Mark Gill, of Twentymile Mine, was one of about 250 area coal miners who attended Tuesday's campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The mine's attendance at the event was to raise public awareness about energy and issues surrounding the industry.

Photo by Mary Austin

Mark Gill, of Twentymile Mine, was one of about 250 area coal miners who attended Tuesday's campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The mine's attendance at the event was to raise public awareness about energy and issues surrounding the industry.

Twentymile's presence at Romney event part of shifting focus

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Miners for Mitt

Photo slideshow of local miners showing their support for Republican candidate for president Mitt Romney

Photo slideshow of local miners showing their support for Republican candidate for president Mitt Romney

Quotable

“In the United States we have the tendency to take power for granted. We expect to flip a switch and have the lights turn on, and aside from an occasional brown out, it usually does. Coal plays a major role in providing that consistent product.”

— Jerry Nettleton, Twentymile Mine environmental manager

Pat Sollars, vice president and general manager of Peabody Energy’s Colorado operations, said the company has historically kept information about operations under wraps.

But, with stricter U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations on the horizon targeting methane gas emissions at coal mines, and new rules on greenhouse gas and mercury emissions at coal-fired power plants, Sollars said Peabody recently decided to take a more aggressive position focused on public education.

That new strategy is what motivated Sollars to pull 148 Twentymile Mine workers to the surface to attend Tuesday’s Mitt Romney presidential campaign rally at Alice Pleasant Park in Craig.

More than 300 weekend shifters, friends, family members and vendors joined the miners in an effort to show industry support.

“We hope we made an impact,” Sollars said of the event. “I think we were able to show the community how many people are involved in the coal mining industry.

“When you have 2,000 people show up for an event and 450 of them are associated with one area coal mine, I think that makes a statement and they all know how vital coal is to our livelihood.”

Navigating his way Friday through more than seven miles of entry, or tunnels to the layperson, en route to one of the nation’s largest “longwall” operations located nine miles northwest of Oak Creek in Routt County, Sollars talked about how important coal is not just in providing reliable and affordable energy, but as a economic force in Northwest Colorado.

Twentymile employs close to 600 residents from Moffat and Routt counties, yields 7.5 million tons of coal annually and pumps about $790 million into local economies, Sollars said.

“It’s a major operation, there’s no doubt about it, and we feel every presidential candidate needs to recognize the importance of coal,” Sollars said. “We’ve all heard ‘all of the above,’ but we were impressed to hear Romney talk about using all forms of energy found both above and below the ground.”

Jerry Nettleton is known around Twentymile as “chief gardener,” but his formal title is environmental manager. In 28 years at Twentymile, Nettleton has traveled the world as a consultant and witnessed the contrast between countries that have coal-generated power on the grid and those that don’t.

On Friday, he recalled his first trip to India, where during a meeting with mining officials the power went out. Nettleton looked around the room to see if anyone noticed, but the meeting continued uninterrupted.

It was at that moment Nettleton realized power outages were a part of everyday life.

Over the next several days, Nettleton said the power went out eight to 10 times per day for stretches lasting anywhere from a few minutes to more than an hour and a half.

“In the United States we have the tendency to take power for granted,” Nettleton said. “We expect to flip a switch and have the lights turn on, and aside from an occasional brown out, it usually does.

“Coal plays a major role in providing that consistent product.”

Twentymile is operated by St. Louis, Mo.-based Peabody Energy, the largest international coal provider working in the private sector.

The company has customers in 26 countries on six continents.

Coal mined by Peabody subsidiaries fuel more than 10-percent of the energy consumed in the U.S., and approximately 2 percent of the world’s electricity.

Twentymile Mine’s 7.5 million tons of coal fuel coal-fired power plants in Hayden, the Front Range, and in Mississippi, Texas, Wyoming, Hawaii, and Europe, Sollars said.

“It’s reliable, low-cost and there’s a lot of it,” Sollars said. “It also has the best track record in terms of improvements on environmental impacts.

“A lot of people don’t realize those things and we, as an industry, need to take a more proactive role in educating the public to try to head off some of these unnecessary regulations.”

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