Obama's War on Coal Will Only Get Worse if He Is Re-Elected

The Obama administration's policies would end the use and production of coal in the United States.

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Thomas J. Pyle is the president of the Institute for Energy Research.

During this election season, there has been a highly-charged debate about coal. I have argued that the Obama administration has made significant progress towards fulfilling his 2008 campaign promise of bankrupting the coal industry.  Others, like Sen. Sherrod Brown from Ohio, believe there is no such war on coal. To claim this, however, Brown has turned a blind eye to the Obama administration's actions.  

Despite what appears obvious to most people, Brown recently argued that, "There is no war on coal. Period. There are more coal jobs and more coal produced in Ohio than there were five years ago, in spite of the talking points and the yard signs." While it's true that Ohio, which is responsible for less than 3 percent of U.S. coal production, has seen a coal production slightly increase, Brown is conveniently ignoring the complete picture. 

[See a collection of political cartoons on energy policy.]

According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. coal production in the first half of 2012 is down 11 percent compared to the first half of 2007. More importantly, the war on coal is not about production alone. It is also important to consider the proposed federal regulations, which impact both the use and production of this vital energy resource. Here are just two of the regulations that affect coal: 

  • New Source Performance Standards for greenhouse gas emissions from new coal-fired power plants. These regulations ban new coal-fired power plants that do not capture carbon dioxide emissions—and none can.  Existing plants don't have to comply right away under the rule, but EPA fixes them with the next regulation, MATS.
  • Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). This regulation, formerly called the Utility MACT rule, mandates a reduction in mercury and other emissions from power plants. According to EPA's own optimistic assumptions, the cost of this regulation is $10 billion a year, but the benefits from reducing mercury and air toxics is only $6 million a year (and that is likely overstating the benefits). Existing plants may be treated as "new plants" if they make these changes, and then be forced to meet the carbon dioxide emissions standards of the previous rule (EPA assures that this isn't the case, however, EPA does not have a strong legal case to make that argument). The combination of the two regulations could mean no coal plants, period.
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    These regulations alone show that the Obama administration is waging a war on coal consistent with his statement in 2008 to the San Francisco Chronicle that under his administration, "If someone wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It's just that it will bankrupt them."

    One reason the Obama administration has not acted more forcefully and imposed draconian regulations on existing power plants is because Obama is waging a tactical war. It takes years to implement new regulations and if the president gets re-elected, we can surely expect him to move forward with a host of regulations that are waiting in the wings. Given the unpopularity of his war on coal, the administration is imposing the regulations it believes it can implement without too much immediate political impact.

    [Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

    In a second term, the administration will be able to dramatically limit or even halt the use of coal in the United States as confirmed by Carol Browner, his former energy and climate czar and now senior fellow at the far-left Center for American Progress.

    The United States has the world's largest coal resources, but the Obama administration has nevertheless declared war on coal. With enough time, they can dramatically limit and possibly ban coal-fired power plants. While some people like Brown may try to ignore that Obama administration's policies, once you consider total U.S. coal production and the regulatory tidal wave arrayed against coal, it's obvious that the Obama administration's goal is to end the use and production of coal in the United States.

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