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The entire coal industry employs fewer people than Arby’s

The Washington Post | Posted on April 5, 2017

Experts in the industry have already pointed out, repeatedly, that the coal jobs are extremely unlikely to come back. The plight of the coal industry is more a function of changing energy markets and increased demand for natural gas than anything else. The chief executive of the nation's largest privately held coal operation said that Trump “can't bring coal back.” Another largely overlooked point about coal jobs is that there just aren't that many of them relative to other industries. There are various estimates of coal-sector employment, but according to the Census Bureau's County Business Patterns program, which allows for detailed comparisons with many other industries, the coal industry employed 76,572 people in 2014, the latest year for which data is available.  That number includes not just miners but also office workers, sales staff and all of the other individuals who work at coal-mining companies. Although 76,000 might seem like a large number, consider that similar numbers of people are employed by, say, the bowling (69,088) and skiing (75,036) industries. Other dwindling industries, such as travel agencies (99,888 people), employ considerably more. Used-car dealerships provide 138,000 jobs. Theme parks provide nearly 144,000. Carwash employment tops 150,000.

Why utilities don't think Trump will stop the clean energy transition

Utility Drive | Posted on April 3, 2017

Today, President Trump is poised to release a long-anticipated executive order to roll back the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s signature climate initiative.  The order is expected to be accompanied by directives to lift a moratorium on federal land coal leases and to cease the use of the social cost of carbon — all part of a broad campaign to dismantle environmental regulations on the power sector that Trump blames for the decline of the coal economy in the United States.  But while rescinding the rules could help slow coal power’s decline in the short term, analysts say it is unlikely to reverse its long-term downturn, mostly due to the economics of natural gas and renewables. That attitude is shared not just by market observers, but by electric utilities themselves. According to Utility Dive’s fourth annual State of the Electric Utility Survey, the sector plans to keep moving steadily toward a cleaner, more distributed energy future — no matter what happens with the Clean Power Plan. President Trump’s push against carbon rules may grab headlines, but the 2017 survey indicates utility executives are significantly more concerned about other issues.For the first time, physical and cyber security topped the list of utility sector concerns in 2017, with nearly three quarters of respondents indicating it is either “important” or “very important” today.Security concerns were followed by more familiar utility issues with distributed energy policy, rate design reform, aging grid infrastructure and reliable integration of renewables and DERs — all issues which tracked close to the top in past Utility Dive surveys, the report notes.  

Food companies, others still moving toward renewable energy

The Progressive Farmer | Posted on March 30, 2017

On the same day President Donald Trump signed an executive order to end the Clean Power Plan, the world's largest beer company announced it would buy 100% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025. Anheuser-Busch InBev will start renewable energy shifts in Mexico, which is home to the company's largest brewery. The company will be buying power from a major wind and solar project being built in Mexico. AB InBev has joined RE100, a group of major global businesses committed to converting to 100% renewable energy. AB InBev estimates its renewable-power conversion will reduce the company's carbon footprint by roughly 30%. Rescinding the Clean Power Plan likely will still require a long legal battle once the rulemaking process begins at EPA. If successful, it also likely means the U.S. doesn't have a plan for showing reduction in carbon emissions agreed to by the Obama administration in the Paris climate agreement in 2015. The U.S. had committed to reduce emissions by at least 26% from 2005 levels by 2025. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association along with 39 rural power cooperatives petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals in 2015 to reject the Clean Power Plan, leading to the current legal stay of the power rule by the Supreme Court.

While Ohio coal employment falls, solar jobs double in Cleveland area

Midwest Energy News | Posted on March 30, 2017

Solar industry jobs doubled in the Cleveland, Ohio area last year, driving about half of the state’s total job growth in the sector, according to new data released today by The Solar Foundation.  However, the industry’s future growth in Cuyahoga County and elsewhere in the state could be jeopardized by ongoing uncertainty over Ohio’s renewable portfolio standards.  The detailed data are a follow-up to a nationwide report released by the group last month. In addition to each state’s solar job totals, data posted by the organization at include information about minority participation, breakdown of jobs within the industry, patents, per capita ranking and more.

Policy Shift Helps Coal, but Other Forces May Limit Effect

The New York Times | Posted on March 29, 2017

Many fossil fuel executives are celebrating President Trump’s move to dismantle the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. But their cheers are muted, because market forces and state initiatives continue to elevate coal’s rivals, especially natural gas and renewable energy. In coal’s favor, there is the new promise that federal lands will be open for leasing, ending an Obama-era moratorium. Easing pollution restrictions could delay the closing of some old coal-fired power plants, slowing the switch by some utilities to other sources.And with the government pendulum swinging from environmental concerns back to job creation and energy independence, share prices of many energy companies, particularly coal producers, soared Tuesday on the news.For coal executives, however, optimism and expansion plans remain guarded. Regulatory relief could restore 10 percent of their companies’ lost market share at most, they say — nowhere near enough to return coal to its dominant position in power markets and put tens of thousands of coal miners to work.

Maryland Senate approves fracking ban; governor to sign bill

UPI | Posted on March 29, 2017

Maryland's Senate approved a ban on fracking in the state, a bill Gov. Larry Hogan has pledged to sign. Maryland would join Vermont as the only states that ban fracking through legislation. Vermont does not have the shale formations containing natural gas where fracking could be done but Maryland has it in the western part of the state.

Oil spill in creek originally underestimated, making it one of largest in North Dakota history

Bismarck Tribune | Posted on March 28, 2017

An oil pipeline spill that contaminated a tributary of the Little Missouri River last December is now estimated to be three times larger than originally thought, making it one of the most significant pipeline spills in North Dakota history.Belle Fourche Pipeline Co. reports about 12,615 barrels, or 529,830 gallons, of oil spilled as a result of a pipeline leak the company now believes started on Dec. 1 and was discovered by a landowner on Dec. 5, said spokeswoman Wendy Owen.The spill contaminated a hillside and Ash Coulee Creek about 16 miles northwest of Belfield.An earlier estimate put the spill at 4,200 barrels, or 176,400 gallons, but was revised after the company was able to pinpoint when the spill started and review metering data, said Owen.

Peabody Bankruptcy Deal Leaves Taxpayers With Mine Cleanup Bill

Institute for Energy Economics | Posted on March 28, 2017

Peobody's debt-cutting plan will leave taxpayers facing a bigger bill for cleaning up nearly two dozen hazardous sites primarily in the central U.S., including a swath of northeast Oklahoma that once produced lead ore for bullets in both World Wars. The 22 properties will be shed by miner Peabody Energy Corp. when it leaves bankruptcy with a plan that shifts cleanup costs to the government. Peabody’s chapter 11 plan, approved Friday by a federal judge, and related settlements allow the company to provide about 2% of as much as $2.7 billion in environmental liabilities asserted by federal, state and tribal authorities for the sites polluted from lead and zinc mining that ended decades ago. But the gap between what governmental authorities sought from Peabody and what they will get at the end of the bankruptcy means the cost of cleaning up the sites will fall to governments and taxpayers. That comes as state budgets are stretched thin and the Environmental Protection Agency faces a 31% funding cut under President Donald Trump’s budget proposal.

California regulators launch new campaign against harmful climate pollutants

Los Angeles Times | Posted on March 28, 2017

California opened another front in its fight against global warming on Thursday, launching a new strategy for slashing so-called super pollutants that have an outsize impact on the climate. The plan targets emissions such as methane from cow manure, black carbon from diesel exhaust and hydrofluorocarbons from refrigerators. Regulators at the Air Resources Board, which approved the strategy, and other government agencies will now need to write detailed rules for achieving the reductions.

A 'carbon law' offers pathway to halve emissions every decade

Science Daily | Posted on March 28, 2017

The authors argue a carbon roadmap, driven by a simple rule of thumb or "carbon law" of halving emissions every decade, could catalyse disruptive innovation. Such a "carbon law," based on Moore's Law in the computer industry, applies to cities, nations and industrial sectors. The authors say fossil-fuel emissions should peak by 2020 at the latest and fall to around zero by 2050 to meet the UN's Paris Agreement's climate goal of limiting the global temperature rise to "well below 2°C" from preindustrial times. A "carbon law" approach, say the international team of scientists, ensures that the greatest efforts to reduce emissions happens sooner not later and reduces the risk of blowing the remaining global carbon budget to stay below 2°C. Moore's Law states that computer processors double in power about every two years. While it is neither a natural nor legal law, this simple rule of thumb or heuristic has been described as a "golden rule" which has held for 50 years and still drives disruptive innovation. The paper notes that a "carbon law" offers a flexible way to think about reducing carbon emissions. It can be applied across borders and economic sectors, as well as both regional and global scales.