“…. and more”? More what? Where’s coal? The U.S. has the world’s largest coal reserves—coal generates almost half of our electricity, and we don’t get a mention?

Obviously that’s what is off-putting about this quote. It isn’t the part about “taking control” of our energy future. The NMA is all for strengthening our energy independence; we’ve signed up for this long ago. It isn’t the “all-of-the-above” strategy the president supports; we support the use of all fuels irrespective of race, color or creed. What bothered the NMA wasn’t about what was said. It’s about what wasn’t.

Where in that long, very specific list of “every available source of American energy” is coal? Was this an accidental omission? Please. It was no more accidental than my omission from this year’s Best Actor’s list. Isn’t coal an “available source of American energy”? The president’s own energy department says so. In fact there may be no energy source more available—a 240-year supply under our feet. So check that box, too. Yet coal is silently subsumed in the president’s quote under the word “more.” After an exhaustive list of American energy sources, coal is the “etcetera.” It’s as if NY Giants Coach Conklin praised his Super Bowl-winning line up without mentioning “Manning.” Now the president has put the nation’s energy MVP on the bench.

It was Voltaire who said “no man is safe who is right when his government is wrong.” Here was a clever Frenchman. In much the same way, the coal community isn’t safe—regardless of the affordable energy it provides, the jobs it supports and the tax revenue it generates—because our government is wrong about it.

Coal won’t be the biggest loser from policies that discourage its use. The nation will. A U.S. energy strategy without coal is like a U.S. defense policy without weapons—it won’t succeed. The surge in natural gas is displacing some coal, but at what cost if coal generation is eventually removed from the market? The abundance of coal helps to keep gas volatility in check. The longed-for renaissance in nuclear power is more obvious in China than in the U.S. And the promised build-out of renewable fuel capacity is stymied by market forces and opposition to government subsidies.

The omission of coal from the president’s energy speech to the nation is more disturbing when seen in context. Just the week before, the EPA finalized its Utility MACT rule for controlling toxic emissions from power plants. The maximum achievable technology the EPA proposed for coal generation isn’t commercially available to meet the standards, let alone cost-effective in the three-to-four year timeframe the EPA insists for compliance.

“The EPA has compounded the flaws in its high-cost, tight-compliance regulatory strategy by hiding their real-world consequences to households and businesses,” said NMA CEO Hal Quinn.

These consequences are obvious to countries that look out for their national interest. Here’s an interesting thought experiment. Imagine Saudi Arabia refusing to support oil production, Brazil turning its back on cellulosic energy, China forbidding exports or Scotland banning whisky. You can’t. Nation’s don’t ordinarily renounce their competitive advantages and deny them to their people. Rulers who choose this course usually have a short time in office or they have a menacing state police. What they don’t have is praise from a grateful nation.


Popovich is a spokesperson for the National Mining Association, the industry’s trade group based in Washington, D.C.