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Historically Challenged

The opening spread for News this month has three items that Coal Age readers probably never thought they would ever see. First, former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has been sentenced to prison. As this edition was going to press, Peabody Energy, one of the world’s largest coal producers, filed for bankruptcy. Also, total coal production in the U.S. continues to plummet.

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OSM Skirts Rules to Rush SPR Rulemaking

On February 3, the Senate Environment and Public Works committee held a hearing on the Stream Protection Rule (SPR) being proposed by the Office of Surface Mining (OSM). This proposed rule poses the greatest and most immediate threat to U.S. coal production, and the Obama administration will likely rush it through the system this summer while the country is distracted by election year banter.

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Supreme Court Puts CPP on Hold

Sanity prevailed. On February 9, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay temporarily blocking President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP). The regulation, which is the cornerstone of his climate change agenda, would require a 32% cut in carbon emissions from power plants by 2030. In a brief written order, the court granted emergency requests by coal operators, states and business groups to delay the regulations while they challenge it in the courts. The court’s action was seen as a significant blow to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) plan to close coal-fired power plants in the United States.

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DOI Puts Coal Leases on Hold

In his final State of the Union address, President Barack Obama continued to show little respect for coal operators and those who produce inexpensive electricity from coal. He mocked them by saying that wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power (coal). Before trying to take credit for lower gasoline prices, which he has only influenced by a lack of foreign leadership, he said the solar business now “employs more Americans than coal — in jobs that pay better than average.” The latter is certainly true, as new laws from the Environmental Protection Agency have wiped out tens of thousands of really good-paying jobs.

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Lessons Learned?

The Don Blankenship trial and conviction (see Blankenship Found Guilty of Conspiracy, p. 56) captured a lot of attention in Appalachia. Since he rose to prominence in the early 1980s, Coal Age has followed Blankenship’s career. In those early days, he was an aspiring executive caught up in a highly polarized fight with the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). With quick wit and a dry sense of humor, he voiced strong support for West Virginia and always seemed to be thinking a couple of moves ahead of the others. He led Massey Energy when the oil companies were exiting the coal business. He took the company public. As CEO, he fought boardroom battles with activist shareholders and publicly debated environmental activists. In most of these situations, he prevailed or at least fought to a draw; he rarely lost.

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