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Wyoming Will Keep Fighting for Coal

Written by Matt Mead

Wyoming mines produced 361 million tons of coal through Dec. 26, 2015, generating over one third of the electricity in the United States. Coalmines employ 134,000 people across the country. Of those, 6,500 are in Wyoming. Coal is important to Wyoming and to the nation. We thank coal miners and all associated with the coal industry – from vendors to railroads – for all they provide to our communities, state and country.

During my time as governor, I have worked across the nation and around the world to establish partnerships and potential markets for Wyoming coal. They were an integral part of the Wyoming Energy Strategy I released in 2013.  Its initiatives incorporated the collective vision of Wyoming’s citizens – to balance energy development and conservation interests for the betterment of our state. Initiatives to expand markets and create opportunities for our energy industries were front and center.

In the face of a national agenda that undervalues the importance of coal, it is more critical than ever that we commit to the challenges that face us and lead the way in effective solutions. The challenges are varied. 

One clear example is a flawed regulatory approach by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In the last five years, EPA has promulgated regulations such as the Utility Mercury Air Toxic Standards rule, Ozone Standards and – most harmful to coal – the “Clean Power Plan.”

The Wyoming Attorney General, at my request, has confronted these federal government actions in the courts. Many states have followed our lead and joined our stand. In some of these cases, I believe we could have avoided court action if federal agencies would have consulted the states and respected our input. The fact is, many of these regulations go beyond the limits Congress has set for agencies and create standards that cannot be met and are not reasonably connected to improving the environment or public health. 

The Clean Power Plan uses regulation in a targeted way that hampers coal as an energy choice and artificially creates economic challenges for the coal industry. It removes incentives to innovate and dries up money needed for research and development. It creates uncertainty in financial markets at a time when affordable and reliable energy is needed for economic growth. It hurts our nation’s economy.

A common Wyoming value is our concern about our environment. After all, it is here we choose to live, raise our children and hold in trust for future generations – this wonderful Wyoming.

The President recently mentioned his concerns over climate change. The Department of Interior followed up with an announcement of a moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands. This move goes beyond EPA regulation and provides further evidence this Administration is no friend to coal. Not only will this moratorium hurt miners and all businesses that support coal mining, it will take away all the competitive advantage coal provides to every U.S. citizen.

Climate change can be objectively measured. The causes and the cures are where parties often disagree. What I hope more can agree upon is that regardless of one’s beliefs on the causes of climate change – no serious discussion can ignore coal as a plentiful resource and its benefits to our country. Coal is by far the largest source of electricity in the U.S. and globally. If climate change is the President’s major environmental concern, rather than chasing an unrealistic vision of a world without coal, pursue a vision that recognizes coal’s place in the world and invests to make it better. In Wyoming, we recognize coal’s place and are investing to make it better with the Integrated Test Center (ITC).

The ITC is being built at Basin Electric Power Cooperative’s Dry Fork Station near Gillette. The ITC provides space for researchers to develop commercially viable uses for carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. With the objective of taking a detrimental byproduct and turning it into a commodity, the research at the ITC will lead to new opportunities in petrochemicals as well as other commercial uses of carbon dioxide. Research at the facility will help insure the viability of the coal industry that continues to serve Wyoming and the world.

In 2012, $10 million in Abandoned Mine Land funds were appropriated to the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources for clean coal research. I will continue to support the Advanced Conversion Task Force in its work on new coal technologies.

We know we can improve coal’s environmental footprint while meeting increased global demand.  We do that through innovation, not regulation. We did not get from the candle to the light bulb through regulation. Government oversight did not lead us to abandon horse-drawn carriages for motor vehicles. Inventions are the result of great minds finding ways to improve quality of life. That happens in spite of regulation, not because of it.

For the coal industry in Wyoming and those who depend on it, times are hard. Current low gas prices and the challenges presented by federal policy put financial pressure on the coal industry and hard-working families in our state. Arch Coal’s bankruptcy brings immediate concern. Our focus is assuring that financial restructuring does not impact jobs, reclamation, salaries or pensions of employees in Wyoming. I am confident that the industry will respond to the current market challenges – and that companies like Arch Coal will overcome them to continue their part in meeting our state and global energy needs.

As I said, the coal industry is being challenged – as is the state of Wyoming.  We will continue to fight for coal.  These companies and the coal energy they provide fuel our way of life. They are critical to our nation’s economy – to our security. When people in our country flip a light switch, open a refrigerator door or take comfort in a warm house during the middle of winter, Wyoming and coal are the reason these amenities are there.  Rather than allow trends and politics to shape our energy future, we need to double down, investing and improving on the technologies that have allowed us to lead the world into the 21st century. We will continue to lead and coal will be a critical partner.