Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Coal and conservation

Posted on Wed, Nov 13, 2013 at 2:29 PM

Coal in America is about more than cheap, reliable electricity. It's about more than power plants and emissions. It's about sensible, responsible energy policy that affords the opportunity for economic growth but balances that critical need with the value we place on providing as clean an environment as we reasonably can. The problem is, when we start arguing over electricity from coal, "sensible" and "reasonable" seem to be left out of the discussion.

That's why the recent "Rally for American Energy Jobs" in Washington was so important, and why I traveled across the nation to be a part of it.

I'm the president of the Montana State Building and Construction Trades Council and business manager for Boilermakers Local No. 11, but I'm also an active member of the Blue Green Alliance, a group that brings labor and conservation organizations together to tackle environmental and economic issues collaboratively. That's a tough job, but it's one that desperately needs to be done, particularly when it comes to energy policy.

As the name suggests, this rally was about more than coal. It's about American energy jobs. And, while coal jobs are certainly at the heart of it, American energy jobs are present, and critically important, in every part of our nation. Affordable and reliable electricity makes our economy work ... it makes economic growth and jobs creation possible. So, when you speak of "energy jobs," you're really talking about every job in every community in America. Period.

But that fact, as important as it may be to each and every one of us, is lost in the debate over energy policy when all we hear about is why we can't use fossil fuels, and coal in particular. It's an argument that completely lacks balance and understanding of the total needs of a working economy. And, it's an attack, more than an argument, which completely lacks reasonableness and sensibility.

The result? A skewed, ineffective energy policy that wastes tax dollars in pursuit of unachievable goals, while dismissing and outlawing the biggest and most reliable energy resource we have. It kills reasonable debate, destroys the potential for meaningful progress toward a more sustainable energy future, and along with it, hundreds of the thousands of jobs in every locality in America.

So, why did I travel across the nation to participate in this rally? The reason is simple: to fight back against those who would drown out progress toward a workable energy future by doing the only thing we can—raising our voices to demand that we be heard.

Those of us at the rally support American coal and the vast number of energy jobs it creates. We do that by advocating for sensible, reasonable, workable policies that use our resources wisely and that don't strangle our economy by pursuing extreme political views and goals.

Electricity from coal is not an extreme political or environmental position. It's a reasonable and responsible one. Those who would eliminate it in favor of both unproven and staggeringly expensive alternatives are the extremists.

American coal doesn't just protect coal jobs, it protects and creates jobs and economic growth across our entire economy. The men and women that took part in this rally know that, and by attending, they've taken up a much bigger challenge than just their own interests. They've taken up the challenge of creating responsible energy policies that keep our country working.

It's not a zero sum game; although those who wish to eliminate coal electricity from our national energy mix view it as such. What it is, is a battle for a responsible energy future in a country that puts people to work...and works towards a better tomorrow.

John Roeber


Montana State Building and Construction Trades Council

East Helena

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