Marion Loomis has been with the Wyoming Mining Association, one of the state’s most influential interest groups, for almost 40 years. Earlier this week, he announced that he would be retiring that post in April. Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce caught up with Loomis at the Capitol to discuss his career and what the future holds for the state’s mining industry.
STEPHANIE JOYCE: Back when you started with the Wyoming Mining Association in the 70s, clearly Powder River Basin coal was not as important as it is today. Would you ever have anticipated that coal would be as important as it is today?
MARION LOOMIS: Well, we knew it was going to be important. In 1973, there was an Arab oil embargo, which anybody my age remembers well, and as a result of that, the country decided that we would become energy independent. Part of that process would be to build coal gasification plants, coal liquefaction plants, power plants, in Wyoming and across the United States. So we knew that coal was going to be a big deal. But we never anticipated, I don’t think, the level of production or the level of efficiency that the coal mines achieved with technology and equipment and use of explosives that we’re doing today. So that part of it has been astonishing to me. But the fact that we got into the coal industry in the 70s is not.
JOYCE: You're leaving at an interesting time. There are a lot of changes happening in the coal industry right now. What do you think the biggest challenges that your successor is going to face are, when it comes to coal?
LOOMIS: The biggest issue is dealing with the Environmental Protection Agency and the rules that are coming out. You know, we’ve made such tremendous strides in reducing emission levels. We’ve increased coal production about 170 percent in this country in the last 20 years and reduced pollutants by over 85 percent. We started with particulates, and now we’ve taken most of the particulates out. Then the sulfur dioxide and we’re getting the sulfur dioxide out. We’re getting the nitrogen oxides out. Now we’re working on mercury. It wasn’t too many years ago that we didn’t think we could get the mercury out of Wyoming coal, but they’ve developed new technologies and now the newer plants have mercury controls on them and they’re getting the mercury out. Given time, I think we can reduce the carbon dioxide emissions as well.
But coal is going to be here for a long time. While we’ve seen reductions in production for the last two or three years, I think we might actually see an increase this year in Wyoming production. The real key is going to be what happens with this new carbon dioxide standard.
JOYCE: We talked about how hard it was in the 70s to predict that PRB coal would be as important today as it is. How well do you think we can predict what’s going to be happening 40 years down the line with PRB coal?
LOOMIS: I can’t predict what’s going to happen tomorrow. I mean, we may find totally new energy supplies. I mean, maybe we’ll have hydrogen by then. If we had a combination of solar and wind to do the electrolysis to produce hydrogen, maybe hydrogen will be a source of supply. We may find other sources of energy 40 years down the road.
But I think coal is going to continue to be a major source of energy for this country. We have so much of it, and it’s efficient, it’s reliable, and it’s relatively inexpensive, relative to any of the other energy sources. So I think there are going to continue to be people like our School of Energy Resources and other research institutions that look at how can we take this resources that we have so much of and turn it into useable fuel. Whether that’s through gasification and liquefaction, whether it’s through some other way to utilize the coal resource, I think we will continue to use coal.
JOYCE: There’s another industry in Wyoming that I wanted to talk to you about, which is the rare earth elements mining industry. I’d be interested to hear what you think about its prospects for the future and whether Wyoming is going to be a producer of rare earth minerals.
LOOMIS: Well, I definitely think we’re going to be a producer of rare earth minerals. It’s going to be a really small operation compared to the big coal mines or trona operations. But certainly if we have more hybrids, the wind energy continues to grow, there’s going to be a demand for rare earth elements. Electric cars are going to require a lot of rare earth elements. And if the electric cars take off, there’s going to be real demand there. While you don’t need a whole lot of rare earth elements in these high-tech things, you do need them, you have to have it. So that’s pretty exciting for Wyoming.
JOYCE: Do you have plans to continue working with the industry after your retirement?
LOOMIS: I don’t have any plans right now. Primarily, my wife and I would like to do some more traveling, and I need to get into the mountains more, and I have plans to play a lot of golf. I want to play every golf course in the state of Wyoming and I’m about three short. So I’ve gotta get out and get those golf courses played.
JOYCE: I really appreciate you speaking with me.
LOOMIS: You bet, glad to do it.