Radical Greens Further Threaten U.S. Coal Industry

Nine liberal state attorneys general filed a Clean Air Act lawsuit against the Bush Administration that, if successful, would threaten America’s energy security and send manufacturing jobs overseas.

Led by New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, the group is challenging the Bush Administration’s market-based program to reduce mercury emissions from power plants, instead demanding a judge-imposed, command-and-control regulation that would force many Midwestern coal plants to shut down.

The lawsuit was filed last week in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by the attorneys general of New Jersey, California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York and Vermont.

With enthusiastic support from radical environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, the group seeks to force individual coal plants to reduce mercury emissions 90 percent in 3 years, regardless of coal type or plant configuration–an impossible standard to meet with existing technologies. The only way to meet that standard, according to coal industry experts, is to shut down coal fired plants, which supply 52 percent of the nation’s electricity.

In fact, according to a conservative estimate by the non-partisan Energy Information Administration (EIA), it would cause coal-fired generation to decline by 55 percent. The National Coal Council concluded the Spitzer standard “would force many coal plants to shut down, resulting in substantial economic impacts.”

In 2002, the Ohio state legislature passed a resolution condemning legislation introduced by Sen. James Jeffords (I-Vt.), which mirrors the Spitzer standard. “The bill,” according to the resolution, “will cause electric utilities to switch from coal to natural gas because the electric utilities would no longer have the option to economically generate electricity from coal??¢â???¬ ¦” (Ohio and West Virginia get over 90 percent of their electricity from coal.)

EIA confirmed that the Spitzer standard also would increase natural gas prices by 26 percent. Such an increase, according to the National Association of Manufacturers, would prove devastating for the nation’s manufacturing sector, which uses about one-third of domestic natural gas supplies. NAM vehemently opposes Spitzer’s lawsuit.

In congressional testimony in February, Fred Parady, owner of a Wyoming-based soda ash company, testified on behalf of NAM that, because of high natural gas prices, “more than half of the fertilizer capacity in the United States is shut in or closed permanently,” while “the chemical industry has gone from the lead net export industry in the United States to a net importer of chemicals.”

He also noted that America’s soda ash industry, which enjoyed steady economic growth over the last two decades, is losing ground to production in China because of high natural gas prices. “The year 2003,” Parady said, “marked a milestone for our industry, as China overtook the United States for world leadership in soda ash production for the first time in history.”

Parady summed up his testimony this way: “Unless there is a rational investment future for coal-burning electricity generation, prudent electricity providers will be continuing to build units using natural gas or restart the many natural gas electricity units that are currently not operating because of the high costs of natural gas. Clearly, more generation of electricity with natural gas will create even more upward pressure on natural gas prices and electricity prices, which would impede the manufacturing recovery now fully underway after a loss of almost three million manufacturing jobs between 2000 and early 2004.”

Despite this reality, Spitzer’s band of aspiring governors sided with environmental groups over American jobs. “This rule defies common sense and the law, and deserves a quick judicial demise,” said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. “I will not sit back and
allow the EPA to continue to institute new rules that jeopardize the health of the people of Massachusetts and beyond,” said Tom Reilly, attorney general of Massachusetts.

If Spitzer’s group is successful, America’s coal industry faces a dire future. “If these characters win this fight,” said a coal industry lobbyist, “you can kiss cheap, affordable, reliable coal goodbye.”