The Des Moines Register from Des Moines, Iowa on October 16, 1977 · Page 28
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October 16, 1977

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The Des Moines Register from Des Moines, Iowa · Page 28

Des Moines, Iowa
Issue Date:
Sunday, October 16, 1977
Page 28
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Page 28 article text (OCR)

KM. IS I I H " <)( I ( Wyoming coal: Lighting Iowa's By DAN FILLER andJIMHEALEY CHEYENNE, WYO. — The word to coal. And for lowans, coal means Wyoming. And Wyoming coal means electricity. But what about Iowa's own coal? Isn't there plenty of it? Yes, Iowa has coal. But It contains a high percentage of sulfur, and thus is impractical for electrical generating. For when high-sulfur coal such as Iowa's is burned, it emits a poisonous gas, sulfur dioxide. And while President Carter's energy plans urge increased dependence on coal and less on the diminishing supplies of natural gas. the Clean Air Act of 1970 demands less sulfur dioxide and other pollutants in the atmosphere. So, through the combination of natural shortages and public policies, the focus for lowans must, for now, be on Wyoming. This land of desolate beauty will supply the coal that fires the boilers that turn the generators that satisfy Iowa's appetite for electricity for years to come. That appetite is growing by about 7 per cent a year. And if a way eventually is found to use Iowa's coal on a large scale, then Wyoming may be the model for how a state and its people deal with a coal rush. Profound impact The impact of a coal rush is profound. In seven short years, it has jerked Wyoming from a sleepy expanse to an animated giant struggling with the problems of progress. There's the environment: The land, the animals, the water, the air, the very way the people live. There's the economy: Who is going to get how much? How much regulation is enough without being too much? What portion of the take does the state deserve to skim of f the top? There's the sociology: What happens to the people who were already here? How do the new people fit in? Can the mining towns handle it? There's the technology: What's the best way to mine? What's the best way to transport? Or is is better to avoid transportation, taking the energy from the coal without even removing it from the ground? There are the politics: Wyoming elections and governmental actions could have significant effects on what lowans pay for their electricity. Wyoming is no stranger to mineral production. It has helped supply the nation with uranium, soda ash, oil and gas throughout this century. In the 1920s, the oil reserve at Teapot Dome north of Casper led to America's worst political scandal until Watergate. Coal was mined in significant quantities by railroads, which used it to fire their locomotives, but with the advent of diesel power in the 1940s and early 1950s, the coal mining industry here waned. The seeds of the coal boom were sown in 1970 with the Clean Air Act. Congress said that if coal were burned, its poisonous emissions had to be curbed. FoH lator The impact of that law was not fully felt until three yean later when it became evident that the end of America's crude oil and natural gas supply was in sight. The Arab countries took advantage of a seller's market and began to boost their fuel price*. Meanwhile, reservations about the use of nuclear power were growing. Utilities and industries cast about for an alternate energy source — and there were the western states. Their vast supply of coal, previously considered too far from major markets to be practical, was so clean that it could be burned with comparatively minor air pollution control investments. Wyoming was a prime target Underlying some 40 per cent of its nearly 100,000 square miles is an estimated 51 billion tons of easily accessible coal, enough to fuel the nation's generators for several hundred years, experts say. Even with that quantity, it to only the fifth- ranking state in coal rtosnus. Its northern neighbor, Montana, for instance, still has nor* than 100 K^iifrm» foM »»«* 1^ easily accessible, meaning it can be strip misjod. (By contrast, Iowa's ire minis coal tfrtilt twnt *** "Mtot; to ft* "»»n*«q watch, at utMCtad 1M» nmption levels, would last the state about 100 yean.) So the rash to the west was on. Mining firms scrambled for minerel leases. Utilities battiad for long-term coal contracts. Railroads begaa B*W track, sidiags aod Pkotcs by BOB NANDELL Gary Alexander, *•> • "face Bess" for Energy Development C*, of Sanaa, Wyo., taper vises II miners who dig coal 1,000 feet below the Wyoming liadsrapn were at the end of tftft fin* because now they're ... the effects off the coal fast etfj Undtad lifestyle. - * In an immense state, wtaftin 1970 populatko of » comfortably into the Des Molnei area, the gtowa accustomed to ha crfeverytlu^r-t«peciallyieww. ,>, '•- • • * '••"•". 'V .'•'''' Yaritel ooioorti 'C-/:^Their new-found concern* •o$$ v \ varied. - - ' ' "• '• '*'• The big cattle nnchen dominated local politics: Wyoming's U.S. Sen* ranching backgrouodi) Iocs of clout to the new . wtt cial Int to keep op with new < „ portation technology so';,| maintain their places to ' heirarehks. . Worries of dtfaMM range I broad-the potential toes of na<^. going, wtde^eoipncei M*jf*\ to the more Immediate —| fraying tnooyinc* of walttat »t croeiingsai.lOO-can rumble past. ' ••'-'' .V' Environmentalists fret power of the mine lobby, complain about ence. An uVuriding CMWMB * w«i»r» a pred6os««uiX)a%lnthJsseml4rhli state. Not only to water *tta--~»-^ by new Indostry and poWW> ] »lso la coveted by those who mix it with powdered coal... -rj-. the nsnlting "slorry^ <»o*enei ^ miles, instead of moving the ceal bjW The .slurry pipeUM pnooial bnV* triggered a fierce iniustrtal»AnC. political battle that^how rwhTWla.-, Congress, wWch irUl canttjlef < whether to grant pfcpsltoa toMrtMa-i federal emiwrt domto pswer_, j And some of thts)eVcosJ1sjkJniiNwi*. gy, for which Wyoming to «»itigfcg m i.,.,. M |_ -« -«-- ^ --- — •--•--1»-TT^.^.. grouno, is gmng aonw paepe. pe j Jitter*. ' -.-'./• •:.-• v ~:; What, for InstMc*. win effect on the land of gasificatioh? Ih.tMt . procesecoal to heatei to m BMCI t.oooo^frwsrlgkttothegroend, trading Ite cotntaotihte gas, " can be sent off in pjpeJkaoi or in genera ton at tht site. • These factors ill affect lowana pay for their electricity. they nay, part of that meoey §o leasing, mining and roiwragLi Wyomlnf landscape. Part hattM , people of Wyoming, to Iht for** severance tans letted OB ptojlate . companies, for the social coetBOftbtj coal rash. Part goes to tht rfJkonOi } for moving the coaL* •< So for lowans, the Watt now'*, much mort than the RoCkka, YeOsw- < stone National Park or thr Teton moentalna. > It now to such uioeilMBner0 _ , „ velopmeat Co., AMAI Cod OM eat Becatel, Inc., whkh>nay Jete Standard and PaUllpa la lexicon of energy. t. It now to politics and such fffpttab) Mont; Denver, Co**, and City, Utah, at well MM' B.C., where becUont an __^ ___ . that affect the atoctrk afjMrfsl Des Moiant, Couacfl, •nftv-IUhii City, It now is the millions of tons of nteel churning acraef nlnhv to energy that wi& ughtT.ceU aed'hant. Iowa for thereat of thisceatety. . -.> • • ! The. how aD that coal got thef*. MWe\ MAL There-sal* W It, Met for DOW not mnjeh eaa be i equipment. People flocked back to the old mining towns. Now towns such as Rawlins, Rock Springs, Sheridan, Hanna and Gillette, "boom towns" all. have outgrown the populations liirt?^ in the 1970 census so far that officials might be hard pressed to say Just how many people do live there. paeo The trappings of sudden expansion are obvious — sprawling mobile home lota, new motels, fast-food franchises, corrug - . traffic Jams on ovttterdened small- town streets, a quickened pace •very- Two towns are of particular importance to lowans — Gillette, in oorta- eistcro Wyoming, ftod Hanoa, about 200 miles to the south. From mines near those fommunitiet comes most of the coal burned by Iowa utilities. And from those towns run two railroads, the Burlington Northern and the Union Pacific, both of which stand to be among the biggest winners in the coal rush. Railroading, though, has always been significant in Wyoming. Indeed, the state is literally a child of railroads. Prior to the IMOs, the territory, that now to Wyoming was one of the last pHif^n that the native *«yttf>f had virtually all to themselves. The Oregon trail passed through here and about the only white residents were guides and mountain men- Then came the railroads, which mined Wyoming's coal for their toco- motives, and the towns followed. The Union Pacific Railroad and a corporate predecessor of the Burlington Northern were among the first, and with their rights-of-way came huge federal grants of land ownership. Much of the coal so in demand today to under that land. By the early Twentieth Century oil and gas bad replaced coal as Wyoming'* chief mineral product. Then cune bentonite, a water-absorbing substance used industrially, in the ittOs. Soda ash, which has a wide variety of industrial and commercial utes, came to the fore in the 1940s. In the 19M» it wa* uranium. Ax late as 1V70 coal ranH«d ooiy sixth among the contributors to the economy of Wyoming, whkh, in turn, ranked dead last among states in ita contribution to the national economy (it was lowest in manufacturing, although eleventh in mineral production, that year). Its population growth in the IMOa had been the lowest ia its history less than 1 per cent What was going to become of Wyoming, the state that was so forward looking that it granted women the vote while still a territory, continued that right to ite constitution when it became the forty-fourth state in 1IM, and elected the iirst woman governor, Nellie Tayloe Ron, in 19.6? There's reason to believe, though, thai many Wyoming rteideets were coralortabk wita things hut *» they taltots.the r«rtoriaf the land. trf Wyoming coal The for the Unke Padfk Northern , . ., UfUTTlL OH Banna cope with the coalbeanT 7 scale strif

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