The Times West Virginian

Opinion

June 27, 2013

In facing climate change, U.S. can’t ignore worldwide significance of coal

Barack Obama has said many times during his presidency that he and his adminstration are not waging a “war on coal.”

Following his address on climate change Tuesday at Georgetown University, those words ring even more hollow.

“Everybody is waiting for action,” Daniel P. Schrag, a White House climate adviser and director of the Harvard University Center for the Environment, told The New York Times prior to Obama’s address. “The one thing the president really needs to do now is to begin the process of shutting down the conventional coal plants. Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they’re having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what’s needed.”

No, a campaign against coal — or any form of energy — is certainly not what the United States needs as the slow recovery from the Great Recession continues amid what should be a sensible approach to deal with climate change.

What’s needed is a commitment to coal — doing all possible to use the abundant natural resource that has no replacement available on the horizon in a realistic and environmentally responsible manner.

Instead, Obama’s plan focuses on new limits on carbon dioxide pollution from power plants. The administration, The Associated Press reported, had already proposed rules for new coal-fired plants, but they have been delayed amid industry concerns about the cost. A presidential memorandum Obama issued Tuesday directs the EPA to revise and reissue the new plant rules by September, then finalize them “in a timely fashion.”

It’s impossible for there to be even a suitable style of living in the United States — let alone significant economic progress — without affordable energy.

“The regulations the president wants to force on coal are not feasible. And if it’s not feasible, it’s not reasonable,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said. “It’s clear now that the president has declared a war on coal. It’s simply unacceptable that one of the key elements of his climate change proposal places regulations on coal that are completely impossible to meet with existing technology.

“The fact is clear: Our own Energy Department reports that our country will get 37 percent of our energy from coal until 2040. Removing coal from our energy mix will have disastrous consequences for our recovering economy. These policies punish American businesses by putting them at a competitive disadvantage with our global competitors. And those competitors burn seven-eighths of the world’s coal, and they’re not going to stop using coal any time soon.”

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said that he has “long believed the science is real and we need to address climate change” but that efforts in Congress have “been stuck in deep partisan gridlock.”

He stressed that “any roadmap to deal with our future energy needs must include the promise of clean coal. Our demand for energy can’t be met without it.”

Rep. David McKinley said Obama’s “new strategy is to go around Congress and impose his agenda by using unelected bureaucrats at the EPA to make decisions that will have a disastrous effect on the economy of West Virginia and America as a whole.”

“The regulations the president is proposing would cause thousands of Americans to lose their jobs and raise electricity costs by steering our economy from low-cost energy to more expensive sources,” the West Virginia Republican said. “Based on unproven models and theories about what will happen in the future, the president is taking actions that will have real, immediate, negative impacts on our economy today.”

If America wants to be a world leader when it comes to climate change, it will do so by continuing to develop ways to efficiently use coal — not ignoring the value of the resource.

USA Today reported Wednesday, the day after Obama’s address, that U.S. coal exports set a monthly record in March, driven largely by rising demand from its top customer, China, and other Asian countries, according to the most recent data from the Energy Information Administration. While domestic consumption has had recent dips, exports have steadily climbed — from 39.6 million short tons in 2002 to a record 125.7 million short tons last year.

“Many coal producers are looking offshore as a way to offset softer markets in the United States,” says Luke Popovich, spokesman of the National Mining Association. He says U.S. demand for coal has dipped because of relatively low natural gas prices and electric use, but he expects it will rise again.

Popovich says Obama’s new proposal to cut greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. coal-fired power plants will do little to help the climate, because increasing amounts of coal are being burned worldwide. He added that coal demand is rising even in developed countries such as Germany and Japan that are cutting back on nuclear power.

Manchin has called for an “all-in” approach he illustrated last year when he was accompanied by fellow senators — Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Oregon’s Ron Wyden — on a two-day tour that highlighted West Virginia’s energy resources: coal, wind, hydroelectric and Marcellus shale gas.

“It is only common sense to use all our domestic resources, and that includes our coal,” Manchin said. “Let’s make sure that government works as our partner, not our adversary, to create a secure and affordable energy future, and let’s invest in technology which will have the ability to burn coal with almost zero emissions.”

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