Guest opinion: New EPA rules would cripple Wyoming coal industry

2013-10-14T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: New EPA rules would cripple Wyoming coal industryBy TRAVIS DETI The Billings Gazette
October 14, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Last month saw the Obama administration announce the latest salvo in its aggressive campaign against coal and the American consumer in the form of overly stringent emission standards on new coal-fired power plants from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The proposal will require new coal plants to limit emissions to 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour, about 700 pounds less than most modern-day units. To achieve this standard, utilities will be required to implement costly and largely unproven carbon capture technology — technology that is simply not yet viable.

No new coal plants

In effect, the EPA, at the president’s direction, has placed a de facto ban on the construction of new coal-fired plants. It has essentially eliminated coal as a future source of electricity for our nation. The implications of this are enormous. Coal accounts for nearly 40 percent of America’s electricity generation, and the question of what will make up the megawatt difference once existing plants are retired has largely gone unanswered. But aside from this problematic scenario, there will be real and tangible effects for every Wyoming citizen.

Wyoming can boast one of the lowest tax burdens per citizen in the country. This is largely due to our reliance on extraction industries to cover the cost of our state and local governments. Revenues from coal mining alone account for more than $1 billion annually in taxes, royalties, fees and Abandon Mine Lands funds. Among other things, these revenues fund schools, the University of Wyoming and community colleges, highways, and cities and towns. Monies derived from coal are a key reason why Wyoming people are not burdened with a state income tax.

The Obama administration’s uncompromising effort to end coal as a viable energy source for America has very real consequences for real people here in Wyoming. In the past two decades, bonus bids paid to the state by coal companies on federal coal lease sales, more than $2.6 billion since 1992, have built new schools in every county in Wyoming. The uncertainty caused by an overzealous EPA regulatory regimen contributed to the collapse of the two most recent lease sales, costing Wyoming millions.

The Wyoming Mining Association estimates that every coal mining job supports three more jobs around the state in the form of service and supply employment. If we continue on the path set by the president, the coal industry and our economy will necessarily contract due to restrictions placed on utilities and the choking off of export opportunities. The elimination of the industry’s customers and markets will cause job losses here at home.

Finally, Americans everywhere will feel the crunch of rising electricity costs. Utilities will pass along the cost at the expense of consumers.

According to the EPA’s own data, coal usage in the United States has nearly tripled since 1970, while emissions of the pollutants originally regulated under the Clean Air Act have decreased over 85 percent. This has been achieved by common sense regulation and timely advances in technology. There is every reason to expect this trend will continue.

Cleaner coal technology

State-of-the-art coal-burning plants such as the Prairie State Generating Facility in Illinois and the John W. Turk plant in Arkansas are proof today that coal can continue to be used more cleanly and efficiently than ever before. The technology will continue to improve, viable carbon capture and storage will come online in time, and future plants will perform even better. But not under reckless, punitive agenda-driven regulation.

Travis Deti is assistant director of the Wyoming Mining Association.

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