By Travis Deti
Election Day has come and gone, and America has made its choice about who will lead the nation for the next four years. As a result, the anti-coal policies of the last four years we’ve seen out of Washington will continue. In other words, the “War on Coal” led by the Obama Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will move ahead unabated. Some claim that no such “war” exists. While we can argue semantics until the sun comes up, the truth is that the aggressive regulatory assault is very real and about to get worse.
The depressed state of America’s coal industry is certainly not due to a single factor. There is little argument that the recent boom of low-cost natural gas has taken its toll. And other factors, including unseasonable weather and a stagnant economy with anemic growth, have also led to reduced consumption of coal. But the avalanche of burdensome regulations and their impact cannot be understated.
The path the Obama Administration has chosen (in an end-run around Congress) is a regulatory program with a sole purpose: to eliminate the use of coal as a competitive source of electrical generation. By imposing a massive regimen of rules and unattainable goals on America’s utilities, the EPA has basically precluded the construction of any new coal-fired power plants in the future. In addition, many plants in operation today may be forced to shut down due to their inability to comply. By eliminating the coal industry’s largest customer, the utilities, you certainly cripple the coal industry.
Under the guise of public health, the EPA has cooked the books and relied on shoddy science and scare tactics to demonize coal use. The goal: promote the immediate (and unworkable) shift to heavily subsidized “green technologies.” Regretfully, the facts do not support this decision to kill America’s most abundant, reliable and affordable source of power.
The Obama Administration and EPA, as well as the extreme environmentalist groups, would have us believe that Americans are dying from dirty air caused by emissions from coal-fired power plants across the nation. The actual facts tell another story. According to the EPA’s own data, emissions from coal-fired plants, including mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, and particulates, have decreased by 87 percent in the last 40 years. Here is what is important: this decrease in emissions happened while coal usage in America has nearly tripled. Oh, and Americans are also living longer.
This decrease in emissions coupled with the increase in consumption we’ve seen in our country is due to sound regulatory policy based in real science and technological innovation. Coal use and a clean environment can and do co-exist together. The current regulatory path of diminishing returns will result in skyrocketing energy prices that will fall on the backs of all Americans , including small businesses, manufacturers, state and local governments, and home consumers, with little, if any, measurable positive impact to public health.
The notion that we as a nation can eliminate our main source of base load power for such specious reasons and shift the burden of meeting our energy needs on to unaffordable, unreliable and cripplingly expensive green technologies is pure folly. It is also highly unwise in an economy teetering on the brink of another recession.
Access to affordable and abundant electricity is key to building strong economies and raising the standard of living. We cannot rely on gas and nuclear alone to meet our ever-growing energy needs, and renewables are simply incapable of doing so. Coal should and must remain a cornerstone in any energy strategy aiming to meet this goal.
Travis Deti is the Assistant Director of the Wyoming Mining Association.