Cooper McKim

Natural Resources & Energy Reporter

Phone: 307-766-0809
Email: cmckim5@uwyo.edu

Cooper McKim has reported for NPR stations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, South Carolina, and now Wyoming. In South Carolina, he covered recovery efforts from a devastating flood in 2015. Throughout his time, he produced breaking news segments and short features for NPR. Cooper recently graduated from Tufts University with degrees in Environmental Policy and Music. He's an avid jazz piano player, backpacker, and podcast listener.

 

Ways to Connect

Bureau of Land Management

Driving west across Wyoming, there are windmills lined up across bluffs in the distance. Oil and gas rigs dot both sides of the highway. Open-pit coal mines too. What you won’t see on a cross-state trip are any fields of solar panels. In Sweetwater County, that could soon change.

Wyoming Energy Summit logo
Wyoming Business Report

Coal could soon be used to make affordable carbon nanomaterials for mass use. The sci-fi sounding production is already used for things like water-resistant coats, electronic displays, or even dyes and pigments. Though, for now, it’s developed with expensive oil or gas feedstocks.

Elk hunting map divided into each area
Wyoming Game and Fish Department

After 30 years, the way elk hunting licenses are handled for residents and non-residents may change. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department held eight different public meetings around the state last week to determine what could be modified.

Sweetwater Solar Energy Project Project Overview
Bureau of Land Management

A potential solar energy project in southwest Wyoming obtained a permit last week moving it a step closer to construction. The Sweetwater Solar Energy Project, to be located near Green River, would be the largest the state’s ever seen, providing 80 megawatts of generating capacity to the electrical grid. That’s enough to power almost 12,000 homes each year, according to a project description given to the Bureau of Land Management.

Map of Westmoreland's assets from its 10K filing
Westmoreland Coal Company

The Western Organization of Resource Councils, WORC, believes a coal company that could soon face bankruptcy may not have sufficient funds to pay for mine clean-up costs. A spokeswoman for Westmoreland Coal Company said they are, however, in full compliance with bonding and reclamation regulations.

Integrated Test Center Facebook Page

The Integrated Test Center is open for business. The Gillette-based facility is aimed at research and testing new uses for carbon dioxide, say, as a building material, common fuel, or green concrete. Many hope the center will find new, profitable uses for coal — Governor Matt Mead is one of them. In a brief conversation, the Governor discussed his expectations for the project and the risks that come with it.

Panel at the "Future of Solar" event with Cheyenne Representative Dan Zwonitzer on the left
Cooper McKim / Wyoming Public Radio

Legislators, businesspeople, and residents came together in Laramie Wednesday to discuss the future of solar energy in Wyoming. The event was organized by the Powder River Basin Resource Council and the Wyoming Outdoor Council.

Millennium Bulk Terminals Header
Millennium Bulk Terminals

Six states including Wyoming and national interest groups are pushing back against a decision that could stop a major coal export terminal from getting licensed. Last year, Washington State regulators denied critical permits for the terminal which would be the largest in North America if approved. It would connect western coal to Asian markets.

Wyoming State Geological Survey

On a bright, cloudless day in southwest Wyoming, Rick Hebdon, a commercial fossil collector, drove over a steep dirt road to one of his quarries within the Green River Formation. He’s been uncovering fossils for most of his life, but it still holds a thrill for him.

Highway 30 next to the Kemmerer Mine
Cooper McKim / Wyoming Public Radio

In this past budget session, Wyoming’s state legislature funded a $30 million project that would benefit a coal mine that’s owner may soon go bankrupt. Westmoreland Coal Company is over a billion dollars in debt and has mentioned the possibility of bankruptcy in this past quarterly report. State legislators approved the sizable project, which would invest money relocating the highway U.S. 30 to accommodate a mine expansion.

Annual Solar and Biomass Electricity Capacity (2014-2017)
Electric Power Monthly / U.S. Energy Information Administration

Solar generation surpassed biomass in 2017 to become the third most generated renewable resource in the U.S., according to a new report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It still lags behind wind and hydropower.

Kemmerer Mine
Westmorealnd Coal Company

One of the largest producers of coal in the country may soon face Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Westmoreland Coal Company's stock has been in free fall over the last year and several of its primary customers are moving away from coal.

Eric Kilby via Flicker with Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The largest fossil of a mammal ever found in the Green River formation is getting ready for further research. The ancient fossil was found damaged and in several parts back in 2016 in the 50-million-year old formation.

It’s been identified as in the tapiromorph family. The actual species is still debated, though a Duke University paleontologist identified it as a Heptodon calciculus. 

Environmental Protection Agency
Environmental Protection Agency

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is helping Wyoming clean up contaminated areas for future redevelopment. Three state and local organizations will split $1.4 million. Wyoming is among 144 grantees in the competitive national process. The EPA gave out over $54 million in total.

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, the City of Douglas, and the Wyoming Business Council will receive the funds. The DEQ and the Business Council are partnering to combine their grants and create a revolving loan for clean-up available to any Wyoming community. 

Clean Coal Technologies, Inc. logo
Clean Coal Technologies, Inc.

A company attempting to improve the burning efficiency of coal has found a permanent site for a testing facility. Clean Coal Technologies, Inc. (CCTI) will build just outside of Gillette in Fort Union Park. 

Bureau of Land Management

A 60-day comment period came to an end Monday over a "rescission or revision" to the Methane and Waste Prevention Rule. It’s a 2016 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rule intended to limit venting and flaring of natural gas. 

Just Transition Fund

Google has given a million dollars to an organization devoted to helping coal communities as the industry declines. It’s part of a wider $50 million initiative announced Tuesday focused on the future of work.

A look at the trajectory of Westmoreland Coal Company's Market Summary
NASDAQ

In the past year, Westmoreland Coal Company’s stock price has dropped 97 percent, and, on Wednesday, April 25th, the company will be removed from the Nasdaq Stock Exchange with shares hovering around 20 cents. But that’s just a symptom of a larger trend for the company. 

U.S. Bureau of Land Management


Since 2010, whenever a parcel of land was nominated to be leased by an oil and gas company, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) went through a significant review period. There were site visits, comments when draft environmental assessments were released, and an additional 30 days of public comment once the sale was live. But Tim Spisak, acting assistant director of energy, minerals, and realty management for the BLM, said all that review wasn’t efficient for energy production.

Mark Christensen speaking in front of the House Subcommittee on Natural Resources
House Committee on Natural Resources

Congress is considering a bill called the POWER Counties Act that would re-direct funds back to mineral-producing counties. The reclamation fund within the Mineral Leasing Act typically supports water projects, like dams, but now has an excess of money thanks to increased mineral leasing. 

Wyoming Integrated Test Center
Tri-State Generation and Transmission

The Integrated Test Center (ITC) in Gillette will host five finalists for the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competition later this year. The 10 teams were selected this week, down from 27 in the semi-final round. The remaining five teams will be located in Alberta studying natural gas instead of coal. 

Statewide Chronic Wasting Disease Distribution (All Species)
Wyoming Game and Fish Department

Researchers are attempting to breed genetic resistance to Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) into farmed deer and elk. CWD was once rare, but is now found in herds across the U.S. including Wyoming. It’s known for causing weight loss, lethargy, and eventually death

Jimmy Emerson via Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Amount of Financial Assurances Held in 2017, by Type, for Reclaiming Coal Mines in States and on Indian Tribal Lands with Active Coal Mining
U.S. Government Accountability Office

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is recommending Congress eliminate self-bonding. It's a method used by coal companies to guarantee clean-up costs without putting money down.

The problems with self-bonding were highlighted when several of the nation’s largest coal companies went bankrupt in 2015 and 2016. The huge bill leftover for clean-up costs nearly fell on taxpayer shoulders. Wyoming has been looking to reform the practice since 2013, with a more concrete proposal released in 2017.

Energy Trends Conference held by the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority
Cooper McKim / Wyoming Public Radio

Coal has railroads, oil and gas have pipelines, but transferring renewable energy isn’t so easy. Wyoming has one of the best wind resources in the country, though many see a ceiling to its success due to transmission capacity limits. 

Cooper McKim/Wyoming Public Radio

Sustainability has a become a buzzword when it comes to facing environmental challenges. But one researcher believes resilience is a better answer. 

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