At the World Energy Conference (WEC) in Montreal, Greg Boyce, chairman and CEO, Peabody Energy, took the stage and offered a vision for the future of the world based on coal. When it comes to coal and energy, Boyce and his crew lead the world. Domestically, Peabody produces more than 200 million tons (20% of U.S. production on a tonnage basis), and it also has interests in key areas around the globe.
Boyce unveiled the “Peabody Plan,” a multi-step plan to eliminate energy poverty and inequality by unlocking the power of coal to advance energy security, generate economic stimulus and create environmental solutions. The greatest crisis confronting society in the 21st Century is not a future environmental crisis predicted by computer models, Boyce explained, but a human crisis today that is fully within our power to solve. More than 5 billion people will be living without adequate access to electricity in as little as 20 years. “Access to electricity helps people live longer and better,” said Boyce. The world has approximately 1,000 gigawatts of traditional coal-fired power plants. Boyce suggested replacing these with supercritical plants would drive major global reindustrialization and enormous reductions in carbon dioxide without using carbon capture and storage. Replacing older plants could create 21 million new construction jobs.
As the WEC concluded, as many as 1,500 frustrated coal miners, their families and supporters boarded buses in rural Appalachia and descended on D.C. for a rally on Capitol Hill. The rally was peaceful for the most part, except when speakers would mention the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), then the crowd would boo. The EPA’s main office was within earshot of the rally.
Similar to coal miners, Americans are aggravated with government officials who appear to be out of touch with reality. Many of these incumbent politicians are worried; some have already been unseated. President Obama and the Democrats have fallen out of favor with the people. Many voters are realizing now what the coal industry knew all along. Several large coal companies are preparing to fund a 527 group targeting incumbent Congressional candidates they perceive as anti-coal (See News p. 4). Even though the Republicans have regained some momentum, they have nothing to celebrate. In several mid-term primaries, Tea party candidates have upset the Republican base.
The coal rally motivated politicians. The following day, the Coal Caucus proposed the Electricity Reliability Protection Act of 2010 (H.R. 6113). The bill would block the use of funds by the EPA and other federal agencies to carry out the EPA’s guidance on Appalachian coal mining. The legislation would stop the EPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Office of Surface Management from implementing the EPA’s permitting guidance, which violates numerous federal laws and is based on bad science. To date, the guidance has halted action on nearly 200 permits and affected thousands of coal mining and coal-dependent jobs.
Many people have had to reset priorities due to the global economic crisis. Government officials need to do the same. Even though the economy has stabilized, a full recovery may be as far as two years away. The U.S. and the world have the ability to work through this situation. It needs leadership and vision. Hopefully, policymakers will listen and put people back to work.