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Coal on the verge of bankruptcy and drilling on sacred land

Hcn.org news in brief.


Arch Coal seems to be following other coal companies into financial peril. Stock worth $360 in March 2011 was worth less than $1.50 earlier this month, and the company now says it may have to file for bankruptcy. Congressional Republicans have laid the blame for the coal industry’s nosedive at the feet of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan and other air pollution regulations. But coal’s bleak present has more to do with other factors, chief among them the low price of natural gas combined with bad business decisions on the part of the country’s biggest coal companies. Now, Western coal mines, which have largely been bystanders to the high drama of the industry’s business travails, are facing the fallout. Some less profitable mines, particularly costly underground ones, have made cutbacks; more are likely. If world leaders make the deeper cuts in greenhouse gases needed to fend off the worst effects of climate change, coal’s future looks grim indeed.
-Elizabeth Shogren

The West Elk Mine outside Paonia, Colorado. Economic forces were causing cutbacks in western Colorado mine operations even before Clean Power Plan regulations were announced.
Ed Kosmicki

$700 MILLION: Taxpayer dollars spent by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2005 to detain illegal immigrants.

$2 BILLION: Amount spent in 2014. 

In the post-9/11 border security crackdown, immigrant detentions exploded, and the trend has continued under the Obama administration. Rural Western towns have benefited from the resulting boom in privately or publicly run detention centers. Detained immigrants boost population counts in rural areas, increasing state funding for things like the local police force, libraries and social services. In Eloy, Arizona, the Corrections Corporation of America, which runs a detention center in town, also pays the county $2 per day for each inmate held in its facilities. It has become the county’s largest employer.
-Sarah Tory

60: Percent of the 534 drilling operations in national park units that are exempt from NPS regulation. A proposed rule would close this loophole and lift the $200,000 cap on the amount companies pay if they damage the resource.
-Elizabeth Shogren

A girl in a farmworker camp in Alpaugh, California, above, where more than half the population lives in poverty.
Matt Black

More than 11.5 million people in the West live below the poverty line, according to the American Community Survey. Last year, photographer Matt Black made a circuit of the United States to trace the effects of poverty in communities where many struggle to make ends meet. His photographs show the inhabitants of those areas and the trappings of their daily lives.
-Matt Black

Federal agencies are deciding whether to allow oil and gas exploration to go forward in the Badger-Two Medicine area of Montana’s Lewis and Clark National Forest. The area is sacred to the neighboring Blackfeet Tribe, which led federal officials to suspend oil and gas leases there in 1985. Most of those leases have since been surrendered or retired; about 18 remain in limbo. Two years ago, Solonex LLC, which holds one of the outstanding leases, sued. Now, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management must either finally cancel the lease or allow exploration to go forward.
-Jodi Peterson

You say

Rich Shreffler: “The Forest Service and BLM had 30-plus years to do environmental studies to determine if the leases should be cancelled or be allowed to proceed with exploration. Why has nothing been done?”

Jim Thurber: “The feds have shown time and time again that Native American religious beliefs and practices matter not one whit when it comes to profiteering by extractive industries.”

Carole J. Bennett: “Now that the pernicious plan is current news, we the people oppose it. Support Native land and say no to drilling."

The Bureau of Land Management has held off on allowing energy development on roughly 5.2 million acres of land that overlap with critical sage grouse habitat. But after federal officials opted not to list the bird as endangered this fall, it opened the possibility that the BLM could choose to sell leases to oil and gas developers. The agency plans to make a decision by the end of the year. At the same time, the Department of Interior is considering taking 10 million acres of sageland off the table for any new hardrock mining exploration, including a large swath where Idaho, Oregon and Nevada meet.


Public land survey

system township

and range

Proposed mineral

withdrawal within

Sagebrush Focal Areas

Bureau of Land Management