wyoming

Coal Downturn Makes It Harder To Clean Up Its Dirty Past

Jan 22, 2016
Reid Frazier / Allegheny Front

When she was growing up, Julie Bundy’s parents forbade her from playing on the "slate dumps." That was their shorthand for the hundred-foot-tall pile of loose rubble that sat right in the middle of Fredericktown, the southwestern Pennsylvania coal town where her grandparents lived.

“My grandparents lived in the yellow house on the corner with the slate dumps in the back yard. As long as I can remember, it was there,” Bundy says.

Bundy, 36, now lives across the street from the dumps, a coal-refuse pile left over from a defunct mining operation that ended decades ago.

Craig Johnson is the author of eight novels in the Walt Longmire mystery series, which has garnered popular and critical acclaim. Johnson, whose main character is Sheriff Walt Longmire, said he does base his characters on family, neighbors and his friends on the Cheyenne reservation.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Radio

How much coal does a Wyoming coal miner mine? Quite a bit less than he used to, it turns out.

Regulations have received most of the blame for coal’s current downturn but that’s not the whole story; it’s also getting more expensive to mine in the nation’s largest coal producing state.

For the past few months, Cloud Peak Energy, one of the biggest coal miners in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, has been in the process of moving a giant machine called a dragline from one mine to another.

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

For Jim and Lyn Schneider, the decision to invest in $50,000 worth of solar panels and battery storage was easy. There were no power lines near their property. After buying land in a remote area near Alcova, Wyoming, their utility company estimated it would cost the couple around $80,000 to get electricity in their new home.

"It's like wow, we’re gonna have to be really primitive! We're gonna be cooking on a campfire! We're gonna have to really like each other," Lyn Schneider said between bursts of laughter.

The U.S. Census Bureau says Wyoming’s minority population has increased since 2010, but Wyoming is still among the whitest states in the country ranking 41st in minority population. 

Economist Wenlin Liu says Wyoming’s total population increased 3.6 percent, but it was driven by a growth in the number of Hispanics and other minorities coming to the state in an effort to find jobs.

“From 2010 to 2014 the minority population increased 17 percent compared to the white population that only increased 1.4 percent.”

Ana M. Balcarcel

When you think of a Jesus lizard you probably think of the rainforest creature: green crested with big floppy feet zipping across the surface of water.

Now, a new skull fossil shows that a very close relative of that lizard lived in Wyoming 50 million years ago. Anatomy professor Jack Conrad from the New York Institute of Technology just released a paper on the discovery. 

Joshua Doubek / Wikimedia Commons

In an eleventh hour decision, a judge has delayed implementation of new rules regulating fracking on federal lands. The rules were scheduled to go into effect Wednesday.

Among other things, they require the disclosure of fracking chemicals and more tests to ensure wells aren't leaking.

Wyoming State Historical Society

Pioneers, dinosaurs, outlaws: Wyoming’s history includes them all. But the state’s museums are chock full of artifacts that sometimes don’t get the attention they deserve. With the 125 year celebration of statehood coming up, the Wyoming State Historical Society wants to do something about that.

Wyoming State Museum

The Wyoming State Museum is celebrating the state’s 125th anniversary of statehood with a new exhibit, which takes a look at Wyoming’s history through artifacts from each decade.

It starts with the present and works its way back. Each week a new decade is unveiled. Some of the items on display include an original state line divider on the Lincoln Highway, a football commemorating the 1968 Sugar Bowl, and a 1950s flood light from the state’s first television station KFBC.

Entertainment Weekly

Quentin Tarantino’s next film will have a touch of real Wyoming in it. Bounty hunter John “the Hangman” Ruth, played by Kurt Russell, will be wearing a buffalo hide coat created by tanning company Merlin’s Hide Out in Thermopolis. The coat is based on an original that can be seen in the Gene Autry Museum in Los Angeles.

“It's designed from the 1800s. It has different lengths of hair throughout—it needs to be a big, burly looking coat,” said Barb Heinze, co-owner of Merlin’s Hideout.

Miles Bryan

Five years ago the owners of Snow King Ski Resort in Jackson had a problem: business was terrible.

“They were looking to give the ski resort away to anyone who could keep it going,” resort manager Ryan Stanley told me. “And they couldn’t even put together a deal to give it away for free.”

Teton County School District Superintendent Pam Shea will retire at the end of this month, after working in the district for more than 30 years.

Under her 9-year tenure as the district’s top administrator, student test scores and teacher salaries rose, and the district launched successful efforts like its dual immersion Spanish program.  

Wyoming Public Media

The four-year graduation rate for students on the Wind River Indian Reservation hovers around 50 percent, compared to 80 percent in the rest of Wyoming. In this hour-long forum, Wyoming Public Radio's education reporter Aaron Schrank explores the many factors—from historical trauma to family poverty—that contribute to below average education outcomes for Native American students.

Ray Parrish

Here’s the story of how a museum nearly closed but instead reinvented itself with a brand new building and a major American Indian art collection. The new incarnation of the Brinton Museum in Big Horn opens to the public on Monday, June 15.

Ben Ramsey

A Pinedale high school teacher used math to teach kids about the importance of sage grouse conservation last week. Cami Dudrey’s Algebra I class collaborated with the Wyoming Wildlife Foundation to solve real world math problems related to putting reflective tags along fences in a critical sage grouse breeding area outside Pinedale.

“Kids don’t see the application of math ever. The most common question I get is when are we ever going to use this?” Dudrey says. “Math’s everywhere. So just finding something to apply any type of math to helps the students connect.”

Over 40,000 Wyomingites live in areas with limited or no access to grocery stores, according to a recent report from the Mountain States Regional Health Equity Council.

The report names areas in Platte, Goshen, Crook, Big Horn, Carbon and Fremont counties as being food “deserts:” defined as areas where fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthy foods are hard to find.

Renee Gamino is with the Wyoming AARP and is a coauthor of the report. She said even where fresh food is available, it’s often too costly for low-income residents.

Melodie Edwards

These days, most rural communities in the U.S. are elderly communities. 15 percent of Wyoming’s population is over 65 and a high percentage of them live on ranches and in small towns. But with younger generations leaving the ranch for more urban jobs, there are few staying behind to take care of their elders. They could move to nursing homes, but many of Wyoming’s seniors are often insistent--they want to stay home, even if it means a snowmobile ride out in the winter.

Jeff Goetz, WYDOT

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead has called in the National Guard and several other government agencies to help with major flooding in Niobrara County. Several homes in Lusk are flooded, area drinking water has potentially been contaminated, water is over several roads, and portions of US 18-20 and US 85 have washed away.

Pat Kondas with the Wyoming Red Cross says they have set up a shelter at the county fairgrounds, but only people who are in dire need, or whose homes are already flooded should make the trip.

Miles Bryan

Six years ago Charlene Southworth discovered something no parent wants to think possible: her fifteen-year-old son, Chris, had molested his younger brother.

“It was disturbing to me,” she said while sitting on the couch in her Cheyenne home. “I didn’t want to hear it.”

According to the Wyoming Office of Tourism, the state is poised for another record-breaking summer tourism season. 

10.1 million visitors came to Wyoming in 2014, and this year the state could see even more. Diane Shober, the Executive Director of the tourism office, says that it is thanks to a combination of strong advance booking numbers for national parks, an ongoing marketing campaign, and low gas prices.

Wyoming State Historical Society

  

In July, Wyoming will celebrate its 125th birthday. Next month a major conference will look at the state’s top historical moments. Called Our Place In The West And Beyond: Wyoming at 125, a number of historians, experts, and citizens will come to the University of Wyoming on June 11th. Tamsen Hert is President of the State Historical Society. She says it will be a jam-packed conference.  

Charles Cook via Flickr Creative Commons

  

There’s no doubt Wyoming is an energy state. With its low population most of the energy produced from fossil fuels and now increasingly from wind are sent to other states, here’s a fun fact: roughly two-thirds of all the state’s energy production gets consumed in other states.

There’s a problem though: the nation’s energy transmission system, whether pipes, wires or train tracks, are rapidly aging. In a new report, the Obama administration calls for updating the grid, which is bringing cheers from Wyoming Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis.

Miles Bryan

Kimberley Enyart was never interested in doing recreational drugs. But then she was in a car accident and her doctor prescribed a powerful opiate for the pain.

“It just, I don’t know it put me off in la-la land it made me feel better,” she said. “I don’t know, I loved it. I loved that high.”

When Enyart’s prescription ran out she did whatever she could to more from other doctors in town. Eventually, she moved on to dentists.

“I even had two back teeth pulled for it.”

Aaron Schrank

Life after high school looks a bit different for every Wyoming graduate. Some are set on college or a career. Others are more worried about making money this summer. In an effort to prepare students who are less interested in academic options, one high school started a program that trains some seniors to be commercial truckers.

For the final two weeks of his Douglas High School career, Garret Blackburn has been spending most of his time hanging out in the parking lot.  

“This is definitely a lot more interesting than sitting around the classroom,” Blackburn says.

Stephanie Joyce

The energy futures of Wyoming and California are becoming increasingly intertwined. Late last month, California Governor Jerry Brown announced that he’s speeding up the state’s transition to renewable energy, with a goal of reducing emissions 40 percent by 2030. Just days later, a major transmission project to carry Wyoming wind power to California received its final environmental review.

Jeannie Stafford/USFWS & US Energy Dept

A chicken-sized game bird native to western sagebrush has become the subject of the biggest conservation project in U.S. history.

Efforts to keep the greater sage grouse off the endangered species list stretch across 11 states from North Dakota to California. It is a complex balancing act between saving critical ecosystems while at the same time protecting the region’s key industries.

Flickr user Geof Wilson

The oil and gas industry pays a ton of money in severance taxes to energy producing states like Colorado, Wyoming and especially North Dakota. When oil prices were high, North Dakota took in about $10.5 million a day. But as prices have fallen, so has revenue. In the midst of this, North Dakota lawmakers have passed a bill to stabilize and lower the state’s oil and gas tax rate.

 

Very few people in the state capitol of Bismarck support the state's current tax system. Representative Al Carlson, the House Majority Leader, put it this way:

Wikimedia Commons

For years, Wyoming has been the leader in Coal Production. Production has dipped slightly in the state, but Wyoming still produces 40% of the nation’s coal – far more than any other state. As part of Inside Energy’s series on the Future of Coal, Reporter Clay Scott visited the state and found the industry’s imprint on the West runs deep.

 

As a consultant specializing in all aspects of land conservation, Story Clark knows the unique history behind the many places in and around Jackson Hole that most travelers just drive by. Using mobile app technology as a portal to connecting people to great places, travelers will be able to hear the stories and connect with the land in a meaningful and unique way.

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