Wyoming reaches coal mining milestone as earth breaches 400 ppm

— May 7, 2013

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead issued a press release last week celebrating the 10-billionth ton of coal mined in the state, which is supposed to happen sometime in the month of May.

Dustin Bleizeffer

Another milestone expected in May: Scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego say that carbon dioxide (CO2) in the earth’s atmosphere will likely reach 400 parts per million (ppm) — a level last seen 2.5 million to 5 million years ago.

Sea levels during that period ranged from 16-130 feet higher than today’s levels. Scientists say that we must maintain a CO2 level of 350 ppm to avoid catastrophic climate conditions.

“I wish it weren’t true, but it looks like the world is going to blow through the 400-ppm level without losing a beat,” Scripps geochemist Ralph Keeling told the L.A. Times.

Meanwhile, in Wyoming, Gov. Mead wants us to focus on the successes of mining coal in Wyoming, and to do so without making any connections to what producing 400 million tons of coal per year means to the rest of the world.

In a press release, Mead said the 10-billionth ton of coal milestone “is a significant achievement for our state and country. … Coal mining has provided thousands of jobs in Wyoming over the last 150 years, all the while fueling America’s economy. … Coal has helped make America great because it is an affordable and reliable source of energy.”

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead was among several state officials leading the Wyoming delegation at a U.S.-China conference on coal in 2012. (Courtesy of Nadia Kaliszewski – click to enlarge)

Coal industry leaders joined the governor in marking the 10-billionth-ton of coal milestone as an occasion to tout Wyoming’s still mammoth-sized coal reserve, noting that the smaller mineable portion — according to the Wyoming State Geological Survey — is still large enough to sustain mining at large scale for the next 100 years. (Also nevermind the added expense and surface disturbance necessary to chasing coal forever deeper and deeper below the surface.)

The message, of course, is that Wyoming deserves to continue mining coal at current rates for the next 100 years. Coal and the shovels that dig it and the money it produces — those are tangible things, unlike invisible greenhouse gases and all of the nebulous effects of a warming climate.

There’s no denying the significant financial wealth Wyoming has gained from decades of mining coal. Gov. Mead and the industry point to this massive revenue base as evidence that mining coal at current rates is essential to Wyoming’s economic health far into the future, but they do so without disclosing the obvious economic danger; Wyoming is overly-reliant on a commodities industry that bends to the whim of markets and policies that are driven from outside Wyoming’s pro-coal borders.

The same goes for Wyoming’s reliance on natural gas — the state’s single largest source of revenue.

Arch Coal’s Black Thunder mine in northeast Wyoming will help the state surpass its 10-billionth ton of coal mined sometime in May 2013. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

The prone underbelly of Wyoming’s over-reliance on fossil fuels was revealed this year when, with a stroke of a pen, the U.S. Department of Interior erased $53 million in federal mineral royalties from Wyoming’s coffers. It was part of the federal sequestration cuts, and the reduction in federal mineral royalties returned to the states of origin hurt Wyoming more — much more — than any other state because no other state relies so much on the production of federal minerals to buoy its budget.

So just where does Gov. Mead stand on climate change? Does he attempt to square his stance on federal coal exports with his policies and efforts to get federal aid for drought and wildfires in Wyoming?

To answer the first question, Gov. Mead was recently quoted in the Gillette News-Record; “The fact is, as I see it anyway, the issue of climate change, global warming is still under debate, is still developing.”

As to the second question, Gov. Mead told WyoFile during a press conference last week that a connection cannot be made between a warming climate and singular events such as Wyoming’s recent drought and wildfires. There was no acknowledgement from the governor that asking the feds for help with drought and wildfire could become all-too routine in years to come. What do drought and wildfires have to do with climate change anyway?

Instead, Gov. Mead offered a truism; coal will remain the fastest-growing fuel source in the world whether or not the United States exports more Powder River Basin coal.

“It seems odd to me that over 40 percent of (U.S.) electricity is produced by coal, that we’d tell other countries … we don’t want you to use coal and you cant use our coal,” Mead said.

Perfectly factual. America was once a developing country, too, and we choked our cities with unchecked emissions of pollutants that wreaked havoc on people’s health, shifting much of the cost of generating cheap power onto individuals who could not afford healthcare. It’s become obvious to many that Beijing and the developing world needs America’s leadership on innovation more than they need our coal and our Victorian Age model of burning coal without scrubbing greenhouse gas emissions.

The point is, resource-based economies (and every nation is a resource-based economy in one way or another) rely on sustainable environments. Dealing with catastrophic weather events and a rapidly-changing environment is hardly good business for America’s future in exports.

Developing countries might also do themselves a favor to learn lessons from Wyoming about the dangers of becoming overly-reliant on fossil fuels to drive their economies. Wyoming’s leaders should, at the very least, put the same bravado they have for coal toward renewable energy and the types of energy efficiency that’s proven to boost all business.

— Dustin Bleizeffer is WyoFile editor-in-chief. He has written about Wyoming’s energy industries for 15 years. You can reach him at (307) 577-6069 or email dustin@wyofile.com. Follow Dustin on Twitter at @DBleizeffer

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Dustin Bleizeffer

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 22 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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  1. Congratulations Wyoming on your 10-billionth ton of coal mined in the state. Keep on digging!

  2. Global satellite temperatures confirm hiatus of global warming, while the general public and mainstream press are beginning to recognise what climate sceptics long ago identified…global temperatures are trending towards cooling, not accelerating higher.

    (click on images to enlarge – data sources, image on right source)

    Per The Economist magazine and other major mainstream media outlets, it’s now obvious the conventional, “consensus” global warming meme promulgated by taxpayer-funded researchers is no longer robust – even for the MSM press-release puppets it would appear.

    The graph on the right is a depiction of global temperatures as reported by The Economist (pink CO2 curve superimposed by ‘C3?). And The Economist and their mainstream press brethern are not alone in challenging the failed AGW orthodoxy: here and here.

    While the majority of “journalists” are still awakening from their intellectual slumber regarding climate science, the latest empirical global temperature measurements (RSS atmosphere temps and CO2 chart on the left) confirm what The Economist is essentially reporting – global warming has gone AWOL and a slight cooling trend has developed over the last 10 years (a minus 0.42 degrees by 2100 if the trend persists).

    This warming hiatus happened despite the loud and hysterical shrieking by the climate scientists on the public dole that current CO2 emissions would cause rapid, unequivocal, irrefutable accelerated warming.

    And not only are the falling temperatures invalidating the IPCC’s AGW hypothesis, a new Pew poll reports the public support of the global warming hysteria is dropping like a rock – down to only 33%.

    Conclusions:

    1. Global warming has gone AWOL over last 10 years, per the satellite record

    2. Cumulating CO2 emissions in the atmosphere have had a minor impact on global temperatures over the last 20 years

    3. The mainstream press, as represented by The Economist, and other proponents of convential climate orthodoxy are moving closer to the AGW skeptics’ (lukewarmers’) position

    4. The publics (per Pew) belief in catastrophic AGW predictions is plummeting

    The puzzle: why have rising temperatures been on a ‘Twenty-year hiatus”? (wattsupwiththat.com)
    Inhofe Praises The Economist for Global-Warming Coverage (nationalreview.com)
    Scientists Are Admitting They Don’t See Global Warming They Expected (godfatherpolitics.com)
    New climate deniers miss the scientific truth on global warming: Rich Lowry (oregonlive.com)
    As Latest Global Warming Scare Report Crumbles, Where’s the New York Times’s Follow-Up? (newsbusters.org)
    New Report: Global Temperature Standstill Is Real (canadafreepress.com)

  3. and yet the planets mean temperature hasn’t increased in the last 17 years. Is it science or scientology?

  4. Beautifully nuanced, highly intelligent, brutally honest. You’ve crossed the divide, Dustin. We’ll be missing you as we read you in the Times and the Guardian. What a piece!

  5. I have to confess to the fact that my grandfather, another Tom Bell, was a coal miner in England and came to this country to continue coal mining. My father, Lafe Bell, went through the first eight grades of school, and, at age 14, then went to work in the mines. He was to spend much of his adult life in coal mining and if he had not had the coal mines east of Lander to work in the winter time, he would probably have lost his ranch during the Great Depression.
    What an irony that my family and my early life was to be so dependent upon coal. Now, I can look ahead and see the end of all life, including all humans and all of my family, because of the terrible consequences of burning fossil fuels.
    Trained as a scientist and believing in science, I have only to look out on the world and see unmistakable signs of life-quenching natural disasters approaching at unbelievable speeds. Unlike geologic time, these disasters are now almost upon us. Governor Mead and all those other money changing naysayers won’t know what hit them. God help us.

  6. If only an all-seeing technonomist could produce a bulletproof study that irrefutably states every $ 1.00 in Wyoming coal mined sold and burned causes the planet $ 3.00 in direct health and environmental impacts, and some allotment of negative intrinsic qualitative damage not so easily expressed in dollar values…

  7. Nice column. FYI, a couple typos: “best” should be “beat” and “it budget” should be “its budget”.

  8. This article points out another flaw in Wyoming’s mineral-revenue dependent budget. Currently, revenues are based on the value of the commodity, which fluctuates widely with time. Prices for natural gas and coal both are depressed with respect to long-term average prices, driving down revenues to the state. It would be in the state’s best interest to change the taxing mechanism to one that values the volume of product, rather than the cost. Long-term data indicate that the produced commodity volume varies far less than prices, which would help to stabilize the states revenue stream.