SHERIDAN — A bill that would fund state-sponsored promotion of coal projects is making its way out of committee this week and will likely be heard by the Wyoming Legislature later in this year’s budget session.
House Bill 04, or the Wyoming coal marketing program sponsored by the Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Interim Committee, was introduced in committee Monday and received a 53-3 vote to move forward. The bill initially earmarked $1 million in general fund revenue to create a coal marketing program within the state but an amendment was proposed in committee Wednesday to increase the allocation to $2 million.
The funding could be used for the state to promote coal-related efforts the governor sees as having “a public benefit associated with expanding and protecting Wyoming’s coal markets and coal facilities.”
The bill also includes a stipulation that funding could be used to address impacts felt by cities, towns and counties that have experienced or will experience changes in the coal market. Rep. Mike Greear of House District 27 in Washakie County sits on the committee that is sponsoring the bill, and said it was proposed at Gov. Mark Gordon’s request.
“Here is where we are in Wyoming. We know coal is under attack. We know that the preference of the consumer is that they want renewable right now, but we need to change that dialogue to a clean energy or a reduced carbon energy,” Greear said.
The coal marketing program would allow the governor to provide relief for those laid off during incidents like the Blackjewel bankruptcy filing last year, while also allowing his office to promote coal and coal-based products, according to Greear. This would only be the first step in the conversation, he said. The state also must look at legislation that would help bring a Petra Nova-type project that focuses on clean coal energy to Wyoming.
“We have moved forward on that somewhat,” Greear said. “But this technology will help keep some of our coal fired plants in existence and take CO2 out of the atmosphere. That CO2 can then be used for enhanced oil recovery, which will be a huge benefit to Wyoming. These are all things we need to be looking at, and looking at now. I just don’t think we can wait as a state.”
The Powder River Basin Resource Council believes, though, that there is a disconnect within the bill.
“The first part of the bill talks about this coal marketing program, and the second part is providing assistance to communities dealing with impacts from coal transition and a decline in the coal industry,” Shannon Anderson, staff attorney and organizer with the PRBRC said. “The first part tries to fight reality, and the second one embraces it.”
The PRBRC proposed an amendment to the bill that would strike the words “to protect and expand Wyoming’s coal markets and coal” from the bill, and while the amendment was discussed Wednesday, Anderson said that the only amendment to move forward was the one to allocate $2 million instead of $1 million for the program.
“We really believe the focus should be on embracing reality and acknowledging that this transition (from coal) is happening and it is happening rapidly,” Anderson said. “We as a state need to have a fund available that will take care of our communities and our workforce.”
A decade ago, Wyoming produced around 450 million tons of coal and last year, production was 300 million tons. Wyoming relies on other states to burn its coal, and is primarily an exporting state. Plants like Rocky Mountain Power’s Dave Johnston Plant in Glenrock are slated for closure in the next decade, and similar plants that burn Wyoming coal out of state are facing the same issues. With the funding in the coal marketing plan, the governor’s office could work with utility commissions in other states like Indiana and Illinois, where plants that are historic consumers of Wyoming coal are slated for closure, to continue to promote Wyoming coal.
Friends of Coal West supports the legislation, FOCW President Dave Smaldone said, because coal mining and coal consumption in Wyoming is a major industry and source of employment and revenue for the state.
“By and large, while there has been a drop in coal production percentages, in the next decade as much coal may continue to be in use,” he said. “Let’s say it drops to 20 or 25% as the electric generation increases. There will be more people, more consumption of electric power, that the actual amount of coal used might stay the same. Or, it might increase. The percentage might drop but the actual number of tons consumed may stay the same or increase.”
As a state, Wyoming wants to remain No. 1, he said.
The legislation, though, doesn’t really represent the idea that utilities in other states are moving in a different direction toward renewable energy, Anderson said.
“As much as (the industry might) want them to do it differently, they aren’t going to,” Anderson said.
According to Smaldone, Wyoming coal is clean and the industry is proactive in supporting clean coal technologies and uses.
“It just makes perfect sense to support this,” Smaldone said.