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Wyoming coal
Report: Wyoming coal production likely faces more declines

Coal’s outlook was dimmed Tuesday in a new report released by the Energy Information Administration, an independent, federal agency.

Production in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin could fall to about 260 million tons by 2023, according to the Annual Energy Outlook. Of the three coal regions in the country, the West and Appalachia are both poised to lose. Midwestern coal production may increase slightly.

Coal production is projected to remain relatively stable to slightly declining in the Powder River Basin in the decades following its low point in five years.

In 2017, the Energy Information Administration charted a sliver of hope for coal production, if the emissions-reducing Clean Power Plan was not implemented and natural gas prices were high.

In that case, Wyoming coal production in particular could have reached historic norms of 400 million tons per year, before trending to a slow, but perhaps manageable, decline, the administration projected last year.

The annual forecast from the Energy Information Administration models a variety of outcomes for energy production, consumption and exports based on variables like oil and gas prices, technological development, and occasionally, policy changes.

Confidence in coal has improved in Wyoming in the last year as production climbed out of a historic slump and companies tightened operations to adjust to the “new normal” of reduced coal demand.

Wyoming produces about 40 percent of the country’s coal. The state’s two largest mines alone, North Antelope Rochelle and Black Thunder, account for nearly one-quarter of national production.

But declining demand for coal to burn in power plants has rapidly eroded coal’s dominance in the electricity market. In the last three years, coal went from producing about 40 percent of the country’s electricity, to 30 percent. Wyoming in particular has lost nearly 1,000 miners since 2015, though a fraction has returned.

The independent federal agency shifted its baseline expectations somewhat this year. Though conditions in the coal sector would certainly worsen under the Obama-era Clean Power Plan – a regulation currently being unraveled by the Trump Administration — other factors in play will continue to drive down coal demand nonetheless, according to the outlook.

Low natural gas prices are the key factor in the challenge to coal, said Linda Capuano, administrator of the Energy Information Administration, in a live release of this year’s outlook data.

As gas outcompetes coal in the electricity sector, the most expensive coal plants to run will continue to be shut down, she said.

Wyoming has already lost customers to this trend. Two coal-fired power plants slated to close in Texas bought the majority of their coal from Peabody Energy’s Rawhide mine north of Gillette.

Natural gas is the biggest variable in coal’s outlook, but it’s not the only one. Renewables are expected to grow in every scenario, whether gas prices are high or low, whether the country has economic growth or not.

“More intense natural gas competition. Greater renewable build out. It’s the two sides of the vice on coal,” said Rob Godby, director of the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy, who has studied the Wyoming coal economy on behalf of the Wyoming Legislature.

Last year the EIA’s outlook contained more positive news for the coal sector. Production could have seen a rebound before slow declines in some scenarios. That’s diminished, Godby said.

“Where we are now, in 2018, they’re saying is as good as we get,” he said.

The outlook is not a sure bet, and highlights the complexity of forecasting markets like oil, gas and coal, Godby said.

“Energy systems are some of the most complex in the world,” he said. “What [the outlook] is useful for is in comparing the different side cases. You can see how changing one basic assumption changes the outcome.”

Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association, said the Energy Information Administration report did not contain any surprises.

The general takeaway is stability, he said, noting coal’s projected use well into the next three decades.

“One way or the other, I think it shows that our coal resource is important,” he said. “And it’s going to be important going into the future.”

The projection that coal production in the West would decline is likely a look at non-Wyoming mines, he said.

The Powder River Basin coal of Wyoming and southern Montana continues to be a cheap resource that is likely well-placed even as the market narrows, Deti said.

“You take these reports for what they are,” he said. “A snapshot of where we are, what the markets look like and some predictions on the markets.”

Pigeons fly around the house of the self proclaimed "bird lady" Tuesday afternoon in north Casper. The resident of the home, who asked not to be named, said she has been feeding the fowl for the past 20 years.

City of Casper announces fire chief finalists; all are from outside Wyoming

The City of Casper on Tuesday announced its three finalists for the open fire chief position.

The candidates are:

  • Allen Lewis, the fire chief in Virginia, Minnesota;
  • Joey Reed, the retired Kingsville, Texas, fire chief;
  • Thomas Solberg, the fire chief in Pleasant Hill, Iowa.

The candidates will come to Casper on Feb. 16 when citizen-staffed interview panels will question the finalists.

The position has been staffed in an interim capacity by Jason Speiser since Dec. 1, when former Chief Kenny King retired early.

The city accepted 28 applications for the position during a three-week period ending Nov. 19. After interviewing six candidates by Skype on Jan. 29, the city settled on three finalists.

Although City Manager Carter Napier had initially hoped to fill the position by King’s scheduled retirement date, the hiring process began later than planned and has now run three months.

The position will pay between $105,000 and $126,000 annually, according to a job posting.

King announced his retirement in October 2016, just hours after apologizing for an email regarding 2015’s Cole Creek Fire.

In an email to a subordinate who was collecting video evidence of the fire that destroyed 14 homes, King wrote: “Could you cut out the bad parts, and make sure that no copies are made and only DCI views?”

The email was sent while the fire still blazed, but did not become public until the Star-Tribune published it a year later.

King characterized the email as a “bad joke,” in an interview with the Star-Tribune.

Although King had initially been set to retire in January, he stepped down early. He said he made the change to attend a football game with his son and because his plan to complete a Homeland Security grant fell through.

However, his early exit came after copies of his emails were distributed to a group of firefighters by an unknown source. The emails, which included suggestive messages to a number of women and sexual comments about women’s appearances, sparked weeks of turmoil in the department prior to his retirement.

Trump aide: Some immigrants 'too lazy' to sign up for DACA

WASHINGTON — Some immigrants may have been “too afraid” or “too lazy” to sign up for the Obama-era program that offers protection from deportation, White House chief of staff John Kelly said Tuesday as he defended President Donald Trump’s proposal on the divisive issue.

Kelly discounted the possibility that Trump would announce a temporary extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program beyond March 5, when its protections could expire. He said the administration would not ask Congress to set a later date to give bargainers more time to reach a bipartisan deal, but said the government would not start deporting “Dreamers” who don’t have criminal records.

“They are not a priority for deportation,” he told reporters.

Kelly spoke as lawmakers have deadlocked in an effort to reach an immigration compromise. Barring an unlikely last-minute agreement, the Senate is expected to begin debating the issue next week, and it is unclear what if any plan will survive.

“We just don’t know where 60 votes are for any particular proposal,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., citing the votes needed for passage. Republicans have a slim majority and any measure will need around a dozen Democratic votes to succeed.

Kelly said Trump’s recent offer to provide a path to citizenship for up to 1.8 million immigrants went “beyond what anyone could have imagined.” A bipartisan offer by six senators that Trump rejected would have made citizenship possible for the 690,000 “Dreamers” registered under the program, nicknamed DACA, which shields immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and stayed here illegally.

“There are 690,000 official DACA registrants and the president sent over what amounts to be two and a half times that number, to 1.8 million,” Kelly said. “The difference between (690,000) and 1.8 million were the people that some would say were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses, but they didn’t sign up.”

Immigration experts cite various reasons why people eligible for DACA’s protections do not apply. These include lack of knowledge about the program, a worry that participating will expose them to deportation and an inability to afford registration fees.

“I’m sorry for that characterization. It doesn’t surprise me from Gen. Kelly,” No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin of Illinois, his party’s chief immigration negotiator, said of the White House staff chief’s remarks.

At a later bargaining session among lawmakers and White House officials, No. 2 House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland “had an exchange” with Kelly about the comments, Durbin said.

Hoyer later declined to describe his comments, saying, “I want to get a deal done.”

Durbin also scoffed at Kelly’s assertion that “Dreamers” would not be deported after the March 5 deadline arrives.

“It’s cold comfort to DACA people that if Congress does nothing, they’re still safe in the loving arms of the Department of Homeland Security,” said Durbin.

With leaders working on a separate track toward a budget pact, Trump threw a knuckle ball into the mix, saying he’d “love to see a shutdown” if Democrats didn’t meet his immigration demands.

Trump said last September that he was ending DACA but gave lawmakers until March 5 to pass legislation shielding the Dreamers. A federal judge has indefinitely blocked Trump from terminating the program’s protections, blunting the deadline’s immediate impact.

Many lawmakers are uneasy about what might happen to the Dreamers after March 5, and Democrats — and Trump himself — are using that uncertainty as leverage to help force a deal.

Kelly rejected the idea of asking lawmakers to extend the deadline, saying, “What makes them act is pressure.”

In exchange for making citizenship a possibility, Trump wants $25 billion for border security, including money to build parts of his coveted wall along the U.S.-Mexico boundary. He also wants to curb legal immigration, restricting the relatives that legal immigrants could sponsor for citizenship and ending a lottery that distributes visas to people from diverse places like Africa.

“I can’t imagine men and women of good will who begged this president to solve the problem of DACA” would oppose Trump’s proposal, Kelly said. He added, “Right now, the champion of all people who are DACA is Donald Trump.”

Democrats strongly oppose limiting legal immigration, and conservatives are against giving citizenship to DACA recipients, and Trump’s bill has gotten little traction in Congress. Durbin, his party’s chief vote counter, said Trump’s proposal would not get 60 Senate votes, saying, “I don’t think it will get any votes on the Democratic side.”

Josh Galemore, Star-Tribune 

Danny August kneels in pain in the ring as Shawn Johnson celebrates his win during their welterweight bout at the Infamous MMA on Jan. 27 at the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds Industrial Building.

Wyoming Highway Patrol's first female K-9 handler sues agency, alleges gender discrimination

The first woman in history to serve as a Wyoming Highway Patrol K-9 handler is suing the law enforcement agency, alleging she was retaliated against and lost her position as a result of gender discrimination.

The suit alleges Delsa B. Sanderson was harassed by male troopers while stationed in Laramie. An internal rumor accused Sanderson of having a sexual relationship with a supervisor in exchange for a new car, the suit alleges. She was also the recipient of a sexually-explicit nickname, according to the suit.

After Sanderson was promoted in 2015 to a Cheyenne-based dog-handler position, she was required to purchase her own holster and given a mis-fitting windbreaker, the suit alleges. A male trooper who was also sent to Cheyenne around the same time did not have to purchase his holster and was given a properly-fitting windbreaker. Other troopers in Cheyenne would ignore Sanderson or decline to acknowledge her, the suit alleges.

Highway patrol spokesman Sgt. Kyle McKay declined to comment in relation to the lawsuit, citing a highway patrol policy that forbids comment on ongoing litigation.

Assistant Wyoming Attorney General Philip Donoho, who is representing the highway patrol in the case, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sanderson joined the patrol in December 2007 and is one of only six women among the 220 officers employed by the highway patrol, the suit states. She was nominated for Trooper of the Year in 2014 and received a Colonel’s Commendation Award.

Patrol officails encouraged Sanderson to apply for bomb dog handler position in a division tasked with protecting the governor and other state officials. She began work there in May 2015 and was ignored and isolated by coworkers, the suit alleges.

While bantering with another trooper in February 2016, she called him an “asshole,” according to the suit, which further contents such interactions are common in law enforcement.

Colonel Kebin Haller — the head of the patrol — told Sanderson the comment was unprofessional and told her to apologize to the other trooper, according to the suit. She did.

Roughly two months after the incident, supervisors issued her a letter outlining expectations, according to the suit. She was given a letter reassigning her on the same day.

The letters, which the lawsuit characterizes as “nearly identical,” cite the name-calling incident as the most recent allegation of misconduct at the time of her reassignment, the lawsuit alleges.

None of Sanderson’s alleged misconduct was recorded in a complaint-monitoring system until after she told supervisors the alleged misconduct did not appear in the system. The alleged misconduct was then added to the system, according to the suit.

The suit alleges Sanderson was reassigned because she complained about poor treatment by her colleagues, rather than for the reasons stated by her supervisors. It also alleges she was subject to a hostile work environment and discriminated against because of her gender.

Sanderson filed the suit Jan. 22, naming the law enforcement agency as the only defendant.

Bruce Moats, who represents Sanderson in the case, said he had no further comment on the case when reached by phone.

“(I’ll) just stick with the complaint,” he said.

Moats has previously represented the Star-Tribune in cases related to open records laws.

Sanderson is asking a judge to award her pay lost as a result of her demotion and additional monetary damages and order the highway patrol to cover her attorney’s fees.