As energy costs soared, so too did interest rates. Even with the
ability to draw upon the federal Rural Electrification Administration
(REA) to help finance power plant construction, rural America
paid premium prices in making its good-faith response to the Carter
In November of 1973, directors of several rural electric cooperatives
formed Western Fuels Association, Inc. It, too, operates as a
cooperative business on a not-for-profit basis. Its consumer/owners
are 20 con- sumer-owned electric utilities. It is a unique corporate
entity. Nothing like it exists to serve the much larger investor-owned
electric utility sector. Just as cooperation brought electric
service, telephone service, and competitively priced farm and
ranch products to rural America, so, too, Western Fuels was created
as a cooperative fuel supplier.
Supplying over 20 million tons of coal per year to operate rural
electric cooperative and municipally owned power plants, Western
Fuels is the single-largest purchaser of coal from the federal
leases in Wyoming and Montanas Powder River Basin. Fossil fuels
lie at the heart of Western Fuels business.
With their proximity to the federal low-sulfur coal reserves,
most Western Fuels members embarked on the coal option. Others,
like rural Louisianas Cajun Electric Power Cooperative, split
the difference between nuclear and coal investments despite sitting
atop an ocean of natural gas along the Gulf Coast.
The problem the co-ops faced in using federal coal was that the
leases usually were held by the coal subsidiaries of petroleum
companies. Those companies were mindful of the petroleum supply
price squeeze. Also, in their view, they controlled access to
an increasingly valuable energy resource in low-sulfur coal reserves
that the Clean Air Act mandated the electric utilities switch
to over time. The major oil companies were not about to make the
30-year commitment to coal supply that rural electric cooperatives
needed in order to secure REA financing for their power plant
construction. Something had to be done.
Western Fuels incorporators knew from experience how cooperation
worked and they believed it could again in solving their fuel
supply dilemma. As they saw it, if several cooperatives could
pool their need for, say, 10 million tons of coal per year, then
surely some coal executive would want that business.
Since those days, however, the federal governments role has changed.
Rather than remaining a reliable partner in encouraging the use
of coal, the White House and several federal agencies today threaten
to dial out the coal option citing fear of apocalyptic changes
in climate caused by fossil fuel use.
Proposed policies range from imposing high fuel taxes and fees
on coal in order to discourage its use, or to put in place programs
that cap or constrain the use of the multi-billion dollar investment
co-ops have made in their power plants. In effect, rural Americans
are being told they made the wrong choice in opting for coal,
never mind that the federal government asked them to make that
choice in the first place.
In such an inhospitable public policy environment, someone had
to speak in defense of coal-fired electricity. Western Fuels
General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Fred Palmer is determined
to defend the coal-fired power plants from an assault launched
byprofessional environmentalists, the United Nations, our own
government, and the nations economic competitors. As an Arizona
native, Palmers identification with his directors and the consumers
they represent is heartfelt.
The first task Palmer set himself was to point out how the known,
observed, and quantifiable biologic benefits of an increasing
atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (C02) were being ignored
and the focus limited to the speculative costs of apocalyptic
changes in climate triggered by those same emissions. In his 1992
book Earth In The Balance, Vice President Al Gore asserts that
The basic mechanism called the greenhouse effect, which causes
global warming, is well understood as though the greenhouse effect
that makes possible life on earth is the same thing as apocalyptic
global warming, which it is not.
All the climate disaster scenarios that dominate popular understanding
of the threat C02 poses to the worlds climate are products of
computer-based models of atmospheric chemical and physical processes
that, in fact, are not well understood. In order to resemble todays
climate, the models need to be fudged. Climate modelers have
been cheating for so long its almost become respectable, explains
Richard Kerr in a May 1997 Science magazine.
To clarify these popular misconceptions, Western Fuels Association
financed a broadcast-quality, half-hour videotape called The
Greening of Planet Earth. The 1991 production featured 11 scientists,
most of whom are employees of the U.S. Department of Agricultures
Agricultural Research Service. They explain research findings
from literally thousands of experiments into C02s effect on plant
life. Reproduced time and again across species of grasses, food
crops, legumes, fiber, shrubs, fruit trees, hardwoods, and pine,
increased C02 makes plants more productive, more efficient in
their use of water, and more resistant to environmental stresses
like higher temperature, less water, fewer nutrients, and more
pollution. This is the real greenhouse effect. The computer
scenarios are virtual.
Research documenting these findings continues to pour in. As a
result, in 1998 Western Fuels created the Greening Earth Society
(GES) as a grassroots organizing vehicle to educate people about
the benefits of fossil fuel use and increased C02 concentrations.
GESs positive vision contrasts with the negative vision of climate
apocalypse advanced by professional environmentalists within the
federal establishment and United Nations. GESs first job was
to produce a video sequel, The Greening of Planet Earth Continues,
which draws upon an entirely different group of 14 scientists
who update the C02 research.
In the decade between its initial engagement of the climate change
issue and today, Western Fuels has emerged as what environmental
writer Ross Gelbspan describes as an especially aggressive industry
player in defense of coal-fired electricity and fossil fuel use.
Western Fuels work included publication of a quarterly review
of climate change research called World Climate Review between
1992-95. Noting a pattern of climate scare stories beginning a
drum beat in the weeks before international conferences where
government policymakers were under pressure to commit to an anti-fossil
fuels agenda, Palmer decided to change the frequency and format
of the publication.
World Climate Report, a bi-weekly newsletter, published in cooperation
with New Hope Environmental Services is the result. Available
on the Internet at <www.greeningearthsociety.org>, World Climate
Reports online content is now folded into the monthly tabloid
Environment & Climate News, a joint publication of The Heartland
Institute and Greening Earth Society.
Along the way, Earth Day has become an annual occasion to release
a compilation of climate-change essays called State of the Climate
Report. Each year, copies are hand-delivered to each Member of
Congress on April 22nd.
In its defense and advocacy of coal-fired electricity, Western
Fuels funded a series of reports by Mills McCarthy & Associates
on the importance of coal to the U.S. and world economies. Western
Fuels advocacy has been a basis of repeated congressional hearings
and media coverage probing Western Fuels role in challenging
those who define climate change as the greatest environmental
threat of the century.
Like the ranchers who created it, Western Fuels stands upright
in the searing winds that blow out of that place where international,
professional environmentalism joins with a domestic political
ideology that is intent upon imposing a wrenching transformation
of society on life in the West.
Ned Leonard manages communications and advocacy programs for Western