Montana Voices: Making the case for coal

Cary Smith

By Cary Smith

As home to some of our nation’s largest coal reserves, Montana plays a key role in the future of our nation’s energy economy. Unfortunately, Montana coal production has declined significantly in recent years—by as much as a third. This decline took a toll not only on jobs across the state but on essential state tax revenue too.

On the campaign trail, President Trump guaranteed he would “bring the coal industry back 100 percent.” Montanans, and people across America who depend on the reliable and affordable energy produced by coal, took him at his word. During his first 100 days, Trump made large strides toward bringing the Obama-era regulatory onslaught to an end, but as he moves forward, Montanans hope his actions continue to match up to campaign promises to put our miners and others across the state back to work.

While wind and solar energy provide an alternative to fossil fuels, these energy sources produced only 5.5 percent of the U.S.’s energy need in 2015, according to the Energy Information Administration. They remain unable to fuel a global economy, provide stable, high-wage jobs for our workforce, or generate tax revenue needed for schools.

Coal, on the other hand, is both globally abundant and affordable, and with the use of technologies—including carbon capture, utilization, and storage—generate electricity in an environmentally safe manner.

Enacting impossible mandates for CO2 emissions will not change the fact that coal is critical to America’s present and future alike. Unreachable EPA standards unnecessarily forced good people out of work and drove energy prices up for American families.  EPA’s Clean Power Plan imposed oppressive regulations on fossil fuels—while failing to achieve lower carbon emissions. In fact, an analysis of the impacts of these regulations shows that they would have reduced emissions by a mere 1 percent.

Moving forward, we need to promote coal as a key American export—not let the wealth of opportunity beneath our feet go to waste. Forty percent of world power comes from coal. This gives the U.S. and Montana a chance to lead. Coal is here to stay, and reserves total hundreds of years. Let us use it responsibly.

 Developing countries are committed to using coal for reliable, low-cost energy to tackle poverty and improve living conditions for some of the world’s poorest. However, under the previous administration, these developing countries found it difficult to utilize this source of fuel because of restrictions placed on them by financial institutions.President Trump has the ability to pressure the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and others on behalf of U.S. coal to lift those restrictions, benefiting both those countries as well as American workers.

Across America, thousands of workers, retirees, local economies and communities depend on coal for their well-being. From rail workers and boilermakers to teachers and state employees whose salary came from coal taxes and royalties. Manufacturers, businesses, and families also benefited from low electricity rates made affordable by coal.

President Trump has already made tremendous progress in terms of rolling back harmful anti-coal regulations, but his actions cannot stop there. He has the authority to right the wrongs against the coal industry and put deserving men and women back to work. This can be accomplished by setting our sights on further reducing the regulatory burden, investing in clean coal technology, and positioning the U.S. as a global leader in coal-based energy production.

​Sen. Cary Smith, R-Billings, is the Senate majority whip and represents Senate District 27 in the Montana Legislature. ​