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Editorial: New Utah mine lease is the beginning of coal’s last gasp

First Published      Last Updated Mar 16 2017 08:32 pm

Elections have consequences. So it should be neither surprising nor all that depressing to hear that the new administration is reportedly about to keep a campaign promise and end the moratorium on coal leases on federal land.

And it fits that Department of Interior has already approved a $23 million deal to allow the continued operation of the Sufco mine on the Greens Hollow tract, smack in the center of Utah.

But, just as the news about coal mining on federal land should surprise no one, it is no cause for celebration.

Coal, no matter who is president, is the fuel of the past. Mining it, moving it and burning it are expensive and dirty. Market forces, as much as any federal action, are moving us to a day when coal is supplanted by natural gas, a process that has already become widespread around the world, and then to renewables such as solar and wind.



Because that transition is not complete, and will take some considerable time, our economy, power grid and industrial base are not ready to go cold turkey on coal.

That makes it all the more necessary that Utah and the nation hold new Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to his word when he reassures us that there are ways "to responsibly mine coal and return our land to equal or better quality after."

Our state and the communities most affected by the willingness of the new administration to make America coal-driven again cannot simply applaud and start digging. Officials at the state and local level must not only ensure that new or restarted mine operations are as clean and as safe as they can be. They must also be planning, and banking away money, for the day when the mines are done.

And that day will come, brought on by some combination of market forces, environmental crisis or just another change of administration.

Utah's potential as a hub for renewable energy is at least as great as its current promise as a producer of coal. Clinging to coal as if it were a long-term solution will only set us back in necessary efforts to invest and invent and train for a cleaner, infinite future that will benefit everyone.

And, while someone may yet be able to prove otherwise, it seems far too long of a shot for Utah or any other coal-producing state to count on the promise of burning coal in ways that neither foul the air nor accelerate climate change. At least, not before the world has already moved on from coal.

So, yes, there is coal in Utah's future. But not forever. Get ready for it.

 

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