Craig and coal in the audio spotlight of new podcast

Moffat County the focus of a new audio series focusing on the twilight years of the coal industry in the region

Water vapor rising from the three stacks of the Craig power station on July 15, 2021.
The Institute for Science & Policy / Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Craig’s coal journey is about to get some Front Range attention.

The city will take center stage for the Denver Museum of Nature and Science’s first journalistic deep dive in its series “Coal at Sunset: A Colorado Town in Transition.” The eight-part series, Director of the Institute for Science & Policy and podcast host Kristan Uhlenbrock said, is a story not just about policy, but people.

“Over time, I became more aware that the story was about identity,” Uhlenbrock said in a Monday interview with the Craig Press. “And the individual humans affected by the transition. It really is a story of a community. While we talk a lot about different policies and science, this really is about a community and identity, and what they want for themselves now and in the future. The story became a lot about that.”

Trent Knoss (left) and Nicole Delaney (center, with mic), both of the Institute for Science & Policy, interview 518 Wine Bar owner Kirstie McPherson in Craig, Colorado on July 12, 2021.
The Institute for Science & Policy / Denver Museum of Nature & Science
Tom Kleinschnitz (right), Director of the Moffat County Tourism Association, is interviewed by Juliette Luini of House of Pod at Yampa River State Park in Colorado on July 14, 2021.
The Institute for Science & Policy / Denver Museum of Nature & Science

The podcast, the first two episodes of which were released Monday, follows multiple facets of the eventual coal-fired plant closures as a result of tightened environmental regulations in the state. Conversations about the podcast began in early 2020, and the common question of what the series should focus on ranged from the environment to energy, and eventually landed on Colorado’s transition from coal to cleaner ways of generating energy, including the so-called Just Transition for labor and economies.

The COVID-19 pandemic put the project on a pause, but last summer Uhlenbrock and her team made their way to the northwest corner of Colorado to talk to those whom the transition will affect the most.

“I think the story, while it’s about coal, and it’s about the workers there, it’s about the community, and it’s about others outside the coal community,” she said. “It’s universal. All of us have to deal with change often in our lives, and often to deal with uncertainty. Both of those things are very hard.”

Uhlenbrock said that her team’s goal is not to convince people one way or another about the future of coal, Craig, or Just Transition, and she acknowledged that subjects featured in the podcast might have opposing views on how the community should move forward. The institute is non-partisan and simply wants to tell Craig’s story from all sides, she said.

From the economic side to potential avenues that could support Moffat County in the future, Uhlenbrock said that she wanted to cover the identity aspect of those who are at the forefront of the transition. Uhlenbrock spoke to various community members about their roles in the transition and their plans on how to transition, and she said that one of the biggest surprises over the course of putting together the project was how positive and creative members of the Craig community are when it comes to solutions about the future of the city.

“While the story of an energy transition is really complex, it is one that actually has some really positive, passionate, hopeful ideas and people around that, and that people in Craig, in the conversations, are actually quite enthusiastic and excited about their future and what they want their town to be,” she said. “And they have a lot of ideas. I think we all kind of knew that, but to hear them share their passion and how much they all really, really, truly care about the future (was great).”

In addition to Craig voices — which include former mayor and county commissioner Ray Beck, Visit Moffat County director Tom Kleinschnitz, CNCC president Lisa Jones, and Tri-State CEO Duane Highley — the podcast will also travel to similar small communities that are transitioning or have transitioned from coal to other areas of energy or revenue. From Appalachia in the eastern states to the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming, Uhlenbrock said that the podcast also explores how other coal-dependent communities have faced similar trials and struggles.

As of now, all three Craig stations will close by the end of the decade, and nearby stations in Hayden expect the same fate. In October, members of the state Public Utilities Commission came to Craig to hear from the public about their concerns as we head toward that date. Those who spoke at that meeting said that the economic limbo for the rural communities affected by the closures is going to be a key issue as the 2030 deadline quickly approaches. The institute’s podcast goes into that as well, speaking with leaders at Tri-State and local leaders, as well.

As a town that has relied on coal for decades, Craig will be the subject of the limited series, which could be the first of more podcast series from the museum. Right now, Uhlenbrock said that she and her team will evaluate whether or not podcasting will specifically be the medium for future stories, but, topic-wise, she said they hope to tackle other science-related issues affecting other parts of the state. One idea, she said, is the future of water and water rights in Colorado, which could also feature the Western Slope of the state, including the Yampa River.

The first two episodes of “Coal at Sunset: A Colorado Town in Transition” are available on most platforms where podcasts are featured, and future episodes will be released over the next few weeks.

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