If coal export advocates are serious about preserving jobs and building a bridge to a post-coal economy, then our politicians need to cut a deal, a green deal, and do it right away. 

Opinion

The fastest and simplest way to both reduce carbon emissions, and bolster Wyoming’s coal industry, is to displace Russian and Indonesian coal with Wyoming’s cleaner burning coal. And thanks to a unique set of political circumstances, we have a fleeting opportunity to accomplish that right now.

While 62% of our country’s bituminous and subbituminous coal mines have closed since 2008, China’s appetite for coal is so great that they can’t get enough of it, leading to severe electricity cutbacks and periodic blackouts. That’s bad news for environmentalists and an enormous opportunity for Wyoming.

Wyoming’s coal burns hot and efficiently and has a lower sulfur content compared to most other forms of coal. Lignite coal, found in countries like Indonesia and Russia, has not been under as many centuries of geological squeezing, which leaves it with a higher moisture content and a crumbly texture. That leads to a lower heating value, which means it takes more coal to produce each megawatt of electricity. Every ton of Indonesian and Russian coal displaced by Wyoming coal reduces greenhouse gas emissions. 

Last year China built a whopping 38 gigawatts of coal-fired electrical capacity, which was nearly equal to all worldwide retirements combined. This not only means their capacity is expanding, but the young age of their coal power plant fleet means China’s demand for coal will continue for decades. And while they produce the most coal in the world, China also consumes the most, leaving them to import between 250 and 300 million tons of coal every year (that’s about half of the total coal consumption in the entire U.S.).  

This demand is principally met by lignite coal imported from Russia and Indonesia, raising the price of lignite coal and making Wyoming coal cleaner and cheaper on a relative basis. As Bloomberg news puts it, “China is paying the most on record for the dirtiest type of coal.” 

Cindy Baxter, an environmental campaigner, says about the use of lignite coal, “Not only are we burning more coal, [but] it’s the dirtiest coal. And it comes from Indonesia where the conditions and the mining is appalling.”

Due to a rare procedural situation, President Biden’s infrastructure bill only needs the support of 50 senators. That is an opportunity not to be missed. 

Senators Barrasso and Lummis can cut about any deal they want if they’re prepared to put Wyoming families before their political party loyalties. For most of our history, Washington legislators have cut deals and crossed party lines for the betterment of their constituents, and Wyoming desperately needs that courage and leadership in this extraordinary moment in legislative history.

With the environmental argument in hand, our Washington delegation could require funding for port facilities, improved rail lines, and the equipment to reduce coal dust that would facilitate environmentally safe and economic rail transportation to the Columbia River. In return, to pass the bill they agree to some electric vehicle charging stations in states that want them, and wind turbines off the coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island — a small price to pay for saving our state’s economy. And as part of this grand bargain, Biden gets the state of Oregon to bless the plan. That’s exactly the type of old-school horse trading we need if we’re serious about saving Wyoming’s economy and jobs.

Wyoming coal producers may have a constitutional right to transport coal to Oregon, but even the Trump Administration’s own Solicitor General didn’t think the suit was worth his time. Which is why more chest-thumping sound bites outside closed coal mines won’t do a laid off Wyoming worker any good.

The environmentalists keeping our coal out of Oregon are holding a royal flush against our pair of twos. Let’s be smart and play the better hand — which is to press the environmental case for exporting coal, and to do it when we have a pair of valuable Senate votes to offer in return.

Dave Dodson

David Dodson is a resident of Wyoming and an entrepreneur who has helped create over 20,000 private sector jobs. He is on the faculty of the Stanford Graduate School of Business where he teaches courses...

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  1. Just to set the record straight, the claim that PRB subbituminous coal will significantly lower carbon emissions relative to lignite is not valid. The calorific content of coal is based chiefly on carbon and hydrogen content, with a deduction for oxygen content and a slight boost from sulfur. The widely used Dulong formula shows the carbon intensity of boiler heat for generating power is about 60 lb. of carbon per million btu, whether from supercompliance PRB coal or North Dakota lignite (using DOE ultimate analyses of both coals). It takes more mass of lower-rank coal to generate a MW of electricity, because of the lower carbon content and higher moisture, ash, etc. But the pounds of carbon per megawatt are virtually constant. Of course, that carbon ends up as CO2 in the atmosphere.

    1. Mr. Ronn Smith is very much right. With our coal biotechnology both lignite and subbituminous coals are the solution to mitigating carbon emissions and lot more. I had appreciated Wyofile posting my comment below about our biotechnology makes again the Wyoming coals to be solution right here in USA and globally while increasing Wyoming economy and high wage jobs. I have chosen to focus on Wyoming first because Wyoming coal fields have not only huge, mined coals available but also very thick deep unmineable coal seams. These also can become source for producing clean fuel with our biotechnology. Validation tests done with both mined and deep unmineable coals done for building integrated coal biorefinery. Lignite fields in Montana and N. Dakota etc. do not have thick coal seams like Wyoming has.
      Noted another Wyofile detailed article on Nov 2, by DUSTIN BLEIZEFFER om adverse impacts of climate change already happening in Wyoming. He points out drought, poor soils etc. and decreasing hay even to feed the cattle. Again, our products made with Wyoming coals are the solution. In fact, few years ago, I had Univ. of Wyoming scientists tested the soils who showed very low level of organic humic matter. With use of our actosol product made from coals, showed increased plant growth.

      Had noted skeptical comment from Matt Philpott of Oregon. Was waiting to see any other comments in response to my case for solution with our coal biotechnology or any other solution to dilemma and path Mr. Dodson had made case for. First response to Mr. Matt Philpott. My coal derived actosol has been in use with positive results in Oregon for 5+ years by Sarbanand Enterprises LCC. / Munger Farms
      16720 SE Kreder Rd Dayton Oregon 97114. Contact Matt Hoezee at 661-565-6421.
      Appreciated Mr. Grace Barca comment to have Lummis and Barrasso know our solution based on unique attributes of Wyoming coals. Hopefully being from Wyoming he and some you will make him aware. I will be happy to forward our submission to US Government. USEPA Frank Princiotta, the Director of Air Pollution Control Division has stated in writing that our biotechnology approach is solutions to lowering env. footprint from coal use and creative value generation solution for lowering carbon emissions.

      I am truly puzzled with this sad state of affair, divisiveness underway in USA and not to support adoption of solutions developed right here in our country. Then we complain others steal. I came here 50 years ago with $8 with lure American do science and use it. Blessed to get highest education and bought into American calling. Became involved with coal after the 1973 oil embargo. Failed almost 5 times with so called Govt scientist paths of clean coal. Then decided 30+ years ago to harness the biotechnology to use coals.
      Following from recent email to Mr. R. Luthi after my telephone conversation– couple of years ago we talked about for your state funding for establishing Coal Biorefinery to market scale to increase monetization of Wyoming coals, while mitigating concerns of its pollution and even carbon emissions, You had communicated I distinctly remember that I have come to “empty well”, as State have no funds. May be now situation is changed. Noting coal use from your State is more than 20% down and most coal companies have continued to bankrupt resulting huge environmental liabilities as well as employment and pension. Of course, tax revenues decreasing to your State. I have been noting Mr. Gates initiative to build a nuclear plant in your state, but I am reading about concerns of safe storage of nuclear waste which will result from it. Also, I noted your state would like to build a safe storage site for others as well as. As I briefly mentioned our Coal Biotechnology product, HUMASORB has been proven to bind radioactive toxic metals and can be put around secure nuclear waste storage site and mitigate any contaminants leaching out of it. We have made HUMASORB besides other products from Wyoming sub bituminous coals. As I mentioned my Coal Biotechnology was selected in 2012 for Techno-Economic Feasibility analysis based on your state legislators –Mineral Committee for a competitive procurement for Moving the Wyoming Coals up the Value Chain.
      I am ready to provide details of work my team had done on Wyoming coals. May be Mr. Dodson can suggest approach for posting our technology brochure and report we have done for Wyoming centric for its deployment in Wyoming.

      IHS Markit, an Int. trade organization last week selected our coal derived products solution for agriculture for recognition for value added solutions we are offering the fertilizer manufacturers to improve efficiency, delivery of products they make while enabling farmers to increase crop yields, quality, soil health-fertility , sequester carbon and mitigate increasing ecological concerns. We are proving out this is now the new frontier of sustainability for providing nutrition to plants. Award will be given on Nov 4 at 11.30 AM USA EST at Crop Science Forum. Link for free registration is :
      https://events.ihsmarkit.com/crop-science-forum/home
      Let us stop only talking about problems. Let us put our American ingenuity to work. Coal is important path forward for next industrial revolution. Harnessing Wyoming coals can lead the path.

  2. The world runs on money and energy, plus a few other things. I haven’t checked the distance from the Powder River Basin to China, but it must be over 7000 miles. The freight on millions of tons of coal has to be an enormous amount. Add in the cost of loading the ships and other taxes and fees it becomes an exorbitant price per ton delivered to China.
    We would be competing with countries that are much closer. Less distance = less money. There is no export market for Powder River Basin coal.
    And the high price China is paying for imports of coal now is pushing investment in renewables, battery tech, and even increasing imports of natural gas. China isn’t concerned about the climate issue – it’s the money thing

  3. Why would you support/facilitate the Communist Chinese Party and their economy? If the events of 2020 through present doesn’t give you pause about the limitations of globalization and dealing with China. Then you are truly naive. The US financial sector is so worried about access to Chinese and Asian markets and blinded by return on investment that they fail to see that they are dealing with the enemy. I hate to sound a little “cold war”, but China and it’s motives are nothing short of seeking world domination. Communist China is antithetical to our ideas of democracy and freedom. The origins of COVID. CCP treatment of Uighers and Hong Kong, and hegmony about Taiwan and the South China Sea are huge, blinking red lights and sirens about their intentions. We need to quit doing business with China and facilitating their ambitions. Let them starve in the dark. We need to save Wyoming’s energy industry but “sleeping with the enemy” isn’t the answer. It’s unrealistic to believe that the US can magically become a carbon-free energy market any time soon. Have to have massive amounts fossil fuels and new mining ventures for raw materials to build and develop any of the “renewable” or “clean” energy “solutions”. That’s the “quiet part” about building a renewable energy infrastructure that no one talks about. Dodson is just another coastal elite that thinks that we can continue to deal with China as business as usual. He misses the fact that they want to take over the world.

  4. Right wing pundits like to blame environmentalists for the demise of Wyoming coal. But there IS NO export market for this coal because its noncompetitive. This has been true for years which is why the Powder River Basin continues to languish.

    If there was an export market, the Westshore coal export terminal near Vancouver has ~15 million tons/yr of available capacity right now:
    https://westshore.com/#/main

    A few years ago the terminal was used by (Powder River Basin coal miner) Cloud Peak Energy (before its bankruptcy) to export up to 7 million tons/yr. So this export capacity is readily available to Wyoming coal.

    There is simply to reason to discuss having the feds start subsidizing rails, dust abatement etc to try to move a commodity that the world doesn’t want.

  5. Why don’t we just give Senator Joe Manchin what he wants — the first rights to sell his West Virginia coal to any and all buyers. We could also give that provision to Wyoming. Certainly those two states can continue to supply both hard and soft coal to the appropriate markets, while the other 48 states and the nation at large march onward to the inevitable world where coal is no longer needed nor wanted, and actively discouraged. Manchin would be wise to accept an ever diminishing demand for coal to live out his term as a Senator… he’s already said he’s not running again, but neverttheless the fate of fossil fuels lies in his bloody hands.

    That way we get Manchin to open his roadblock and lower the drawbridge to the rest of Biden’s ” Build Back better” bundle by voting with the rest of the Dems . ( Dunno what to do about Senator Kyrsten Enema of AZ , except isolate her and hope she reads the handwriting on the Capitol wall and comes around I doubt she will be reelected anyway , but she’s capable of doing great damage as a Faux-Democrat until then)

    Giving Manchin his coal takes away his thunder and obstruction . By the same stroke, perhaps we’ll also get the bonus of forcing Barrasso, Lummis and Cheney to SHUT UP and drop their obfuscations and obstructions also. A future that uses less and less coal every passing day is far more important than petty politics and a couple of weak state’s welfare. The smoke and noise coming from Wyoming and West Virginia needs to be sent up the chimney to dissipate.

    Which , by the way , is the ONLY reason I would grant to continue any burning of more coal and adding more CO2 to the atmosphere. It’s a small price to pay. We can offset allowing Wyo and West V to continue their feudal marketing of coal easily enough , by adopting alternative energy and a refined carbon policy , forthwith. Let’s make some sausage.

  6. As a Wyomingite living in Oregon, I need to set the record straight on a couple of things. First, there is no such thing as clean coal. Second, the objection to moving coal from Wyoming or anywhere else through Oregon is that research shows that as much as a ton of coal dust is lost from a single rail car loaded with coal during transit. The east-west rail lines in Oregon run for hundreds of miles along the Columbia River, which is a major route used by critically endangered salmonid fish during spawning and transit of juvenile fish to to / from the Pacific Ocean. The amount of coal dust that would end up in the Columbia River and in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge is staggering. Oregonians of all political stripes are quite united in their objection to this scheme to market coal overseas by transiting through the state. Wyoming will just have to learn to diversify its economy, something that should have been in progress long ago.

    1. Mr Phillpot makes a strong case for the unlikely chance of changing the prevailing Oregon opinions against coal trains. Questions: why can’t these rail cars be covered, like pickup truck beds are often covered, to prevent the spread of coal dust? And what would Oregon receive in return for allowing all this train traffic?

    2. I agree with most of your comments, Mr. Dodson, but I have often wondered why the railroads couldn’t use bentonite cars to transport the coal.Sealed tops with open dumps on the bottom. Besides our two senators are so firmly in Moscow Mitch’s back pocket that even their constituents don’t matter one whit.

  7. Save Wyoming at all cost. Selling our coal to China and Indonesia would be a Green Deal which will be felt across the World.

  8. They should support this , cause their is other things involved like old irrigation structors in Wy that would benefit with this bills passing it would be nice if we didn’t have this 2 party system an eliminate all this division.

  9. China has access to cheaper, better and plentiful coal from Australia. Already been buying. Even now stopping its imports. China has plenty of coal increasing production but also deploying better pollution controls. Wyoming needs to deploy coal biotechnology. Was selected per Wyoming stated funded competitive procurement for moving Wyoming coals up the value chain. Showed based on unique attributes of Wyoming coals, convert into $3-4,000 per ton with 42% IRR fuel and organic humic products for agri, water and environmental clean up. No wastes. Zero to negative carbon emissions. No pollutants such as mercury etc. Also monetizes deep otherwise unmineable coal seems estimated to contain one trillion tons of coal. Market use analysis showed even one million tons per year coal Biorefinery will only meet less than 5% market needs. Finished products made in Wyoming can be exported with existing infrastructure. Wyoming capitalized on its lower sulfur coals to allow power companies to comply to Clean Air Act of 70, now its unique attributes can be capitalized to drive next industrial revolution with green solutions. For more info contact me dwalia@arctech.com

  10. How refreshing to see acknowledgement of the reality of coal consumption around the world. If all the anti coal environmental NGO’s were truly interested in reducing emissions from burning fossil fuels world wide they would support this solution. Sadly, they are far more interested in preserving their political power than being part of practical solutions. Passing laws that attempt to establish “net zero” carbon emissions limits or set the planet’s thermostat to some desired temperature and make the misinformed masses feel good are nothing but political theater. Sound argument Mr. Dodson.