Calendar of Events
|Blaming the Victim|
|Wednesday, 01 August 2012 13:15|
By Luke Popovich
“Fast and furious” is a name already owned by the Justice Department but it could equally apply to the barrage of slings and arrows launched at the coal industry this summer. In a damaging fusillade that was not entirely unexpected, the administration, the Senate, and finally a federal appeals court, all made coal’s climb out of its doldrums a little steeper.
In quick succession, we faced the close but disappointing defeat of the senate resolution to overhaul the EPA’s destructive utility MACT rule. This is the regulation the EPA admits will have little real impact on reducing mercury emissions but energy experts agree will have major impacts on coal based capacity. Then just days later, a federal appeals court unanimously upheld the EPA’s authority to cut greenhouse gas emissions from coal-based power plants by forcing them to become gas plants.
Insult was soon added to injury. West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller explained his support for the Utility MACT and the resulting job losses to his state by blaming the industry for its woes, calling it “backward looking” for resisting clean coal technologies. But as NMA’s CEO Hal Quinn said, because the EPA’s regulation requires a technology standard that is impossible for any coal plant to meet, the advanced coal technologies the Senator says are vital have less chance now of being developed. “The bottom line is that the EPA’s mercury rule was not designed to improve coal plant performance, but simply to force the retirement of as many existing coal plants as possible and to preclude the building of new ones with the best available technology,” said Quinn.
The blame game actually got worse. The author of the mercury rule, and the greenhouse gas rule that followed, also blamed the victim. Pointing reporters to low natural gas prices, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said coal’s problems aren’t the EPA’s fault. It’s the economy, stupid.
But one week after her mea culpa, the Department of Energy’s own forecasters specifically blamed the EPA’s rules for raising their official estimate of expected coal plant retirements from 33 to 49 GW.
But let’s not feel sorry for ourselves. Think of the tough decision Administrator Jackson had to make. “You can’t imagine how tough that decision was,” said her Region 1 regulator Curt Spalding. “You got to remember if you go to West Virginia, Pennsylvania and all those places, you have coal communities who depend on coal,” he said.
Yes, you do. So if you live in “all those places” that rely on coal, shut up, stop whining and have some sympathy for Washington regulators! And all this was just a week before the news that U.S. manufacturing output fell to the lowest level in three years and average weekly wages also declined.
Well, any tank half empty is a tank half full. If these events have all damaged coal’s prospects, they have also made our choices clearer.
Seldom have the lines been more sharply drawn between the interests of coal communities and their antagonists in Washington. In this country of 8.2% joblessness, elections decide who enjoys the consent of the governed.
Pundits are mocked for declaring every election “the most important.” For the coal industry, this summer’s events may have justified that claim for this fall’s election.
Popovich is a spokesperson for the National Mining Association, the industry’s trade group based in Washington, D.C.