My friend and co-host Jim Geraghty often reminds us that all of Barack Obama’s statements come with an expiration date. Some of them we can cheer, especially the latest expiration on coal. Obama promised to bankrupt any new coal plants during the campaign, but this week has signaled that coal will play a big role in his domestic energy plans (via Instapundit):
Big Coal is on a roll in the nation’s capital, winning early rounds this week in what promises to be a long fight over fossil fuels and climate change.
Despite a well-funded ad campaign by environmentalists attacking the industry, and a huge coal-ash spill in Tennessee that has led to calls for more regulation, the industry has received positive assurances this week from President-elect Barack Obama’s nominees that the new administration is committed to keeping coal a big part of the nation’s energy source.
On Wednesday, Mr. Obama’s choice to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, described coal to a Senate panel as “a vital resource” for the country. A day earlier, Mr. Obama’s nominee to run the Energy Department, physicist Steven Chu, referred to coal as a “great natural resource.” Two years ago, he called the expansion of coal-fired power plants his “worst nightmare.”
The comments indicated the new administration is trying to steer toward the center in the debate over the costs associated with curbing fossil fuels and the greenhouse gases they produce.
A year ago, Obama told the San Francisco Chronicle this:
So, if somebody wants to build a coal plant, they can — it’s just that it will bankrupt them, because they are going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.
Has Obama flip-flopped? I’m not as sanguine as Glenn. Further into the story, a few more details come out about these nominees. First, Jackson promised to address a recent ruling by outgoing EPA administrator Stephen Johnson that keeps states from imposing their own greenhouse-gas emissions standards. She also refused to specify under what circumstances the EPA itself would invoke a public-health trigger that allows the EPA to exercise a vast regulatory authority over all emissions in the US.
It’s easy to talk about coal being a “vital resource” in front of Congress. Obama did that on the campaign trail, too, at the same time he talked about bankrupting people who open coal plants. The public support now for coal won’t make much difference when Jackson starts invoking the Clean Air Act triggers and starts regulating a naturally-occuring component of air, and when states do the same thing with the EPA’s blessing. Obama’s promise to bankrupt coal-plant operators will still get fulfilled.
I’d love to see that statement have an expiration date — but thus far, I don’t see one.