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Time for a 'wakeup call' for Wyoming coal, WMA speakers say
Jun 22, 2012 - By Don Warfield, Staff Writer
GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK -- Wyoming coal mining executives got a wakeup call Thursday, but it wasn't from the front desk of the Jackson Lake Lodge.
Three different speakers addressing the audience of mining executives at the Wyoming Mining Association's 57th annual convention in Grand Teton National Park sent out a loud and clear message: The threat to Wyoming's coal industry is real, it is working, and no one will defend the industry if it doesn't defend itself.
Michael Nasi, a Texas attorney who specializes in energy law and regulation, set the tone early. He described an "avalanche" of regulations aimed at the coal industry by the Environmental Protection Agency and others.
The clear intent of EPA's attack has little or nothing to do with solving supposed environmental problems, Nasi said. Rather, he claimed, regulations aimed at emissions from coal-fired power plants are being used to drive the coal industry out of business.
EPA's principal weapons are environmental standards specifically designed to favor natural gas plants. The regulations purposely set standards that coal generation stations cannot meet, Nasi said.
The agency itself acknowledges as much, Nasi said. Its proposed carbon dioxide emissions standards, justified by EPA as necessary to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG,) will prohibit the construction of any new coal-fired generation in the next 20 years unless the plants employ as-yet unproven carbon capture technology.
CO2 is only the latest EPA salvo, however. The agency tried to use nitrogen oxide emissions -- pre-cursors to ozone -- but backed off somewhat when it sensed that its regulations were sparking a political firestorm among local and state governments.
Declaring coal ash a hazard waste was another consideration, but it was such a non-starter that it drew opposing fire from all 50 states. Particulate matter in the atmosphere offered EPA yet another opportunity. The agency set a standard of 91 parts per million -- well below any realistic hazard, Nasi said.
EPA has justified its actions "with junk science based on phantom risks to public health," Nasi said. For example, the agency declared that "no risk is too low" on particulate matter, despite actual science to the contrary. In another finding, the agency justified its standards using demonstrably fallacious assumptions of exposure and life expectancy, the speaker asserted.
Environmental groups and their sponsors, along with the natural gas industry, have been willing partners in EPA's campaign, Nasi said. He pointed out that the Sierra Club has received $50 million from New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and $26 million from a natural gas company executive to fund its efforts affecting coal.
State Rep. Tom Lubnau offered a parallel assessment, but he laid the responsibility for educating the public to the value of coal squarely at the feet of the coal executives "in this room."
No one else will speak up for coal if the industry itself does not, he said.
Lubnau gave the illustration of carbon capture and sequestration, in which Wyoming has been the nation's leader. Wyoming's School of Energy Resources is studying how to sequester CO2 deep in underground rock strata. Environmentalists had planned to squelch sequestration by claiming ownership of water aquifers deep underground and then asserting that sequestration could pollute them. Wyoming spiked those intentions by claiming ownership first, Lubnau said.
In the public realm, Lubnau couched his message in a question: "What don't our kids know?"
Lubnau said they don't know:
- Electricity is good. Without it, modern life is not possible.
- Electricity is just a transport mechanism: It powers other devices.
- Mining is good. It produces electricity, among thousands of other products.
- Today's kids expect electricity and everything it encompasses to be "ubiquitous and immediate" -- in other words, everywhere and never-ending. Yet, they are naive about how energy is produced, Lubnau said.
"The people in this room," Lubnau said, must educate the public to the realities of energy production.
EPA and its allies are succeeding with their strategy because the public does not understand the consequences -- drastic increases in energy costs among them -- of the decisions being made on the national scene, he said.
Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association, echoed Nasi and Lubnau, but added one positive note. Wyoming's Congressional delegation -- Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and Rep. Cynthia Lummis -- is among the best in Washington when it comes to energy issues, he said.