- - Thursday, August 1, 2013

Awar on coal is underway, instigated by a few opposition groups with powerful voices. The World Bank’s announcement to oppose the financing of coal plants overseas is only the latest development in the ongoing debate, which recently found its way onto the editorial page of The Washington Times. Unfortunately, coal opponents regularly overlook the bigger economic picture: Coal provides a reliable energy resource for developing countries that is essential for public health and economic development.

According to the World Coal Association, about one-fifth of today’s global population — an estimated 1.2 billion people — lives without access to a stable energy source. Their businesses can’t operate after dusk, their schools lack power for learning, and they cannot meet basic human needs. The lack of power limits their opportunities, keeping communities unnecessarily impoverished. In fact, the World Coal Association estimates that more than two-fifths of the world’s population — around 2.8 billion people — still rely on solid fuel such as wood, charcoal and manure for cooking and heating, resulting in 3.5 million deaths every year from the effects of indoor air pollution.

This quality of life is simply unacceptable. Given this situation, we have two choices: We either abandon coal as an energy resource and as a result, undermine the economic growth of developing countries, or we encourage this growth through building energy grids and exporting our commodity.

It is abundantly clear that coal opponents would choose to undermine any and all coal use — regardless of the consequences. Reliable and affordable energy grids are essential to provide for human needs, and eventually, provide a foundation for economic growth. Without this, underprivileged countries will not have the resources to develop sustainable economies. Opposition groups rarely propose any viable alternatives — even if this means regions of the world remain in abject poverty.

Given this context, there’s clearly a role for coal as an economic catalyst for growth. Developing countries in particular need access to affordable, modern energy — electricity — to improve their quality of life. Electricity improves a country’s economy, lowers mortality and, ultimately, leads to more environmentally capable populations as basic subsistence needs are met. The World Bank’s announcement undermines this development, but there are other ways to help.

The Pacific Northwest is currently reviewing three proposed export expansions — the Gateway Pacific Terminal in Cherry Point, Wash.; the Millennium Bulk Terminals in Longview, Wash.; and Morrow Pacific Terminal in Morrow, Ore. — which would aid bulk commodity industries, like agriculture, timber and coal. Once completed, such expansion would lead to increased jobs and tax revenue for the Pacific Northwest region, while aiding the economic growth of developing regions. Additionally, the coal to be exported through these facilities would come from the Powder River Basin, which means that it is more compact with less sulphur, creating a cleaner commodity for energy use. Powder River Basin coal is superior by any metric to coal from other potential sources in Asia, and definitely superior to burning biomass, kerosene or rain-forest products. However, those unhealthy and unreliable energy forms will be used more if the export terminals are delayed.

Abandoning coal is a shortsighted policy that would undermine a major domestic industry, while restricting burgeoning markets. Coal opponents who take an all-or-nothing approach toward the commodity only have one goal: eliminating it from the conversation. In reality, halting these job-producing projects and refusing to send U.S.-mined coal overseas would actually harm the environment here and globally.

Modern society’s appetite for electrical power is huge and still growing, while the developing world’s electricity appetite is growing even faster. We have the capabilities to provide for Third World countries while aiding America’s economic recovery. Instead, a select few are trying to implement an anti-coal policy — much to the detriment of ourselves and others. It’s time we rethink this ill-advised coal policy.

Thomas Tanton is president of T2 and Associates, a firm providing consulting services to the energy and technology industries.