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WY Governor Pressed to Invest in Communities, Not Coal Exports

Japan, the primary potential buyer of Wyoming coal exports, plans to retire most of its coal fleet in favor of cheaper renewable energy and natural gas. (Jwvein/Pixabay)
Japan, the primary potential buyer of Wyoming coal exports, plans to retire most of its coal fleet in favor of cheaper renewable energy and natural gas. (Jwvein/Pixabay)
September 3, 2020

CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- Conservation groups are challenging Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon to invest $1 million to help impacted communities that depend on coal production, instead of promoting the state's coal deposits to Asian markets.

Rob Joyce, conservation organizer for the Sierra Club's Wyoming chapter, said a public relations campaign is the wrong bet to make on behalf of Wyoming taxpayers.

With proposed new export terminals stalled on the West Coast, and the price of coal now at $50 a ton, Joyce said Powder River Basin coal also is facing a steep drop in demand.

"Japan, which is the primary potential buyer of Powder River Basin coal, recently announced plans to retire most of its existing coal fleet, with some of that being replaced by newer, higher-efficiency plants," Joyce said. "That means that less total coal is needed."

Joyce pointed to export terminal backers who say coal prices need to be at least $60 per ton to break even.

Gordon signed a law this spring that established a Wyoming coal marketing program, and proponents said investing in coal exports will benefit taxpayers since the state budget depends on coal revenues.

A recent Reuters report projects the price of coal will remain low into the foreseeable future, due to a drop in demand during the pandemic, high existing inventories, and cheaper alternatives including natural gas.

Joyce believes now is the moment for Wyoming leaders to stop putting all their eggs in the coal basket and find new ways to generate revenue.

"Whether it's through bringing in new business, investing in renewable-energy resources which have been expanding throughout the state," Joyce said. "What they should not do is continue to have a myopic focus on coal and trying to expand coal exports."

House Bill 04 went into effect in July. The measure gives the governor discretion in spending the $1 million allocated to expand coal markets, or for projects that address current and future impacts facing communities because of changes in the coal industry.

Disclosure: Sierra Club, Wyoming Chapter contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species & Wildlife, and Energy Policy. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY