Prosecutors Seek Maximum Sentence, 1 Year, for CEO Blankenship in Death of 29 Miners FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Jonathan Matisse for the Associated Press:Prosecutors are requesting the maximum penalty of a year in prison and a $250,000 fine for convicted ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, who ran a West Virginia coal mine that was the site of a 2010 explosion that killed 29 men.In a sentencing memorandum in federal court Monday, prosecutors said the one-year cap on prison time for conspiring to shirk mine safety laws is “woefully insufficient.” But any shorter sentence for Blankenship could only be interpreted as a “declaration that mine safety laws are not to be taken seriously,” prosecutors wrote.Blankenship was convicted Dec. 3 of a misdemeanor conspiracy to willfully violate mine safety standards at Upper Big Branch Mine in southern West Virginia, where an explosion killed 29 men in 2010.In their memorandum, Blankenship’s attorneys say he shouldn’t receive more than probation and a fine. They reiterated that they intend to appeal.Blankenship’s sentencing is slated for April 6, the day after the sixth anniversary of the Upper Big Branch disaster.Prosecutors painted the mine as a “calamity in the making,” poorly ventilated and covered in black coal dust that would easily ignite.“There was no question what accumulations of coal dust meant if not properly treated: a powder keg 1,000 feet below the surface, primed to blow at any time,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Ruby.At the helm of a multibillion-dollar publicly traded company, the wealthy executive had the means to run the mine safely, but was greedy enough “to willfully imperil his workers’ survival to further fatten his bank account,” prosecutors wrote.“He made a conscious, cold-blooded decision to gamble with the lives of the men and women who worked for him,” Ruby wrote.Blankenship’s attorneys countered by providing dozens of positive letters from former employees, friends, family and members of the community.“The defense never contested that Don Blankenship could be blunt and a hard taskmaster, but the truth is that he cares deeply about his family, his community, and the people who worked for him,” wrote defense attorney Blair Brown.They pointed to his humble roots, investments in the community and mine safety initiatives.“All these huge public improvements didn’t come with a big banner flying overhead that said, ‘Donated by Don Blankenship and/or Massey Energy;’ that’s not how he has chosen to operate through the years,” wrote Lisa Crum, who worked in human resources for one of Massey’s contractors for about 18 years.Her husband worked for a Massey-owned processing plant in Mingo County, W.Va.Prosecutors are still fighting to force Blankenship to pay $28 million in restitution to Alpha Natural Resources, a now-bankrupt coal company that bought Massey in 2011. The money would cover legal fees, investigative expenses and fines incurred by Alpha.Other claims for restitution have been submitted, prosecutors wrote. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys agree that a separate restitution hearing is necessary.Prosecutors Seek Max of 1 Year in Prison for Ex-Coal CEO
Omaha utility expects renewables to generate 40% of its power in 2019 FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Omaha World-Herald:The Omaha Public Power District board is stepping in to stop the fight over OPPD’s next major environmental policy — and trying to send both sides home as winners.The utility’s updated proposal weaves together the competing approaches of customers who want OPPD to set specific goals for how much renewable energy it uses and those who would rather the district reduce its carbon footprint, however possible.The board’s latest draft of Strategic Directive 7 does both, setting a “long-term goal” of OPPD providing at least 50 percent of its retail electricity from renewable sources while also aiming to reduce the utility’s overall “carbon intensity” by 20 percent from 2010 to 2030.“There’s nothing wrong with adding that 50 percent,” said Russ Baker, director of OPPD’s environmental and regulatory affairs. “It’s not going to change our direction, and it will really work hand-in-glove with the reduction in carbon intensity.”OPPD already expects its percentage of retail electricity from renewable sources to approach 40 percent in late 2019, when a wind energy project in northeast Nebraska comes online. The utility’s percentage of retail sales from renewable sources was 5.1 percent as recently as 2010.More: OPPD proposes goals of 50% renewables, 20% cut in ‘carbon intensity’
S&P analysis shows planned power plant retirements threaten 25% of current U.S. coal production FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享S&P ($):Despite drastic cuts in production, U.S. domestic thermal coal markets could continue to face oversupply for the foreseeable future as about a quarter of U.S. coal production is bound for power plants where customers have already set a future retirement date.An S&P Global Market Intelligence analysis showed that nine coal basins across the U.S. produced about 683.5 million tons of coal in 2019. Of that, producers delivered 174.3 million tons to power plants that have already set retirement dates.The announced retirements will occur over the next 22 years. However, just under half of the total coal delivered to plants with retirement plans went to facilities retiring by the end of 2025. More than 75% of those deliveries went to plants retiring by the end of 2030. The tonnage figures are likely to increase as more generators set retirement dates for their aging coal fleets.Some coal-producing regions are more likely to struggle than others with the shrinking domestic customer base. Southern Wyoming delivered about 84.9% of the coal produced in 2019 to plants that have set retirement dates. The nearby Powder River Basin provided about 30.8% of the coal produced in the period to plants that will retire before the end of 2042.More than one in five tons delivered to U.S. power plants from the Illinois Basin went to plants with plans to retire. The Uinta Basin delivered about 48.9% of its coal to plants that are set to close. On the other hand, Central Appalachia, which has pivoted mainly to a focus on metallurgical coal after substantial downsizing in the last several years, delivered only about 1.8% of its coal to plants with plans to retire.[Taylor Kuykendall and Krizka Danielle Del Rosario]More ($): U.S. coal miners’ options fading fast as planned retirements narrow customer base
FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享S&P Global Market Intelligence ($):Buoyed by renewable energy builds, financing for power generation assets sped up in the summer months after slowing during March and April. Natural gas-fired generation, however, is facing its own set of uncertainties.As the U.S. locked down in response to the coronavirus pandemic, disrupted construction schedules and strained equipment supply chains slowed capital to a trickle. “Through April, May, June, we definitely sort of slowed down in new activity during that period,” said Eamon Nolan, a partner in project development and finance at law firm Vinson & Elkins LLP who said ongoing financings wrapped more or less as expected. “Most of the deals that were in the hopper already were progressing.”The trend toward renewables has bolstered project finance debt and equity markets, with demand for new projects propelling new financings through the summer after the lull in the spring months. “There’s real demand for much more utility-scale, much more residential-scale, so there’s going to be no slowdown in that space for the foreseeable future,” Nolan said. “I think it’s the other markets, perhaps, that are going to suffer. Gas-fired power plants are going to struggle.”One problem facing gas-fired generators is that larger states within the U.S., primarily California, are turning away from natural gas as they try to curb carbon emissions, said Nolan. Another issue is investor divestitures from fossil fuels.“Investor capital is putting serious pressure on sponsors to ensure that they have significant components of their strategies in the renewable space,” Nolan said. “A lot of the investors are under pressure from their own base of contributors,” including pension funds.Regardless, Nolan said, “Natural gas is going to have a significant role in the next 10 years” as renewables continue to be built, even if there may not be a flurry of gas-fired financings in the short term. Even as investors divest from natural gas, many developers and regions will rely on it as a transition fuel.[Fotios Tsarouhis]More ($): Gas-fired plant financings may face hurdles as renewable projects make gains Analysts see looming problems for gas-fired power plant financing
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It’s just starting to snow as Rick Shortt and I hike into the clouds, climbing an old road bed to the pinnacle of Middle Knob, a 4,208-foot peak of Clinch Mountain in Southwest Virginia. On a clear day, Shortt says there’s an incredible view from a dilapidated fire tower on Middle Knob’s peak, but considering the soup we’re hiking through, the view will likely be a bust. It’s colder than either of us expected, so we’re not dressed for the sudden shift in the weather, but since we’re moving at a pretty quick clip, we’re soon sweating. The dude can hike. I’ve jogged at slower paces than we’re currently hiking, which makes me wonder how fast this guy would be moving if he hadn’t just had a hole cut out of his gut. He’s two weeks out of a hernia surgery, and this is Shortt’s shakedown hike to see if he can get back to the business at hand: the business of peak bagging.“We call really bad weather ‘full conditions,’ as in F-O-O-L,” Shortt says as the snow transitions to a cold rain. He’s hiked in “fool” conditions before. He’s post-holed through hip-deep snow to bag relatively inconsequential peaks. He’s pushed through head-high stinging nettles. He has crawled for a mile on his belly through rhododendron, all in his 20-year-long pursuit of the highest patches of dirt and rock in the Southern Appalachians and beyond.In the world of peak bagging, a hiking subculture where hardcore hikers obsess over lists of mountains grouped by characteristics, Rick Shortt could be the most obsessive of them all. The 46-year-old Wytheville native manages a print shop four days a week and typically spends his other three days trekking Southern mountains. By his own admission, he has no other hobbies, giving up the fishing and hunting of his youth as soon as he discovered hiking.“If I’m not climbing a peak, I’m on the computer researching a peak to climb,” Shortt says.The man has essentially arranged his life around peak bagging, living in Wytheville because it’s a crossroads of I-81 and I-77. “What I like most about Wytheville is that it’s easy to get other places from here,” Shortt says. “It’s three hours from Shenandoah National Park and three hours from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and 30 miles from Mount Rogers. Wytheville is convenient, that’s all.”He’s dressed straight out of a hiking catalogue. Gaiters, zip-off shorts, vest, GPS strapped to his shoulder, trekking poles in his hands. He is a self-professed hiking geek, with tinted specs and a graying goatee. Honestly, he looks more like a manager at a print shop than a hardened peak bagger, but looks can be deceiving.“He’s perhaps the most hardcore peak bagger in all of the Southeast,” says Peter Barr, author of a soon-to-be-released book of climbing the South’s 5,000-foot-tall mountains. “It would take me 10 pages to list all of his feats and peak lists he’s completed.”Along with his hiking partner Shane Ashby, Shortt was the first person to touch the summit of all 100 4,000-foot peaks in Virginia. He was the second person to climb all of the Southeastern Finest 50 (the 50 most prominent peaks from West Virginia to Georgia). He’s four peaks away from bagging all of the Southern Sixers (6,000-foot peaks), and halfway through the massive list of Southern Fivers (5,000-foot peaks). In total, Shortt has touched the top of 1,180 peaks in 20 years (yes, he’s counting), traveling all over the country (he’s bagged 25 of the 50 state high points), but doing most of his work in Virginia (358 peaks bagged) and North Carolina (158 peaks bagged), where some of the South’s tallest and most rugged mountains reside.According to Shortt, peak bagging in the South is an odd mix of civilized mountains with paved road access and remote knobs without even a hint of a trail.“Short Mountain in Russell County was one of the worst. We were in head-high stinging nettles, falling face first,” Shortt says. “But I’ll take stinging nettles over briars any day.”Considering the drama of some of Shortt’s other conquests, the three-mile road walk to the top of Middle Knob isn’t much of a challenge, even just two weeks after his hernia surgery. But the summit is spectacular, and one of Shortt’s favorite mountains. The fog’s so thick when we reach the rocky summit that we can barely see the steel tower 100 yards away, but the real gem of Middle Knob is an acre of eroded passageways between big blocks of 40-foot high sandstone boulders called the Great Channels. The snow has picked up again by the time we drop into the first channel, slipping between two smooth walls of sandstone covered in thin layers of moss. Some of the channels are as wide as a car, while others are too narrow to squeeze into. It’s like caving without a roof.Shortt had no idea these natural channels were here until he started ticking off Virginia’s tallest mountains. Shortt compiled a list of Virginia’s 100 4,000-foot peaks using data from the online peak-bagger clearinghouse listsofjohn.com, and started knocking off peaks, using a yellow highlighter to cross off each mountain he climbed from his master list. Shortt and Ashby finished the list in May.“There were a few we weren’t sure we’d be able to get because of access. There’s so much private property in the South, it makes peak bagging interesting,” Shortt says as we move through the narrow channels, the snow falling in big flakes now. “But I spend a lot of time asking permission from landowners. Some of the mountains on the list are spectacular. Some are hard to reach. Some are in some guy’s backyard. Some are crappy. We had a lot of gnarly bushwhacks through briars that led to mountaintops with nothing but more briars.”Peak bagging can be a frustrating process that might leave many of us wondering about the greater point of the pursuit, but for Shortt and others like him, the list is everything. Shortt has computer printouts of 4,000-foot peaks, state high points, county high points, 100 steepest peaks, peaks with 1,000-foot prominence, the 100 most isolated peaks in a given state…the potential lists can be endless. It can feel very Sisyphean, but that’s part of the appeal for Shortt.“I’ve thought about moving out West, but there’s still a lot left to find in the Southeast,” Shortt says.Ultimately, it’s curiosity that drives Shortt to devote every moment of free time to the art of pursuing the next lofty peak.“You see a lot of places you never would’ve bothered to go to otherwise. I’ve been to some spectacular places I never would’ve considered visiting if they weren’t on a list. Middle Knob is one of them.”Now that Shortt has knocked off the 4000-foot peaks of Virginia, he has a new list on his mind: the South’s 100 Steepest Peaks. He has the mountains broken down into a few different categories (steepest peaks within the last 100 meters of the summit, peaks with the steepest face) but he’s most interested in the steepest overall peaks. He used data on listsofjohn.com to figure out the angle of each mountain’s summit cone to surmise each mountain’s average angle of ascension. The overall steepest mountain in the South, according to Shortt’s data, is Table Rock, in North Carolina’s High Country, which has an overall grade of 25.44 percent as you approach its summit. It may sound like an arbitrary way to rank a mountain, but Shortt has a theory.“I like big views,” Shortt says. “My theory is that because these mountains are so steep, they’re bound to have more cliffs and more overlooks. They’re bound to be more interesting.”For the most part, Shortt has no idea what he’ll find. He’s halfway through the list already, but there are still 50 peaks left for Shortt to discover. He’s committed to rolling the dice on each of them. They could end up like Crabtree Bald, an open mountaintop meadow in North Carolina’s Balsam Mountains that’s similar to the Roan Highlands, “but without all the people.” Or, they could be like the South Mountains near Charlotte, where on one peak, Shortt had to climb through knee-high poison ivy for two miles to reach a non-distinct peak.“Either way, I’m happy,” Shortt says. “There are days when I question my sanity, but I’ve never had a moment in the mountains when I wished I was at home watching football.”We climb out of the channels and make our way beneath the fire tower, ready to start the three-mile hike back down to the warm car, but before we start dropping elevation, Shortt stops. “May as well hit the true summit while we’re here,” he says, scrambling a little ways to a small, rocky knob that sticks out just a bit higher than the other rocky knobs surrounding it. Shortt taps it with his foot, just to make it official.
As a female athlete, I’ve always had trouble finding guys who could understand my compulsion to exercise. When I met a guy, I’d put him through a series of tests. I wouldn’t shower for a couple days. I’d skip dates to do a workout. Then I’d whip out the old “Dude, check out my toenails” just to see how they’d react. I even tried to convert a couple guys into runners, but those relationships tended to end in shin splints and tears.Then came the summer of 2010, after a disappointing track season and a bad breakup with a guy who’d quit playing soccer to spend more quality time with his X-Box. I’d gotten a job at a local outdoors store to fill some time.On my first day, my manager said that my other coworker wasn’t there. Apparently he was away riding his bicycle in the woods somewhere.“Wait till you meet Montana,” my manager told me. “You’ll really like him.”Yeah, I thought. I sure do love a man in Spandex shorts.I came into work the next day, and Jesus was standing at the register. He was wearing khaki shorts with sandals and a t-shirt with a picture of a green dinosaur riding a mountain bike. He had long dark hair falling into deep brown eyes, a Johnny Depp-style goatee on his chin. He glanced up to look at me from underneath long eyelashes.“Oh, hey. I’m Montana.”So it was a real name. I nearly swooned.Our first “date” was a four-mile trail run—he used to be a cross country runner in high school. Halfway through, he knocked his head on a low-hanging branch and almost got a concussion. I laughed nervously and offered to buy him a Gatorade afterwards.He was also an industry-sponsored mountain bike racer. So on our second date, I agreed to go mountain biking with him. That’s how I found out that the Spandex shorts were a necessary technical measure—every branch and jagger bush in the woods reached out to grab onto my Old Navy cargo shorts. Afterward jettisoning myself into multiple ditches, I wiped the sweat and dirt off my face and hoped to still look mildly attractive.He convinced me to buy a mountain bike. Then he convinced me to be his girlfriend.He was funny and smart—an excellent writer and an amazing athlete. Every morning I ran while he rode his bike. We went camping and read Jack Kerouac by flashlight in his tent. I showed him my black toenails. He didn’t break up with me. I was pretty sure I’d hit the jackpot.We stayed together through the fall, the next year, and beyond.In the past couple years, Montana’s tried to nurture my interest in bikes: patiently teaching me how to fix basic components (and then fixing them himself), advising me on what kind of gear to buy, taking me on easy rides in the woods. My bike handling skills have improved a lot since my first ride, but I always end up falling behind. We went on a ride together at Thanksgiving. A mile into the trail, he stopped and waited for me to catch up. I was already wheezing.“Okay,” he said, “just hang onto my wheel.” I hate it when he says that. I glared at his back and rode behind him for a few minutes. Then we hit a technical spot, and he zoomed away. I mashed the pedals down harder, grinding my teeth and cursing under my breath.During my off-season in the winter, he’ll run with me. But he’s fast. As he lopes along, I feel like I’m hauling ass, always a half-step behind. Usually I pretend that I have to stop to tie my shoe so I can catch my breath, glaring at him while he hops up and down to keep warm.I go to his mountain bike races and sit in a camp chair with the other riders’ girlfriends and wives. Sometimes he wins, and I make him sandwiches afterward. I fake a smile and pat him on the back, feeling like an unfit loser, wishing I were out there winning something.I’ve been on a steady athletic decline since high school, thanks to the general strain of being a college student. Since I have less time to spend training, I’ve gained some weight and gotten a bit slower. On the other hand, Montana eats 3,000 calories a day, doesn’t follow a training plan, and drinks beer with his friends every weekend. And he can still beat me in a 5k race.If I think about this too hard, a nasty jealous bug starts squirming around in the pit of my stomach. Then I end up fuming and cold-shouldering him for a couple days. Poor guy.In hindsight, I think all my annoyance stems from those previous boyfriends—the ones who were astonished that I could run for more than 20 minutes at a time. I’d gotten used to being the sporty one in the relationship. I get so much fresh air. Look at my glowing skin. Why don’t you get outside more? I’d thought that they didn’t quite understand me. But I was probably just keeping them at a distance on purpose, enjoying the feeling of superiority.But Montana is different. He knows what it’s like to be obsessed with a sport. Like me, he really loves being outside. And the end of every trail, he’s waiting for me with a Clif Bar and a smile. He’s the kind of person I’d been looking for in the first place.Maybe I need to find some ladies to ride with so I can stop making my boyfriend feel bad about being faster than me.For the moment, I think I’ve found a solution: make him do something harder. Montana’s recently taken up mountain unicycling, and he’s paced me I’ve gone on a couple runs. It’s hilarious to watch him wobble along the trail in front of me. I don’t even feel obligated to keep up. But I do, because I like to laugh at him when he falls off. I also want to make sure he doesn’t hurt himself, because I still do like the kid a whole lot.
Population: 2,892Public lands: New River Gorge National River, Babcock State Park, Hawks Nest State ParkOutdoor Highlights: New River, Endless Wall, Kaymoor Trail, Long Point, Sandstone Falls, Arrowhead Trails, Meadow River
Morganton, North Carolina, sits in the center of Burke County not far from the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest. The town itself houses art galleries, studios, and historic landmarks, along with craft breweries, small batch distilleries, and local wineries.Just outside town, public lands are bountiful and include small local parks like Catawba Meadows and Steele Creek, as well as larger, more remote areas like Lake James and South Mountain State Park. Travel a little further west into and you’ll find the even more remote Linville Gorge Wilderness portion of the Pisgah National Forest.Did you know? Morganton offers ample opportunity for mountain bike adventures. If heading to the area in search of single track, check out Back Creek, South Mountain Loop, Table Rock Loop, or Yancey Ridge.Vote now at blueridgeoutdoors.com!