Thomas J. Pyle is the president of the Institute for Energy Research.
For nearly four years, the Obama administration has directed an aggressive regulatory assault on American families, pumping billions of taxpayer dollars into failed renewable energy industries while actively harming the domestic coal industry. This war on coal—which is conducted by environmental extremists and bureaucrats who have publicly supported the "crucifixion" of fossil fuel industries—must be stopped. Defending America's most abundant source of affordable energy and protecting thousands of jobs is essential to our economic recovery and strengthening our position in the global market.
American coal is abundant. According to government data, the United States alone has the largest coal reserves of any country in the world. With approximately 486.1 billion short tons, America's coal resources make us the "Saudi Arabia" of coal, providing nearly half of our nation's electricity generating capacity and the raw materials that U.S. steel workers need to stay on the job. The current "war on coal" not only compromises the reliability of our electricity grid, but it diminishes the hiring potential for U.S. steel at a time of record unemployment.
American coal is also affordable. A recent study by Economist Gilbert Metcalf of Tufts University demonstrates that wind power costs as much as 75 percent more than conventional coal. Once wind power's intermittency and the need for coal-fired backup generation is taken into account, however, wind's true costs would be 142 percent higher than the cost of coal. In fact, states that rely most on coal for their electricity generation are among the lowest residential prices in the county.
American coal is clean. Today's coal-fired electricity generating plants produce more power, with less emission of pollutants, than before. Advanced pollution control technologies created and installed by industry have resulted in a 71 percent decline in the total emissions of the six criteria pollutants since 1970, despite a 44 percent increase in our energy consumption over the same time period. According to the National Energy Technology Laboratory a new pulverized-coal plant reduces the emission of nitrogen oxides by 86 percent, sulfur dioxide by 98 percent, and particulate matter by 99.8 percent. Yet these tremendous successes for clean coal are routinely dismissed by anti-fossil fuel ideologues who are fighting the Obama administration's war on coal.
And finally, American coal makes us competitive. Earlier this week, the Energy Information Administration reported that Russia—which holds the world's second largest recoverable coal reserves behind the United States—has increased its coal production significantly in 2011. This increase has led Russia to its the highest post-Soviet production level, signaling the trajectory of Russian energy ambitions.
In fact, according to Energy Information Administration, the Russian government's strategy to increase coal production and build more coal-fired plants will help advance the country's global energy goals. Similarly, China has more than doubled its coal production in the last 10 years, helping to fuel that country's economic expansion and strengthen its global position. Yet neither China nor Russia have the coal resources we possess in the United States, nor does either country have our strong record of cleaner air and water.
The objective of the current "war on coal" is clear: weaken America's position in the global economy, handicap fossil fuel industries to make the administration's favored renewable sources appear more affordable, and deny the American people the right to access domestic coal resources that have the potential to power our economy for hundreds of years.
There is no reason why the American coal industry should be suffering at the hands of overzealous Washington regulators, yet the current assault on our most abundant energy resource has taken its toll. Environmental extremists and their allies in the corridors of power have done much to malign this energy source, and it's time to fight back.