ND coal industry vital to America's energy future

2011-05-15T02:00:00Z ND coal industry vital to America's energy futureBy CURTIS JUNDT Bismarck Bismarck Tribune
May 15, 2011 2:00 am  • 

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.)



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(6) Comments

  1. Envision623
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    Envision623 - May 17, 2011 12:12 pm
    Comments duly noted. Thank you.
  2. Joe
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    Joe - May 16, 2011 11:12 am
    There was a time when the horse was responsible for a great number of jobs. Breeding, breaking, shodding and stabling were only the tip of the iceberg. The horse brought settlers and supplies, communication and commerce, tourist and investor alike. Easily one could claim that the horse was responsible for 1 in 10 jobs. Finally, the horse was great looking and a heck of a lot quieter than those loud, black cloud spitting automobiles. And, the horseman could wax eloquently about the importance of the critters and how we owed it the loyalty born of past accomplishment. Mr. Jundt, we hear your aged plea to throw ourselves on the tracks of change to protect the venerable lignite. I pity, in a way, your sentimentality. One hundred years from now, alas with much coal still in the ground, museums will display a past reliant on burning stuff for energy. Coal's only future is with carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses sequestered. It is a scientific necessity that, sir, goes well beyond your personal slap against Al Gore whose position was determined by the work actual climate scientists, over 95% of whom agree we must curb GHG emissions in order to protect against national security and economic travesties caused by greater climate instability. With that greater context, your near-slobbering about the great past of coal sounds pitiful.
  3. UND Mom
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    UND Mom - May 15, 2011 11:44 pm
    Lignite is the lowest quality, most polluting and toxic form of coal on planet earth. There's a reason why most of the coal crossing ND on train is coming from Wyoming and other places where they have higher quality coal.

    And besides that, coal is receiving lots of corporate welfare from our politicians. It is being subsidized to help keep the price low. Why not subsidize some form of energy that isn't killing us. As a person in the medical field, I read medical facts about coal, studies from medical professionals, and evidently, the writer of this editorial doesn't bother to educate himself. For example, look at the immense drain coal is on our national economy...from the very credible Harvard Medical University's Feb. 17th 2011 article, where they evaluate coal's true cost on our society: Harvard Study: Coal Costs America $330-500 Billion Annually A Harvard University study published on Feb 17, 2011, has determined that the true costs of using coal to generate electricity in America are between $330 and $500 billion dollars annually. The study, "Mining Coal, Mounting Costs -- The Life Cycle Consequences of Coal" by the Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment examines the costs for so-called "cheap coal" that don't show up on the monthly electric bill: the so-called "externalities" or hidden costs. In a time of huge budget deficits, Americans -- and our leaders in Washington -- should be looking at these costs.
  4. New Patriot
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    New Patriot - May 15, 2011 1:58 pm
    Rah Rah Rah...sis boom blah blah blahhhh

    I especially like this jerk's sentance that contains "Obama and HIS EPA..."

    It's OUR EPA. It's not us against them. It's only you coal people against all of us, my President and my EPA included.

    Get a clue, dude.
  5. Tim308
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    Tim308 - May 15, 2011 1:51 pm
    Coal is important, it's a great income for ND, and it's not something we can or should just stop using, but as technology improves there's no harm in encouraging cleaner practices in the coal industry....yes even IF it costs them more money to install them. Even if we have clean air here in ND, why not keep that air as clean as possible.

    There's a reason we don't still use wood to power our country, we'd have no trees left, it's dirty, and it's not efficient. Gee that sounds a lot like coal compared to many of the new technologies. Coal didn't replace wood overnight either, a lot of money had to be spent to set up infrastructure the same is true for alternative energy now. What about all the poor loggers and wood companies that lost their jobs when we switched to coal!!!!

    It cost someone money and jobs when we switched from lead based paint. Paint prices when up when the change happened.

    It cost someone money when mines were no longer allowed to dump acid leaching chemicals into the ground. Mining costs went up, and priced probably did too.

    It cost someone money and jobs when we stopped using asbestos insulation. New insulation was priced higher.

    It cost someone money when dry cleaners were no longer allowed to dump their chemicals down the sewer. Dry cleaning costs no doubt went up.

    I'm sure people that had jobs in those fields/industries were negatively impacted by those changes too, yet they were the right thing to do, AND more importantly NEW jobs and industries were created from the products that replaced those that were lost. That's what you never hear about, it's all the fear over loosing jobs and increased prices that rules the sheep. Instead of realizing that new jobs and income from cleaner more efficient industries will be created to replace them. It does not and will never happen overnight but it's important to encourage the change. Otherwise we'd still be using wood to power our lives.

    Sometimes doing the RIGHT thing isn't the CHEAPEST thing. Americans need to get that through their head. All any industry needs to do to get it's way on any issue is convince the sheep it will cost jobs and increase prices.

    The ONLY reason Coal plants have improved their environmental impact and practices is because they've been FORCED to, if not for that pressure and regulation from outside their emissions would still where they were 30 years ago because it's the cheapest way to do things. It's the same reason they fight every new regulation or cleaner practice tooth and nail.
  6. baldwin100
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    baldwin100 - May 15, 2011 10:44 am
    Our quality of life is much improved because of coal-based electricity. It's an important and necessary part of our energy mix.
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