Lisa Jackson: EPA isn’t to blame for coal industry’s problems

posted at 2:01 pm on June 11, 2012 by Erika Johnsen

Is this some sort of inept, tasteless joke? Try to read around the relentless environmental bias and feel-good blather of this glowing profile of EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson from the Guardian, and you’ll recognize the same sort of economic-language usage employed by the wider Obama administration to try and disguise their many endeavors at central planning.

The president talks about “all of the above” energy, and I think we don’t realize enough how important that is. There are those who would like us to drop everything and say, time for another, a second fossil fuel boom, and the president is saying, but the future for our country is around clean energy, renewables, and getting that technology perfected and ready at a commercial scale here so we can sell it abroad. That will make our country stronger and create jobs as well. We should not put all our eggs in any one basket. And we should not, just because we have it, assume that means we should use fuels as though we have it — because energy independence requires a certain reduced demand. …

And then coal has another pollution problem, and that’s carbon pollution: it’s the most carbon-intense fossil fuel. And the president invested in carbon capture and sequestration technology as part of the Recovery Act. He said all along, I’m from a coal state, so I believe that if there’s going to be a future for coal it has to be one that deals with carbon pollution, with climate change. So in my opinion the problem for coal right now is entirely economic. The natural gas that this country has and is continuing to develop is cheaper right now on average. And so people who are making investment decisions are not unmindful of that — how could you expect them to be? It just happens that at the same time, these rules are coming in place that make it clear that you cannot continue to operate a 30-, 40-, or 50-year old plant and not control the pollution that comes with it.

Really? The problem for coal right now is “entirely economic”?

It’s absolutely true that the energy industry has been going gaga over the possibilities of natural gas, and that this new, plentiful, inexpensive, relatively cleaner source of energy is giving coal a run for its money on the investment scene. But please don’t insult our intelligence and act like the EPA isn’t actively trying to force this process along. One of their latest proposed rules under the Clean Air Act would make it virtually impossible for any new coal-fired power plants to be built, ever.

If natural gas really is all its cracked up to be, let it do its own thing and phase out coal at the productive pace laid out by the free market. Coal still accounts for practically half of the United States’ electricity needs, and letting the growth of a potential substitute run its own economic race can accomplish the same goal as actively persecuting coal, but on a timeline that doesn’t lead to massive disruptions in energy prices or jobs.

Whatever grandiose claims of environmental nobility they may have to justify their regulatory infringement, the federal government is always ill-positioned to pick winners and losers in the marketplace: things can change too quickly, and then you’ve got entrenched laws continuing bad policies. A few decades back, for instance, the federal government was encouraging coal production — Robert Bryce has more.

There’s no small amount of irony in the fact that the EPA — which is pushing a phalanx of new regulations on air quality, coal-ash disposal, and other measures — is now trying to shut down some of the very same coal-fired power plants that were built in the 1970s and 1980s as a direct result of the congressional ban on natural-gas-fired electricity production.

In 1987, Congress reversed course and repealed the Powerplant and Industrial Fuel Use Act. Although the law was in effect for less than a decade, it distorted the power sector for years to come. In 1978, natural gas was generating 13.8 percent of U.S. electricity. By 1988 — a decade after the Powerplant and Industrial Fuel Use Act was passed — natural gas’s share of the U.S. electricity business had fallen to a modern low of just 9.3 percent. By contrast, between 1978 and 1988, coal’s share of the U.S. electricity generation market soared, going from 44.2 percent to 56.9 percent, the highest level of the modern era.

Congress’s misbegotten effort to ban the use of natural gas for electricity production sounds a lot like the EPA’s proposal to prohibit the construction of new coal-fired plants for generating electricity. The difference, according to the EPA, is that we are now facing a new crisis: climate change. The agency claims the ban on coal plants is needed because greenhouse gases “endanger both the public health and the public welfare of current and future generations.”


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