Starv­ing coal power plants to save the en­vi­ron­ment is mis­guided.

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE -

There are many rea­sons to op­pose two ap­pli­ca­tions in Colorado to ex­pand ex­ist­ing coal min­ing op­er­a­tions, but one of those rea­sons is not the mount­ing cli­mate change “so­cial cost” of burn­ing coal and re­leas­ing meth­ane.

Yes, the buildup of green­house gases in our at­mos­phere is dis­tress­ing and con­tribut­ing to the global warm­ing that poses a real — al­beit dis­tant — threat to our en­vi­ron­ment, wildlife and coastal cities.

But the place to ef­fect mean­ing­ful change is not on the front end by elim­i­nat­ing the ex­trac­tion of coal and gas from the ground. In­ter­fer­ing with ef­forts to meet our na­tion’s de­mand for coal will hurt nearly ev­ery com­mu­nity in Amer­ica where 32 per­cent of the U.S. power mar­ket still depends on burn­ing this dirty fos­sil fuel to power cities.

In Colorado, coal is used to pro­duce 54 per­cent of the state’s elec­tric­ity.

Forc­ing coal power plants out of com­mis­sion by star­va­tion will hurt far worse than care­fully plan­ning a tran­si­tion and continuing this in­ex­orable march away from coal over time.

Arch Coal has pro­posed tak­ing an ad­di­tional 173 mil­lion tons of coal from an ex­pan­sion of its West Elk Mine into a pris­tine, road­less area of the Gun­ni­son Na­tional For­est. Roads would need to be built as would ven­ti­la­tion pads for the re­lease of meth­ane and other gases.

Pe­abody En­ergy has asked to ex­tract around 4 mil­lion tons of coal from the ex­ist­ing Foidel Creek Mine near Oak Creek and Steam­boat Springs. The ex­pan­sion wouldn’t dis­turb the pri­vately owned land above and would in­stead use long­wall min­ing — think hor­i­zon­tal drilling but for coal.

In­stead of try­ing to bar these ap­pli­ca­tions from pro­ceed­ing on the ba­sis of cli­mate change, the ques­tion should be what would it take for the in­dus­try to op­er­ate re­spon­si­bly in Colorado as min­ers? There’s no doubt it’s a scary time as we wait to see how the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion could an­swer that ques­tion. The pres­i­dent has pledged to bring back the coal in­dus­try’s hey­day, and that would likely re­quire throw­ing off im­por­tant en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions.

Pe­abody En­ergy and Arch Coal should be held ac­count­able for the im­pacts min­ing has on the en­vi­ron­ment — not for the im­pact of an­other party that will use the coal. The state and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties should work with the coal in­dus­try to limit vent­ing or flar­ing large amounts of meth­ane gas. Meth­ane is a pow­er­ful green­house gas that should not be in­ten­tion­ally re­leased and wasted un­less there is no other op­tion.

The Elk Creek mine — lo­cated near the West Elk mine — uses gas cap­tured in the tun­nels to power op­er­a­tions. Some­thing sim­i­lar could be done with the ex­pan­sion.

Colorado has done a good job mov­ing the coal in­dus­try away from self-as­sured bonds — a prac­tice that can leave aban­doned mines for tax­pay­ers to clean up in the in­creas­ingly likely event a com­pany be­comes in­sol­vent. In­stead, Colorado re­quires com­pa­nies to pay for in­sur­ance that is held ex­ter­nally and not based on their as­sets, and can be used to re­claim aban­doned mines.

We have faith in our state and fed­eral agen­cies to ad­e­quately reg­u­late this in­dus­try, and if af­ter all these reg­u­la­tions, Pe­abody and Arch still find it eco­nom­i­cal to ex­pand in Colorado, ev­ery­one will win.

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