Energy & Environment

The war on coal

The war on coal
Coal miners listen to U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Beallsville, Ohio.

Allen Black is a casualty in the Obama administration’s war on coal.

He worked in the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky for two decades earning upwards of $70,000 a year and was financially secure enough to help support his son’s pre-medical studies at a private university.

After losing his job on April 29, Black had no choice but to clear out his retirement savings to supplement his only income of $350 a week in unemployment and is now struggling to take care of his family at home, in addition to his son’s textbooks, food and other college expenses.

“You do what you’ve got to do for your kids,” Black told Human Events last week. “He’s worked hard, he’s earned it, and I’m proud of him. We’ll find a way.”

Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania—the heart of Appalachia—have been hardest hit by nine regulations proposed or finalized by the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that critics say will cripple this region’s coal industry.

“There was a massive migration out of Appalachia going north to build cars in the 1960’s because there were no jobs here. Coal is the only industry and when it fails, we all fail. We have another migration but this time we have nowhere to migrate to,” Black said.

“It’s really sad that government policies could make you leave a home where your family has been for generations. I’m not so sure it’s a war on coal so much as it’s a war on Appalachia,” Black said.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has enacted three significant regulations for new air emission standards with an annual cost expected to total more than $13 billion. Several more, including two proposed rules dealing with air and coal ash, could cost an additional $20 billion to $90 billion annually, according to a recent energy report by the Senate Republican Policy Committee.

The coal industry estimates its labor force at 135,000—Black is one of 2,000 who lost their jobs this year. Another 10,000 layoffs in direct and related jobs are expected in the coming months, and job loss estimates leaked from the Obama administration on the effects of just one water rule predicted another 7,000 coal jobs would be eliminated.

New coal-fired plants banned

The regulatory barrage is expected to close 175 coal-fired electric generating units, and effectively bans the opening of any new coal-fired power plants, diminishing the reliability of electricity and increasing the cost across half the nation, the Senate report said.

“I think the EPA is doing real harm to the United States with their heavy-handed activities,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), policy committee chairman and the report’s author. “It’s not just the coal plants that are suffering, it’s the entire communities because of the jobs related to it.”

“Energy security is part of our economic security and our national security, and coal is the most available, affordable reliable and secure source of energy that we have in America,” Barrasso said. “We have hundreds of years of supply, we cannot as a nation allow this to become a stranded asset.”

The Senate report expressed concerns from power companies they would be forced out of business because the upgrades are too expensive. Southern Company, a utility that covers states from Mississippi to Georgia, said electricity rationing is almost inevitable if the EPA’s timelines cannot be met.

“The cost of those regulations are real, but the benefits are unknown,” Barrasso said. “The EPA seems to be held hostage by environmental extremists, who seem to not want us to use fossil fuels of any sort.”

The U.S. has more than 1,400 coal-fired electric generating units at more than 600 power plants that produce nearly half of the country’s electricity to 60 million homes and 3.4 million businesses.

By regulating coal into oblivion, President Obama hopes that preferred alternative energy sources like wind and sun can be more competitive, Barrasso said.

“The president wants 80 percent of U.S. electricity to come from renewable energy sources by 2035 and has already invested billions of taxpayer dollars, created more than 700 government programs, and populated his administration with environmental radicals and Wall Street bankers to ensure success,” the Senate report said.

400 more targeted for closure

The Sierra Club brags that its actions have forced the “retirement” of 124 coal burning power plants already and it has targeted nearly 400 more for closure.

“As old coal plants retire, we’re working to make sure that clean energy like wind and solar will step in to replace them, providing many new jobs for American workers,” the Sierra Club said.

What environmentalists and the administration don’t talk about, is that solar power alone would triple household electrical bills from $200 a month to $700 a month, according to a Heritage Foundation study.

The Obama administration has been fairly transparent when it comes to its animosity towards the coal industry, which it blames as a substantial cause of climate change.

“If somebody wants to build a coal plant, they can—it’s just that it will bankrupt them,” Obama famously declared during his 2008 campaign.

Vice President Joe Biden was equally blunt on the campaign trail. “We’re not supporting clean coal. Guess what, China is building two every week. Two dirty coal plants. And it’s polluting the United States, it’s causing people to die.”

The EPA has even gone so far as to impose a climate change litmus test on American coal exports to China, Barrasso said.

Health impacts cited

According to an April 5th letter from the EPA to the Army Corps of Engineers, coal exports have “the potential to significantly impact human health and the environment … Consider, the example, the cumulative impacts to human health and the environment from increases in greenhouse gas emissions, rail traffic, mining activity on public lands, and the transport of ozone, particulate matter, and mercury from Asia to the United States.”

The U.S. produces one billion tons of coal annually and exports to China this year are expected to top 12 million tons.

“This is an American product that the president is attacking both at home, and its use abroad,” Barrasso said.

Biden was asked in 2008 which posed the most immediate threat to Americans— coal, terrorists, or high-fructose corn syrup. In order, he responded: “Air that has too much coal in it, corn syrup next, then a terrorist attack.”

“But that is not in any way to diminish the fact that a terrorist attack is real. It is not an existential threat to bringing down the country, but it does have the capacity, still, to kill thousands of people. But hundreds of thousands of people die and their lives are shortened because of coal plants, coal-fired plants and because of corn syrup,” Biden said.

United Mine Workers object

Obama administration policies have also annoyed leaders of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), a powerful force behind the Democratic Party that in a rare show of disloyalty skipped the party’s national convention in Charlotte, N.C. earlier this month and has so far refused to endorse Obama for a second term.

“The Navy SEALs shot Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan and Lisa Jackson shot us in Washington,” said Cecil Roberts, UMWA president during an April 3 radio show in West Virginia. “I noticed this past week the vice president was talking about the campaign and he mentioned that Osama Bin Laden was dead and General Motors was alive. He should have gone on to say that the coal industry is not far behind with respect to what happened with Osama Bin Laden.”

Meanwhile, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, launched his own war against the Obama administration in a campaign ad last week titled “Coal Town.”

“Since the day I became governor, I fought the Obama administration’s war on coal. I took them to court and we won. I won’t let anyone push us around,” Tomblin says in the ad.

The Democratic mountain stronghold showed Obama what it thought of the anti-coal policies when voters threw 42 percent of their support to the president’s challenger in the May party primary—an inmate doing time in a Texas federal prison for extortion.

“People think we are crying wolf but these anti-coal polices are going to cripple this nation,” Black said. “I’m all for taking care of the environment—I don’t think there is anyone who loves being in the hills more than coal miners and we respect it.”

“I want to see us come up with clean energy without doing any damage, but the facts are not there yet. For it to be economically feasible is 20 years away. Until then, instead of throwing our money away on various government projects, why don’t we spend some money trying to figure out how to burn coal more cleanly?” Black said.

However, coal’s future in Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy looks bleak.

“Under President Obama’s leadership, the U.S. moved forward with an all-of-the-above energy strategy: Oil, gas, nuclear, hydro, biofuels, wind, geothermal, solar—all of it. All of it,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told delegates at the Democratic National Convention.


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