Change how we Save Coal


“Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friend.”

- Abraham Lincoln


Much of America has a pretty poor opinion of coal.  But we need public opinion on our side to end this War on Coal. Today we have a sympathetic Congress and President, but we can’t count on a permanent Republican majority.

It’s time we changed our image. It’s time we changed how we save coal. We need to do this, because like it or not, coal pays the bills around here.

It starts with reminding America that when the Clean Air Act was amended, it was Wyoming’s Powder River Basin low-sulfur coal, safely and inexpensively mined under the strictest environmental standards, that bailed out the nation. Many Americans, and a few politicians, have forgotten that.

We need to show America what our Wyoming landscape looks like after the mining is over—how much better our land looks after we mine and restore it.

We must show the enemies of coal that communities – great communities – developed around our mines. Gillette is not just a source of coal, but a community of schools, playgrounds, hospitals, and small businesses. Any conversation about energy needs to include consideration for the men and women, and neighborhoods, that served our country’s energy needs for decades.

In explaining coal to the rest of the nation, we need to put faces and names to the conversation.

When the country’s demand for anthracite coal went away, so did the mines and the communities near my grandfather’s coal company in Appalachia. All I found on a visit there were outlines of once-vibrant small towns along the coal seams of the Appalachian Valley.

I don’t want to see that happen to the Powder River Basin. My commitment to coal comes from both my head and my heart.

There are two initiatives that can help preserve Wyoming’s state economy and the communities of Campbell County. I will fight for both, with a mind toward positioning coal as part of the nation’s overall environmental solution – not its environmental problem.

Specifically, we need to:

  1. End the west coast’s coal terminal blockade

  2. Subsidize carbon sequestration and ultra-supercritical coal plants

End the Blockade

The west coast’s coal terminal blockade is based principally on two objections:

Coal increases greenhouse gas emissions.

Coal dust from coal trains will pollute the Columbia River.

Both arguments are being incorrectly fought by our current senator. Instead of picking media fights with Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and the communities along the Columbia River—all of whom have thus far been winning—we need to show them that PRB coal helps to solve their environmental concerns -- we are on the same side. Here’s why:

Japan and South Korea import 96% of their energy. Unlike the United States, which has the landmass to support wind and solar projects, these countries depend on coal for a major portion of their energy needs. Exporting coal from Wyoming to Asia doesn’t displace renewable energy, it replaces less-environmentally-friendly coal from Indonesia. Over a twenty-year period, from mine to end-use consumption, exporting our coal will save 63 million metric tons of CO2 emissions across our planet! That’s good news for Campbell County and good news for Greenpeace.

As signers of the Paris Climate Accord, Japan and Korea upgraded their coal fired electrical generation to further reduce emissions. In order to reach the emission reduction targets of the Paris Accords, they need access to the clean coal of the PRB which has a favorable chemical composition for their environmentally-friendly plants.

We also need to understand that residents living along the rail lines that connect our mines to potential export terminals worry about coal polluting their neighborhoods and the Columbia River as it blows off loaded train cars, harming their health and disrupting fishing and other outdoor activities. We too love our outdoors, and need to show them that we understand their concerns. Then we can show them why they don’t need to worry.

Today’s coal is aerodynamically loaded, and dust-reducing sealants are placed on the surface of the coal, keeping it in place during transportation (no dust). Rather than stick our finger in the chests of people who are concerned but nonetheless misinformed, we need to invite them to walk along the rail lines that leave our mines, see how the cars are loaded, have dinner with us in Gillette, meet our community and witness for themselves the absence of dust where the coal is mined. And if that doesn’t work, we should facilitate testing to prove that the same amount of coal arrives in Oregon that left from Gillette.

Time is not our friend. Our miners and rail workers need jobs now, and if these delays continue, Japan and South Korea will develop permanent alternatives to PRB coal. Rather than make the West Coast our enemy, let’s focus on areas of agreement – namely, helping Japan and South Korea comply with the Paris Accords.

Developing Carbon Sequestration and Ultra-Supercritical Coal Plants

We’ve spent over $175 billion supporting the development of wind technology, while neglecting the opportunities to invest in an environmentally friendly future for coal. Coal deserves the same chance as renewables at being part of our energy future—but we’ve not had the leadership to make that case. The fight for new coal technology should have started on the first day of John Barrasso’s term as a senator, not a few weeks before his re-election campaign.

Carbon sequestration, also known as carbon capture and storage (CCS), is a promising technology that takes CO2 emissions and safely stores them underground or below the ocean. We are way behind in the development of CCS, and our leadership should have actively advocated for the advancement of CCS technology alongside like-minded Democrats over the last decade—valuable time and Wyoming jobs have been lost as a result.

Ultra-supercritical coal plants (USC). Based on their successful deployment in Norway and Germany, USC technology has proven to eliminate nearly all nitrogen and particulate emissions, reduce CO2 by 15-20%, and use less water (addressing coal’s problems with the Clean Water Act). The technology has been available for nearly twenty years, but to date has only been deployed in one plant here in the U.S.

Unfortunately, CCS and USC have received far less attention and financial support than other alternatives. I’m a free market guy, but also an economist. There is a place for initial taxpayer subsidization to support promising technologies that reduce our impact on the environment which benefits all Americans. CCS and USC technologies deserved a senator that will fight for a fair shot at becoming viable, not as a way to get re-elected, but instead to Put Wyoming First.

We need to change how we promote coal. There will be no faster and more obvious way to insure the long-term future of coal than to make allies out of those currently waging the War on Coal.

We should work together to protect our communities and state economy, insure our country’s long-term energy independence, and environmental well-being.

This inaction has squandered time and jobs, and put Wyoming’s coal industry and the PRB at risk. It’s time to Put Wyoming First, by making our state once again part of the country’s environmental solution.

I promise to do whatever it takes to make the Powder River thrive again.

I will work tirelessly to change the way we approach the national conversation on coal so we can open export terminals and fund new technologies. With these we can make coal part of the energy solution for the next generation.

- Dave Dodson