Coal industry struggles under heavy regulation

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— The Colorado coal industry, despite a stable market for its product, is beset by government regulation, lawsuits by environmental groups, and competitive pressures, according to industry representatives meeting here.

Paul Seby, an air quality lawyer, told the Northwest Colorado Coal Conference on Thursday that standards are being set at a level that coal-fired technology cannot meet. The coal industry includes coal mining and coal-fired power plants.

Seby cited the Environmental Protection Agency's "Regional Haze Rule," which regulates potentially polluting industries by reference to visibility standards, as an example.

"The guidelines read that for Class 1 areas national parks and wilderness areas like Mount Zirkel visibility must be as it was 'prior to any influence by man.' That's a pretty striking standard," Seby said.

The EPA's "Toxic Release Inventory", the Clean Air Act and even the Kyoto Protocol are among the industry's greatest concerns, Seby said.

Additional multi-tiered processes may be required before building new coal plants.

"These standards are being set at a level that coal-fired technology cannot meet," he said.

In addition, Seby said, the EPA is considering requiring states to issue operating permits for coal mines as well as for power plants, because a mine is a "support facility" for a power plant.

"For northwestern Colorado, this would mean that Trapper Mine, which supplies the Craig Station with coal, would also have to get a permit. This is expensive and hassles the use of coal," Seby said.

Representatives of power-producing plants in the region were also pessimistic.

"Although we have an extremely stable market for coal right now, we have a rather pessimistic point of view about the feasibility of building new coal-fired power plants," Craig Station manager Jim McNicol said.

Hayden Station Director Frank Roitsch agreed.

"What we've installed looks good, but we are pretty pessimistic about the future," he said.

"If we want the American public to support coal-fired power plants, we have to face the environmental issues first," said Terry Ross, vice president of the Center for Energy and Economic Development.

According to reports by the Citizens for Balanced Energy Organization, the general public wants more stringent rules for clean air in the United States, he added.

"This trend is bad for us, and we've got to do something about it," Ross said. "The poll for environmentalism is not so strong that it cannot be overcome. Paid media, earned media, and other methods will help." Ross was referring to pro-coal industry commercials and advertising.

Ultimately, Ross said, what drives environmental policy is politics, and what drives politics is public opinion.

The conference continues today at Olympian Hall. The conference is open to the public.


To reach Bonnie Nadzam call 871-4205 or e-mail bnadzam@amigo.net

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