Forum center: Coal might have an image problem
By Alex Culpepper
Coal is a pretty big deal in the world right now. About 40 percent of the electricity produced on the planet comes from coal. South Africa leads the world in coal-produced electricity, using coal for over 90 percent of its electricity. Poland, China, Australia and Kazahkstan round out the top five of the world’s coal users. Here in the states, we get about 40-45 percent of our electricity from the lumpy black rocks. People have been using coal as an energy source for a long time, too. Scientists have found evidence of stone-age hunter-gatherers burning coal to produce heat in their caves. The Romans in Britain were burning coal nearly 2,000 years ago. And, of course, the Industrial Revolution of the 1700s opened the door for widespread and heavy use of coal to heat homes and produce energy for running machines.
Even though coal is still widely used today, it is considered a carbon dioxide pollutant and is blamed for a range of problems, from global warming to human illness. President Obama recently rolled out a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and part of that plan includes a downsizing of the country’s coal appetite. The objective is to reduce America’s coal-produced power to 30 percent by the year 2030 and to honor a United Nations accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent for 2020 and 83 percent by 2050. Obama’s plan is ambitious and he has support, but it is also controversial, and some people are not happy.
Opponents of Obama’s plan are calling this a “war on coal” intent on destroying the industry. One problem they cite is the hundreds of coal plants that will shut down in the next decade, creating a great power vacuum, eliminating huge amounts of megawatt production and making consumer electricity rates rise sharply. They say coal is a cheap source of electricity for the country, and in some parts, it’s the only source – plus, cutting back will have a limited effect on controlling carbon dioxide emissions. They also argue more regulation has never created a positive environment for energy production and it never will. Another problem with the plan is that moving away from coal pushes the country toward too much reliance on one type of energy: natural gas.
Supporters of Obama’s initiative say coal-burning is the No. 1 source of carbon emission on the planet, and it’s time to honor commitments made to other countries about reducing emissions. Another argument says coal is on its way out, and natural gas is cheaper, cleaner and plentiful – or at the very least, energy policies like Obama’s will lead to cleaner ways of using coal and better ways for controlling emissions.
Right now, coal is a prime player when it comes to energy, but natural gas and even nuclear power have a strong following. The future of coal has been a point of debate for years. Plenty of it still sits in the ground, and coal supporters want to use it because it’s there, it keeps the lights on and it doesn’t require intensive capital to produce energy. But these are the days of global warming, coal has been cast as a villain by some, and the push is on for reduced emissions and less coal smoke.
Reach DCP forum moderator Alex Culpepper at AlexCulpepper@DaytonCityPaper.com
Debate Forum Question of the Week:
Is President Obama best serving the citizens of the United States – and the world – with his plan to reduce dependence on coal?
Debate Left: Easy to overlook, but can’t be ignored
By Michael Truax
Carbon dioxide emissions aren’t sexy. They won’t play the villain in a (good) movie. People won’t run screaming from it, like Godzilla. From one day to the next, we can’t feel the effects of it. There’s no fast resolution involving a shootout or high-speed chase scene. In the short term, any significant global action looks like an overreaction.
That’s one of the most insidious characteristics of climate change stopping a consensus and collective action: Because its effects take years or decades and its effects are difficult to directly attribute, climate change is easy to underestimate or deny.
That’s the reason why the Clean Power Plan is a good start. There’s simply no other recourse aside from government intervention. The environment has advocates, while the incumbent energy sector has a lobby.
Guess which one is more powerful?
The Clean Power Plan, a significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, meets my criteria for reasonable government intervention.
Does this address a critical problem?
Yes. Humans’ effect on global climate change is not a scientific debate. It’s a consensus. If we don’t address carbon dioxide limits, Earth could warm by 9 degrees Fahrenheit, literally reshaping countries as oceans cover the coastlines.
The energy sector produces 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, and these guidelines would slash those by nearly a third.
Is this all we need to solve our emissions issues? No, of course not. Some even say human-caused severe climate change can no longer be fixed, just softened. It’s too late to turn back, but it’s not too late to change our path.
But as it reduces emissions, the Clean Power Plan also sends a clear ideological message: Humans need to mitigate their effect on the environment, for the future, even at a cost now.
Do the benefits outweigh the consequences?
Yes. The U.S. Representatives from West Virginia are up in arms, as expected. How does that adage go? If horses had a say, there’d be no cars.
Political partisans bemoan a loss of 800,000 jobs. In reality, according to the Federal Reserve Economic Data, only 80,000 work in mining. The accounting for coal is murky. On the front end, it’s a relatively inexpensive source of power. That’s where the energy industry would like to stop counting. Many of the costs aren’t direct, though, like local and global air quality, the environmental destruction of mining and ailing public health.
And that’s not to mention the potential new jobs in research and development, and in building, running and maintaining these new power sources.
The Clean Power Plan also has the potential to usher in a new way of thought. Like NASA and the race to space, which spurred an era of technological advances and discovery, the Clean Power Plan is a statement about paying attention to the long-term global effects of our actions.
Oh, and there are other benefits to battling climate change as well, like lower rates of asthma; steadier weather patterns and food supplies; the Eastern Seaboard.
Little things like that.
Is government regulation the only way to start or make changes?
Yes. The environmental lobby is loud, but the incumbent energy lobby is far more influential. It speaks decisively with millions of dollars toward ad campaigns and political campaigns. Recent Supreme Court rulings have made the energy lobby’s money much more powerful.
The incumbent energy lobby has money now. It makes money directly through the way things operate now. The energy lobby’s economic incentive – and it’s a big incentive – is to extend the status quo.
You can tell the issue struck a chord with the energy industry by the amount of message coordination on conservative talk shows: Branded the “War on Coal,” it has already started displacing other favorite targets.
Aside from governments, there is no entity capable of battling the incumbent energy industry. There’s little money today in protecting the environment. Lobbies take in donations, but, other than the lobbies themselves, there’s not a direct and immediate financial reward for protecting the environment.
But just because there’s little money in it today, especially compared to the energy industry, doesn’t mean it’s not a critical issue. The tourism industry is concerned – unless you’re collecting beachfront property in Dayton. Agriculture is wrestling with the challenges of climbing temperatures, severe weather patterns and insect infestations.
Thanks to government-granted monopolies, consumers that want to send a message don’t have any realistic options to disconnect from energy providers and large-scale competitors can’t enter the market.
The climate change shouldn’t be an ideological battle. The fact it is, however, is why President Barack Obama had to use the EPA to enforce the Clean Power Plan. In this case, elected officials do not have the wherewithal to pass meaningful legislation to reduce carbon emissions. Some are well-funded by the energy sector, while others have made it a partisan punching bag. President Obama had no option to proceed with Congress, but was able to set an agenda under the EPA’s authority in the Clean Air Act.
The effects, timescale and severity of climate change aren’t simply opinions or theories. In the United States’ interest, Clean Power Plan is a start – still far from the only answer – to address the biggest threat to national security and health in the coming century.
Michael Truax is a freelance writer, digital marketing consultant, entertainment enthusiast and bar trivia champion living in West Chester, Ohio. He can be reached at MichaelTruax@DaytonCityPaper.com.
Debate Right: Barack Obama’s war on coal
By David Landon
Last Friday was a beautiful day. There was a crystal blue sky, plenty of sun and relatively little humidity. It was not the kind of day that would make one fearful we were doomed to rising ocean tides, the loss of the polar bear and the utter catastrophe that is known – at least for this month – as climate change. Obviously, for such an oversight, we are both blind and naïve. Fortunately for all of us, Barack Hussein Obama has declared war on the coal industry and will save us from our unwitting, but most certain, destruction from climate change by eliminating coal from our energy diets. No more coal! The temperature will stop its steady increase and the oceans will stop rising. We are saved! Or so some would have us believe.
The U.S. has the largest coal repository in the world. Remarkably, more than 25 percent of the world’s economically recoverable coal reserves are located in America. At present, more than 80 percent of America’s energy needs are met through carbon-emitting conventional fuels. Last year, coal and natural gas provided two-thirds of all U.S. electricity generation. And yet our president can find no place in his energy program for coal.
As a candidate for the presidency in 2008, Barack Obama campaigned on a pledge to eliminate coal-powered energy plants. Oh, he didn’t really say that under an Obama administration he would stop them from being built. No, instead his plan was to make the regulatory scheme so burdensome and expensive that, in his words, “if you try to build one, it will bankrupt you.” He also promised to send energy costs “skyrocketing” by making things difficult for coal plants. The past five and a half years has been a systematic and relentless crusade by the Obama Administration and the Democrats in Congress to destroy the American coal industry.
The first salvo by the president fired against the coal industry was in the form of attempted “Cap-and-Trade” legislation, which targeted reductions of 20 percent of Green House Gas (GHG) emissions by 2020 and 42 percent reductions by 2030. Such targets would have imposed a huge burden on an already lifeless U.S. economy. It would have cost 600,000 jobs and sharply increased home and business energy costs. Although it narrowly passed in the House, Cap-and-Trade died in the Senate when a number of coal state Democratic Senators refused to support the ill-advised measure. So unpopular was the legislation that 41 Democrats who voted for the measure lost their seats in the 2010 mid-term elections. The coal industry, American businesses and American families had dodged a bullet.
In December of 2009, using vigorously challenged and thoroughly discredited scientific justification, Obama’s EPA released its “endangerment finding” in which the EPA declared carbon dioxide was a pollutant. Perhaps we should all hold our breath indefinitely to avoid adding to the problem. From that finding, with great deference to James Whitcomb Riley, “Katy, bar the door!” The EPA has begun a campaign to wipe out the coal industry.
After his mid-term shellacking, President Obama made reference to there being more than one way to skin a cat. Arguing CO2 and other GHGs endangered public health, carbon and the coal industry became subject to scores of new controls under the Clean Air Act. Government lawyers and faceless bureaucrats at the EPA have now gotten busy promulgating a torrent of new regulations. Under their proposed regulations, there is practically nothing on God’s green Earth the EPA doesn’t believe it has the authority to regulate. From hospitals to BBQ pit restaurants, nothing falls outside of their control and purview. Very few members of Congress, if they answered honestly, could possibly be comfortable with this overreach by the EPA, a faceless bureaucracy answerable to no one.
Last week, the EPA announced proposed new regulations requiring coal power plants to reduce their GHG emissions 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050. These new regulations will result in several very bad consequences. They will cause economic havoc; they will eliminate a cheap source of energy which for some areas of the country is the only source; these regs will cost over a million jobs; these regs will slow down our already anemic economic growth. All of these hardships must be endured in the name of the world’s newest great religion: “Climate Control.”
The sad truth is, while we harness our industry with these regulations and drive up costs, it will have a negligible effect on the climate. Our environment is not a closed-loop system. There have been climatic forces at work for thousands of years which we are presently unable to explain, but which have nevertheless kept the Earth in balance. There have been numerous periods of warming and cooling for which man played no appreciable role. All of the regulations proposed by the EPA, using their own numbers – and even if we achieve a reduction of 83 percent by 2050 – will only affect the temperatures on Earth by 0.3 of a degree Celsius by the close of the century. This while China and India continue to burn coal and grow their economies. This is a typical example of a bureaucratic solution in a desperate search for a crisis. It will result in the growth of government, but not affect the fate of a single polar bear. Please, can we stop this nonsense?
David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at