Fighting for the People
At our recent summer meeting in Flagstaff, I strode behind the podium to introduce my longtime friend Tom Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance. I’ve known Tom and battled with him in the trenches during political fights for the past 15 years or so. But not recently.
I had no idea what I was going to say about Tom, so I opened my mouth and let my heart speak. What emerged was the story about how we fought to save a couple of coal mines in northwestern Colorado and, more importantly, the people whose livelihoods depended on them.
The company I worked for at the time owned the mines, which produced coal that fed 2 large power plants, also partially owned and operated by the company. Hundreds of people worked at the mines or power plants, some with families who had done so for generations. They were my co-workers and friends, not some unfamiliar people in rural Colorado. Their work produced something tangible and important: electricity that provided the lifeblood of business, industry and life in large swaths of the Intermountain West. They were decent, hard-working folks who took pride in their work and what it meant.
Because of a successful grassroots campaign we created and conducted—largely propelled by the miners, power plant workers and their families and communities—we were able to extend the life of the mines and, by extension, the power plants and economies of that part of Colorado. Alas, the victory was short-lived. The mines and power plants are in the midst of closing, due to ever-restricting environmental regulations driven by concerns about climate change.
We can argue about the wisdom of taking large chunks of dependable power out of production in favor of less reliable sources another day. My reflections about my work with Tom and his team come from a different perspective: that of the lives and communities affected by these decisions.
I’ve had to stand in 2 power plants and two mines as the company’s CEO told hundreds of people they would be closing, and they would be losing their jobs. I’ve had to attend and facilitate community meetings in places such as Nucla, Craig and Meeker and look into the eyes of worried and crestfallen people. They’re wondering what they’ll do for a living, how they will provide for their families, how they will sell a house that has instantly lost its value, and what they will do about their business that will no longer have customers. We threw lifelines of promises of glide paths, job counseling, retraining and financial assistance. But what people really wanted was to keep performing meaningful work, producing a life-sustaining product in their tidy hometowns.
What I’m saying is that the noise, clutter, hype and emotions of something that may sound reasonable—making radical changes in how we produce energy to combat the perceived existential threat of a warming climate—is not theoretical to some people. It’s very real.
Dave Lock CEO