The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Columns

November 10, 2013

On carbon rules, administration rhetoric not matching reality

Before finalizing greenhouse gas regulations for existing coal-fueled power plants, the EPA is hosting a series of “listening sessions” in places like San Francisco, New York City, and Boston — and completely bypassing states like West Virginia, which receives nearly all its low-cost electricity from coal.

These sessions purport to provide affected communities the opportunity to air their concerns. Sadly, however, the EPA is not going to any communities, states or regions that rely heavily on coal-based jobs or coal-based electricity.

The question is why? Is it because the EPA doesn’t care about the affected communities? Is it because the EPA only wants to hear from its supporters? Is it because the EPA does not want to be held accountable for the devastating impact of these regulations?

I am afraid it is likely a combination of all of the above.

Since the Obama administration began discussing these forthcoming regulations, it has offered a number of assurances about the negligibility of their impacts on jobs and energy costs. These assurances, however, are not based on facts.

First, we’ve been told that these regulations will be a strong step forward in addressing global climate change. In reality, the step will be flea-sized at best, as America’s coal fleet is responsible for just a tiny fraction of the world’s carbon emissions.

An analysis of EPA’s own data shows that closing down our nation’s entire coal fleet would reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases by just 3 percent. Global average temperatures would be reduced by a scant .03 degree Fahrenheit, and increases in sea levels would be reduced by less than the thickness of a dime.

These facts might help explain why the administration is now doing an about-face and downplaying the environmental benefits of regulations for new plants. In recent testimony before Congress, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy conceded that it would be “unlikely” that regulations for new plants would have any “visible impact.”

Second, the American people have been told that EPA will only enact regulations that are consistent with an “all of the above” energy strategy. Upon closer inspection, these regulations are more consistent with an “all but one” energy strategy — that “one” being coal.

The EPA’s recently proposed regulations for new plants set a standard for carbon emissions that is not achievable even by the most modern coal plants. I am fearful EPA’s forthcoming regulations for existing plants will likewise be unattainable.

If too stringent, the administration’s regulations will amount to a de facto ban on the use of coal to generate electricity in the United States. With coal currently serving as the dominant source of American electricity, these new regulations could put electric prices and reliability at risk.

Finally, the Obama administration has said that coal’s long-term challenges are based on economics, not regulations. They aren’t. To make that claim, the administration must assume that natural gas prices will remain at historic lows — an assumption that runs contrary to current trends.

The government’s own Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that the use of natural gas for power generation dropped 14 percent during the first seven months of this year. EIA’s analysis blamed the drop on higher natural gas prices. It is clear that coal still has a critical role to play in keeping electricity prices affordable.

The administration’s words may indicate support for coal, but its actions clearly demonstrate the opposite. Although EPA has failed to visit West Virginia, residents still have an opportunity to have their voices heard. Speak up, take action and tell EPA our nation — and your community — depends on affordable electricity from coal.

— Mike Duncan is president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a partnership of the industries involved in producing electricity from coal.

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