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Get busy, coal

Jun 22, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

New EPA regulations should inspire a major technological effort to comply

A month's worth of reporting as we prepared our 57th annual Ranger Mining and Energy Edition showed time and time again that Wyoming is worried about new air qualify regulations and their impact on our state's coal industry.

From the mines to the governor's office to the halls of Congress, everyone said essentially the same thing: The regulations will cause coal-fired power plants to become obsolete, crippling the mining industry in the process. The requirements are so restrictive that the industry can't overcome them.

Really? Says who?

Our coal industry ought to take this as a challenge to overcome, with failure not an acceptable option.

Part of that strategy could well be the intense criticism being placed on the Environmental Protection Agency right now. The industry's first preference, of course, would be for the regulations to be eliminated. If they can't be eliminated, then they might be scaled back. If they can't be scaled back, then they might be delayed.

The industry, with the full backing of the governor and the state's congressional delegation, is working hard to achieve any or all of those objectives -- hoping as well that Republican Mitt Romney can defeat President Obama and then, presumably, roll back the new requirements.

But if the regulations can't be eliminated, if they can't be reduced, and if they can't be delayed, then the coal industry has just two options: surrender or innovate.

The latter is the preferred choice.

This is the industry that found a way to unlock Wyoming's vast coal reserves in the 1970s through new mining techniques. This is the industry that began using a previously unheard of concept -- the unit train -- to get that coal to eastern markets. This is the industry that found ways to comply with an earlier set of air regulations at power plants through smokestack "scrubbers." This is the industry that spurred development and construction of the biggest excavating machines on Earth, with dragline booms 100 yards long, machines that "walk" rather than roll on bulldozer-style tracks.

This is the industry that inspired the invention of the largest trucks every built, with tires nearly 20 feet tall and capable of hauling 400 tons of coal. This is the industry that devised conveyer belts that run for miles from mine to silo.

This is the industry that has compiled a fantastically improbable safety record in a field with inherent dangers fare greater than most others. And this is the industry that has become the world leader in science-based land reclamation methods that have enjoyed great success and worldwide admiration.

In other words, this is an industry that has faced and cleared many hurdles in the past when regulations have challenged it.

It can do the same now.

Put the same kind of energy and ambition into complying with the new regulations. Imagine solutions, then invent them. Tap the best talent in the country, put some money behind it, and discover how to scrub the harmful emission, capture the CO2 and the point of release, store it safely, and continue to mine this valuable resource that is so important for the nation's energy independence and Wyoming's economy.

Get busy, Wyoming coal. Defeatism gets you nowhere. This is a big obstacle, but you've proven your ability to surmount big obstacles time and time before. You can do it again.

-- Steven R. Peck

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