My view: Coal plays important role in powering Utah

By Cody Stewart

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, July 3 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

Updated: Wednesday, July 2 2014 6:45 p.m. MDT

Powering American life and our economy with reliable and plentiful energy sources is a top priority for the state of Utah.

Matthew Brown, Associated Press

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Powering American life and our economy with reliable and plentiful energy sources is a top priority for the state of Utah.

Gov. Gary Herbert has made balanced energy development one of the four cornerstones of his administration. His all-of-the-above approach to energy, as codified in state law, explicitly states Utah will promote the development of “natural gas, coal, oil, oil shale and [oil] sands and renewable energy resources, including geothermal, solar, wind, biomass, biodiesel, hydroelectric and ethanol.”

A key component in that energy portfolio is clean-burning coal. Utah has the 6th highest percentage of coal power generation in the nation. Almost 80 percent of the electricity generated in Utah comes from coal, and its ready abundance is a key factor behind Utah’s supply of abundant, affordable power. Utah coal comes out of the ground markedly cleaner than is found in other parts of the country and our power plants are already using clean burning technologies.

According to the federal Energy Information Administration, the amount of energy the nation generates from burning coal is nine times the amount we get from both solar and wind, combined. Common sense dictates we should continue to use abundant, low-cost resources like coal in a smart, efficient manner. There are technologies that reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, and we are using them more than most people recognize.

During the 2008 and 2012 campaigns, President Obama’s stressed heavily that he supported coal workers and the coal industry and he stated unequivocally that our nation wanted to be able to “continue to use this abundant energy source.”

Recent actions, however, call into question President Obama’s commitment to his stated “all-of-the-above” energy policy.

Last month, the Environment Protection Agency published 654 pages of newly proposed carbon rules for power plants. If those rules go into effect as written, they will have a significant impact on the U.S. coal industry and hundreds of thousands of jobs nationwide. In rural Utah alone, coal production and electricity generation currently provide thousands of jobs. Those jobs support thousands of families whose lives will be impacted by these regulations.

Over the past 40 years, the U.S. coal industry has invested $130 billion in clean coal technologies with plans to invest another $100 billion over the next decade, reducing major emissions by nearly 90 percent. By 2015, more than 90 percent of the U.S. coal fleet will have installed clean coal technologies or advanced emissions controls. New technologies cannot be developed in any meaningful way, however, if overly burdensome regulation makes it impractical to continue research and development.

Utah has been proactive in adapting to the changing energy landscape. Utilities and other entities in our state have anticipated regulations aimed at further limiting the ability to use coal for electricity generation. Already we are moving to cleaner burning natural gas, alternative fuels and renewables as well as supporting the development of new forms of fuel and fuel generation techniques.

As new energy innovations become more efficient and viable in the marketplace, including small modular nuclear and new applications for natural gas, there may very well be a day when coal’s role in energy production is diminished. In the meantime, coal remains an important element of our state and national energy portfolio.

It’s not just empty rhetoric. Utah has embraced an all-of-the-above energy policy. We will continue to research, innovate, conserve, focus on efficiency and develop our energy resources responsibly, including Utah’s clean coal. Powering American life and our economy with reliable and plentiful energy sources like coal should not be a partisan issue.

Cody Stewart is the energy adviser for Gov. Gary Herbert.

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