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Can Coal Make a Comeback?

By Trevor Houser, Jason Bordoff, and Peter Marsters - Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy, School of International and Public Affairs, and the Rhodium Group, April 2017

From the introduction: Six years ago, the US coal industry was thriving, with demand recovering from the Great Recession, and global coal prices at record highs along with the stock prices of US coal companies. By the end of 2015, however, the industry had collapsed, with three of the four largest US miners filing for bankruptcy along with many other smaller companies. While coal mining employment has been on the decline for decades – from a peak of more than 800,000 in the 1920s to 130,000 in 2011 – the pace of job loss over the past six years has been particularly dramatic. After campaigning on a promise to end what he called his predecessor’s “War on Coal,” President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order in March 2017 ordering agencies to review or rescind a raft of Obama-era environmental regulations, telling coal miners they would be “going back to work.”

This paper offers an empirical diagnosis of what caused the coal collapse, and then examines the prospects for a recovery of US coal production and employment by modeling the impact of President Trump’s executive order and assessing the global coal market outlook. In short, the paper finds:

  • US electricity demand contracted in the wake of the Great Recession, and has yet to recover due to energy efficiency improvements in buildings, lighting and appliances. A surge in US natural gas production due to the shale revolution has driven down prices and made coal increasingly uncompetitive in US electricity markets. Coal has also faced growing competition from renewable energy, with solar costs falling 85 percent between 2008 and 2016 and wind costs falling 36 percent.
  • Increased competition from cheap natural gas is responsible for 49 percent of the decline in domestic US coal consumption. Lower-than-expected demand is responsible for 26 percent, and the growth in renewable energy is responsible for 18 percent. Environmental regulations have played a role in the switch from coal to natural gas and renewables in US electricity supply by accelerating coal plant retirements, but were a significantly smaller factor than recent natural gas and renewable energy cost reductions.
  • Changes in the global coal market have played a far greater role in the collapse of the US coal industry than is generally understood. A slow-down in Chinese coal demand, especially for metallurgical coal, depressed coal prices around the world and reduced the market for US exports. More than half of the decline in US coal company revenue between 2011 and 2015 was due to international factors.
  • Implementing all the actions in President Trump’s executive order to roll back Obama-era environmental regulations could stem the recent decline in US coal consumption, but only if natural gas prices increase going forward. If natural gas prices remain at or near current levels or renewable costs fall more quickly than expected, US coal consumption will continue its decline despite Trump’s aggressive rollback of Obama-era regulations.
  • While global coal markets have recovered slightly over the past few months due to supply restrictions in China and flooding in Australia, we expect this rally to be short-lived. Slower economic growth and structural adjustment in China will continue to put downward pressure on global coal prices and limit the market opportunities for US exports. Indian coal demand will likely grow in the years ahead, but not enough to make up for the slow-down in China. The same is true for other emerging economies, many of whom are negatively impacted by decelerating Chinese commodities demand themselves.
  • Under the best case scenario for US coal producers, our modeling projects a modest recovery to 2013 levels of just under 1 billion tons a year. Under the worst case scenario, output falls to 600 million tons a year. A plausible range of US coal mining employment in these scenarios ranges from 70,000 to 90,000 in 2020, and 64,000 to 94,000 in 2025 and 2030 -- lower than anything the US experienced before 2015.

These findings indicate that President Trump’s efforts to roll back environmental regulations will not materially improve economic conditions in America’s coal communities. As such, the paper concludes with recommendations for steps that the federal government can take to safeguard the pension and health security of current and retired miners and dependents and support economic diversification. Attracting new sources of economic activity and job creation will not be easy, and even at its most successful will not return coal country to peak levels of past prosperity.

But responsible policymakers should be honest about what’s going on in the US coal sector—including the causes of coal’s decline and unlikeliness of its resurgence—rather than offer false hope that the glory days can be revived. And then support those in America’s coal communities working hard to build a new economic future.

Read the text (PDF).

Trump’s Energy Plan: A “Brighter Future” for American Workers?

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 28, 2017

Full PDF of the White Paper can be found HERE

The day he was inaugurated, President Donald Trump issued his “America First Energy Plan.”[1] It presented policies it said would “stimulate our economy, ensure our security, and protect our health” and thereby provide “a brighter future.” Trump has promised that his energy policy will create “many millions of high-paying jobs.”[2]

What do American workers need in an energy policy? Does President Trump’s energy plan provide it? Or does it threaten our future? Is it credible or deceptive? Does it put us on the road to good jobs in an affordable, reliable energy future? Or does it threaten to reverse a massive shift to a more secure, climate-safe, fossil-free energy system — a clean energy revolution that will benefit American workers, and that is already under way?

Some in organized labor have been attracted by President Trump’s energy plan, even echoing the claim that it will provide “a brighter future.” But one thing you learn when you negotiate a contract for a union is to take a hard look at proposals you are offered— however attractive they may appear, it is best to unwrap the package and see what’s really in it before you agree. Labor should conduct similar “due diligence” for Trump’s America First Energy Plan. Was it designed to meet the needs of American workers, or of the global oil, gas, and coal companies whose executives have been appointed to so many top positions in the Trump administration? Will it encourage or hold up the energy revolution that is making renewable energy and energy efficiency the way of the future?

Climate Activists Pledge Huge Response to Trump’s Executive Order

By Dani Heffernan - Common Dreams, March 28, 2017

Climate activists are joining with labor, social justice, faith, and other organizations to plan a massive march in Washington, D.C. this April 29th that will offer up resistance to Trump’s new executive orders and put forward the vision of a clean energy economy that works for all.

The “Peoples Climate March” aims to bring upwards of 100,000 people to Washington, D.C. and turn out tens of thousands more across the country to push back on Trump’s agenda and stand up for climate, jobs and justice.

350.org is one of the organizations on the steering committee for the mobilization and is working on turning out members to D.C. and actions across the country.

350.org Executive Director May Boeve said:

“The best way to fight against these executive orders is to take to the streets. Even as Trump dismantles environmental protections to shore up the fossil fuel industry, support for action to stop global warming is at an all-time high. Now it’s up to communities to bring our vision of a healthy climate and a just transition to renewable energy to life. From the upcoming congressional recess through the Peoples Climate March and beyond, we’ll be putting pressure on lawmakers to defend the climate and building power to stop the fossil fuel industry for good.”

The wide-ranging coalition behind the Peoples Climate March includes major labor unions and environmental, climate justice, faith, youth, social justice, peace groups, and more (the “Peoples” in the title is a direct reference to the role of Indigenous peoples in helping lead the effort). In 2014, the same coalition brought over 400,000 people to the streets of New York City to call for climate action ahead of the Paris Climate Summit.

Contrary to Spin, Trump Slashing Energy Jobs With New Executive Order

By Nika Knight - Common Dreams, March 28, 2017

As the Trump administration brags that Tuesday's executive order to dismantle Obama-era climate regulations will create coal industry jobs, new employment data from the Department of Energy (DoE) demonstrates how misguided that claim is.

Clean energy employs many more Americans than the fossil fuel industry, and economic forecasts show that the trend will continue, according to a Sierra Club analysis published Monday of the DoE's 2017 U.S. Energy and Employment Report (pdf) released earlier this year.

"Clean energy jobs, including those from solar, wind, energy efficiency, smart grid technology, and battery storage, vastly outnumber all fossil fuel jobs nationwide from the coal, oil and gas sectors. That includes jobs in power generation, mining, and other forms of fossil fuel extraction," the Sierra Club observed.

Nationwide, "clean energy jobs outnumber all fossil fuel jobs by over 2.5 to 1; and they outnumber all jobs in coal and gas by 5 to 1," the group wrote.

"Right now, clean energy jobs already overwhelm dirty fuels in nearly every state across America, and that growth is only going to continue as clean energy keeps getting more affordable and accessible by the day," said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune.

The New York Times also examined the ramifications of President Donald Trump's pending order, which would dismantle former President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, and echoed the Sierra Club's findings.

Indeed, the newspaper notes that while more coal plants could remain open as a result of the order, increasing mechanization means that coal miners may still see job loss:

[C]oal miners also should not assume their jobs will return if Trump's regulations take effect.

The new order would mean that older coal plants that had been marked for closings would probably stay open, said Robert W. Godby, an energy economist at the University of Wyoming. That would extend the market demand for coal for up to a decade.

But even so, "the mines that are staying open are using more mechanization," he said. "They’re not hiring people."

"So even if we saw an increase in coal production, we could see a decrease in coal jobs," he said.

"The problem with coal jobs has not been CO2 regulations, so this will probably not bring back coal jobs," Godby added. "The problem has been that there has not been market demand for coal."

Coal industry executive Robert Murray, of Murray Energy, apparently agrees. Murray told the Guardian that in a meeting with Trump, the coal boss told the president to temper his expectations.

"He can't bring [coal jobs] back," Murray said.

Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, added to the Guardian: "Friends of the coal industry now populate the highest perches of our agencies and they will do their best to unwind clean air and water regulations and we will fight them every step of the way. But even if all their wishes come true, I don't think there will be a big boost to the coal industry."

The Times further cast doubt on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt's claim that the order would support U.S. energy independence. "We don't import coal," Robert Stavins, an energy economist at Harvard University, told the newspaper. "So in terms of the Clean Power Plan, this has nothing to do with so-called energy independence whatsoever."

"These facts make it clear that Donald Trump is attacking clean energy jobs purely in order to boost the profits of fossil fuel billionaires," charged the Sierra Club's Brune.

"If we truly want to grow our economy, reduce air and water pollution, protect public health and create huge numbers of news jobs for American workers," Brune added, "we must seize the opportunity that is right in front of our eyes: invest more in clean energy including solar, wind, storage and energy efficiency."

'Sheer Reckless Folly': Trump Destroys Obama-Era Climate Rules

By Nika Knight - Common Dreams, March 28, 2017

President Donald Trump on Tuesday set about aggressively dismantling Obama-era climate policies with an executive order decried as "sheer reckless folly," which will increase U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate the climate crisis.

"Aside from provoking a large-scale nuclear war, it is hard to imagine an American president taking an action more harmful to the U.S. than Trump's effort to accelerate greenhouse gas emissions," said David J. Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen's Climate Program, in a statement.

"This day may be remembered as a low point in human history—a time when the world's preeminent power could have led the world to a better future but instead moved decisively toward catastrophe," Arkush added.

The order instructs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to rewrite former President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan (CPP), which would have limited the emissions of coal-powered power plants. It also lifts the moratorium on federal coal leasing, repeals limits on methane emissions from fracking, and directs the agency to reconsider the Social Cost of Carbon and the National Environmental Policy Act guidance on greenhouse gas emissions.

"The EPA's rollback of basic environmental rules demonstrates that when it comes to the health of our children, our communities, and our climate, this is an administration of lawlessness and disorder," said Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of the grassroots sustainability group UPROSE, in statement.

"For frontline communities, those of us impacted first and worst by the extraction economy, this means an escalation of public health crises, from asthma to cancer. It means an utter disregard for those of us most vulnerable to climate disasters," Yeampierre added. "It means a  world of volatility and exploitation for our children and grandchildren."

Environmentalists, local and state leaders, and advocacy groups are vowing to resist.

"Obama Has Killed Coal"

By Nick Mullins - The Thoughful Coal Miner, December 12, 2015

I keep seeing people pointing fingers at Obama and the EPA for the woes of the Appalachian Coal Miner, so let’s think about it…

How hard would it be to believe that the power companies, the natural gas (oil) companies, and the coal companies sat down over a nice steak dinner to discuss our nations energy future?

Perhaps they worked things out like this….

The coal industry knows there’s not that much coal left, but they can still get to it and make a hell of a profit if they can do it cheaply, but there’s a catch—they have to surface mine it and tear up hell to do it (mountain top removal). The natural gas companies know they have a product that is cleaner than coal and the power companies know they can build cheaper plants, but they don’t want to leave their long time buddies with the coal industry hanging either. I should also add that they are all investing in each others stock.

So let’s devise a plan. Natural gas can get by  as a “clean” energy alternative or “bridge” fuel. In the mean time, they can allow their politician buddies to garner a few votes by enacting new regulations which doesn’t affect natural gas as badly, makes them look good with the “treehuggers” and puts a squeeze on coal markets. The benefit to the coal industry is it makes it look like there is a “War on Coal” which does two things. Not only does it get the democratic vote with people thinking they’re helping fight MTR and climate change, but it also gets all the republican voters to fight against regulations and vote in candidates who they think will help them keep their jobs.

On the surface (no pun intended) it appears like a big struggle, the “liberal” politicians hold up 36 surface mining permits letting the “treehuggers” feel like their winning, but it also gets all the working people in Appalachia to ignore the “treehugger’s” information on climate change and cancer rates, and to even go a step further and fight for de-regulation that paves the way for the coal companies to tear up hell without any consequence.

At the same time all the working people are so damn job scared they are willing to do whatever it takes to keep their jobs. This would mean working mandatory overtime and being forced into taking short cuts for fear of getting fired if they don’t meet production (Upper Big Branch). The coal companies can even get by with filing bankruptcy and jerking all the benefits from their pensioners while everyone points all their blind hatred towards the EPA and the president. Coal mining families continue to vote in the conservatives who have everyone thinking they’re for the working people, but in truth they are cutting the working man’s throat by blocking safety regulations (giving miners the right to shut a section down if it’s unsafe to operate) and labor rights laws (that could put an end to mandatory overtime and cause them to have to hire more miners). The “War on Coal” also focuses everyone’s hatred away from where it should be.

Everyone should be focusing their hatred on all the coal companies and politicians who have manipulated them into believing coal is all there is and ever will be, while not lifting one single finger to build up local infrastructure and bring in job alternatives. Billions of dollars of coal have left Appalachia in just the last decade and not a damn thing has been done to bring in job alternatives or build up our roads, or our towns, or our education systems. Instead, they give everyone “Friends of Coal” stickers and go into the public schools to teach our kids about their version of coal in Appalachia without all the bloody union struggles and company hired mercenaries killing the families of coal miners trying to fight for a living wage.

They want people poor and desperate enough to fight for the high wages of a mining job and who aren’t afraid to cut their neighbors throat to keep it, whether it’s in the superintendent’s office or running equipment and destroying some poor person’s backyard.

And it looks like the companies and politicians have done a hell of a job at it because people aren’t thinking about the bigger picture. They just want to blame the EPA and Obama.

That’s business my friends. Each company get’s what they want. The coal companies walk away with everything and have all their earnings invested in natural gas, the natural gas industry makes bank, and the politicians—on both sides—get all the perks and votes they can handle.

Just imagine if one day we all woke up and realized we didn’t have to go in debt and work full time jobs for companies that treat us like crap, that we can still grow our own food and live simpler, happier lives with plenty of time to spend with friends and family, raising our children the right way—to be good to each other, to give freely, and that happiness doesn’t come attached to a dollar bill dangling from a coal company’s fishing pole….

Environmental Justice Becoming Just a Platitude at EPA; New “Action Plan” Neuters Enforceable Protection for Overburdened Communities

By Kirsten Stade - Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, July 14, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Washington, DC — The proposed new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “Action Agenda” for environmental justice contains precious little action and continues to marginalize disadvantaged communities beset by disproportionate pollution burdens, according to comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The EPA plan focuses on symbolic steps that will do little to lift the pollution burden off the poor.

Public comment closes today on EPA’s draft “EJ [Environmental Justice] 2020 Action Agenda framework” which would guide agency efforts over the next five years to make “a visible difference in environmentally overburdened, underserved, and economically distressed communities,” according to the agency website. PEER faults this new iteration for, among other reasons, its –

  • Divorce of environmental justice from its underlying basis in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This separation has reduced environmental justice to a largely voluntary program;
  • Absence of any guidance for state and local recipients of EPA funds, leaving the program as an intellectual exercise for EPA staff with little practical consequence; and
  • Lack of any enforceable regulation or even a plan to promulgate any.

“At EPA, environmental justice has devolved into aspirational window-dressing,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the agency has yet to take promised steps to enable communities to defend themselves. “EPA’s ongoing failure to put some teeth into this program only perpetuates environmental injustice.”

The PEER comments urge EPA to adopt best practices from other agencies. For example, the Federal Highway Administration commits itself to “identify and address” undue pollution impacts in communities. By contrast, the EPA plan seeks to “build partnerships” to negotiate away problems.

“In the face of environmental racism, the EPA stance is that of a passive cheerleader,” added Ruch, pointing out that despite its muddled approach EPA is charged with coordinating environmental justice efforts among all federal agencies. “EPA has not even been able to develop guidance to implement the civil rights requirements underlying its environmental justice policies in the hundreds of state and local programs it funds, in the very communities bearing the brunt of pollution-driven insults to public health.”

The PEER comments also describe the fragmented and conflicted cross-currents within EPA that have caused various internal reform efforts to be stillborn. In addition, the agency has a history of civil rights complaints inside its own workforce. “Since EPA has not addressed the civil rights issues within its ranks, it is ill equipped to remedy those same problems outside its hallways,” Ruch concluded.

EcoUnionist News #52

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, June 16, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Fracking the EPA:

Bread and Roses:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

1267-Watch:

Carbon Bubble:

Just Transition:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC; Hashtags: #greenunionism #greensyndicalism

EcoUnionist News #51

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, June 9, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Story:

Fracking the EPA:

Bread and Roses:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Carbon Bubble:

Just Transition:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC

Two Years After West, Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion, Are Workers Any Safer? New Report Says No

By Elizabeth Grossman - In These Times, April 17, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

On April 17, 2013, a massive fire and explosion tore through the West Fertilizer plant in West, Texas, killing 15 people—including 10 volunteer firefighters—and injuring more than 200. Fueled by the 30 or so tons of explosive ammonium nitrate on site, the blast ripped through the wooden building and its flammable contents, destroying three nearby schools, a nursing home and devastating 37 city blocks. A federal government investigation into the disaster found enormous gaps in information made available to first responders and the community about the plant’s highly hazardous materials – information that could have prevented or reduced the loss of life, injuries and damage.

Two years after this catastrophe, the Center for Effective Government has taken a look at the disclosure practices around such hazardous chemicals—and found what’s required of these facilities to still be “inadequate and insufficient.”

In a report released this week, the Center for Effective Government, a non-partisan government watchdog, examined emergency response planning and reporting on chemicals required of plants like West Fertilizer under the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA)—enacted in response to the 1984 release of deadly methylisocyanate gas from the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India that killed thousands and injured many more—and the Clean Air Act. Instead of comprehensive and coordinated reporting and planning that could help prevent the loss of life and injuries, CEG found “a patchwork of laws and regulations that cover chemicals and are supposed to be safeguarding the public,” says CEG Open Government Policy program director Sean Moulton.

“There are gaps between these programs, and West Texas, really highlighted this,” says Moulton. “It’s very hard to know what information is where and how planning is rolled out. It’s very clear that responders in West, Texas didn’t know how to respond,” he says.

Absent information about hazards at the plant, volunteer firefighters arriving on the scene were unaware of that ammonium nitrate might be in the process of exploding. There was—and still is—nothing that would have compelled anyone to alert community residents or local government that schools, healthcare facilities, homes or businesses were located near a plant housing massive quantities of explosive materials. And under current laws and regulations, nothing required the West Fertilizer company to report its use and storage of ammonium nitrate to the EPA or authorities with whom it might develop an emergency response plan...

Read the entire article here.

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