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Wyoming, China linked by coal opportunities

Wyoming, China linked by coal opportunities

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Star-Tribune Editorial Board

Star-Tribune energy reporter Dustin Bleizeffer has made one thing crystal clear in his dispatches from China: There is a common bond between the coal industries of that nation and the United States that exists on several fronts.

Cleaner coal is as important to the people of China as it is to Wyoming, where the developing technology is seen as a way to keep coal as a major supplier of electricity as the world responds to the need to reduce greenhouse gases.

Here in Wyoming, it's quite easy to relate to the tragic coal mining accidents that are killing more than 3,000 Chinese miners a year, largely due to the presence of highly combustible methane gas. Last month, 78 miners died in a methane explosion at the Tunlan coal mine north of Shanxi Province.

The early days of coal mining in Wyoming also saw many workers killed in underground accidents: for example, 60 at the Red Canyon mine in 1895, and 169 at the Hanna mine in 1903. Today, mining here is a much safer industry. The 13 active Powder River Basin surface coal mines in Wyoming produced more than 446 million tons, with one fatality last year. There were 51 coal mine fatalities in our entire nation.

Sharing safety techniques is one way the United States can help China, and it was one of the reasons for the energy conference Bleizeffer covered recently in Jincheng, China. But there is also common ground in the need for the two nations to work together to find solutions to the air pollution problems that have plagued China since its coal boom began.

The United States has its own air quality issues to worry about. But China is the world's top emitter of greenhouse gases. As state Sen. Grant Larson, R-Jackson, told Bleizeffer, "We can do all the things we're working on in Wyoming, but unless we can get cooperation from China, it will make it very, very difficult to get where the world wants to be on clean air."

An Australian coal official was even more direct: "If China doesn't fix their system, it doesn't matter what the rest of us do."

Wyoming is taking steps to develop clean coal technologies that could work here as well as be exported to China and other nations. The state has partnered with General Electric on a coal gasification research facility to be built in Wyoming.

The Wyoming Legislature, fully recognizing that the international call to address climate change will result in federal regulation of coal emissions, has also pioneered the U.S. effort to define the legal framework for carbon sequestration.

Then there's the work of David Wendt, president of the Jackson Hole Center for Global Affairs, a conference presenter who has been working on the international issues of energy and the environment for many years. Wendt's spirit of cooperation with China and other nations exemplifies what needs to happen if the world is to successfully control carbon emissions and reduce the threat of climate change.

With China's industrial revolution being fueled by coal, which provides 80 percent of the nation's electricity, it has created significant pollution and safety problems that must be dealt with by the industry and government.

Yet it is also a time of tremendous opportunities to find clean coal solutions in both the United States and China. It's good to know there are leaders in Wyoming who are paving the way in the critical effort to revolutionize how coal is used and its impacts on the planet.

What Wyoming does to develop clean coal technology could have a great impact on how China deals with climate change.

What do you think?

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