“The nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy,” stated President Obama in last January’s State of the Union, emphasizing the significance of energy sustainability for our future. In recent months, most news media outlets have anointed our global counterpart China as the main competitors in the “race” towards clean energy. However, here in the Northwest, some don’t see the global demand for energy reform as a competition, but rather an opportunity for cooperation.
“I think it’s more of a shared challenge, than it is a confrontation,” says Clayton Fong in response to hearing President Obama’s comments. Fong, a second-generation Chinese American is the current acting Vice President of L&L Energy—a local coal-mining company that has recently adopted the difficult task of cleaning up China’s coal production. In accordance with a recent consolidation policy from the Chinese government, L&L currently works in collaboration with smaller mines in China to improve safety standards, increase operational capacity and reduce overall carbon pollution. With 15 years of experience in the coal cleaning industry, Fong describes L&L’s new endeavor as “modernizing” China’s operations, comparing the country’s coal industry to “what the US coal industry was about 70 years ago.”
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, China has surpassed the United States as the world’s largest emitter of carbon emissions and is the second largest consumer of energy, with about 80 percent coming from coal production. Due to coal producing more heat-trapping gases than natural gas or oil, the high rates of usage in China has prompted a series of bills aimed at converting energy output to be as efficient as possible. With the United States following closely as the second largest producer of carbon gases and the top worldwide consumer in energy, it seemed crucial for the development of the U.S-China Clean Energy Research Center in November of 2009, and even more critical for the reigning superpowers to negotiate a two-way agreement to cut carbon emissions during December’s Copenhagen Climate Conference. Despite the rumblings of an energy confrontation, it does appear both countries are working towards a progressive cooperation.
“I think both sides want to improve both emissions as well as greenhouse gases,” adds Fong. “The question is how do you do it, and do it incrementally without killing the economy.”
China being one of the only countries economically unaffected by the global recession allowed L&L to be one of the few US companies to see an increase in revenue this past year, and also potentially offers a crucial role for Chinese Americans to help lead the US out of the financial crisis. With China’s continued economic prosperity and government demands to reduce carbon gases, these seemingly coincidental crossroads have indeed provided a unique niche market for Chinese Americans like Fong and the associates at L&L.
“Sometimes it’s a culture of big vs. small. I think it’s harder for a big company to make those kind of adjustments, and even if they do, they do it at a slower pace,” explains Fong in regards to the advantages L&L holds as being a relatively new operation. He also notes the advantages of having both a multilingual staff and a familiarity with Chinese culture.
“Our niche isn’t really to be that new kid on the block; our niche is that ability to bridge that gap across cultures and across the ocean. We’re able to find a bridge being a US company, publically listed on the NASDAQ, but also able to operate in China.”
Last month, in February, L&L became publically listed on the NASDAQ, marking a significant step into the US energy market, and with their operations located in Washington state, their entry onto the NASDAQ brings prospects for local job growth. But with geopolitical tensions budding between China and the US, the energy relationship could become tense. China’s recent battle with American technology giant Google, the strong disapproval of Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, and the $6.4 billion arms sales to Taiwan, has weakened a seemingly already fragile harmony between the two countries. But despite all the media controversy, Fong seems confident in the relationship by looking at a simple principle.
“The relationship with China and the US has it’s up and downs, but clearly we’re economically linked, and quite frankly, we need each other. Neither one can sink, because if one does, the other one will sink as well.”