There seems to be a small but vocal group writing letters to the editor who appear bent on seeing the demise of North Dakota's lignite coal production and its conversion into coal-fired electricity. I am compelled to say to them: Stop "cutting your noses off to spite your face." Can you imagine where America or North Dakota would be without its coal industry? Can you imagine a society with any resemblance of today if not for the significant role coal had in kick-starting the industrial revolution?
Before coal it was wood -- relying solely on that as a form of energy has obvious consequences given a planet of now more than 6.5 billion people. Furthermore, without coal we would never have achieved the exploration and production of oil and gas. Without those fuel sources joining in the fossil fuel mix, we would not have any chance at building any renewable/alternative energy sources we see today and may see in the future.
If we ever hope to gain "energy security" in this country, we need to keep coal/fossil fuels as the foundation of America's energy mix and stay the course on economically developing more diversity in energy production. It is unjust to keep hammering the coal industry without recognition for the extensive progress it has made in reducing its environmental footprint in North Dakota over the last the three or four decades. Coal emissions are but a fraction of what they were in 1980. This progress has been made through the industry's cooperation with the North Dakota state Health Department. Together, they continue to do an excellent job in progressing the industry to increased efficiency and reduced environmental impact.
Before the vocal dissenters are taken seriously, I would like to pose the question: "If not coal, then what viable alternative say you?"
By viable, I mean an economical and technically viable replacement to coal-fired power production in North Dakota and across America. While the response to this often involves zero-emission nuclear power, I believe America has loosened its embrace of that since the Fukashima, Japan nuclear power plant disaster.
So most of us know that access to affordable, reliable electricity from coal has vastly improved the lifestyles we live in North Dakota. Not only is coal-fired electricity responsible for about one out of every 15 jobs in the state, but the industry has invested more than $1.7 billion in technology to reduce emissions and keep our air clean. In fact, the American Lung Association recently gave North Dakota high praised for its clean air. It noted that Bismarck and Fargo have some of the cleanest air in the nation!
So I'm baffled by people who feel compelled to continue an Al-Gore type assault on the lignite industry as if it in some way is responsible for deteriorating our health. People are living longer and better lives thanks, in part, to better foods that are now refrigerated or frozen instead of salted like they were before coal-fired electricity was available. Of course, modern medicine, indoor bathrooms and a host of other reasons are also responsible for better health; so it seems inconceivable that people want to somehow distort the facts about the benefits of coal-fired electricity and somehow only cast it in a bad light of adverse impacts.
Since the mid-1980s, the lignite industry has provided this state with about $90 to $100 million in tax revenue every year because about 30 million tons of lignite have been mined and turned into either electricity or synthetic natural gas. This industry is the most heavily regulated industry in the state; however, some seem willing to "kill this golden goose" by supporting layers and layers of more regulations being promulgated by the current U.S. President and his Environmental Protection Agency. The new regulations will increase the cost of electricity but do little if anything to improve our environment. It is simply a slap in the face to our state Health Department and coal industry stakeholders to think the federal EPA can do a better job than historically has been done. It will also be a another huge slap in the pocketbook of rate-paying consumers who are already seeing the impacts of mandated alternative energy sources being deployed long before they are economically viable.
So, it's important to ask, what good will another layer of regulation do and this continued assault on reducing North Dakota's coal industry? It will make our country even more reliant on foreign energy imports. Our state's healthy economy will crumble while our state loses steady, good paying jobs and tax revenue. The cost of our energy will increase and become less reliable if we move with reckless abandon to mandate more renewables.
That scenario might seem appealing to some in the state, but I believe its time that North Dakotans stand up for lignite/fossil industry and let their voices be heard.
(Curtis Jundt is president of Envision Natural Resources Group, Inc.)