Here’s What Is Behind LG&E’s Proposed Rate Hike Thursday, Dec 8 2016 

Louisville Gas and Electric is proposing a rate increase for its electric and gas customers. This isn’t the first time; the utility generally requests some sort of a change every few years.

But critics say this time, the way the utility is proposing to raise your rates is unfair and will end up discouraging energy efficiency.

Over the past eight years, Louisville Gas and Electric has spent more than $260 million on energy efficiency measures. These are programs like rebates when you buy energy saving appliances, or home energy audits.

I got one of those audits done earlier this year. Like most people, I was motivated by environmental concerns — but also by money. Saving energy means lower utility bills, and LG&E has been sweetening the deal with programs that make energy efficiency financially attractive.

But over the past few years, LG&E and Kentucky Utilities — as well as utility companies around the country — have been dealing with a reduced demand for energy. Some of that is due to the recession, and some is because people are investing in energy efficient appliances and weatherization.

In response, utilities are raising rates in ways that aren’t tied to consumption, prompting charges that they’re being unfair to customers who did what the utility was asking, and that they’re discouraging the very conservation they’ve worked to convince customers is valuable.

And ultimately, at least in LG&E’s case, the utility expects to turn a profit from the proposal.

Savings for the Utility

LG&E estimates its energy efficiency programs are on track to have saved about 500 megawatts of electricity.

“I mean, 500 megawatts is basically a base load [power] plant,” said LG&E spokeswoman Chris Whelan. “So by our customers taking part in our programs, we’ll have been able to avoid an extra plant.”

This is great for the environment, and for your wallet. It’s also pretty good for the utility company. Whelan estimates the company’s new Cane Run natural gas unit (which produces 640 megawatts) cost about $527 million. Not having to build another one of those is financially beneficially.

But there’s a catch.

When customers save energy, it’s problematic for a utility that has typically paid for things like customer service and infrastructure out of a small surcharge tacked onto the money you pay for each kilowatt hour you use.

Fewer kilowatt hours means less money for these basic services. So that surcharge could soon go up.

“We are investing in our system for safety, reduced outages and greater reliability and better services to our customers,” she said.

If you haven’t been scrutinizing your monthly utility bill, here’s how it works. There are a lot of different fees and charges that go into the final amount you pay. But for the purposes of this discussion, the important parts are the basic service charge and the usage charge.

The usage charge is based on how much electricity or gas you use. This is the part of the bill that can fluctuate wildly, depending on whether you’ve had the air conditioning or heat blasting recently.

The basic service charge is the same amount of money every month; right now, it’s $24.25 for customers that use both electric and gas. LG&E is proposing raising that to $46 a month. The company proposed a similar move in 2014 but ultimately settled without raising the electricity base rate and only raising gas rates slightly.

“I think it’s morally wrong, and I think it has huge societal impacts that we cannot afford,” said Sarah Lynn Cunningham of the Louisville Climate Action Network.

Cunningham offers advice to people all the time about reducing electricity bills.

“The reality of it is, when you talk to somebody about insulating their attic or weatherizing their door or buying a more efficient major appliance, they always want to know what the payback period is,” she said.

But raising the fixed service charge means that payback period will be longer, and ratepayers won’t be able to control their energy bills as much as they have been in the past.

David Dismukes, director of the Center for Energy Studies at Louisiana State University, compares it to an all-you-can-eat buffet. He said utilities are attempting this rate design — where utilities raise the service charge equally for everyone — all over the country.

“You charge one fee and you can use as much as you want,” he said. “And so, it’s a rate design that’s not thought to be very positive in terms of encouraging energy conservation or efficiency either.”

His analogy isn’t perfect, because under the plan, you’ll still pay more if you use more energy. But he said this large fee increase will make it harder for ratepayers to see and justify investments in energy efficiency.

Turning a Profit

This rate design also has a dampening effect on renewable energy, like solar.

The number of homeowners with solar panels in Kentucky is still small, but Dismukes and Cunningham say raising the service charge could penalize people who have already installed panels and discourage others from investing in the technology.

With the money, LG&E will be installing advanced meters on everyone’s houses. The benefits of this, according to Whelan, are twofold: The utility company can instantly see when and where there’s a power outage, and can fix it quicker. Also, customers can look up their energy usage online and track it to the minute.

But the company is also asking for the rate increase so it can get a “return on equity,” which basically means a profit. Utilities are guaranteed a “fair rate of return,” though what exactly is “fair” is up to interpretation. With this rate increase, LG&E is asking for regulators to allow it to reap about a 10 percent profit on the investments it makes to its system.

And that profit is part of what makes the rate increase so hard to swallow for some people, like Nicole Coggins.

Coggins struggles to heat her house — a leaky rental property in Shawnee. Last month, her bill was more than $400.

“I don’t understand that. I don’t,” she said about LG&E’s proposal. “People are already overtaxed, overworked, they don’t have time to spend with their families to enjoy the electricity, to enjoy the cooking, because they’ve got to go out and pay these bills.”

Dismukes of LSU said one of the problems with this rate design is that everyone pays the same, regardless of how big their homes are or how much energy they use. Besides discouraging energy conservation, he said, it’s also just plain unfair.

But he has a suggestion. If LG&E raises the base service charge, it’s reducing its risk. Rather than roll the dice about how much it’ll be collecting in fees every month, the company will know: $46 per meter. And if it wants that certainty, the utility should be willing to settle for less money.

“If it’s reducing your risk, it ought to reduce the allowed rate of return you get on these investments,” he said.

It will be awhile before the matter is settled, as it moves through the regulatory process. In the meantime, numerous entities including companies like Kroger, Louisville Metro government and some nonprofits have announced plans to intervene in the case.

Study Finds Storm Frequency, Intensity Will Increase By End Of Century Monday, Dec 5 2016 

Overall, Kentucky is getting drier. Droughts are becoming a more common occurrence — affecting everything from agriculture to the frequency of forest fires.

But despite the fact that we’re seeing overall less rain, there’s more coming all at once.

“You can already see this in observational records, that the downpours are getting more extreme,” said Andreas Prein.

He’s a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and his new study released Monday quantifies how much regions across the country can expect storm intensity and frequency to increase by the end of the century, due to climate change.

There are significant implications for urban areas when lots of rain comes all at once, overflowing sewers, flooding and stormwater runoff. But intense rainfall is also a real problem for Kentucky’s farmers.

Bob Wade, who’s been farming in Sonora, Kentucky since 1987, is one of those farmers.

I was at Wade’s farm last August, when the corn and soybeans he grows were still tall. Both of these crops are really sensitive to rain. Wade needs just enough — not too little, and not too much.

img_6263Erica Peterson |

Bob Wade

“Especially during the months of July and August, the amounts of rain that we get pretty much determines the yield of the crops that we get,” he said. “We really like rain in the summertime. As long as we don’t get too much.”

By mid-August, there were already a few areas of Wade’s fields that had fallen victim to Kentucky’s summer storms. He pointed to a bare half acre in a corn field.

“The reason that area is bare is because we had a big rain event and it drowned out the corn plants that were there,” he said.

In a nearby soybean field, there’s erosion. A recent heavy storm actually cut a ditch through the field.

Some years, there are droughts. To help protect against losses there, Wade has installed irrigation systems in some areas. But there’s not much he can do to protect the plants against heavy rainfall. And when the intense rain hits the dry soil, he often loses valuable nutrients.

“You can see you have the productive top soil,” Wade said, picking up a handful of dirt. “The color changes about three or four inches down to more of a red. That’s the subsoil. So you really want to protect that top three to four inches of soil. And if that’s washed off, then the yield of your soybean or corn crop is going to be lower.”

And Prein’s research suggests farmers like Wade should brace for more of these complications. In Kentucky, Prein estimates the intensity of storms will increase by 20 percent, so instead of having four inches of rain in an hour, you’ll have five inches. And maybe even more importantly, there will be three times more storms.

“Where you have maybe one extreme thunderstorm a year at the current climate, you may have three in the future,” he said.

This is all under the assumption that carbon dioxide emissions stay the same. These rising emissions have already made the planet warmer over the past century, and Prein said they’re expected to raise temperatures by nine degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century if nothing changes. This, in turn, will have a direct effect on the frequency and intensity of storms.

“It’s really in our hands if we want to avoid it, or we just keep on continuing emitting greenhouse gases,” he said.

Louisville Metro Government To Intervene In LG&E Rate Case Friday, Dec 2 2016 

Louisville Metro Government plans to formally intervene in a request before the Public Service Commission from Louisville Gas and Electric to raise utility rates.

LG&E’s proposal would raise the basic service charge for both electric and gas on ratepayers’ bills, and slightly decrease the cost of the actual electric and gas usage. The company estimates it will raise the average bill by $12.64.

But the way the company is raising the rates — by increasing the fixed cost charged to every customer rather than charging more based on usage — has drawn critics concerned about how it would affect low-income residents. Ratepayers currently pay $24.25 in service fees every month; if the Public Service Commission grants the rate increase, that amount will rise to $46 a month.

“So before you’ve even used any utilities, you’d be paying $46,” said Cathy Hinko, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Housing Coalition. “If your income is $500 a month, $46 has a whole different meaning to you than if your income is $3,000 a month.”

LG&E spokeswoman Chris Whelan said the change is necessary for LG&E to increase reliability. Part of the rate filing involves installing advanced meters on every home and business. These will allow the utility company to instantly see when and where there’s a power outage, and can fix it quicker. Also, customers can look up their energy usage online and track it to the minute.

“We don’t go in and just ask for an increase in rates just to be doing it,” Whelan said. “We really think these initiatives that we’re doing and the investments we’re making in our system really will help improve safety and reliability and service to our customers.”

In a news release, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said the city government spends about $17 million every year on electricity and gas, which gives it an interest in any potential rate increase. Fischer also said he was concerned about the effect on the city’s residents.

“It’s important for Metro Government to be part of the discussion on a decision that will impact every household in our city,” Fischer said. “This will allow us the ability to advocate for the citizens of Louisville while better understanding the needs of LG&E.”

Filing to intervene doesn’t necessarily mean that Metro Government opposes the rate increase, but gives the city a seat at the table. In intervening, Metro Government will join other entities with an interest in the cost of utilities, like Kroger, Attorney General Andy Beshear, the Kentucky Industrial Utility Customers and the Association of Community Ministries.

Kentuckians Urge More Strenuous Review Of Proposed NGL Pipeline Thursday, Dec 1 2016 

The proposed conversion of a natural gas pipeline across Kentucky is moving forward.

Friday is the final day to comment on a draft environmental assessment that found the project would have no significant environmental impacts. But environmental groups and residents affected by the pipeline say the project deserves a more thorough analysis.

In 2013, energy company Kinder Morgan announced it planned to stop carrying natural gas through the 1,400-mile Tennessee Gas Pipeline. Instead, it would convert the pipeline to carry natural gas liquids (NGLs) and reverse its flow.

NGLs are the byproduct of drilling for natural gas and contain hydrocarbons like butane, ethane and propane. They’re used in manufacturing plastics and other materials.

But they’re also highly volatile. If the pipeline leaks, there’s the potential of widespread water contamination. And residents living near the pipeline’s path are concerned that the Tennessee Gas Pipeline, which was built more than 70 years ago to carry methane, isn’t sufficiently engineered to carry the heavier NGLs.

The project is before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which released the draft Environmental Assessment earlier this month. The assessment found the project wouldn’t significantly affect the environment, and the analysis was welcomed by Kinder Morgan.

“Overall, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff has done a very thorough job developing a comprehensive and well-documented analysis of the environmental impacts of the actions being reviewed for authorization by the FERC,” spokesman Richard Wheatley said in an email. He declined further comment.

Analysis Didn’t Consider Future Use

But FERC’s assessment was limited to looking at only half of the project: Kinder Morgan’s plan to “abandon” the natural gas pipeline.

Even though the company has made it known it plans to carry NGLs in the pipe, FERC didn’t consider the future use in the analysis.

“The concern is, they ought to look at the big picture,” said Kentucky Resources Council Director Tom FitzGerald.

He and others are asking FERC to conduct a more thorough Environmental Impact Statement that examines the potential environmental effects from using the pipeline for NGLs. FitzGerald said the examination of repurposing the pipeline is required under his interpretation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

“We’re hoping that FERC will reverse course from what it has proposed and will not be myopic in the way that it’s looking at this, but will look at the whole range of impacts that it knows its approval would set into play,” he said.

Since the Environmental Assessment was released on Nov. 2, FERC has received more than 180 comments expressing concerns about the project and calling for a more comprehensive Environmental Impact Study.

Only three comments were in favor of the project: from the Kentucky Oil and Gas Association, the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

In the chamber’s comment, director of public affairs Kate Shanks wrote:

“We welcome the opportunities this brings to Kentucky and our nation, and we call on our federal regulators to ensure decisions are made in line with federal law and in an expeditious manner.”

But the local Danville-Boyle County Chamber of Commerce disagreed, submitting a comment asking for further study:

“With Herrington Lake serving as our primary source of water for our city, county and region, as well as feeding into the Kentucky River, which provides drinking water for Frankfort, Lexington, and many other communities, and then flowing on into the Ohio River, a large spill in this area has the potential to impact a large portion of the Midwest. This kind of contamination to our water supply would cause grave economic damage,” the board of directors wrote.

If FERC finalizes the environmental analysis, there will be other regulatory hurdles before Kinder Morgan can transport NGLs through the pipeline. The company will have to get permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before crossing bodies of water, for example.

The company will also have to find customers for the NGLs, and find landowners willing to lease land in places where the pipeline will deviate from its original path.

FitzGerald said this project would not be able to use eminent domain, because the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled a similar project — the now-scuttled Bluegrass Pipeline — wasn’t eligible and the Kentucky Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Comments on the draft Environmental Analysis are due Friday, Dec. 2. You can find all the filings in Kinder Morgan’s FERC application here; search for docket number CP15-88.

Work Cleaning Poisoned Black Leaf Site Has Yet To Begin Sunday, Nov 27 2016 

Work still has yet to begin on cleaning up a contaminated industrial site in Louisville’s Park Hill neighborhood.

Five years ago, regulators found high levels of chemicals — like pesticides, heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons — in the soil at the Black Leaf site. Some of the chemicals had migrated to nearby yards, and more than five dozen were remediated.

But the 29-acre Black Leaf site itself is still contaminated.

Earlier this year, the Kentucky Division of Waste Management announced that the responsible parties — which include Exxon Mobile and Occidental Chemical Corporation — wanted to clean the property up to commercial standards. That’s less stringent than cleaning it up to residential standards, and it means some amounts of pollution would be left on site.

But Tim Hubbard of the Division of Waste Management said so far, the state hasn’t been able to sign off on a plan.

“Our goal is to get the property cleaned up by whomever chooses to do so, and whoever submits a plan we can approve,” he said. “The plans that have been submitted so far lacked detail as far as certain aspects of the work that’s going to be completed.”

Hubbard said further complicating matters is the fact that the state is evaluating two different cleanup plans.

The corporations with ties to the site submitted one, and property owner Tony Young submitted another. Hubbard said ideally, the plans could be meshed together with everyone on board. But ultimately, if one plan meets the state’s criteria and one doesn’t, the state will have to move forward and approve the best one for the cleanup.

There’s also the fact that one of the responsible parties — Maxus Energy — filed for bankruptcy last summer.

Hubbard said optimistically, the state should be able to sign off on a plan in the next few months.

“Hopefully we get a plan that’s satisfactory to everyone and get that property cleaned up and make it protective for human health and the environment,” he said. “That’s our goal.”

Once the state has an acceptable cleanup plan, it will be presented to the public at a meeting for input before it’s finalized.

Louisville Gets $1 Million For Tree Planting Monday, Nov 21 2016 

Louisville is getting a million dollars to rejuvenate the city’s aging tree canopy and educate the public about the importance of trees. Mayor Greg Fischer announced the anonymous donation Monday and launched a call to the public to match it with another million dollars.

The factors taxing Louisville’s tree canopy are well documented. Major storms, invasive pests and old age are taking a toll, and studies estimate the city is losing about 54,000 trees a year. This is a particular problem as Louisville tries to combat the urban heat island effect, where heavily paved neighborhoods with sparse tree canopies are warming at much faster rates than surrounding countryside.

About 37 percent of Louisville is currently covered by trees. The city’s goal is 45 percent.

Mayor Greg Fischer and Councilmen Dan Johnson and Bill Hollander join TreesLouisville Director Cindi Sullivan and students in planting a tree at Gilmore Elementary. Erica Peterson |

Mayor Greg Fischer and Councilmen Dan Johnson and Bill Hollander join TreesLouisville Director Cindi Sullivan and students in planting a tree at Gilmore Elementary.

At the press conference at Gilmore Lane Elementary, Fischer said the $1 million donation is the biggest gift the city has ever received for trees, and will provide environmental and financial returns.

“The shade that trees provide, it lowers energy costs, they’re aesthetically pleasing, so trees increase property values as well,” he said. “They attract people to live in neighborhoods, they attract businesses to neighborhoods, just improve the overall quality of life.”

Nonprofit TreesLouisville will manage the project’s outreach. Executive Director Cindi Sullivan said the money will go to purchase trees of all sizes — from tiny saplings to larger landscape trees — and there are plans in place for maintenance.

“Trees are an integral part of our community infrastructure,” she said. “Trees are just as important if not more so for a fully-functioning healthy community as our roads, our sewer system and our clean water supply.”

Sullivan said some of the smaller trees will be handed out to citizens to plant on their private property, but the bulk will be planted on city-owned land.

Encouraging more citizens to plant trees on their property is also an integral part of the project, she added. The same report that quantified Louisville’s tree loss also found that nearly three-quarters of the land where tree planting is realistic is privately-owned, so making a real dent in the problem will require public involvement.

The Community Foundation of Louisville is accepting donations to match the initial $1 million gift. There’s more information here.

Hundreds Of U.S. Businesses Urge Trump To Uphold Paris Climate Deal Thursday, Nov 17 2016 

Hundreds of businesses such as Starbucks, General Mills and Hewlett Packard are asking President-elect Donald Trump to follow through on U.S. commitments to combat climate change. They argue it’s good for business.

More than 360 companies and investors made their plea in an open letter to Trump, President Obama and members of Congress. They called on Trump to “continue U.S. participation in the Paris agreement,” which he has threatened to scrap, and invest in the “low carbon economy at home and abroad.”

The signatories also include DuPont, eBay, Nike, Unilever, Levi Strauss & Co. and Hilton. They issued the letter Wednesday during a major U.N. climate conference in Marrakech, Morocco, where representatives of nearly 200 countries were gathered to hash out the details of the Paris climate deal.

As members of the U.S. business and investor community, they emphasized their “deep commitment to addressing climate change” and pledged to do their part, “in our operations and beyond,” to meet the goals of the agreement to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

“Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk. But the right action now will create jobs and boost US competitiveness,” the letter states. “Implementing the Paris Agreement will enable and encourage businesses and investors to turn the billions of dollars in existing low-carbon investments into the trillions of dollars the world needs to bring clean energy and prosperity to all.”

The U.S. commitments to the Paris accord are voluntary, as NPR’s Christopher Joyce has reported. He added that experts are concerned that the U.S. could walk away from the deal and gut Obama’s domestic climate change strategy. This could also discourage other countries from working to lower their own emissions.

“The new administration has created a huge amount of uncertainty, and that’s bad for business,” MIT management professor John Sterman told Marketplace. “So staying the course on the U.S. commitments to reduce emissions, to follow through on our Paris commitment is essential to lower that uncertainty, give businesses the confidence to develop and implement strategies that are going to build advantage, lower risk, and lower their costs.”

Trump has previously labeled climate change a hoax. In 2012, he tweeted that it was a concept “created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

As NPR has reported, Trump has appointed Myron Ebell to lead the Environmental Protection Agency transition team. Ebell “directs environmental and energy policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and is a leading climate change skeptic. He opposes the Clean Power Plan, which is aimed at reducing carbon emissions, calling it illegal. He heads a group called the ‘Cooler Heads Coalition’ that questions ‘global warming alarmism.’ “

The letter’s overall message suggests that in the business community, environmental groups might have what would seem to be an unlikely ally.

“Environmental groups have been left with the daunting prospect that, with a climate skeptic in the White House, they will need to look directly to corporations to assume the mantle of leading the country’s response to climate change,” as The New York Times reported. “But without strict regulatory standards or oversight, companies will be left freer to pick and choose which climate-friendly policies to pursue, and which they will choose to ignore or abandon.”

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LISTEN: Post-Obama, Who Will GOP Blame For Coal’s Decline? Thursday, Nov 17 2016 

During his campaign, presidential candidate Donald Trump echoed the Republican line on coal: that it’s abundant, and unfairly targeted by environmental regulations under President Barack Obama’s administration.

“Obama has decimated the coal industry, decimated it, and we’re going to bring the coal industry back, folks,” he said at a rally in Louisville.

This rhetoric is familiar to Kentuckians. For the past few years, politicians have gained votes in the coalfields by raising false hopes about a resurgence of coal. In Eastern Kentucky, more than 12,000 miners have been laid off since 2009. And here — as in other places around the country — Trump’s economic promises found a receptive audience.

But analysts agree that the tide is turning away from coal — and Appalachian coal will likely never return to its previous heights. After years of blaming Obama for the decline, who will Republicans blame now that they’ve captured Congress and the presidency?

Read more here, and listen in the audio player above.

In Louisville, Hundreds Rally To Protest Dakota Access Pipeline Tuesday, Nov 15 2016 

Several hundred people gathered at the federal courthouse in Louisville Tuesday to protest the project; other similar rallies were held simultaneously in cities around the country.

The pipeline is planned to transport crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken oilfields across the Dakotas and Iowa, before ending in Patoka, Illinois. It’ll be able to transport more than 470,000 barrels a day, and pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners says the project is essential to helping Bakken crude oil reach the country’s major markets.

But the project has encountered opposition over the past few months. The proposed route crosses the Missouri River close to the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, and the tribe has raised concerns about both water contamination and what it says was a failure of the government to consult the tribe during the process.

Tuesday at Louisville’s protest, organized by a coalition of environmental and social justice groups, protesters held signs promoting the sovereignty of the Standing Rock Sioux and the sanctity of the tribe’s land and water.

“We’re here standing with Standing Rock,” said Louisville resident Christina Dessart, who held a sign urging companies to protect people and the planet over profits. “We’re all united as one and we’re here to support the tribe and the land and the artifacts and the environment.”

Roger Campbell, a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe — a community located geographically close to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe — spoke at the rally. He lives in Louisville, and said the Dakota Access Pipeline and its potential to contaminate the environment should concern everyone, regardless of whether they live along the proposed route.

“That pipeline runs all the way down to Illinois. They’re going to put one over here,” he said. “Why wait till then? Why do you want to wait until your water is affected to stop it? Why don’t you stop it at the beginning? Don’t wait until it’s too late.”

Monday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it wasn’t prepared to green light the project, which needs Army Corps approval to cross under the Missouri River. The agency said more study was needed. Energy Transfer Partners is challenging the Army Corps in federal court; two filings made late Monday argue the company has all necessary permissions to construct the pipeline and should be able to proceed without interference from the Corps.

Despite Trump’s Promises, Coal Industry Rebound In Appalachia Remains Unlikely Saturday, Nov 12 2016 

Over the past year, President-elect Donald Trump has had a lot to say about energy.

As he campaigned around the country promising to “make America great again,” he also told people in Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio that he would make coal great again, too. A Trump presidency, he promised, would oversee a resurgence of coal mining and burning.

But despite the hopes of the coal industry and Trump’s plans to repeal environmental regulations like the Clean Power Plan, experts say a massive rebound is unlikely.

For an energy source that powers an ever smaller amount of the country’s electricity — about a third last year — and employs fewer and fewer Americans — about 9,500 in Kentucky in 2015 — coal played an outsized role in this year’s presidential race.

Campaigning in Louisville earlier this year, Trump echoed the mainstream Republican rhetoric blaming the coal industry’s woes on President Barack Obama.

“Obama has decimated the coal industry, decimated it, and we’re going to bring the coal industry back, folks,” he said to cheers from the crowd. “We’re going to bring it back.”

Rather than treat coal’s decline as inevitable and discussing economic diversification in coal country, Trump argued he would revive the industry.

“Look, the coal industry is going to make a very big comeback, OK? I’m telling you,” he told the crowd.

That message resonated with voters — and with industry representatives. Trump was endorsed by the West Virginia Coal Association. When he won, industry groups like the National Mining Association and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity sent out optimistic statements.

And the markets rallied. The Hill reported Peabody Energy stocks were up Wednesday as much as 59 percent over Tuesday’s close, while Cloud Peak, Arch Coal and Consol Energy also jumped.

The industry’s wish list includes scrapping regulations like the Stream Protection Rule and the Clean Power Plan, as well as slashing spending and personnel at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Environmental groups are already mobilizing to fight any reduction in regulations, which they say will harm the country’s air and water and derail any progress made on climate change. But from a purely economic perspective, an analysis by investment firm FBR concludes Trump’s policies could boost the nation’s coal industry long-term, though notes that short-term, the main factors influencing the lag are low natural gas prices and weather.

Although potential regulatory changes might help spur coal production in some areas of the country, experts remain pessimistic about Appalachian coal.

Supply and Demand

The demand for Appalachian coal in American power plants is decreasing — and a lot of that is due to infrastructure changes that won’t be reversed just because Trump is in the White House.

The market for Kentucky coal has been steadily shrinking over the past few years, as utilities have made business decisions to retire older coal-fired units and switch others to natural gas. Coal from Eastern Kentucky — as well as West Virginia — is typically more difficult and expensive to mine than coal from the Illinois or Powder River basins.

As recently as 2012, 127 U.S. power plants burned more than 68.5 million tons of Kentucky coal. Just three years later, only 101 power plants bought 49.9 million tons of Kentucky coal. And the demand is expected to decline even more over the next few years. Utility companies have announced that 21 of those power plants will either be shut down, partially shut down or converted to natural gas by 2022.

These are long-term planning decisions that have already been set in motion, and the repeal of regulations is unlikely to have much of an effect.

Even eliminating or weakening the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan — the carbon dioxide regulations that have been vilified throughout the coalfields — likely won’t have much of an impact here.

West Virginia University law professor James Van Nostrand said he doesn’t see either the CPP or other air regulations as the main reason for the decline in coal-fired power plants.

“It’s cheap natural gas. It’s hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling that have resulted in mass quantities of natural gas, forecasted to result in low prices for the foreseeable future,” he said. “And that has resulted in substantial displacement of coal-fired generation for natural gas-fired generation. And there’s nothing you can do at the EPA that’s going to change that economic driver.”

And while some of Kentucky’s thousands of out-of-work coal miners may have been pinning their hopes of employment on a Trump win, one of Trump’s most vocal industry supporters has more tempered expectations.

Bob Murray of Murray Energy told S&P Global Market Intelligence he expects Trump’s policies to slow the industry’s decline but not produce a miraculous rebound.

Despite the positive response from the sector over a Trump win, the coal industry is unlikely to spring back to where it was a few years ago anytime soon. Murray said “coal will never come back to where it was” when it provided over half of the nation’s power, but it could hover near a 30 percent share instead of going further down, to 18 percent if the Clean Power Plan is not repealed.

Luke Popovich of the National Mining Association said a reasonable hope is that a Trump presidency will help coal maintain its current market share.

“But that said, we also need to have a level playing field,” Popovich said. “So this transition can be conducted in an orderly fashion without the government stepping into the ring against us and forcing us to fight essentially two combatants, both our energy competitors as well as our own government.”

But in removing some of Obama’s regulations, there’s a chance the Trump administration will give natural gas yet another leg up on coal.

Although he said there are ways natural gas and coal can thrive together, WVU’s James Van Nostrand added that Trump has also promised to eliminate an EPA proposal to curb methane emissions from oil and natural gas drilling operations. This move, he said, would ultimately give natural gas another competitive advantage against coal and make an industry comeback even less likely.

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