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Q&A: Hal Quinn President and CEO, National Mining Association

QuinnAs chief lobbyist of the National Mining Association, it falls on Hal Quinn, the group’s president and CEO, to promote his industry.  That means defending coal mines and, ultimately, America’s reliance on the fuel source to power homes and businesses.

That’s easier said than done at a time when the White House is bent on promoting renewable energy and cutting carbon emissions.

In this Oct. 23 interview, Quinn not only promoted the use of coal, but said he would have no problems living near a coal plant.

How much renewable energy do you think your house consumes?

I’m sure I get some of it, but there’s no way to tell unless they tell you on the bill. The fact of the matter is you might sign up for renewable energy (but it) doesn’t mean you’re getting it. You can’t separate electrons on the grid.

Would you live in a house that’s fully run by renewable energy?

If it was reliable and affordable — I have to see that first. I think that’s what most Americans face.

So if it’s affordable and it’s reliable, you would. But you’re not seeing that one yet?

No, I don’t see it for quite a while. I mean there’s got to be some major technological breakthroughs on renewables… It’s one thing to run a house on renewables. It’s another thing to run businesses and major intensive industries on intermittent sources.

How would you sum up the Obama administration’s view of the mining industry?

Well, I don’t think they fully have appreciated the role that the mining industry plays in the economy, and I say that because we’re really the front-end of the supply chain, and there’s a lot of attention being given to the delays in getting infrastructure projects permitted and approved (by the) government… And we’ve been asking for years (for some) attention to get mining permits more efficient and to cut out some of the duplication and the delay.

How long does it take to get a permit?

Nationally, the average is seven to 10 years. Four years ago, we were talking five to seven (years), so it’s getting worse. The Safford mine here in Arizona took 14 years.

What would you say would be a reasonable time frame?

We did some polling here in Arizona, and the overwhelming majority of people believe it should be two years or less. And many of them thought it should be a year or less. We’re not saying there ought to be a single time frame. What I’m saying is there ought to be targets, like we have embodied in some legislation that just passed the House that would say: you have to make a decision within (a certain) amount of time, say two-and-a-half years or 30 months or so… We’re not saying that legitimate environmental concerns should not be addressed. They should be addressed, but what we’re saying is they shouldn’t serve as excuses to hold these projects in an unending limbo of no decision.

Is it the model that you would like to see — that the state (becomes) basically the lead agency in the permitting process?

It doesn’t have to be that way. There may be differentiation between what is a level of state role.

But would you prefer that the state take the lead?

I prefer that the state, in most cases, where they have a comprehensive program, to be the lead agency and the federal government agree up front about what its role would be, so we’re not duplicating or (we) minimize the duplication. If there’s a gap, then let the federal agency fill that role.

When you talk about the mining industry, I think most people think of coal, for example, or mining to get materials to produce fuel for our energy uses.

Think about this: Just on the metals and minerals side, excluding coal, we’re putting out about

$77 billion or $80 billion of raw product, and by the time that raw product finds its way into finished product… it’s worth two point some odd trillion (dollars) — about 15 percent of the GDP in the United States alone. I’m talking about copper, gold, silver and industrial minerals, [like] phosphates or fertilizer — you know, the whole thing. The agricultural community depends on what we produce as well, in terms of getting greater yields.

Let me talk about coal just for a sec. It’s cheap and abundant… It’s also among the worst contributors to pollution. I think you do agree with that, and correct me if you don’t agree with that. So I guess my question is: Why shouldn’t Arizona or the United States move away from coal as an energy source?

First of all, the attributes of coal are that it’s affordable. It is abundant. It is secure here in the United States, but even globally as well. Here in the United States, in terms of environmental performance, emissions from coal plants are 90 percent lower than they were in 1970, and 75 percent lower than they were just in 1990-1995.

We’re still putting out a whole lot of emissions though.

Well, what I’m saying is it has a proven track record of improving its performance. OK — it hasn’t remained static. So, most of the pollutants have been addressed through standards and technology. So, the latest challenge is carbon dioxide. We have more efficient technologies that could be deployed to produce more electricity with less energy.

Are those technologies viable now? I keep reading about clean coal.

Advanced coal technology, such as super critical pulverized coal, and then ultimately ultra-super critical — they are viable and they are being put in place, but new EPA rules would preclude us from building those plants unless we also put those carbon capture and sequestration (system), which is not a technology that has been adequately demonstrated or commercialized yet. And so, that’s a bad choice from a policy standpoint.

Would you live next to a coal plant?

Sure. I’ve lived down the road from coal plants.

Is that right?

Yeah.

Where?

In Virginia and in Maryland.

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