Cut the leash

Posted Thu, Mar 13, 2014 at 4:00 AM

With lemming-like precision, most Democrats fell in line with the environmentalist narrative about global warming and have joined with them in attacking all things related to coal. It was highly remarkable (heretical in some circles) then that last week a group of four Democratic U.S. senators declared that they are charting a middle path for coal—that is, acknowledging the problems with climate change while not being blind to the fact that we will need to consume increasing amounts of coal to meet our energy needs in the future.

The four senators—from North Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia and Indiana—denounced the “keep it in the ground” strategy advocated by environmental groups and supported by the Obama administration, especially the opposition to clean coal technology that promises to reduce future emissions while still providing low-cost and reliable energy.

They couldn’t be more right. Pretending that we can replace coal with alternative energy is simply a fairy tale. The federal Energy Information Administration projects that alternative energy will be able to supply just 8 percent of U.S. energy demand by 2040, even assuming the continuation of massive taxpayer subsidies. Their forecasts show that coal will meet about the same amount of energy demand 30 years from now as it does today.

And that’s just the United States—around the world demand for coal is growing. There are still 1 billion people in the world who do not have access to basic electricity. Energy poverty relegates people to substandard conditions in health care, education and all sorts of other categories.

The problem of energy poverty is equal to, if not greater than, that of global warming. How can we look at those 1 billion people and tell them they can’t have basic advantage of electricity?

That’s the appeal of the “middle path” for coal now being adopted by a few brave Democrats. We can reduce emissions by developing new technology to make coal cleaner, while still keeping energy costs low. This doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition. Thus the frustration with environmental groups that are attempting to block exports of American coal, and with the Obama administration, which has declared a de facto moratorium on construction of high-tech, coal-fired power plants through proposed EPA regulations.

If the U.S. doesn’t take the lead in developing clean-coal technology, then who will?

No state has more at stake in this than Montana. Over 60 percent of our electricity is generated from coal and we have by far the largest coal reserves in the U.S. Those massive reserves, valued at $1.5 trillion, present the single biggest economic opportunity for our state with the potential for tens of thousands of new jobs.

With so much at stake, it’s disappointing that Montana’s two U.S. senators were not front and center with their Democratic colleagues in advocating the “middle path” on coal.

Gov. Steve Bullock has already shown leadership in this regard. In a recent letter to the EPA asking they back down on proposed coal regulations, the governor wrote, “The U.S. EIA forecasts that coal will continue to be an important part of our nation’s energy future for several decades … in the long-term, we’ll still need coal and advanced coal technologies that reduce carbon emissions. This will only happen with a strong commitment to research and development.”

Why aren’t Sens. Jon Tester and John Walsh adding their voices to one of the most critical issues that affects Montana? Maybe it’s time they show a little leadership and cut the leash from the Sierra Club.

Bob Lake

Montana Public Service Commission

Hamilton

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