Commentary - May 29th, 2014
9:33 am
Thu May 29, 2014

A Path Forward for Energy Production

I’m Shelby DeMars with Count on Coal Montana, a coalition advocating for increasing Montana’s coal production to provide new jobs and opportunity for our state, and to supply the world with affordable energy.

I’d like to talk about two of the most serious problems facing us today: climate change and energy poverty.   Both are big, difficult challenges, and they’re so inextricably intertwined that we can’t discuss one without the other.

First, what are the facts?

The data shows us that climate change is happening.  Most scientists agree that if CO2 concentrations continue to increase, the planet will suffer negative consequences.  But to be clear, those dangers are not predicted until almost 100 years from now.

The data also show that 3.5 billion people—roughly half the world’s population—lack proper access to electricity, and 1.2 billion of those have no access at all.

The data also show that power from renewable energy does not currently have the capacity to supply even a small fraction of the energy needs for those people, much less the needs of our own country.

And that’s not the fossil fuel industry saying that—that’s the reality outlined by our federal Energy Information Administration and the International Energy Agency.

Our government forecasts that even if we continue to pour massive taxpayer subsidies into renewable energy, they will still be able to supply only 10 percent of our domestic demand by 2040.  In that year, coal will continue to supply about the same amount of our energy as it does today.

It’s true that solar and wind power are growing at a great pace, in the U.S. and around the world, but last year the worldwide increase in coal generation was bigger than that of all renewable sources combined.

The problem isn’t that we’re not spending enough on renewables—in truth we’re spending massive amounts—it’s that the demand for energy is so enormous that these technologies can’t keep pace.

To suggest—as many well-meaning environmental activists do—that we can somehow shut down fossil fuel generation and replace it with renewables in the near future is to deny both the data and the science.  Around the world we need more energy, and the fact is a substantial part of that energy will be supplied by coal and other fossil fuels. 

Moreover, the anti-energy agenda has profound negative consequences in our country. It threatens jobs and would artificially increase the price we pay for energy and substantially slow economic growth.   And in the developing world, the anti-energy agenda has the potential to relegate billions of people to permanent energy poverty, affecting their access to healthcare, education, and a simple, modern life.

To summarize, we have a climate problem that requires us to reduce carbon emissions.  But we also have an energy poverty problem that should be addressed, and will be whether we want it to or not.  That means the world will continue to consume increasing amounts of coal.

The only realistic path forward is to focus on ways to make current methods of energy generation cleaner.  Carbon capture and storage is one promising technology—but President Obama has put a de facto ban on developing carbon capture and storage through EPA regulations.  American scientists and engineers are watching from the sidelines as we rely on others to tackle this problem.

Montana has more coal than just about anywhere else in the world.  Nowhere is there more opportunity to create great jobs and grow our economy.  Let’s be the leaders in solving climate change by developing clean-coal technology—and let’s be leaders in solving energy poverty by supplying Montana coal around the world where it’s needed most.