Associated Press Report On State-Backed Coal Research Misses The Real Story: Anti-Coal Policies


The Associated Press reported a story over the weekend about the lack of success in a state-funded program to develop new uses for North Dakota’s abundant lignite coal reserves.

“Fifteen years after North Dakota began funding research aimed at revitalizing growth in the state’s lignite industry, all but one project has been abandoned or yielded little more than expensive studies that have failed to find a clean and cost-effective use for the state’s plentiful but low-grade coal, data obtained by The Associated Press show,” reports James MacPherson.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]…the larger story here is government policies that are making it all but impossible to use our coal.[/mks_pullquote]

We can have a debate whether or not the state ought to be funding this sort of research for a specific industry, but should we be surprised that research into new uses for coal haven’t been fruitful when we live in an anti-coal political environment?

I thought this comment from Steve Van Dyke, a spokesman for Lignite Energy Council, was telling: “There has basically been a de facto moratorium on building anything with coal.”

As a spokesman for his industry Van Dyke is, obviously, not an objective source. But can anyone deny the truth of that statement? “[I]f somebody wants to build a coal power plant, they can,” President Barack Obama, then just a candidate, told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2008. “It’s just that it will bankrupt them because they are going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”

That’s the political attitude coal has been facing for some time now.

“Some say it may be time to reevaluate North Dakota’s lignite research fund, which was established to boost the use of the coal as an energy source and economic engine for the state,” reports MacPherson, but the only person he quotes taking that attitude is Wayde Schafer, a North Dakota spokesman for the Sierra Club.

I can’t imagine that the Sierra Club is ever going to endorse any future use for coal at all.

And that’s the real issue here. Not that there are no good uses for coal, but that for purely ideological reasons coal is being pushed out of the market.

That’s a shame. North Dakota’s lignite coal is a reliable, cheap, and plentiful source of energy. Should the state be funding research into how coal is used? Again, we can have a debate about that, but the larger story here is government policies that are making it all but impossible to use our coal.