Coal, the Environment and Bridging the Gap

Reaching this level of commercialization will continue to take broad support. Wyoming has shown its commitment through direct investment in the Integrated Test Center – a state-of-the-art facility that allows researchers to test post-combustion capture and utilization technologies using coal-derived flue gas directly from Basin Electric’s Dry Fork Station in Gillette, Wyoming. The ITC is one of only a handful of facilities in the world where real-world testing of carbon capture and carbon utilization technologies takes place.

Technology offers unlimited opportunities and the progress we will see in the coal industry is no different. Today, researchers are actively working to develop commercially viable products made from CO2 and coal. Technologies like advanced building materials that are stronger yet lighter, and fibers that can make cars, trains, bicycles and airplanes more efficient.

BECCS (bio-energy carbon capture and storage) is another potential opportunity. While carbon capture offers opportunities if value streams can be created from the use of CO2, BECCS combines carbon capture and storage with bio-fuel co-firing of coal power plants. This option creates the opportunity for a net-negative carbon emission while burning coal for electricity generation.

Wyoming is putting its money where its mouth is, both on the state and national level. Funding is critical to the advancement of technology. In addition to the ITC, we have invested in our School of Energy Resources at the University of Wyoming and appropriated general funds for CCUS projects. On the federal level, Wyoming senators John Barrasso and Mike Enzi are championing policies that provide financial and tax incentives to developers of CCUS projects, and they have built bipartisan coalitions that support CCUS policies.

I believe we need to fight aggressively to prevent states from overreaching their authority in blocking construction of coal ports. In the case of the proposed Millennium coal terminal, Washington state’s own analysis indicates that if Asian power plants utilized Powder River coal, net emissions would be reduced. Powder River coal is lower in sulphur, ash and mercury than other alternatives available in the Pacific region and our mining, reclamation and safety record is the best in the world. The existence of that terminal would reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

Myopically pursuing only one alternative understates the value of our other natural resources, such as open space and wildlife. Clearly, wind and solar do not emit carbon when they generate energy; however, the manufacturing of their components does. A comprehensive analysis of the full footprint – including carbon – over each technology’s life cycle is critical to make informed decisions. Coal is a vital asset in an affordable energy strategy. Utilizing the current infrastructure of our coal fleet and adding emission controls for carbon should be viable options for anyone interested in real solutions to environmental concerns.

Meeting our energy needs and addressing environmental concerns are not mutually exclusive. Too often, we let issues polarize us and isolate us into only working with those with whom we agree. I’ve led my life knowing that being at the table and having the tough conversations – even when you know you won’t agree with what others at the table may think – is how you truly move the needle. I’ve worked in the oil and gas industry and I’ve worked with environmental groups. I’ve allowed drilling on my ranch and supported organizations focused on sustainability and conservation. I’ve allowed sage grouse conservation and carbon credit programs on my land. We must work together to find practical solutions.

One group simply trying to crush the other is of no value in working towards a better way forward. Poverty has never been good for the environment and so we must seek solutions and better technologies that address our environmental concerns, remove CO2 from our atmosphere and assure all people of affordable, reliable, more efficient energy. Working towards those ends is how we will bridge the divide and leave our world better for our time here. Working with each other instead of digging into our corners is how we get things done in Wyoming, and it’s how real progress is made.

Mark Gordon was elected Wyoming’s 33rd Governor, on Nov. 6, 2018. He was sworn into office on Jan. 7, 2019.