Montana’s Battle of the Titans: The Radical Environmentalists vs. the State’s Coal Future

Contrary to the charges made by these ideologically motivated environmentalists, coal exporting and transporting companies are going to great lengths to protect both their product as well as the environment. A good example of this is over the debate involving dust that blows off of coal being transported on trains. There is no incentive for coal companies to tolerate coal dust blowing off of their product, as it harms their profits. Therefore, these companies have begun to take new and effective measures to reduce the loss of dust.


By Taylor Rose l June 23, 2015

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America is caught in a massive battle between two opposing visions for the nation’s energy future over the use and management of its God-given natural resources.

Rick Curtsinger, Media Manager for Cloud Peak Energy, spoke with me about the issue of falling coal production under the Obama administration that he attributes to new regulations impacting coal production and electricity generation.  “These substantial regulations create significant uncertainty moving forward, specifically in terms of building state of the art power plants and using environmentally friendly technologies while investing in and improving currently operating power plants.”

Despite East Asia’s growing demand for coal during the 21st Century, the ideological imperative for the radical environmentalists to transform the U.S. economy will cause the industry not to be able to meet that demand. Bud Clinch, executive director of the Montana Coal Council who also spoke with me said the “million dollar question” in the near future will be whether or not environmentalists can further restrict coal development and export.

At the moment, Clinch says he is not sure he “can give an answer” on which side will prevail. The dynamics are ever changing with new advancements in technology that can provide a more environmentally friendly means of extracting and burning coal. But it is apparent that it will be market forces encouraging more coal development, while Democrats, in league with the Obama administration, legislatively attempt to curb these market forces.

Curtsinger notes there is a lot of “misinformation about coal that unfortunately takes away from important discussion about how we’re going to provide the energy necessary for economic growth and improving lives and bringing people out of poverty.” In order to properly discuss the role of coal “there needs to be a scientifically based discussion on coal and its benefits,” as a secure and stable energy supply.

However, it seems unlikely this will occur, as “a lot of the new regulations are not targeted at improving air quality or reducing emissions, rather they are targeted at specific energy sources” and removing those resources from the marketplace. Many of these new regulations are not based on sound economic philosophy; they are “based on misinformation.”

Curtsinger points out that much effort has been given to block development of Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) technology, which captures and stores up to 90% of the carbon dioxide emissions. “Unfortunately a number of groups oppose this simply out of their hostility to coal, instead of a solution to reducing CO2 emissions, and CCS is a key component to reducing CO2 emissions.”

Curtsinger warns that “by arbitrarily removing any or several of these energy sources [wind, solar, petroleum or coal] from a utilities’ overall ability could significantly raise prices on energy and create reliability concerns.”

An example of this narrow-minded hostile approach is the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign that embodies their ideological aims designed to end coal extraction and use altogether in the United States, which they view as “an outdated, backward and dirty 19th century” source of energy.

In Montana, this movement has begun to take on a life of its own. During the recently ended 2015 legislative session, state Senator Mike Phillips (D-Missoula) who worked as a wildlife biologist for Ted Turner introduced Senate Joint Resolution 17 to study, according to the Billings Gazette, the “potential effects of phase out coal in the state.”

The bill failed to pass the Senate Natural Resources Committee but, nonetheless, represents ongoing efforts by radical environmentalists in the Western United States to continue pressing the issue of phasing out coal production and use as well as the industry’s ability for export. According to Clinch, Senator Phillips “is thinking long-term to envision a world without coal in 15 years or so.”

The problem for these environmentalists is that their alternatives do not provide solutions to meet America’s energy needs. The most commonly cited alternative for them is to shift to wind or solar power. Yet, these cannot meet the energy demands of the U.S. or Asia.

Contrary to the charges made by these ideologically motivated environmentalists, coal exporting and transporting companies are going to great lengths to protect both their product as well as the environment. A good example of this is over the debate involving dust that blows off of coal being transported on trains. According to Clinch, “somebody came up with the idea somewhere that coal and coal dust is really dangerous, because people have died from it in West Virginia – like in the movie Coal Miners Daughter. So, they have taken that and scared residents into thinking the increase of train traffic will have an adverse effect from coal dust blowing off and harming citizens.”

Clinch explains there is no incentive for coal companies to tolerate coal dust blowing off of their product, as it harms their profits. Therefore, these companies have begun to take new and effective measures to reduce the loss of dust. “It starts off by properly loading the car. They load the coal by rounding it like a bread loaf to maximize the aerodynamics of the train and minimize any blow off.” Secondly, Clinch explains, “they are spraying a surfactant like a lady’s hairspray that crusts on top and stops the dust from blowing off.”

One of the arguments used by both sides in wanting to either restrict coal exports or expand exports is the increasing demand by China and the belief China is moving in a more “eco-friendly” direction. In fact, Hank Paulson, the former Treasury Secretary under President George W. Bush, describes Beijing’s environmental and conservation evolution in his new book entitled, Dealing With China.

Clinch confirms this, saying that the new coal facilities in China “are some of the best in the world” in terms of pollution control. Without a doubt “the Chinese are going to start addressing some of their pollution issues” but it is unclear “how that is going to manifest itself.”

In the meantime, Montana’s coal industry struggles, yet, strives to maintain production levels that will help to keep electricity generation costs down.


Taylor Rose is a graduate of Liberty University with a B.A. in International Relations from the Helms School of Government. Fluent in English and German he has worked and studied throughout Europe specializing in American and European politics.  He is a prolific writer and author of the book Return of the Right an analysis on the revival of Conservatism in the United States and Europe. He is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.