Wyoming Sticks by Coal Despite Upheaval

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Proposed Carbon Emissions Standards and Boom in Shale Gas Threaten Jobs in the State’s Coal Heartland.

Coal is still king here in the heart of the state’s Powder River Basin, where a column of trucks carrying freshly mined loads chug up a hillside outside town each day.

So when talk at a local bar turns to new carbon emissions standards proposed in June by the Environmental Protection Agency—rules that would hit the coal industry hardest—patrons respond with a mixture of disbelief and defiance.

“We take a lot of pride in what we do here,” said Doug Holzer, as he sipped a Budweiser after getting off his graveyard shift as a heavy-equipment operator at Arch Coal’s ACI +0.82% Coal Creek mine.

Mr. Holzer, 57, wondered aloud where the country would get its power if not for coal. “We’re heating the whole country,” he said.

In Wyoming, which produces more coal than any other state and accounts for roughly 40% of the nation’s coal output, political leaders aren’t interested in contemplating a postcoal era. While new emission standards likely would accelerate the turn to other energy sources for electricity generation already under way, Wyoming has dug in, vowing to keep coal as an economic bedrock, if not here, then by exporting it overseas.

In recent weeks, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has sought to defend a nervous mining industry, saying the proposed emissions levels wouldn’t only hurt the state, but the rest of the nation, which still relies upon coal for nearly 40% of its electricity.

The new EPA standards seek to cut carbon pollution generated by power plants by an average of 30% by 2030 compared with 2005 emission levels. The proposal would give states flexibility in implementing the emissions standards based on realistic goals. Wyoming would have to reduce its own carbon emissions rate by 19%, less than most other states, according to the Georgetown Climate Center.

The proposed standards may well intensify the shift away from coal that started in part with the shale-gas boom here and in other states, putting even more pressure on Wyoming’s coal miners to find new markets.

Since 2012, 297 coal-fired units at power plants have either been retired or are scheduled for retirement over the next decade because of pending EPA regulations and cheaper energy sources, according to SNL Energy, an industry data specialist.

Mr. Mead has continued to push for the construction of northwestern coal terminals so that Wyoming coal can be shipped to Asian markets, although the proposals face resistance from some cities and activists who don’t want coal trains running through their communities.

“This battle and fight is far from over in my view,” said Mr. Mead, a Republican. “We will be very aggressive in defending what we think is good for Wyoming and what is good for the country.”

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