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Ohio must maximize its coal resources

Last weekend, the 17th District was in the spotlight as Gov. Strickland, area legislators, including state representatives Evans, Schlichter and Daniels, and several representatives from the coal industry converged on Wellston during the town’s annual coal festival.

In conjunction with the festival’s activities, these state and local leaders were invited to participate in the Ohio Coal Summit, a meeting of interested parties to discuss the state of coal in Ohio and the industry’s vital role in our energy future.

While Ohio has shown tremendous promise in the development of renewable energy sources like ethanol, biofuels, wind and solar power, the reality is that coal is still one of our cheapest and most abundant energy resources with an estimated 250-year reserve. Not to mention, coal provides nearly 90 percent of Ohio’s electricity and employs more than 2,400 Ohioans.

I have no doubt that research into alternative energy should continue, but, at the same time, we must work to maximize the potential of Ohio’s coal resources for the betterment of all Ohioans.

For instance, the industry, which has long been criticized for being unfriendly to the environment, has worked in recent years to develop clean coal technologies, which can cut carbon dioxide emissions by more than 80 percent compared to conventional methods. Ohio has already become a leader in this field through research at places like Ohio University.

It is also clear that coal has played a tremendous role in boosting local economies and making Ohio a strong competitor in the energy market. With an uncertain energy future, coal provides Ohio some important stability.

Yet, as we move forward, it has become apparent that if Ohio is to remain a leader in energy production, regulatory reform is needed. This issue came to light when the ethanol plant in Bloomingburg was held up by red tape and other delays.

Then, we heard testimony during the coal festival about the ridiculousness in some of Ohio’s regulatory procedures. At a meeting of the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee during the Coal Summit, one witness recalled a time when, in preparation of a mine site, a truck’s tire track became an ephemeral stream and, as a result, had to be monitored by the state bureaucracy to protect any tadpoles and surrounding weeds.

Unfortunately, these burdensome, unfair, unrealistic regulatory standards have caused many people to just walk away in frustration, and as they walk away, so do the jobs and investment that come with it. Our surrounding states, as well as many other countries around the world, have much less regulation, which puts Ohio’s energy producers at a competitive disadvantage. It also puts Ohio and the entire country in danger of not being able to meet our energy needs. In fact, the U.S. Energy Information Administration has predicted that electricity usage in the United States will increase by about 40 percent by 2025.

While I think we all want clean air to breathe and clean water to drink, Ohio needs to have fair, clear and substantial laws to protect the environment, not a web of mindless bureaucratic hoops for coal and other energy producers to jump through. One suggestion proposed at the Coal Summit is to have a one-stop-shop in state government for energy producers. It now takes more than 20 agencies and up to five years to approve a mining permit.

Ohio has a tremendous opportunity to use its energy resources to grow our economy.

That is, unless the unelected bureaucracy continues to make guidelines so absurd producers give up. Recently, Gov. Strickland outlined a comprehensive energy policy, which stressed coal as an integral part of our state’s energy future. Going forward, I plan to make regulatory reform a central part of this discussion.

Sen. John A. Carey represents the 17th District.