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Wyoming’s Mining Employment Drops By More Than 25% In One Year

in News/Economy
11899

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s mining industry lost more than one-quarter of its jobs in the first quarter of this year compared to 2020, according to a state report.

Although the report from the state Economic Analysis Division showed the state overall posted modest gains in the numbers that point to its economic condition, some significant losses were seen in some areas, including mining employment and taxable sales.

The division’s quarterly report said Wyoming’s unemployment rate continued to decline slightly in the first quarter of the year from 2020, falling to 5.2% after peaking at a little more than 7% in the second quarter of 2020.

However, the state lost 15,730 jobs during the year, the report said, with the largest losses, 5,070, occurring in the state’s mining industry — a decline in employment of almost 26% in the industry.

“Payroll job declines occurred in nearly all industrial sectors, led by the mining (industry),” the report said. “This pivotal industry lost about 5,070 jobs, or 25.7% of its employees in a year-over-year comparison, and it showed little improvement in the quarter due to the continuation of depressed oil and natural gas activities.”

The construction industry lost 2,770 jobs during the year, while government jobs were reduced by about 2,600, the report said.

The only two sectors of the economy posting gains in employment were the retail trade and professional and business service sectors, posting job gains of 500 and 70, respectively.

However, personal income during the year grew by the highest level seen in almost 13 years, the report said, increasing by 11.4% from the first quarter of 2020.

Much of the growth, the report said, could be traced to government stimulus payments.

“Total earnings in the state shrank 2% annually in the quarter, while transfer receipts (income from government programs) increased by 89.3%, attributed to the new rounds of government pandemic relief payments from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act and the American Rescue Plan Act,” the report said.

Despite the growth in personal income, taxable sales around the state declined by 4.9% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to 2020, led by a drop of more than 50% in purchases made by the mining industry, the report said.

“The mining industry contracted substantially, 56.2%, due to declining sales of equipment, supplies and services from energy exploration and production activity,” it said. “This was one of the largest year-over-year drops in Wyoming’s history.”

At the same time, sales in the retail trade sector grew by 10.7%.

“Consumer spending in retail stores such as furniture and home furnishings, liquor and sporting goods also demonstrated strong growth,” the report said.

Trump Rare Earth Executive Order Could Be Good News For Wyoming Mining

in Mining/News
6738

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

An executive order aimed at expanding the country’s production of critical minerals could be a boon to both producers of rare earth minerals and uranium, according to a leader in Wyoming’s mining industry.

Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association, said President Donald Trump’s executive order, signed Sept. 30, should ease the way for companies hoping to produce rare earth minerals in northeastern and southeastern Wyoming.

“We’ve got the resources and interest in development, so the president’s executive order is a big deal,” he told the Cowboy State Daily.

Rare earth minerals are widely used in high-technology products including computers, camera lenses and television screens. According to Trump’s executive order, America imports 80% of its rare earth minerals from China.

Trump’s executive order declared America’s reliance on foreign producers of rare earth minerals such as neodymium, lanthanum and cerium — primarily the Chinese — a national emergency.

The executive order asks members of Trump’s cabinet to look into ways the federal government could stimulate mineral production through grants, the streamlining of permitting processes, changes to tariffs and possible restrictions on Chinese imports.

Northeast Wyoming is home to one of the richest rare earth deposits in the world, Deti said, and the company Rare Element Resources has been working for almost a decade to obtain the permits necessary to begin production.

“They were pretty active during the Obama administration, but the red tape and everything slow-rolled them, so the project has been put on hold and they are trying to get it back on track,” he said. “We do have the resources and it could be very helpful to get these guys up and running.”

Another company, Western Rare Earths, is interested in producing rare earths in an area of northern Albany County, Deti said, and could also benefit from the executive order.

Because the executive order references not only rare earth minerals but all “critical minerals,” it could also contain some help for Wyoming’s uranium industry, Deti said.

Wyoming is the nation’s leading uranium producer, with five companies still running production operations, although Deti said production has been “negligible.”“(The executive order) is for critical minerals and that includes uranium, so there could be some assistance there,” he said.

The executive order was also welcomed by Gov. Mark Gordon, who said it could ease government restrictions on Wyoming’s mineral industry.

“As the world demand for minerals, particularly those critical to national security, has increased, our ability to mine and process those minerals has been hampered by underpriced competition from foreign countries and Washington, D.C.’s inaction to promote the domestic production of these minerals,” he said in a statement. “President Trump’s executive order will reverse that trend.”

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Wyoming Tourism: Travel Back In Time Through The Ghost Town Of Kirwin

in News/Travel/Tourism
1959

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Hop back in time to the era of stage coaches and mining camps through a visit to the abandoned mining town of Kirwin, Wyoming.

In the 19th century the bustling mining town of Kirwin, Wyoming featured a general store, mining office, and sawmill.

After an avalanche hit the town, killing three people and destroying property, the town slowly died out.

Visitors can make the trek to Kirwin, tucked high up in the Absaroka Mountains outside of Meeteetse, Wyoming, with the help of a good four-wheel drive vehicle.

The beauty of the area draws visitors each year.

Prior to her disappearance, famed aviator Amelia Earhart and her husband were captivated by the natural beauty of Kirwin and its surroundings. The couple began building a cabin just a mile from Kirwin but the project was never completed.

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Blackjewel layoffs could have ‘truly scary’ impact on economy

in Energy/News
Belle Aye Mine
1622

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

With two of Wyoming’s largest coal mines closed pending Blackjewel LLC’s bankruptcy filings and approximately 600 laid-off workers warming the bench, legislators and state economists are contemplating the future of coal in Wyoming.

“Just because a coal mine stops producing doesn’t mean the demand for coal stops,” said Dan Noble, Wyoming Department of Revenue’s director. “Because most coal-fired power plants use Powder River Basin coal, those coal customers may switch to the other producers in that area. At which point, there’s not a significant drop off of coal produced.”

Wyoming Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, explained coal-fired power plants tune their operations to coal products from specific regions of the world.

“Another mine (in the basin) might be able to pick up (Blackjewel’s) contracts,” Case said. “While that’s a reasonable story for the tax receipts, it’s not at all good for the laid-off workers.”

As the Senate chairman of the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee, he said Blackjewel’s bankruptcy was concerning, but he pointed to the larger issue: The coal industry is withering away.

“We are looking at a general reduction in production of Powder River coal,” Case said. Revenue Committee House of Representatives Chairman Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, added coal mining in Wyoming might grind to a halt in little more than 10 years.

“The modeling used to say we’d be good until 2050,” Zwonitzer explained. “Now, the modeling is saying 2030.”

The loss would be a major hit for the state, he said.

Reviewing only severance tax, which is imposed on the extraction of non-renewable natural resources intended for use in other states, Noble said coal production generated about $211 million in revenue for Wyoming in 2017.  

“The assessed value for all minerals in the state is (about) $10 billion,” he said. “And coal represents (about) 15 percent of all of the taxable value in the state.”

Labor force impact

While coal revenue could fill the state’s coffers for another decade, the Blackjewel layoffs might significantly hinder local economies in northeastern Wyoming.

“In May, unemployment (in Campbell County where the Blackjewel mines, Belle Ayr and Eagle Butte, are located) was down to 3.2 percent, which is pretty low,” said David Bullard, a Wyoming Department of Workforce Services senior economist. “We won’t have July’s numbers for a while yet, but just talking in round numbers, it could push unemployment (in the county) up to 6 percent.”

Wyoming’s average unemployment rate was 3.3 percent in May.

Campbell County’s labor force has trended downward in recent years with about 24,600 in May 2016 dropping to about 22,700 by May 2019, Bullard said.   

“In general terms, if these 600 (Blackjewel) jobs disappear, we would expect that to have a negative affect across the local economy, and to a lesser extent, the entire state,” he said.

With about 4,000 jobs catalogued by Workforce Services, mining is one of the largest employment categories in the county, and Blackjewel’s employees accounted for about 11 percent of the sector, according to the department’s data. If the company is not able to secure more funding for its Wyoming operations, Bullard said the community could suffer.

“I expect a significant number of (the laid-off Blackjewel workers) would move away for other opportunities in other areas,” he explained. “That would impact the local economy by lowering demand for services and retail as well as tax revenue for governments and schools.”

More than three decades ago, U.S. Steel closed its iron mine in central Wyoming, but Case said the memory is still fresh.

“I’ve been through it in Lander, and when the mine shut down, we lost 550 good-paying jobs,” he recalled. “It is a killer — these are good jobs. You got $70,000 (a year) household incomes coming out of those mines. That money is in those communities. It’s scary. It’s truly scary.”

The future

As coal revenue wanes, legislators are reviewing options to keep the state afloat.

“It’s revenue that Wyoming has depended on for over 100 years,” Zwonitzer said. “With that gone — it’s a sizable chunk of the budget. There’s a lot of concern in the revenue committee.” 

Increasing taxes on wind and solar energy is one possible avenue, but Zwonitzer said even the best estimates of potential revenue from renewable energy don’t come close to covering the gap left by coal.

“I think our two main options right now are a corporate income tax or a significant increase in property tax,” he added. “They may not be two good options, but they are the two palatable options right now.”

Case said some are looking to the oil and natural gas industries for answers.

“I’m just asking the question: what if oil were to go the same route?” Case posited. “We need to find a way to find long-term revenue for our state, our schools and our roads.”

As the era of coal-fired power plants nears its end, Zwonitzer said the revenue committee will continue to research ways of lessening the blow to Wyoming’s economy. But for now, the future is bleak.

“There’s no good news ahead,” Zwonitzer said. “It just keeps getting worse.”

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