The problems at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant have now surpassed that of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. This will be a setback for the nuclear power business, which has also been fighting an uphill battle for the last 30 years. From an engineering perspective, nuclear power is one of the best ways to generate electricity. Unfortunately that statement falls on deaf ears when people see the top blowing off the Fukushima plant on the evening news. Yes, the tragedy will be a boon for coal-fired power long-term, but no one can expect coal to replace nuclear, especially in the current political environment.

Even though the U.S. has no interests in Egypt or Libya, U.S. President Barack Obama’s foreign policy has further jeopardized stability in the region. That instability translated into price volatility for fuel on speculative pressure. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s the same approach that has won him so many friends in the business sector. He railed against Wall St. until he discovered that many middle class Americans were investors. He put forward a budget that relied heavily on revenues projected from a carbon tax. The Congress and American people soundly rejected the cap-and-trade scheme last year. Now the administration is using back-door techniques to implement the policy through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They may succeed.

The recent budget battles in Washington have exposed a real lack of leadership in Washington. The Congressional budget vote cut spending by $39 billion and could be viewed as a victory by Republicans. It, however, fell well short of the $100 billion they promised last November. The compromise is a line in the sand, there is a budget where there was none before, and the framework for the next set of budget negotiations already exists. Sadly, the riders designed to restrict the EPA regulation of greenhouse gases (GHG) and surface mining were dropped during the negotiating process.

In a 255-172 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives did pass the “Energy Tax Prevention Act,” (HR 910), which would block EPA implementation of GHG regulations under the Clean Air Act (CAA). The bill was brought to the floor by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), and supported by Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) and others. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration. Unless House Speaker Boehner sharpens his negotiating skills, a lot of bills in the next 18 months will die in the Senate.

In a recent speech, America’s Energy Security, Obama talked about charting a path toward cleaner sources of electricity. He talked about creating markets for clean energy, “to move capital off of the sidelines and into the clean energy economy.” His plan may already be working. If the Democrats can keep energy prices high enough, they can justify subsidies to renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, corn, etc. Tragically, it’s a zero sum game that will hamstring the American economy for generations.

Steve Fiscor, Coal Age Editor-In-Chief
sfiscor@mining-media.com