A week ago, the California Energy Commission hosted a conference in San Diego to discuss the Frontier Line, and dignitaries from all over the West attended. Frontier would be a high-voltage transmission line to bring electricity from Wyoming to the Southwest - including the large potential market in California. The scheme was originally hatched by Wyoming coal producers and states desirous of cheap power. Fortunately, the Frontier Line has morphed into quite a different concept. Coal mined in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming is indeed cheap but far from California. Before last year's run-up in prices, Wyoming coal was selling at the mine for an amazingly low price of $0.34\/MMBtu ($6 per ton), about 5 percent the price of natural gas. But moving this stuff long distances is expensive - by the time it was delivered to power plants in Nevada, the cost was five times as high. As natural gas prices rose last year, so did the price of coal. The price of Wyoming coal doubled after Hurricane Katrina, but it remains an inexpensive fuel for electric generation. However, with its air-quality problems, California is not about to start importing coal and building coal-fired power plants. So the coal industry came up with the idea of burning the coal in new power plants at mines in Wyoming (which evidently is unconcerned about air pollution) and shipping the electricity to California via a new long power line. Thanks to the new Frontier Line, Wyoming would get to mine more coal, and California would get cheap power while the pollution stayed in Wyoming. What a deal! While the Frontier fans were planning their power line, though, California was planning to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas responsible for global warming. Policy was adopted requiring that electricity purchased in California come from power plants that contribute no more to global warming than a modern power plant burning natural gas. As it turns out, Wyoming has lots of wind as well as coal, so one way to dodge California's global warming requirement would be to build some wind turbines in Wyoming and green up the coal-fired power by diluting it with electricity from wind. But California has renewable energy resources of its own yet to be developed, so why build an expensive power line for Wyoming wind power? At the San Diego Frontier Line conference, I expected lots of sniping at California's regulations limiting the purchase of conventional coal-fired power. But to my surprise, much of the talk was about how the coal industry could meet the requirements, rather than how it could avoid them. The coal industry seems to understand that California's determination to address global warming is for real and is bound to expand to other states as well. If the coal business is going to survive, it must find a way to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions. It is virtually impossible to take CO2 out of the exhaust created by burning coal. But there is technology in the development stage than could, in theory, remove CO2 before combustion takes place. "Integrated gasification combined-cycle" (IGCC) technology combines coal with steam to create hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide can then be extracted and pumped underground to "sequester" it for a long, long time. The remaining hydrogen can be used as fuel in a conventional combined-cycle power plant. The development of IGCC and sequestration technology is now a primary goal of the coal industry and the federal government. Western states are vying to garner federal money to build the first IGCC demonstration project in the West. The "Frontier Line" is no longer a nostalgic reference to a bygone era, but the possibility of a breakthrough in energy technology. I continue to find it difficult to take the Frontier Line seriously. Nevertheless, the San Diego conference produced useful results. The California representatives remained fully committed to the state's new policy of addressing global warming. Moreover, it was generally accepted that other states will follow California's lead, despite the current federal do-nothing policy. And the coal industry is beginning to realize that it must face the reality of global warming and reduce carbon dioxide emissions if it is to survive. Not a bad result for a conference that I had pretty much written off as a coal industry boondoggle.