Guest opinion: Coal development benefits Montana

2012-07-28T00:05:00Z Guest opinion: Coal development benefits MontanaBy CHARLES CASHELL The Billings Gazette
July 28, 2012 12:05 am  • 

America’s economic recovery has been slow to start, but the potential is there. We have the resources, the technology, and the manpower — and most importantly we have the will to grow. America’s strength has always been in our attitude to get back up and keep fighting no matter how bad things get. American workers are ready to do it again.

One of those vital pieces that have always been part of our economic success is access to affordable energy. And now, when we have the opportunity to ensure stable sources of energy for centuries, that access is in jeopardy.

100-year supply

Extreme environmentalists are waging an all-out “war on coal” to reduce our nation’s coal production and shut down coal-fired electrical generation. The results are obvious: higher electricity prices, lost jobs, and slower economic growth. And it will make it harder for our country to break free of this recession if we make energy artificially more expensive.

That’s particularly bad news for Montana, where coal development provides thousands of jobs and more than 60 percent of our electricity. Even worse, eliminating coal as a fuel source for America means Montana will lose out on the incredible potential that coal holds for our state’s future.

Montana has the potential to fuel the entire nation. We have the largest coal reserves in the country — nearly twice as much as the next-closest state, Wyoming. We have enough coal in Montana to meet our country’s entire electricity demand for more than 100 years. Yet today we produce less of those resources than any other major coal-producing state.

We have more potential than any other state to benefit from increasing coal production. According to the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana, the proposed Otter Creek mine would add thousands of new, high-wage jobs in Montana and add nearly $100 million per year to our state tax base.

High-paying jobs

For working families in Montana, this is an opportunity we cannot afford to lose. Coal jobs in Montana are among the highest-paying jobs in the state, with wages and benefits at some mines averaging in the six figures. This is the type of industry that can create a solid economic base from which other industries can be supported.

But all that potential for growth is lost if we allow the extreme environmentalists to shut down coal in Montana. Right now the industry is under attack on a number of fronts, including aggressive new power plant regulations from the EPA and attempts in Montana to shut down coal trains and stop mine expansions.

We are truly at the heart of a conflict that has national implications. Montanans need to understand the opportunities in terms of jobs and economic growth that we’d lose out on if Montana is not allowed to increase coal production.

The energy we produce is what keeps your lights on. It’s what keeps your life going. It’s always there when you need it. And best of all, everyone can afford it. At least for now.

Charles Cashell of Helena is

business manager for Operating Engineers Local 400.

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