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Git Home!



A scientist said, “Climate modelers have been cheating
for so long it’s almost become respectable.”

Story © Ned Leonard. Photos © Bruce Wagman.

During what is called the “Giant Power Era” of the mid-to-late 1960s federal hydropower administrators traveled the land preaching a gospel of self-sufficiency. No more federal dams would be built and few, if any, additions could or would be made to existing facilities. If farmers and ranchers in Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas needed more electricity to meet their rapidly growing demand, they would have to find a way to supply it themselves.

The mandates of “giant power” quickly intersected President Jimmy Carter’s Project Energy Independence. The Middle Eastern oil crises of the early 1970s triggered a series of federal energy policies that forbade the use of natural gas in industrial processes and encouraged electric utilities to make use of either abundant domestic reserves of coal or to rely upon nuclear power generation in building new power plants.

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 energy policies.

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 Montana’s 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 Louisiana’s 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 government’s 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 nation’s economic competitors. As an Arizona native, Palmer’s 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 world’s climate are products of computer-based models of atmospheric chemical and physical processes that, in fact, are not well understood. In order to resemble today’s climate, the models need to be fudged. “Climate modelers have been cheating for so long it’s 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 Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service. They explain research findings from literally thousands of experiments into C02’s 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. GES’s positive vision contrasts with the negative vision of climate apocalypse advanced by professional environmentalists within the federal establishment and United Nations. GES’s 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 <>, World Climate Report’s 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 Fuels Association.

Bob Gillespie at age 64, has lived on
the same ranch in Springer, New
Mexico, all his life, a place where his
grandparents homesteaded in the
1890s. The ranch is on rolling land
“about 30 miles as the crow flies” to
the mountains. At 6,500 feet, it can get
“pretty cold” in the winter. July and
August bring rain although there are
live creeks which attract deer and an
abundance of antelope. With son
Randy, Bob runs a cow-calf operation
plus up to 1,000 head of yearlings.
Bob serves on the board of trustees
for Plains Electric Generation &
Transmission Co-op in Albuquerque,
as well as Western Fuels.
Bill Keller, Western Fuel's secretary-
reasurer, ranches near Custer,
Montana, where he was raised, and
where he and his wife raised two sons
and four daughters. (They have 13
grandchildren.) The family-owned
Keller Land & Cattle Co. includes
Bill, son Jeff, brother Dick, and
nephew Stuart. Their red and black
Angus feed on corn and alfalfa raised
on the ranch. Winter wheat and barley
are raised as cash crops. Game birds,
such as wild turkey are plentiful on the
Keller ranch. Bill has been elected to
the board of several power
cooperatives including Basin Electric
Power Co-op headquartered in
Bismark, North Dakota.
Jay Cox of Winston, New Mexico, is
Western Fuels’ longest-serving board
member–20 years. His family settled
in New Mexico in the 1880s, but much
of what was the original family
homestead was taken for what is now
White Sands Missile Range. The Cox
cattle ranch (“good browse, juniper
and pinion”) is about 6-1/2 miles
from the Continental Divide in the
foothills of the Black Range. Jay’s
father was born in the family home his
brother Robert now occupies, while
Jay runs his registered Hereford
range operation with the help of his
daughter Trudy and son-in-law
Russell Freeman.
Jack Finnerty runs his family ranch
near Chugwater, Montana, with his
wife Louise, and younger son, Dean.
(Son Matt works for a crane
company.) Their cow-calf operation
includes both the ranch, where they
put up their own hay, and a ranching
partner-operation in the nearby
mountains. No four-wheelers are
used, just horses. Jack no longer
rodeos, but Louise barrel races, and
Dean is active in rodeo. Originally
homesteaded by Jack’s dad, the ranch
covers two creek bottoms and the
rolling hills above on land which was
once part of the vast Swan Land &
Cattle Company. Jack is a longtime
board member of Tri-State
Generation & Transmission
Association in Westminster, Colorado,
as well as Western Fuels.


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