee are well familiar with the name Martha Spencer.Martha has been a long time member of the Whitetop Mountain Band, one of the longest tenured and most popular old time string bands in the country. Founded in the 1940s by noted fiddler Arthur Hash, Martha’s parents joined in the 1970s and the Spencer family has been synonymous with Whitetop Mountain Band ever since.Whitetop Mountain Band fans can vividly describe Martha’s harmonies, multi-instrumental proficiency – she can play guitar, fiddle, banjo, and bass -, and her energetic flatfootin’.After many years traveling and recording with Whitetop Mountain Band and a slew of other projects, Martha Spencer has finally released her debut solo record, a collection of tunes rooted in old time Appalachian and country traditions.I recently caught up with Martha to chat about the new record, playing music with her family, and flatfootin’.BRO – I know you have been playing and recording for years, but this is the first record with just your name on the cover. How’s it feel?MS – I am excited and happy to finally have a solo album out. I have been writing songs for a long time, so it was fun to get to record some of these with some of my favorite people. I got to have my family and a lot of close friends on the record, which made it special. I think this album encompasses a lot of the styles I like, and it’s got a bit of variety and branching out on it.BRO – What are your first musical memories with your family?MS – Well, I don’t know if I ever recall without music in my family. My dad would always be playing his fiddle every night as I went to sleep as a child. My parents took me along to little mountain dances and festivals ever since I was in diapers. My mom would teach a lot of music classes, and I would go along there, too. My cousin, Audrey, would bring over a fiddle she had made for Daddy to try out, or my cousin Dean would be having a jam at his house. There were always a lot of instruments and musicians around as long as I remember. I know my Mom and Dad had little instruments for me and my brother to mess around with since we were really little. I was a dancer first, but I know I first got more serious in playing when I was seven or so on the guitar first, and my dad would have me back him up on chords when he would play fiddle tunes.BRO – I have been a student at the Mountain Music School in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, where I know you have been an instructor. What kind of satisfaction do you get imparting the traditions of Appalachian music to younger generations?MS – I think Mountain Music School is an awesome week with special folks and I always feel honored to be a part of that. Passing on the mountain music means a lot to me. I think being proud of where you are from,  your local culture and traditions, and respecting the older generations and the knowledge they have to offer are all really important. Every time I play a tune, I think about who I learned it from, and a little piece of that person lives on forever in that tune, I believe. I think so fondly back on my family and friends that I learned from every time I pick up an instrument, and I hope whoever I teach something to will maybe think back on me in the same way someday.BRO – We are featuring “Blue Ridge Mountain Lullaby” on this month’s Trail Mix. What’s the story behind the song?MS – That’s basically a story of my childhood and life growing up on Haw Orchard Mountain in the Whitetop area. The sights and sounds of my daddy fiddling, my momma singing, and all the animals we had around the place. It’s a sentimental song for me about how much I appreciated growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains with wonderful parents and surrounded by music and wildlife.BRO – Can you teach me to dance like that?MS – Why, sure I can!!!Martha might have bitten off more than she can chew if she really thinks she can get me flat footin’ . . . . but I’m game!You can catch Martha Spencer live on the WDVX Blue Plate Special on November 23rd and then at The Carter Family Fold on November 24th.For more information on Martha Spencer, the new record, on when she will be on stage near you, please flat foot right over to her website.In the meantime, check out “Blue Ridge Mountain Lullaby,” along with brand new tunes from The Bottle Rockets, Laura Jane Grace & The Devouring Mothers, Fastball, Tellico, and many more on this month’s Trail Mix.last_img read more