Sep 27, 2013 - By Steven R. PeckWyoming's coal industry doesn't like them, but it is in position to respond positively
Officials of Wyoming state government and leaders in the state's giant coal industry reacted predictably to the announced implementation of new emissions standards for coal-fired power plants.
In the works for years but only finalized this month, the regulations require much lower carbon emissions from the smokestacks of the plants.
Under current power plant design, the regulations make the building of new plants a losing proposition. Existing plants are not affected for the most part, but as they are phased out of production, new ones will be all but impossible to build, at least the way they are built now.
The coal industry and governments of big western coal states hoped that President Obama would not be re-elected last year, and that the new president would have rolled back the regulations. That did not happen, and that contingency no longer can be used in any sort of planning by the industry.
In other words, it is time for Plan B.
Only three options are realistic, and only two of those are at all desirable.
First, the coal industry could increase its efforts to market Wyoming coal internationally, where regulations on coal power plants are not so strict. This already is being undertaken, but obstacles regarding transportation overseas do exist.
Second, the state simply could resign itself to a lower-volume industry. That would mean fewer jobs, a smaller state economy and, in general, most likely the permanent contraction of a cornerstone industry.
The third option, the most ambitious and also most difficult, would be for the industry to find a way to comply with the new regulations and maintain coal's position of prominence in the energy economy.
If ever there were an industry capable of reconfiguring itself to meet new regulations to survive, that industry is Wyoming coal. It has demonstrated repeatedly both a willingness and a technological ability to change the way it does things when circumstances require.
Such circumstances exist now.
The industry learned better mining techniques, developed larger and more efficient equipment, found ways to transport coal long distances to open up wider markets, and reduced the number of workplace injuries and fatalities to a level below that of many far less-demanding industries, all¬with ambition and determination. Now the industry needs to apply itself to becoming a cleaner one so that the huge electrical demands of this nation can continue to be met.
Everyone loves the idea of powering our nation by the wind or the sun, but the technology simply does not exist yet to generate the power required to operate our country.
Perhaps one day it will come to the point at which alternative fuels reach a production level robust enough to power the whole nation. Doing so probably is no more difficult than it would be for coal to clean itself up so that its continued widespread use will be permissible.
The time to find out is now, and Wyoming coal is in the ideal position to lead the way.
In fact, it may have no choice.
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