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War on Coal? More Like War for Our Wellness!

There has been no shortage of propaganda littering the media lately regarding President Obama’s new carbon emission regulations, and the accompanying “War on Coal.”  A cap on emissions will certainly require power plants to implement expensive carbon capture technology and thus, hike your electric bill about 80 percent, right?

No.  It will not.

If greenhouse gas emissions were like electricity usage, then the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is setting its baseline for reduction right at peak usage.  This is because the new EPA regulations on carbon emissions call for a 30 percent reduction by 2030 . . . from 2005 levels.

2005 was one of the highest emission years in the last decade.  So, instead of considering these regulations a 30 percent decrease from today’s levels like it’s meant to seem, it’s a smaller percentage, unless some states choose to over-comply with the regulations.

Despite the fact that the EPA’s new regulations are not as strict as they appear, fossil fuel companies are up in arms.  One company, Murray Energy Corp., based in Ohio, is threatening to sue the EPA over its “war on coal.”

Robert Murray, the company’s founder gave an interview May 30th, 2014 to The West Virginia Executive saying,

Under the act, they are obligated to tell the truth, and they are not telling the truth about global warming. They are not telling hardly [sic] any truth about the science. The earth has actually cooled over the last 17 years, so under the Data Quality Act, they’ve actually been lying about so-called global warming. This lawsuit will force them to not just take data from the environmentalists and publish it, as they have been doing, but to review that data and make sure it’s accurate.

Grammar notwithstanding, Murray is a man of his words.  This proposed lawsuit would not be his first fight with the EPA over the war on coal.  In March of 2014 Murray Energy filed a suit against the EPA for, well basically for enforcing the Clean Air Act.  The official complaint is a delightful piece of light reading that does not so much accuse the EPA of acting outside the bounds of legality, but rather seems to insinuate that the Clean Air Act is simply unfair.  Perhaps Murray is hoping for a constitutional ruling on the matter.

The coal industry has wasted no time in launching a serious scare-tactic campaign to promote opposition to the Clean Air Act.  This radio ad, for example has been airing in states like Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, and Pennsylvania.  It declares electricity bills will skyrocket and that the EPA regulations won’t even reduce carbon emissions.  Neither claim is accurate.

This friendly public service announcement comes to you from the National Mining Association (NMA), which has also plastered its website with dire apocalyptic warnings of the energy crisis that is about to befall us if coal is phased out.

In a YouTube broadcast entitled “NMA Newsmakers” Jeff Holmstead, Washington attorney and former assistant administrator of the US EPA for Air and Radiation had this to say:

Unfortunately a lot of the debate about climate change and fossil fuels has not been terribly thoughtful or enlightened.  For example, every time there’s a natural disaster of any kind, whether it’s a hurricane, a flood, or a drought, environmental activists are quick to blame it on climate change, and specifically on the use of fossil fuels.  But, you have to remember that these claims come from environmental activists.

I’m going to stop Mr. Holmstead right there to clear something up.  Sure, environmental activists are passionate about pushing their agenda.  But, Mr. Holmstead what is your role in the public dialogue on climate change and fossil fuel use?

One doesn’t have to search far to find out.  Holmstead’s resume is impressive, but it is not a testament to scientific impartiality.  In fact, to be plain, Jeff Holmstead is a coal industry lobbyist.  So, if listening to activists pushing their agenda on climate change and fossil fuels is misguided, as Mr. Holmstead suggests, I think everything he says on the matter is null and void as per his own logic.

The same rule applies to the NMA’s wildly inaccurate radio ad.
An 80 percent increase in electric bills is on the way?

No.  It is not.

That figure was referenced in a congressional hearing on the EPA rule, but it was citing a potential boost in costs if coal plants were to all implement Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) technologies that recover over 90 percent of carbon emissions.  This was a very minor point made in the discussions regarding the EPA’s rule, and it refers to the building of new coal plants with total CCS technology almost exclusively.

The EPA actually rejected such tight restrictions on emissions for a very good reason: it was too costly.

Will these regulations destroy coal?

No.

While the proposed emissions reductions would require increased efficiency on the part of coal-fired power plants, it does not eliminate coal as a viable fuel source.  In fact, should the coal industry work to improve its environmental footprint rather than fight to maintain current inefficient standards, it could be advantageous for the industry.  Investment in new technologies can create jobs, and mining would continue to fuel economies in coal-rich areas of the country.

It is true that natural gas is increasing as a fuel source due to its lower cost and fewer emissions.  Natural gas fired power plants emit about half as much greenhouse gas pollution as coal plants.

So, even if coal will decreases as a fuel source for electricity generation, so what?

Coal is the number one source of carbon pollution in the world, and, if burned without any emission regulations, can pollute the air so severely that people suffer health hazards and even die.  Unchecked fossil fuel emissions literally kill people.  Why is anyone, tied to the coal industry or not, okay with that? It is not acceptable in any civilized society.  Executives in the fossil fuel industry should be scrambling to mitigate the emissions that harm the very people who generate their revenue.  Air pollution is a preventable health risk, and it is high time we prevent it!

I am not anti-coal, nor is the Clean Air Act.  We are simply in favor of breathing clean air and inhabiting a healthy planet.

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  • S.C. Schwarz

    What these rules will do is accelerate the already happening shift from coal to natural gas as a baseline fuel. This is, broadly speaking, a good thing as natural gas is a cleaner, safer and less carbon-intensive fuel than coal. Of course, most environmental (“green”) organizations are just as opposed to natural gas as they are to coal, so we can assume natural gas will be next on their agenda.

    May I ask where you stand on the substitution of natural gas for coal?

  • Jessica Kennedy

    Excellent question! And good points. I agree with you that we will see a shift from coal to natural gas (it’s already happening). I am not thrilled about it as I am a big proponent of cleaner energy, but I’m also realistic about the way society is always sluggish to move forward on big changes – especially when there is so much money tied up in the industry.
    Natural gas at least emits less pollution than goal – so that’s a small step forward. I hope we continue to innovate and create better energy solutions in the meantime. After all, we do have an ample supply of natural gas – but that’s a finite resource all the same.
    Thank you for your thought-provoking comments!