August 6, 2017
By Guest Columnist
Western Colorado (click here) would not be what we know today without a century and a half of mining. Mining made us a state....
...We went from pristine Alpine landscapes to maybe 25,000 abandoned mines, many of them sources of pollutant laden water. We have seen the good and the bad in technicolor.
We have learned. Colorado was a leader in enacting modern mine reclamation legislation. The old practice of dumping mine waste in the nearest creek, or letting the smelter smoke darken the sky is long gone....
...When these permits were issued, there was no thought of today’s issue, the considerable methane emissions these mines produce. To the extent methane was discussed, it was an occupational safety issue: methane needed to be vented from the mines to prevent explosions and protect worker safety. Now it is seems that the North Fork mines may be the West Slope’s leading methane emitter.
We now understand that this methane is a potent greenhouse gas. We need badly to control these emissions, and do so now.
But we cannot forget our Western values of working together in times of trouble. The North Fork miners deserve our support. Their jobs are technically challenging. They are widely admired for efficiency, worker safety, and technical competence....
...But the truth is that coal mining has been built on public subsidies. A 2015 International Monetary Fund study concluded that energy subsidies worldwide were enormous – 6.5 percent of the entire world economic output, some $5 trillion per year. That subsidy overwhelmingly goes to fossil fuels.
STOP PETROLEUM INDUSTRY SUBSIDIES! Is any US elected official serious about reducing the national debt? Here is a good place to star.
Coal is the most highly subsidized of all. Worldwide, coal subsidies are about 4 percent of the entire economic output of the human race.
The one remaining North Fork coal operation is requesting three things from government: First, a reduced royalty on the federal coal they are mining. Second, to build roads into a lovely roadless area, to drill methane vents to permit mining more coal. Finally, a revised permit that, like past permits, will not require control of the mine’s methane emissions.
Federal coal royalties are already below market rates. The last thing we should approve is more subsidies....
...Before roading more roadless areas, there needs to be impartial evaluation of whether we can avoid road building in these beautiful areas....
In the spirit of our region, we should come together to solve the methane problem. The blame game will get nothing done. County commissioners, coal companies, local electric utilities, public interest organizations, state agencies and others all must do their share to find a way to capture and make use of the West Elk methane.
There are multiple options for methane control and use. One small existing project captures North Fork methane, generates electricity, and sells it to Aspen. Methane can become vehicle fuel or industrial feedstock.
As to the future, this state must develop regulations for coal methane emissions. Colorado is a leader in managing oil and gas industry emissions. We must also lead for coal.
Luke Danielson is president of Sustainable Development Strategies Group, a nonprofit institution dedicated to improving management of mineral resources, headquartered in Gunnison.
The country needs to get this done. It is a great infrastructure project that needs funding. No more subsidies, fund the projects that end pollution!