Coal issues not too sticky to solve - Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman: Mayors Corner

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Coal issues not too sticky to solve

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Posted: Saturday, September 29, 2012 9:31 pm

The last time I wrote an article it was on the subject of coal production in the Mat-Su Borough with the emphasis on the transportation of the product from the proposed mining area to either Point MacKenzie or to an area to ship it by rail to Seward.

As grace would have it, I immediately left town on a long-awaited multi-week vacation. When I returned to my beloved Wasilla, I was astounded by some of the reactions folks at City Hall had received over the issue.

A number of pro-coal folks were convinced that I was anti-coal and anti-coal folks thought that I was clearly anti-coal after being convinced I was pro-coal in the past.

Huh? Confused? Me, too.

One should think that sentient beings, such as us as a species, are blessed with reason and the ability to understand what my message was. I simply took the borough’s own Institute of Social and Economic Research report and applied some simple math to it concerning the trucking of coal down Mat-Su roads, and added the lack of response from the state Department of Transportation, Department of Natural Resources and other higher and lower government officials who should be working on a coordinated effort to resolve the issue.

I never uttered pro or con anything except I liked putting coal chunks in snowballs as a kid and bashing my friends and relatives with the weighted and hardened mass. I am pro snowball fight.

Remember, I live in a city that has coal trains rumbling through it for a good part of the year. I have never seen coal dust or chunks of coal flying out of the train cars, or ever heard of anyone’s property value plummeting in Wasilla over the shipment of the stuff through here.

Heck, a former mayor and governor built her family home right next to the tracks, and its worth more than my house. In fact, that same train barrels right through Anchorage on its way to Seward.

The whole issue of pro and con coal is like the observation Borough Assemblyman Ron Arvin recently analogized during a debate concerning a former ordinance that found its way into the trash bin of history as: “It was like a Christmas tree with lots of ornaments on it and you had to peel those away to really see the tree.” (You have to admit the guy can turn a phrase). The same holds true with the coal debate and how the stuff gets moved from point A to point B if Usibelli ever gets to mine it.

No doubt many may be asking themselves why doesn’t the world just go to other sources of power? Well, after the fireworks display in Japan over a year ago, nuclear is out. No one wants to utter that word.

How about hydro? Yup, excellent solution. But the EPA is on it and won’t get off.  Snail darters and hootie owls and all that may lose some sleep — the horror.

What about clean natural gas? You betcha the EPA hasn’t really buried their nose in that one yet. It is very abundant, as we all know; there is a big market, but the price just ain’t high enough yet for the big producers.

Nope, gotta do oil to the end. Just go ask them. It don’t meet the bottom line.

So back to coal and its place in the grand scheme of things. Well, it’s there, in the ground and in abundance.

It is used worldwide and does the job it’s asked to do, simply to provide energy for a needy society. It is a product that must be mined and shipped and utilized.

It is one of those things that exists and has to have a value-added component to make it usable. Same with oil, gas, timber, beef, hogs, corn or any other thing found on this earth. It’s in the cycle of things.

Extracted, shipped and used properly, it brings benefits. It produces the heat that is a necessary factor in warmth, smelting ore to build machinery, moving the machines of industry, and providing electrical power for many more uses.

It lights the lights and drives the computer information from the offices of the most greedy of moguls all the way to the classroom and the environmental think tanks. It assists the labs with power to find solutions to this world’s most troubling problems at all levels.

It is, and God forbid I posit this, a blessing in disguise at many levels.

The next time you get a check or cash either through work, retirement, or some entitlement benefit you receive, ask yourself “where did this money really come from, Santa Claus?” No, it was derived through the collective effort of an organized society.

Without a collective cooperation we will all be spending most of our time and lives scratching the dirt with a stick just to grow something to eat. Wow, just think of solving the obesity problem with that notion. History tells us there weren’t a lot of fat peasants.

So, we all have a brain and the ability to think and reason, or least some do. (Remember, I used to work in a prison.) Then, if we mine coal, how are we going to move it?

Let’s use this God-given gift of reason to solve the problem. Hey, if the Canadians can do it why can’t we, eh?

Verne Rupright has been mayor of Wasilla since 2008.

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