Obama's War on Coal Will Harm Economy, Do Little for Environment

Image: Obama's War on Coal Will Harm Economy, Do Little for Environment A billboard carries a message for the coal industry near Wheeling, West Virginia.

Sunday, 29 Dec 2013 11:00 PM

By Andrea Billups

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Coal-mining states like West Virginia and Kentucky are facing huge job losses and many Americans will see a rise in electricity costs due to Environmental Protection Agency regulations that critics call President Obama's "war on coal."

Specifics on the stringent new regulations on coal are expected to be finalized sometime next year, and existing coal-fired power plants will likely be shuttered around the country in an effort to appease environmental concerns.

Economist Nicolas Loris, who studies energy, environmental and regulatory policy at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, said the regulations will deliver a blow to the economy and raise costs for consumers, while doing little to improve the environment or reduce carbon emissions.

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"It's going to significantly cripple our economy," Loris said. "It will reduce household income as people are forced to spend more money on their energy bills. Anyway you shake this it's a no-win for our economy."

The proposed regulations would put limits on carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants, limit emissions from new plants, and set rules that would force those plants to use "commercially feasible" clean-energy technologies — standards that West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin described as "impossible" to achieve.

The goal, according to Obama, would be to reduce emissions by 17 percent by 2020 and end what the president has described as "limitless dumping of carbon pollution."

"Sadly, instead of moving our country forward like he once promised, the president has decided to turn the lights off in states like West Virginia," Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito said in a statement blasting the proposal.

Loris said once the regulations are published, the opposition will likely grow.

"Now that it's starting to become a reality and the war on coal is really coming, I do think you'll see more opposition," Loris told Newsmax.

Kentucky's two senators and five Republican congressmen last week filed a friend-of-the-court brief to a challenge in the Supreme Court to the EPA's authority to regulate coal plants.

The brief, filed in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. Environmental Protection Agency, asserts that the EPA overstepped its authority in its application of a 2007 Supreme Court decision that allowed it to regulate greenhouse gases as hazardous pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

Calling the EPA move a "power grab," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell from Kentucky said, "The president and the EPA have been misusing the 2007 ruling and subsequent regulations on automobiles to overregulate new and existing coal-fired power plants out of business, thus escalating their war on coal and Kentucky jobs."

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky went further, saying the case was "an egregious example of the EPA's violation of the law in pursuit of its overzealous, anti-coal agenda. The ability to create laws is the purview of Congress and the EPA has clearly overstepped its authority.

"In doing so, accountability has been thrown out the window and Kentucky families are left with nothing but frustration and the likelihood of even higher energy costs and more job losses."

The economic impact of a diminishing coal industry in the United States would be significant, Loris said, adding that employment in the industry is projected to fall by 600,000 jobs by 2023.

"The most immediate result of these regulations will all but put a de facto ban on new coal plants being built in this country," Laura Sheehan, senior vice president for communications at the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) in Washington, told Newsmax.

"It's interesting that the administration is hell bent on stopping the use of coal here when we have the lowest emission rates when compared with other countries around the world," she said.

Consumers should expect to pay more for electricity due to the regulations, according to Sheehan.

"With these closures, and new and incredibly stringent regulations proposed, we expect more people will be put out of work, more coal plants will be closed, and it will surely make electricity more expensive and cause great unreliability," Sheehan said. "People can expect to see higher prices and also rolling brownouts and blackouts."

The president's environment base on the left continues to push for stronger regulations, but his crackdown on the coal industry does little to help the world's pollution problems, Loris said.

"India and China are building so many coal-fired power plants, increasing greenhouse gas at such blistering clips. These regulations aren't going to do anything and the amount we reduce in global emissions is going to be negligible," Loris said.

Loris believes a battle is likely to play out in Congress and the states over what he calls EPA's overreach.

Loris said members of the House Energy Committee have been strongly opposed to the rulemaking, including some Democrats who have joined Republicans to argue that it's not the EPA's purview.

"I think there is a bipartisan recognition that these regulations are going to come at a huge cost," Loris told Newsmax.

The coal industry is already in dire straits. U.S. coal production declined in 2012 to the lowest level in almost two decades, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Appalachia was hit particularly hard with coal production decreasing by 13.1 percent.

States that feel the hardest blows are the ones likely to fight back to protect workers and revenues.

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"I think the war will be fought on two fronts. You're going to see a lot of legal challenges and I think a lot of state attorneys general bringing litigation forward to say it's not the role of the EPA, questioning the legality of these regulations," Loris said. "I think you're also going to see a lot of grassroots movement once these EPA rules are finalized.

"It's hard to motivate people because it's a long and drawn out process, hard to mobilize a fight. But now that it's starting to become a reality and the war on coal is really coming, I do think you'll see more opposition, not only in places like Kentucky and West Virginia, but the Midwest. There are so many states where coal provides a majority of the electricity."

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