Reasons differ, but Wyoming and China agree on cutting CO2 from coal
Casper, Wyo. • Four Wyoming lawmakers came away from a recent trip to China with a deeper perspective on China's CO2 emissions policy, and what it means to Wyoming's coal industry.
For some of the lawmakers, it's a perspective that runs counter to the assumption behind a long-standing political dogma among Wyoming leaders.
The dogma is simple: China isn't cutting CO2 emissions, so why should we?: "There is a sense here (in Wyoming) that they (China) just don't care, and they're going to develop and make no efforts to deal with the environment.
"I think that is not the case. We need a more balanced view of what they are doing," said Rep. Tim Stubson (R-Casper), after a June tour of coal-economy regions in China.
The Wyoming legislators on the tour concluded that China does care. That doesn't necessarily mean they think the U.S. should be regulating CO2. It does mean, however, that they have a clearer picture of China's interest in developing technology to help both countries continue to use coal minus the CO2 emissions.
For some 20 years, coal-fired power plants have proliferated in China at an astounding pace — at one point, a rate of one new 100-megawatt unit opening per week. One industry insider told WyoFile that the rate has now slowed to about one new coal-fired power unit every two weeks, but the newer units are bigger: an average of 500 megawatts.
At the same time, China is decommissioning a lot of coal boilers that were built in the 1990s and replacing them with more efficient, lower-polluting (including CO2 emissions on a per-megawatt basis) units — many of them supercritical and ultra-supercritical designs.
Still on the developing-nation fast track, China is on a path to emit more and more CO2 every year — and coal is the main culprit. Experts say that within the next seven years China is on track to add what amounts to the entire U.S. fleet in new coal-fired power, revealing the immensity of the global challenge in addressing man-caused CO2 emissions that contribute to climate change.
But some say there's an important distinction to understand about China's path to more carbon emissions: The nation is determined to lower its CO2 output in relation to its Gross Domestic Product. That is worth the attention of Wyoming and U.S. leaders, they say.
David Wendt, president of the Jackson Hole Center for Global Affairs that organized the recent Wyoming delegation tour of China, says that absolute CO2 emissions reduction in China is not attainable at the moment. And, he notes, absolute reduction in China probably won't happen in the next 20 years or so. That is because China is working feverishly to address serious poverty, using coal and other carbon-based resources to drive large populations toward a new middle class.
So, he argues, it is up to the rest of the developed world to make up the difference in CO2 reductions. "Everybody's got to do their best," says Wendt. He said China is working hard to do its part, while developed nations can and should cut their overall CO2 emissions.
The Wyoming delegation, however, remains unconvinced that the U.S. should enact policies aimed at coal-fired power to help bring about a net CO2 emission reduction in this nation while China continues to increase its overall emissions. Most Wyoming lawmakers don't share their Chinese colleagues' concerns about climate change.
"I'm not in favor of EPA regulating CO2, in any event," Stubson told WyoFile.
All four of the legislators on the tour now say they are beginning to buy at least the first part of the argument – that China is working hard to cut its CO2 intensity as it grows its GDP. They understand the overlapping interests of Wyoming and China to advance carbon-cutting technologies, specifically for coal, albeit for different reasons.
The observations one makes when arriving to the country immediately present a picture of contrasts — new and old, clean and dirty.
When the plane arrived in Beijing the skies were mostly clear and an alluring deep blue after a torrential rain. It was a stark contrast to a band of dirty yellow smog that hung low on the city skyline. Still in the air preparing to land, out the window it was clear that what was once a sleepy agricultural lowland on the north end of the city has been converted to a sprawl of new construction made up of neat Lego-like high rises everywhere, of all modern variety. It's all arranged too neatly to represent an organic pace of development.
After a long layover in Beijing, the Wyoming delegation flew to the coal-rich inner region of China: first to Shanxi Province, then Ningxia and Shaanxi. The cities visited in these provinces are filled with throngs of people everywhere, busily going about their day. In the late afternoons and well into the night they fill beautifully lush and manicured parks to play cards and hacky-sack, participate in group dancing, group tai chi, and just about any activity one might expect to see in a city park.