published Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

The war on coal: To what end?

A hill of coal is seen at the North Omaha Station, a coal-burning power station, in Omaha, Neb.
A hill of coal is seen at the North Omaha Station, a coal-burning power station, in Omaha, Neb.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

He can't say he didn't warn us.

President Barack Obama, who as candidate Obama said under his plans "electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket" and that if somebody wanted to build a coal-powered plant "it will bankrupt them," is making good on his promises.

His executive order Monday, which called for power plants to cut their carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030, is expected to both jack up electricity rates and eliminate jobs (there are 800,000 coal-related jobs in the country). And this despite the fact U.S. carbon emissions are at their lowest level per capita, according to 2012 U.S. Energy Information Agency data, since 1961.

Using a clause buried in the 1970s-era Clean Air Act as his authority after failing to get Congress to pass a "cap-and-trade" plan to reduce emissions in 2010, Obama hopes to limit the emissions and the greenhouse gases he and his administration say are responsible for global warming.

The clause stipulates the Environmental Protective Agency is obligated to regulate sources of pollution that "may endanger public health or welfare." With that clause, the possibilities are limitless.

But by once again skirting Congress, Obama is hoping to get what he wants by ordering it into being, just as he did with increased fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles, protecting illegal immigrants and commuting mandatory-minimum drug laws.

The order is bound to be challenged in court, as it should be.

The court challenges may not be the extent of the administration's problems with the order, though. The potential loss of coal jobs is not likely to play well in coal-rich states where Democrats will have to defend the president's plans in what already is expected to be a tough election year for his party.

The 645-page executive order, which is expected to be finalized in 2015, gives states until 2017 to submit a plan to individually cut power plant emissions from 2005 levels or until 2018 if they join with other states to do it.

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to offer the individual states a range of options to meet targets based on where they get their electricity and how much carbon dioxide they emit while doing so. Those options include making power plants more efficient, investing in more renewable, low carbon sources of energy, and reducing the frequency at which coal power plants supply their power.

The states can also -- which Obama's failed bill in Congress would have done -- set up pollution-trading markets to offer more flexibility in how plants cut emissions. And if they don't set up their own method, the EPA will do it for them.

Tennessee, fortunately, may be better off than most states. Though it is 21st on the list announced last week by energy advocacy group Ceres in greenhouse gases by state, it already has reduced its dependence on coal.

While U.S. emissions are about 13 percent below those of 2005 levels, halfway to Obama's goal, the Volunteer State has reduced its carbon emissions about 30 percent over the past seven years.

Still, the U.S. Energy Department predicts retail power prices will rise 4 percent this year and an additional 13 percent by 2020 -- not including the cost that might be incurred by the new policy.

While coal employees and power bill-paying customers will be the losers from the president's executive order, if there is a winner it's the natural gas industry.

Over the previous five years, according to a 2012 Slate magazine article, the share of coal in power generation plummeted dramatically, and in April 2012 was at 32 percent, which was on par with gas, which emits 45 percent less carbon per energy unit than coal.

Indeed, David Victor, an energy expert at University of California at San Diego, estimated in the article that the shift from coal to natural gas had reduced U.S. emissions by 400 to 500 megatons of carbon dioxide per year. Obama administration-favored wind turbines reduced emissions by one-tenth the amount natural gas did, biofuels only a fifth of the reduction wind turbines offered and solar panels less than one-third what biofuels did.

And the cost for wind turbines, biofuels and solar panels, even with subsidies and tax break, is substantially more expensive than natural gas.

Increasing the use of clean coal and experimentation with alternative fuels until they are cost effective are one thing. Forcing the country away from coal power and into more expensive but less cost efficient sources is another. And, sadly, experts say, Obama's war on coal won't even make much of a difference in global warming in the long run if China and India continue to burn more coal than the United States.

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wallyworld said...

Corporations will not spend the money to produce 'clean coal' power, it interferes with their bottom line. Your health is not their problem. Fine particle pollution from U.S. power plants cuts short the lives of nearly 24,000 people each year, including 2800 from lung cancer. The average number of life-years lost by individuals dying prematurely from exposure to particulate matter is 14 years. Hundreds of thousands of Americans suffer each year from asthma attacks, cardiac problems, and respiratory problems associated with fine particles from power plants. Power plant pollution is responsible for 38,200 non-fatal heart attacks per year.

June 3, 2014 at 5:40 a.m.
librul said...

Breathe deep, the gathering gloom. Watch lights fade from every room .....

June 3, 2014 at 6:49 a.m.
Plato said...

This policy which the wing nuts call "the war on coal" is very similar to the 2008 Cap and Trade legislation supported by some Republicans. That legislation would have added about $15.00 per month to the average consumer electric bill. A small price to pay for the health benefits of less pollution as Wallyworld highlights above, notwithstanding making a serious advance towards slowing the emission of greenhouse gases.

Let the polluters and their allies file their lawsuits. The Roberts Supreme Court has already ruled that the EPA not only has the right but the responsibility in regulating greenhouse gas emissions. This is settled law.

Also the author is at least partially incorrect in stating that alternatives such as solar and wind are more expensive then coal. Solar still remains higher at the moment, but the average cost per Mwh of wind produced electricity is $80.30 vs. $95.60 for coal (source Wikipedia). The cost of wind and solar are declining rapidly while the cost of coal is rising. Gas is a good bridge fuel. It's cheap and in abundance and can take up the slack while we ween ourselves off coal and onto cleaner sources of power as they become even more economically, and environmentally advantageous.

If the coal industry want's to protect it's market share, then let them spend the money to perfect sequestration technology rather than bribing politicians to fight the government's efforts to protect the health and well being of citizens, and deal with the ever growing reality of global climate change.

June 3, 2014 at 12:05 p.m.
timbo said...

Plato...I guess liberals are just "nuts" instead of wing nuts. Find a more original insult.

June 3, 2014 at 3:33 p.m.
Plato said...

^Can't speak for liberals but I guess you could call me a facts nut.

June 3, 2014 at 3:37 p.m.
timbo said... just nuts. Facts have nothing to do with your posts.

June 3, 2014 at 3:54 p.m.
Easy123 said...

"You're", not "your", dumbass

June 3, 2014 at 10:34 p.m.
timbo said...

Easy123...I will compare brain pans with you any time...

June 5, 2014 at 11:09 a.m.
Easy123 said...

You wouldn't fare well, timboner. That's quite obvious. You've already proven your ignorance here.

June 5, 2014 at 1:35 p.m.
Plato said...

Easy - be careful, you're debating with a scientist :)

June 5, 2014 at 1:53 p.m.
Easy123 said...


You're right, I forgot! Unbelievable...

June 5, 2014 at 1:57 p.m.
timbo said...

Plato, Easy....You finally get it.

June 5, 2014 at 2:47 p.m.
Easy123 said...

That you're a lying imbecile? I got that a long time ago, timboner.

June 5, 2014 at 2:53 p.m.
timbo said...

Easy...there you go again. Why are you so bitter? Did a conservative drop you on your head when you where a baby? Is there any conservative you like or think is smart or are all of them just dumb, evil people.

By the way, you must be a teacher. Your grammar corrections are kind of picky. "Your" just got past the spell/grammar check. I am not writing War and Peace.

June 5, 2014 at 3:07 p.m.
timbo said...

Plato and Easy...By the way, Santa is going to bring you both a lump of coal for your stocking this Christmas for lying.

June 5, 2014 at 3:17 p.m.
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