E.A. Crunden Archive

Even Big Oil doesn’t like the EPA’s methane rollback

E.A. Crunden Reporter, ThinkProgress

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday announced it will reverse Obama-era limitations on the greenhouse gas methane, which is far more potent than carbon dioxide and often associated with fracking.

In a statement Thursday, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the Trump administration will remove “unnecessary and duplicative regulatory burdens from the oil and gas industry” by slashing methane regulations.

A number of major fossil fuel corporations have objected to the rollback, however, even as the oil and gas lobby more broadly has played a key role in securing the move. Meanwhile, environmental activists and public-health experts have expressed alarm at the potential impacts of loosening methane regulations.

Under existing rules, fossil fuel companies must closely monitor methane leaks while undergoing frequent inspections. The new rules would undo these processes. The Trump administration argued that the federal government overstepped its authority with the Obama-era regulations.

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Fiscal collapse of coal towns increasingly likely, new research shows

E.A. Crunden Reporter, ThinkProgress

New research shows that communities in coal country are at an increased risk of fiscal collapse. The data is the latest blow to President Donald Trump’s ongoing but faltering efforts to rescue the industry and its workers.

Local governments dependent on coal are failing to account for the financial implications of the industry’s demise, according to new findings from Columbia University and the Brookings Institution. That trend is likely to worsen should the federal government take action to curb carbon emissions, which would be likely if a Democrat were to triumph in 2020.

Released Monday, the new report looks at 26 counties in 10 states, all in Appalachia or the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming. Those areas are all classified as “coal-mining dependent,” meaning that the industry is a major employer there, with some 53,000 workers noted by the study.

Coal also serves as a major contributor to local governments in those places. Despite that dependency, however, the report finds that those areas, already hard-hit by coal’s decline, are not prepared for the implications of potential climate policies.

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Future of workers uncertain as third-biggest US coal company declares bankruptcy

E.A. Crunden Reporter, ThinkProgress

The third-largest coal company in the United States has declared bankruptcy, leaving the future of its more than 1,000 workers uncertain. The announcement is also the latest indicator that the faltering coal industry is spinning further into decline despite the efforts of President Donald Trump to save it.

Wyoming-based Cloud Peak Energy filed for Chapter 11 reorganization on Friday, a move that has been expected since at least the spring. The company has pointed to a weak market as a leading reason for its struggles, in addition to sluggish success in expanding exports. Officials said the company’s mines will continue to operate throughout the bankruptcy process; Cloud Peak operates two mines in Wyoming and one in Montana.

“While we undertake this process, Cloud Peak Energy remains a reliable source of high-quality coal for customers,” Cloud Peak President and CEO Colin Marshall said in a statement.

The company’s workers lack union protections. But even coal miners backed by unions are at risk — a ruling earlier this year allowed a coal company to abandon union contracts. And broader threats to federal funding for miner benefits are jeopardizing pensions for tens of thousands of workers.

Cloud Peak’s financial troubles reflect the broader realities of coal, which is being displaced by cheaper energy sources, including natural gas and renewables. Since 2015, major coal companies Alpha Natural Resources, Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, Mission Coal, and Westmoreland Coal have all declared bankruptcy amid falling profits and increasing concerns over long-term viability.

While that trend has continued through several presidential administrations, more coal plants closed during Trump’s first two years in office than during the entire first term of the Obama administration.

In total, at least 50 U.S. coal plants have shuttered under Trump as of this month, according to a Sierra Club report released last week. The uptick reflects market realities but it also comes despite the White House’s best efforts to revive coal.

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Trump admin officially rolls back safety rules put in place after Deepwater Horizon

E.A. Crunden Reporter, ThinkProgress

The Department of the Interior (DOI) is rolling back offshore drilling safety protections put in place after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, the worst oil spill in U.S. history. The announcement comes as the Trump administration’s coastal fossil fuel ambitions are under intense scrutiny following legal setbacks and bipartisan opposition.

Months after it first announced the weakening of safety rules, DOI on Thursday unveiled its final plan in Port Fourchon, Louisiana, an area deeply connected to offshore drilling. The seaport is the country’s leading service point for the majority of Gulf drilling activities.

In a statement, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said the move would alleviate “unnecessary regulatory burdens while maintaining safety and environmental protection offshore.”

The Obama-era regulations were finalized in 2016 after six years of development. The stricter rules came in response to the BP disaster, which killed 11 people and spilled at least 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, devastating coastal communities and destroying wildlife. The rules imposed stricter requirements on equipment, including blowout preventers, among other measures.

The rollback weakens those regulations in addition to allowing third-party companies to inspect equipment, rather than government officials, and would also extend the period between inspections. Moreover, companies are no longer required to alert the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) after “false alarms” associated with production.

Environmental groups and safety advocates have argued that the rules have been critical to protecting workers and the environment. Offshore drilling is one of the most dangerous occupations and groups like the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) have strongly opposed efforts to weaken the regulations.

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