Coal, the Environment and Bridging the Gap

By Mark Gordon, Governor of Wyoming

It’s no secret that Wyoming’s Powder River Basin has seen declines due to market conditions. The continued low price of natural gas, flat or relatively low load growth and the increased deployment of renewable generation are all factors that have contributed to coal’s reduced market share. Industry and government estimates of the potential future decline vary, from 20 percent to as much as three-quarters of current production over the next decade. Nevertheless, I believe coal will play an important part in our country’s future. With the advent of new and improved technologies, coal will play a vital role, not only in providing for our energy needs but also in actually removing carbon dioxide from our atmosphere, thereby addressing climate change. Carbon-negative solutions must be part of any plan going forward. Simply slowing the growth of emissions or concentrating only on so-called “carbon-neutral” strategies is no longer enough.

Too often, we pick winners and losers. We’ll say one thing is bad, and something else is good. For too long, the overly simplistic narrative of “renewables are good and coal is bad” has been driven on the national stage. This false message does a great disservice to the miners who have powered our nation and hinders the efforts of those working to truly reduce the carbon footprint of both the United States and the rest of the world.

Rather than finding villains to blame, we need to reframe our thinking by removing national rhetoric and political talking points and putting the focus on solutions. Addressing carbon emissions is a technological challenge that industry is solving. It has a proven success record of using technology to reduce emissions – just look at NOx and SOx emissions since the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970.

Just like NOx and SOx, carbon emissions can be measured and managed and their successful reduction can be verified. It requires technological advancements, which in turn take time, money, courage and persistence. An “all of the above” energy strategy is a superior way to approach the challenge of providing affordable and reliable energy and to confront climate change responsibly while understanding the best uses of our natural resources. Coal must be part of a portfolio. We must find more rapid ways to deploy better, cleaner technologies worldwide and do it soon.

In Wyoming, we are solutions-oriented. We know how to balance environmental concerns with energy needs. As the supplier of over onethird of this country’s coal and a top-10 producer of oil and natural gas, Wyoming has a pivotal role to play in this country’s energy future and our state is engaged in research and innovation that will allow us to tackle the important issues of this generation. Carbon capture utilization and sequestration (CCUS) is a proven way to reduce emissions from fossil plants, as well as industrial sources.

Some oppose anything relating to fossil fuels. They insist carbon capture is uneconomic, unproven and a deterrent to true change. This is simply not true. CCUS has a proven track record of success, but it requires research, funding and testing for those solutions to be deployed commercially across the coal fleet.