First, wind and solar producers got an invitation to more than double the federal government’s renewable energy use. Then the Department of the Interior promised to ease permitting for renewable energy projects on federal lands. Finally, you know those wind turbines that, like Cuisinarts, draw and quarter flocks of migratory birds? Well, they were given a pass —wind turbines can keep slaughtering golden eagles for another 30 years before the owners will be prosecuted under the Endangered Species Act. Wind gets to kill our national bird, but coal miners have to protect underground bat habitats.
“The interior wrote the wind industry a blank check,” said the angry president of the Aububon Society. Imagine how the eagles felt.
Meanwhile, the coal community was getting the equivalent of exploding cigars. The Environmental Protection Agency is fiddling with its greenhouse gas regulations that, when finalized in 2014, will likely doom construction of new coal-based power plants — even those using the most advanced available technologies. The EPA’s own independent science advisors have recently raised telling questions about the cavalier use of science in support of its rule. And the federal commission charged with overseeing the nation’s electricity supply warned that the EPA’s air toxics rule falls heavily on the economies of coal-using states, causing substantial plant retirements that could possibly drop grid reliability below acceptable levels. “Think about rolling blackouts the summer before a presidential election,” said power commissioner Philip Moeller. “It kind of shifts the national discussion.”
Similar warnings came from economists at the Brattle Group who upped their estimate of total coal plant retirements to 77 gigawatts as well as their prediction for rising electricity costs. That spells higher utility bills, at least for those of us who like heat in the winter, AC in the summer and lights at night. Because plant closings are to layoffs what a sunset is to darkness, it was positively eerie to hear the EPA celebrate its 43rd birthday in December by boasting that it’s rules are “making a visible difference in communities across the country.” That difference is plainly visible in coal fields and unemployment lines.
When the catastrophic typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines this fall, the administration, refusing to let the crisis go to waste, said storms like this add urgency to its climate action plan against coal. Only they don’t, said federal research oceanographers, who told the media that global warming’s contribution to the storm, if any, “is likely to have been small, relative to other factors … “Even U.N. climate scientists weighed in on the stormy debate by finding “no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century.” Oh, well.
Even if climate change was having a significant effect on powerful storms, regulating U.S. coal out of existence may please hedge fund billionaires backing green energy, but it won’t help people living in storm-ravaged coastlines. That’s because, tempting as it is for our government to blame our industry, we’re not the problem. Since 1980, U.S. carbon emissions have increased by only 7.9%, while China’s have shot up 503%.
Such facts matter little to those who just know they’re right. That explains why the Department of the Treasury and the Export-Import Bank of the U.S. both said they would stop financing coal projects abroad. Apparently the country with more coal than any other doesn’t want to set an example by encouraging use of its coal and its mining machinery in developing countries that desperately need affordable electricity for their swelling populations now living without it.
In a December economic speech signaling his determination to boost employment, the president described the plight of a shrinking middle class struggling to make ends meet. “Their frustration,” he said sincerely, is “rooted in the nagging sense that no matter how hard they work, the deck is stacked against them.” Once again, well said.
Luke Popovich is a spokesperson for the National Mining Association, the industry’s trade group based in Washington, D.C.