Though we may be dealing with the same kind of corporate Democrats as we were in 2008, we are not the same. We have changed. Our movements have grown in size but they’ve also grown in vision. In the vision of defund the police, moving the resources from the infrastructure of incarceration, of policing, of militarism to the infrastructure of care. Vision work has happened. The vision work behind the Green New Deal has happened. And of course the movement supporting Medicare for All. That the presence of “the Squad” is a difference from the Obama and Biden years. Obama and Biden did not have to contend with Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley and now Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman. So I think where we go from here is, we need more coordination in all of this rising power.
Working People Delivered Biden His Victory (Washington Post) — Fantastic piece from Bernie 2020 co-chair Nina Turner, who writes that “it was working people’s organizations that had millions of conversations with voters this year. It was not the political operatives at the Lincoln Project or the Third Way who knocked the doors, who spoke to the voters, who heard their concerns.”
As the dust settles, pundits, political operatives and party insiders are already swarming to tell the story of what really happened in 2020. They’ll zero in on the smallest margins, the most unlikely Trump-to-Biden swing voters, the affluent white suburbanites. But that’s not the story of this election.Follow the latest on Election 2020
The exit polls are still being finalized, but as of now they show that working people — Black, Brown and White families making under $100,000, along with the vast majority of young people — delivered Biden his victory. Not only did they vote for him in overwhelming numbers, they also knocked on doors, made calls and carried out the hard work of democracy during a pandemic. These voters are the heart and the future of a massive progressive movement inside and outside of the Democratic Party, and it is to them that Joe Biden and Kamala D. Harris must answer.
Trump has been a disaster for poor and working people, so they used voting as a tool to fight back. Hammered by a government by, of and for the one percent, brutalized by covid-19 inaction and economic disaster, pummeled with racist rhetoric and white supremacist violence, the people have delivered a rebuke to President Trump. But the result was also a warning for Biden: In the midst of overlapping national crises, his administration has a critical window to deliver for the working people and young people who got him elected. If Biden fails to meet the moment — if he seeks instead to return us to a “normalcy” marked by corporate handouts and extreme inequality — then the next Trump might be far more dangerous than the one we just defeated. We can see hints of this already in the way voters of color — perennially taken for granted by the Democratic Party — shifted marginally toward Trump in 2020. Though they still carried Biden to victory by a 46-point margin, the lesson is clear: The Democratic Party ignores its base at its own peril.
After all, it was working people’s organizations that had millions of conversations with voters this year. It was not the political operatives at the Lincoln Project or the Third Way who knocked the doors, who spoke to the voters, who heard their concerns. It was laid-off union members in South Phoenix; African American community organizers in Kenosha, Wis.; Latinx zoomers in Reading, Pa. None of us intend to let the far-right of the Democratic coalition claim a mandate for status-quo politics.
This goes for Wall St. Democrats as well as Never-Trump Republicans. The latter in particular spent decades using dog-whistle racist appeals and inflaming culture-war fights to throw red meat to their base. We’re glad they finally had their “come-to-Jesus” moment, but that doesn’t mean we are going to invite them to take the pulpit. The people who should lead our country forward are the people who have been building the country all along: the multiracial working class who have helped carry this country through a pandemic and now demand real reform.
Young people in particular showed up this year in historic numbers, increasing their turnout by eight percentage points. This generation is the most racially diverse generation in the history of our country and the most progressive. That’s no surprise: Their future hangs in the balance — economically, politically and environmentally. They turned out this year in force more to defeat the unique threat of Trump than out of love for Biden or the Democratic Party. Biden and Democrats in Congress now have an opportunity to win a generation’s long-term loyalty, but only if they deliver the big changes young Americans demand.
That means passing a Green New Deal to lift our economy out of recession, create millions of jobs and address the climate crisis head-on. It means passing Medicare-for-all to prevent thousands of Americans from dying (or going bankrupt) due to covid-19 and other illnesses. It means making the wealthy pay their share of taxes and reversing the massive tax giveaway that was Trump’s crowning legislative achievement. And it means electoral reform to ensure our government actually reflects the will of the majority.
These and other policies represent not only what Biden should do, but also what he must do. Politically, a return to “normalcy” is simply a circuitous route back to Trumpism. So-called normalcy has never worked if you are poor or among the barely middle class and it will not work now. Being better than Trump is a low bar. This moment demands — and the citizens of this nation deserve — leadership with a vision to provide for the people. Anything less is unacceptable. The Democratic Party’s future and the future of America depend on it.
America’s Next Authoritarian Will Be Much More Competent (The Atlantic) — If you are a regular Daily Poster reader, you know I’ve been saying this exact thing for months.
We Were Told Biden Was The ‘Safe Choice’. But It Was Risky To Offer So Little (The Guardian) — Naomi Klein writes: “After days of gnawing our fingers down to the quick, it’s fair to say that Biden was not safe at all, as we always knew. Not safe for the planet, not safe for the people on the front lines of police violence, not safe for the millions upon millions of people who are seeking asylum, but also not even safe as a candidate.” This is an abridged transcript of remarks. You can watch the event here
Naomi Klein, Sun 8 Nov 2020
A great many people did not vote for Joe Biden, they voted against Trump. We have to recognise how narrow this win was.
These have been a harrowing few days. And these days have been more harrowing than they should have been. As we all know, Joe Biden won the Democratic primaries based on the claim that he was the safest bet to beat Donald Trump. But even if the Democratic party base was much more politically aligned with Bernie Sanders, or Elizabeth Warren, in their support for Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, for racial justice, the party was sure that Bernie Sanders was too risky. And so, as we all remember, they banded together and gave us Biden.
But I think that after days of gnawing our fingers down to the quick, it’s fair to say that Biden was not safe at all, as we always knew. Not safe for the planet, not safe for the people on the front lines of police violence, not safe for the millions upon millions of people who are seeking asylum, but also not even safe as a candidate.
Defeating Trump is a really important popular victory. A great many people did not vote for Joe Biden, they voted against Trump, because they recognize the tremendous threat that he represents. And the fact that the movements that are behind so much of that political victory are not able to even just take a moment and feel that victory, because they are already under attack by the Democratic establishment, as it seeks once again to abdicate all responsibility for ending us in the mess that we are in, is really its own kind of a crime. People should not have to be fighting off these attacks. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez should not have to be on Twitter all day, making the point that it is not the fault of democratic socialists that the Democratic party has underperformed in the way that it has.
In fact, she and so many others should be taking a bow for the incredible organizing and leadership that they’ve shown in this period.
He was risky because of his swampy record because he had so little to offer so many people in such deep crisis
Biden was a risky candidate for the same reasons Hillary Clinton was a risky candidate. He was risky because of his swampy record because he had so little to offer so many people in such deep crisis. It seems he has secured an electoral victory by the skin of his teeth but it was a high risk gamble from the start. And not only is the left not to blame. We are largely responsible for the success that has taken place, not the Lincoln Project, which has, as David Sirota said, set fire to $67m in this election by trying to reach suburban Republican voters.
We are the levees holding back the tsunami of fascism. The wave is still gaining force, that’s why this is such a difficult moment to celebrate. We need to shore up those levees, and we also need to drain energy away from their storm. So how do we do that?
We need to, I think, recognize first of all that, though we may be dealing with the same kind of corporate Democrats as we were in 2008, we are not the same. We have changed. Our movements have grown. They grew during the Obama years, and they grew during the Trump years, they have grown in size but they’ve also grown in vision. In the vision of defund the police, moving the resources from the infrastructure of incarceration, of policing, of militarism to the infrastructure of care. Vision work has happened. The vision work behind the Green New Deal has happened. And of course the movement supporting Medicare for All.
Even as we approach this juncture with so much fatigue, we have to remind ourselves that we have changed. That the presence of “the Squad” is a difference from the Obama and Biden years. Obama and Biden did not have to contend with Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley and now Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman. So I think where we go from here is, we need more coordination in all of this rising power.
I think about that moment in 2018, when the Democrats took back the House of Representatives. They were expecting their victory parade and instead had their offices occupied by the Sunrise movement and [Ocasio-Cortez] greeting them and pledging to introduce Green New Deal legislation. That sort of inside-outside pincer is what we need to be replicating again and again and again. That is a glimpse of the kind of dynamic that we will need if we are going to win the policies that are actually enough to begin to keep us safe.
What we have seen with the failure of the Democratic party to do the one thing that we look to from a political party, which is be good at winning elections. I don’t need to outline all the things we had going in our favor but this election should have been a repeat of Herbert Hoover’s loss in 1933. We are in the grips of a pandemic, a desperate economic depression and and Trump has done absolutely everything wrong.
This should have been a sweep. It should have been the sweep that we were promised. And the fact is, the Democratic leadership bungled it up on every single front. It wasn’t just a mistake. They did not want to offer people what they needed. They are much more interested in appeasing the donor class than they are in meeting the needs of their constituents, who need them now more than ever. Naomi Klein is a senior correspondent at the Intercept and the inaugural Gloria Steinem endowed chair of media, culture and feminist studies at Rutgers University. She is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author, most recently of On Fire: The Burning Case for A Green New Deal.
This is an abridged transcript of remarks Klein delivered at Where Do We Go From Here? a Haymarket Books event on 6 November 2020
End of Natural Gas Growth Comes Earlier Than Forecast as Demand Shifts to Renewables. “The era of robust growth in the US natural gas market is likely coming to a close,” says Devin McDermott, an analyst at Morgan Stanley. Renewables could take over as the No. 1 power source on the grid as soon as 2028, according to projections by McDermott and others. McDermott expects overall gas demand growth in the US slow to between 1% and 2% per year through 2030 as use by power generators shrinks by 2% to 3%. More than 53 gigawatts of clean power are likely to be added in the US by April 2023, nearly doubling that of natural gas, according to an estimate earlier this year by the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. “The tide is turning. It used to be that you talk about renewables in Texas, you might as well get a rope,” says Cody Moore, head of gas and power trading at Mercuria Energy America based in Houston. “The narrative has changed. Now it’s ‘brag-o-watts.’” Bloomberg, October 22, 2020, https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2020-natural-gas-demand-peak/
Biden Wins, But Now The Hard Part Begins (The Intercept) — The battle for the soul of the Democratic Party is once again raging.
In Detroit, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia, organizing by progressives gave Biden a boost.
WITH PENNSYLVANIA, Wisconsin, and Michigan now squarely in Joe Biden’s corner, the former vice president has secured the 270 Electoral College votes he needs to win the presidential election. Throughout Tuesday and Wednesday, President Donald Trump held leads in all three states, but as votes from Milwaukee, Detroit, Philadelphia, and other urban areas were counted, Biden climbed ahead. On Friday morning, after Biden overtook Trump in the Pennsylvania vote count, Decision Desk HQ called the race for Biden.
At the same moment that those votes from heavily progressive cities beset by protests were putting Biden over the top, House Democrats were locked in a tortured, three-hour conference call on Thursday. Centrist after centrist lambasted the party’s left for costing it seats in the lower chamber and threatening its ability to win the Senate. It created a surreal juxtaposition: Had progressive organizing on the ground around left-leaning issues driven registration and turnout for Biden where he needed it, or had it hurt the party more broadly? Or was it both?Join Our NewsletterOriginal reporting. Fearless journalism. Delivered to you.I’m in
The fiercest criticism was leveled by Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA official who won an upset victory in rural and suburban Virginia in 2018. Her victory was symbolic, in that she toppled Dave Brat, the tea party upstart who had himself toppled Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014, presaging Trump’s rise a year later. In 2018, Brat accused Spanberger of endorsing and being in league with, by dint of her party identification, Medicare for All, abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and would-be Speaker Nancy Pelosi — even though she theatrically distanced herself from all three, as well as former President Barack Obama. Her rousing defense — “Abigail Spanberger is my name!” — earned her a viral clip at a debate with Brat:
Spanberger won a narrow victory and spent 2019 and 2020 further distancing herself from the party’s progressive wing. She is once again locked in a close count, but appears to again have the upper hand, poised for reelection.
It has not diminished her rage toward the left. On the call Thursday, Spanberger vented not at “abolish ICE” but at “defund the police,” the slogan that gained mainstream currency following the protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
Rep. Conor Lamb, whose special election victory in 2018 was a bellwether of the coming blue wave, backed Spanberger up. “Spanberger was talking about something many of us are feeling today: We pay the price for these unprofessional and unrealistic comments about a number of issues, whether it is about the police or shale gas,” Lamb said. “These issues are too serious for the people we represent to tolerate them being talked about so casually.”
But Lamb’s criticism of his party colleagues goes to the heart of the flaw in the argument. Lamb wasn’t forced to defend defunding the police because of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or other members of the Squad. Rather, it was Lamb who went to a Black Lives Matter protest and took a maskless photo with a (white) woman holding a “defund the police” sign. His GOP opponent hammered Lamb for it. Most centrist politicians think of politics as top-down — a strategy that’s decided upon and then implemented. But “defund the police” — whatever one thinks of the slogan — came from the protest movement that grew out of Minneapolis, not from the messaging department of the Squad Central Committee.
Democrats actually benefited from a surge in voter registrations amid the protests, as noted by Tom Bonier, head of the major Democratic data firm TargetSmart.
Party leader James Clyburn, the Democrat from South Carolina whose endorsement of Biden launched him to the nomination, warned on the call that if Democrats ran on Medicare for All and other progressive issues, they would lose the upcoming Georgia Senate special elections that will determine control of the upper chamber and dictate whether Biden and the Democrats have the possibility of implementing a legislative agenda. (Alaska’s Senate seat, a contest between Republican Sen. Al Sullivan and independent challenger Al Gross, is still up for grabs. While Sullivan is currently ahead, the count of the remaining 44 percent of votes — absentee ballots — won’t begin until Monday.)
Even so, progressives defended a number of Republican-leaning seats. Democratic Rep. Katie Porter won reelection by 8 points in California’s 45th District, covering Orange County and Irvine, which she flipped in 2018. Further south, Rep. Mike Levin, who flipped the 49th District two years ago, won reelection, beating his Republican opponent by 12 points. Both are co-sponsors of the Medicare for All bill in the House, as are Jared Golden in Maine, Ann Kirkpatrick in Arizona, Josh Harder in California, and Susan Wild and Matt Cartwright in Pennsylvania, who all won reelection in swing districts. And Rep. Tom Malinowski also defended his northern New Jersey district with an 8-point win, again holding onto a district he flipped in 2018. Cook Political Report had rated both Porter and Malinowski’s districts as R+3, and Levin’s as R+1.Subscribe
Democrats insisting that progressive issues are losing policies have yet to articulate what their winning agenda would be, now that getting Trump out of the White House is no longer the mission. As attention will shift to the Georgia special elections, can Democrats rally the troops simply to help Biden confirm slightly more progressive cabinet nominees? What is the Democratic agenda that the party can pledge to voters to inspire them to vote in that January special election?
From the progressive perspective, it’s an easy question to answer, and Ocasio-Cortez has made the argument herself repeatedly: It’s better to have Democrats in control so that the left can push them to be better, whereas Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has shown himself immune to protest from the left. But that’s not a message from the party itself.
And if Democrats don’t find a message — or insist on spending the next few weeks attacking its left flank — then they have little chance of winning the Senate. Mike Siegel, a Democrat who ran and lost as a populist progressive in suburban Texas, said on this week’s Deconstructed podcast that without a persuasive message coming from the top of the ticket, he was unable to convince disaffected voters that he was serious about fundamental change. Without the Senate, Biden will be a badly hobbled president, the kind that is routinely dealt a blow in the first midterm. While Spanberger and Lamb may be angry, it appears that both will still win, as will dozens of their colleagues who first won in 2018. In 2022, they may look back on this election fondly if they don’t deliver something for the people who elected them.
Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib encourages a resident to vote in the upcoming presidential elections in Detroit, on Oct. 18, 2020.
THE FEARS PUT forward by centrist Democrats are the flip side of the same political vision that Trump used to fuel his base. In nearly every one of his rallies this fall, he singled out Rep. Ilhan Omar for attack, arguing that she was so toxic in Minnesota that she would deliver the state’s suburbs to him. He made the same claim about Rep. Rashida Tlaib in Michigan and about the rising strength of the left in Philadelphia, which he singled out during the first presidential debate, claiming that “bad things happen in Philadelphia.”
Yet Trump’s hopes were dashed. “He effed around and found out,” said Omar on Deconstructed when asked about Trump’s strategy of demonizing her to win suburban votes. Indeed, not only did margins for Democrats expand in the suburbs in Minnesota, but Omar’s strength in Minneapolis also helped power Biden to the win. Related: What Happened?
The same is true of the suburbs of Detroit and Philadelphia, where strong left organizing catapulted Biden past Trump in two of the three states that were crucial to the incumbent’s 2016 victory, and a third (Minnesota) that the Trump campaign hoped desperately to flip.
In the late summer, as the GOP was knocking on a million doors per week in August, the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee resisted a return to in-person canvassing — even though it had become apparent that there was a safe way to do so — and advised their surrogates to do the same.
In Minneapolis and Detroit, Omar and Tlaib both rejected the advice of the Biden campaign and instead sent volunteers to persuade people not just to come out to vote for their member of Congress — after all, they had effectively no GOP competition in their general elections — but to do their part in ousting Trump by voting for Biden. In Philadelphia, where leftist candidates have romped over the past four years, thanks in part to a robust organizing community that saw two of their leaders elected to the state House on Tuesday, unions and organizers spent the final stretch of the campaign knocking doors in areas where voters felt ignored by the Democratic Party.
It’s too early to know precisely what effect the progressive canvassing operations and organizing had on the vote, as that will require a deeper dive into the data to determine how many irregular or first-time voters were pushed to the polls. Turnout surged everywhere — Biden garnered more votes than any presidential candidate in history — but it’s clear, at minimum, that Trump’s high-profile attacks against Omar and Tlaib did not deliver him those states, and there is preliminary evidence that their operations were disproportionately beneficial to Biden.
In Detroit, voter turnout reached its highest point in decades, election officials reported, even as the city’s population has declined by 10,000 since 2016, and 3,000 people in Wayne County, which includes Detroit, died from Covid-19. Overall in the county, Biden won 587,000 to 264,000, a net of 323,000 votes, though more are still left to be counted. Biden underperformed Hillary Clinton in the city of Detroit by about 1,000 votes, but outperformed her by 67,630 votes throughout the entire county; that bump helped put him over the top in a state that Clinton lost by some 10,700 votes.
With about 90 percent of the votes in her district counted, Tlaib already has more than 220,000 votes, having beaten her Republican opponent by some 170,000 votes and counting. That’s a significant jump from 2016, when John Conyers Jr., who previously held the seat, won it with fewer than 200,000 votes.
Oakland County, the suburbs outside Detroit, also went strongly to Biden. Clinton netted roughly 54,000 votes there in 2016, but Biden won it by 110,000 votes.
In Minnesota, Omar’s district saw explosive growth in turnout, with more than 400,000 people casting votes. The district netted Biden more than 250,000 votes in a state he won by just 232,000. And despite Trump’s hopes, the suburbs did not recoil at Omar, giving Biden a bigger margin than Clinton won there.
In Pennsylvania, where ballots are still being counted, Biden outperformed Clinton in Philadelphia’s suburbs, including Montgomery, Chester, Bucks, and Delaware counties — giving him a crucial boost even as voter turnout in the city of Philadelphia dropped. In other parts of the state, he flipped back to blue the counties of Eerie and Northampton, which both voted twice for Obama before flipping for Trump.
Congressional candidate Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., left, joined by Democratic Senate candidate Tina Smith, D-Minn., speaks during a get-out-the-vote event on the University of Minnesota campus on Nov. 3, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images
BOTH OMAR AND Tlaib faced competitive primaries, which they won comfortably, and they never really stopped campaigning into the general election. Their teams worked together, swapping notes on how to safely canvas in a pandemic, and also worked closely with Rep. Mark Pocan, the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who represents Madison, Wisconsin. Omar’s team made 1.4 million attempts to reach out to voters through phone, text, or in person. They knocked on more than 150,000 doors, hitting everyone in the district more than twice on average, according to Jeremy Slevin, Omar’s communications director. A record 400,000 people voted in the district, netting Biden 253,000 votes. Biden visited St. Paul, but not Minneapolis, where his wife Jill Biden visited early last month.
Omar’s campaign hired dozens of organizers to turn out voters when Minnesota started early voting in September, the Washington Post reported. They knocked throughout October and up to Election Day, especially targeting voters who sat out in 2016. Omar was also one of the only Democratic Farmer-Labor Party candidates to continue canvassing, the Star Tribune reported.
Tlaib’s campaign focused on voters who turned out in 2012 and stayed home in 2016, and knocked 16,000 doors in the six weeks leading up to Election Day. They made close to 150,000 calls and sent 100,000 text messages and 100,000 pieces of mail. “Our message was more about Democrats up and down the ballot,” said Tlaib’s Communications Director Denzel McCampbell.
In Philadelphia, Reclaim Philadelphia, a progressive group focused on working-class issues founded in 2016 by local organizers, has helped grow a squad of their own in state and local office. Two Reclaim Philadelphia alums, Nikil Saval, who helped found the group, and Rick Krajewski, previously a staff organizer, won their elections to the state House on Tuesday. A coalition of local and national groups in the city — including Saval and Krajewski’s campaigns, other local elected officials, and unions — knocked 370,000 doors in the weeks leading up to Election Day. That included West/Southwest Philly Votes, the unions Unite Here and Service Employees International Union, campaigns for State Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, and City Council Members Kendra Brooks, a WFP council member, and Jamie Gauthier. The 215 People’s Alliance, another local grassroots group, made a total of 35,000 calls and texts to Philadelphia voters, and provided 5,650 meals to voters and poll workers with help from the People’s Kitchen, a local food security project. National groups like For Our Future and Changing the Conversation knocked doors in Philly as well.
Renee Wilson, a member of service industry union Unite Here, canvases for Joe Biden in Philadelphia on Nov. 2, 2020.
Photo: Rachel Wisniewski/Reuters
There were a number of virtual organizing operations as well. The Working Families Party’s $1.5 million Vote Today Program netted 93,400 conversations about early voting, 76,900 commitments, and more than 2,000 newly registered voters in Philadelphia. They recruited just under 500 volunteers for the effort, which extended to protests and dance parties at “count every vote” protests on Wednesday and Thursday. Nuestro PAC, a group that worked to turn out the Latino vote, run by former Bernie Sanders adviser Chuck Rocha, spent $2.1 million on bilingual outreach over the last four months.
Organizers with West/Southwest Philly Votes, a partnership between Krajewski and Gauthier’s campaigns, knocked 20,000 doors between October 3 and Election Day, an effort that took about 345 three-hour volunteer shifts. Members from SEIU’s Local 32BJ joined that effort, said Rachie Weisberg, field director for West/Southwest Philly Votes.
Reclaim partnered with the campaigns for Krajewski and Fiedler to knock doors, said Amanda McIllmurray, Reclaim Philadelphia political director and Saval’s campaign manager. Together with PA Stands Up, a coalition of grassroots organizing groups that grew out of a response to the 2016 election, 8,000 volunteers across local groups made just under 7 million calls, sent just under 2 million texts, and reached 400,000 voters statewide.
SEIU members also held their own canvass, knocking 70,000 doors statewide, 30,000 in Philadelphia, and 20,000 in surrounding suburbs. They also knocked doors in Allegheny, in the Western part of the state, and other areas and made 2 million calls statewide. RelatedPennsylvania’s Democratic Party Isn’t Ready For This Fight, but Its People Might Be
The most significant push came from Unite Here, a hospitality workers union that deployed hundreds of members to knock on 300,000 doors in Philadelphia between October 1 and Election Day, the largest such operation targeting Black and Latino workers in the city. Statewide, the union knocked 575,000 doors. They got 60,000 people in Philadelphia to pledge to vote for Biden, 30,000 of whom did not vote in 2016. (Trump won the state by 44,000 votes that cycle.)
“We saw the effects of everything that’s happened since 2016, with police brutality, right — with Covid-19 and with the pandemic in general,” said Brahim Douglas, vice president of Unite Here Philadelphia’s Local 274. “We wanted to engage our neighbors in places where typically, folks don’t go to,” he said, like his neighborhood in North Philadelphia and where hopelessness as a result of the pandemic is prevalent.
“This stuff affects our communities,” said Douglas, referring to Covid-19. Last month, he lost his 21-year-old niece to the coronavirus; her 1-year-old daughter had also contracted the disease. “In the Black and brown communities, Covid has affected — here in Pennsylvania — a lot of us. And we have a president that took that stuff for granted, and I think that’s the hurtful part.”
Arch exit signals next phase of decline for Wyo coal, Wyofile and EnergyNews.US
Dustin BleizefferOctober 27, 2020Wyoming’s second largest coal company confirmed last week what many miners and residents had feared: It will prepare to close its mines in the state even as it looks for a buyer for the properties.
Arch Resources Inc. operates the Black Thunder and Coal Creek mines in the Powder River Basin, both located in Campbell County. The company employs more than 1,100 workers in Wyoming, about 23% of the state’s coal mining workforce, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Black Thunder, the second largest mine in the nation, accounts for more than 1,000 employees.
Arch said it will eventually close or sell all of its remaining thermal coal assets, which in addition to its Wyoming mines include the West Elk mine in Colorado and the Viper mine in Illinois. Although there are no target closure dates, the company will vastly shrink operations in Wyoming over the next two to three years, according to a statement.
“We view this systematic winding down of our thermal operations — in a way that allows us to continue to harvest cash and to fund long-term closure costs with ongoing operating cash flows — as the right business solution in the event we are unable to find an appropriate buyer,” Arch CEO Paul Lang said in a prepared statement.
Arch forecasts its Powder River Basin production will come in under 55 million tons this year, a 27% decline from 2019. The company plans to continue to reduce production in the basin “by an additional 50 percent over the course of the next two to three years.” In 2008, Wyoming’s highest coal production year in history, Arch produced more than 142 million tons from four mines in the state, according to WyoFile calculations.
The company’s “systematic” exit from thermal coal — which is primarily burned to generate electricity within the U.S. — comes as the market continues to shrink. Utilities are simultaneously running coal-fired power plants at lower capacities while speeding up the retirement of aging coal units in favor of more affordable natural-gas and renewable-power generation.
Coal accounted for more than 50% of U.S. electrical generation in the mid-2000s, but has sunk to about 20% this year, according to the Energy Information Administration. Industry analysts say coal’s slide will continue.
As it exits thermal coal, Arch plans to focus on its remaining mines that produce metallurgic coal used in steelmaking — primarily its Leer South mine in West Virginia.
“Arch is going to embrace these new realities as opposed to fighting them by continuing our pivot toward coking coal markets and pursuing a reduction and exposure in our thermal assets,” Lang said during Arch’s Q3 investor call last week.
The news, while not unexpected, is the clearest evidence to date that Wyoming coal communities are in for big changes.
Reality check for Wyoming coal
Arch’s plan to intentionally downsize its Powder River Basin production while preparing the mines for closure contrasts with past declarations by the industry and Wyoming elected officials.
Through a series of bankruptcies and the loss of nearly 1,000 mining jobs since 2016, Powder River Basin mining executives and state officials had projected hope that cost-cutting efficiencies and shedding debt would slow or level out a years-long production decline. Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon has enthusiastically embraced the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back regulations on coal while boosting carbon-capture and refining technologies for coal.
Like its coal utility customers, Arch doesn’t see a profitable future by sticking with thermal coal.
“They [Arch Resources] are publicly traded, they have access to capital and they are intentionally moving away from thermal coal,” University of Wyoming energy economist Rob Godby said. “This is a reality check. It shows you just how desperate things are.”
Arch’s announcement that it will exit the Powder River Basin came less than a month after a pivotal court decision to block a proposed operations merger of Arch and Peabody Energy’s western coal operations.
Arch’s Black Thunder and Peabody’s adjoining North Antelope Rochelle mines account for nearly two-thirds of all coal production in the Powder River Basin. Combining these, along with the companies’ Colorado operations, would have reaped an annual savings of $120 million, according to the proposal.
But the Federal Trade Commission ruled against the merger, claiming it would take competition out of the Powder River Basin coal market. That view dismissed arguments by Arch and Peabody that the actual competitive market is not necessarily in the basin, but nationally among thermal coal, natural gas and renewables competing for the U.S. utility market.
Arch and Peabody challenged the ruling, with supportive arguments from the state of Wyoming. But the Eastern District of Missouri upheld the FTC’s decision in late September.
“Arch’s plan to reduce production levels at its two Powder River Basin mines is extremely disheartening but not shocking given their response to the court’s decision blocking the Peabody/Arch merger,” Gordon said in a prepared statement last week. “That is the reason I supported that merger so strongly and was frustrated by the FTC and the Court’s decisions.”
There is no scenario where Powder River Basin coal recovers, Godby said. The likely outcome is that production shrinks quickly over the next few years to about half its current rate of production and remains there — for how long, nobody knows, Godby said. Arch’s planned exit from Wyoming coal is a harbinger for a vastly different coal economy in the state. “That’s why I say it’s a reality check,” Godby said.
Order or chaos?
According to Godby, and other analysts, the Powder River Basin has operated “over-capacity” for about a year. Essentially, the volume of production needed to financially justify keeping 12 mines operating in the basin hasn’t been matched by demand, let alone forecasts for declining demand.
“Eventually, somebody’s got to fail,” Godby told WyoFile in January.
Last week, he said that Arch’s measured exit from Wyoming coal is a preferable scenario than the continuation of bankruptcies among smaller operators that might not fulfill obligations to miners and the state.
A prime example is Blackjewel. The same day it filed for bankruptcy in July 2019, it locked gates to the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines and sent miners home, sparking a year of chaos. Employees lost healthcare benefits, had to fight for wages and didn’t know whether they would ever return to work. Although the mines reopened under a new owner in 2019, Blackjewel still shirked obligations to miners and left Campbell County in a lurch, delinquent on some $37 million in taxes.
If Arch ultimately sells its Wyoming mines, it would choose a buyer who could follow through on employee and reclamation obligations, CEO Lang said.
“If you’re going to have a consolidation [in the Powder River Basin],” Godby said, “it’s much better that it happens in an orderly fashion like this. They noted that they’re going to be open to their employees and suppliers, and they mentioned the communities so the communities can start to plan.”
Instead of digging in to compete on volume after being denied the operations merger, Arch’s plan to significantly cut production as it prepares to exit Wyoming might help avoid a continuation of bankruptcies and unmet liabilities among other operators in the Powder River Basin, Godby said. However, several remaining operators still face significant headwinds.
Now, Godby said, it’s up to the state to heed what is a clear warning shot from Arch.
“If you’re one of [Arch’s] thermal coal communities, things are going to change,” Godby said. “[Arch is] trying to give them as much advanced notice as they can.”
Shannon Anderson, attorney for the Sheridan-based landowner advocacy group Powder River Basin Resource Council, said her organization still worries Arch could sell its mines to a buyer that’s not financially capable of, or even committed to, meeting reclamation liabilities.
“There is a very small list of companies that are interested in coal mining these days, and none of them have the capital and corporate infrastructure to take over a mine as large as Black Thunder,” Anderson said. “A better focus is the plan Arch talked about, but we want to see the details, especially on reclamation and employee retirement and severance compensation.”
For now, the state should be prepared to hold accountable any potential buyer of Arch’s Wyoming mining properties, Anderson said.
The state can help Arch make its planned exit less painful by insisting on a timeframe for completion of reclamation work, preferably with miners already on staff, Anderson said. “Reclamation work can serve as an employment bridge until mine closure, if prioritized and done right.”
A July report by the Western Organization of Resource Councils suggests that the scale of reclamation required for the thousands of acres of surface mines in the Powder River Basin adds up to nearly $2 billion. That represents a financial and jobs opportunity that can help miners and service companies just as mines are closing.
But so far, a coordinated plan to help miners and communities make an economic transition from coal has yet to materialize in Wyoming.
Sen. Michael Von Flatern (R-Gillette) said he expects that Gillette — at the center of the Powder River Basin coal industry — will likely shrink from its current population of about 32,000 to about 26,000. Prospects for the town of Wright, which began as a coal company town to construct the Black Thunder mine, might be worse, he said.
“I can’t see those people hanging around Gillette, not with oil the way it is now,” Von Flatern said.
However, decades of wealth from coal, oil and gas has built a self-sustaining Gillette and Campbell County economy, he said. Intense energy development has fostered the growth of an industrial services and manufacturing sector that’s expanded its clientele beyond local coal mines.
“Gillette itself is doing better than it would have 20 years ago,” Von Flatern said. “We’re a house town and service town now. We’ll always maintain a good share of the population.”
Gordon has said there’s no way to completely fill the economic and job gaps left behind as the coal industry recedes. However, his administration continues to push for coal programs beyond mining.
“I am committed to working with workers and communities in the Powder River Basin during this challenging period, and our statewide approach is aligned with local efforts such as the Carbon Valley Initiative in Campbell County,” Gordon told WyoFile via email after Arch’s announcement last week. “This announcement serves as a reminder of how important our work is to support coal production and to advance carbon capture.”