Latest posts by H. Sterling Burnett (see all)
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Coal is the fuel that powered the Industrial Revolution. Trains, steel production, electric power and more were powered by King Coal, which ruled the energy roost from the mid-19th century through the late-20th century.
Coal’s virtue is its abundance—we have a 200-400-year supply of coal beneath U.S. soil—and its reliability. However, coal’s star has faded in recent years, resulting in the loss of tens of thousands of good-paying, largely union jobs, as mines and power plants have shut down.
While some coal-fired power plants are closing because they are unable to compete with low-cost, gas-fired power plants, dozens of coal-fired power plants are being shuttered prematurely due to Environmental Protection Agency regulations and settlement agreements. These plants can and should be saved.
As a candidate for president, Donald Trump promised to end the “war on coal” launched by the Obama Administration and congressional Democrats, halting or slowing the loss of jobs related to coal mining and coal-fired power plants.
Despite Trump’s election promises, utilities and some state and local regulators are acting as if things moving forward will be business-as-usual. Utilities appear to be proceeding with previously announced plans to close 40 coal-fired power plants over the next four years. Six closures have been announced since Trump’s victory in November.
Most recently, on January 31, Dayton Power & Light (DPL) filed its plans with the Public Utility Commission of Ohio to close two coal-fired power plants, which together have enough capacity to provide electricity for approximately 2 million households. DPL also plans to sell three other plants as part of a settlement made with several environmental groups, including the Sierra Club.
At the same time, halfway across the country, the owners of the 2,250-megawatt Navajo coal-fired generation station recently announced their plans to close in 2019, approximately 25 years ahead of schedule. Navajo’s closure comes on the heels of agreements to force the nearby Four Corners Power Plant and San Juan Generating Station to shut down generating units to meet federal environmental standards regulating haze. Each of these power plants uses coal collected from a Native American mine or is wholly or partially owned by Native Americans. These plant closures will result in many Native Americans losing their jobs in areas in which unemployment and poverty are already much greater than the national average.
DPL’s deal was struck to comply with Obama-era regulations that limit greenhouse gases and pollutants. Coal costs have been low for DPL’s plants. DPL’s settlement will result in unemployment for its workers and other businesses in the region and cost ratepayers millions of dollars in higher power bills, because they’ll be forced to pay for more expensive electricity provided by sources other than cheap coal. It may also threaten the reliability of Ohio’s power supply.
Murray Energy is attempting to block DPL’s planned power plant closures by filing to intervene in the case, saying the closure is not in the best interests of the public. To back up its case, Murray is citing DPL’s own regulatory filing made before the Public Utility Commission of Ohio in 2016 to keep its coal plants open. On February 22, 2016, DPL argued, “If these plants were to close, then the adverse effects would include $26.5 billion in economic losses, the loss of almost 19,000 jobs, and a significant increase in reliability risks.”
The federal government’s Bureau of Reclamation owns the largest share of the Navajo plant, and the Navajo Nation and Hopi tribe have requested Trump intervene to keep the power plant operating until at least 2044.
To avert blackouts and unnecessary job losses and to better ensure affordable electricity, Trump and state officials must act quickly to halt or reverse regulations targeting coal power, which were crafted as part of a futile effort to fight climate change and lower mercury and ozone emissions—regulations that will do little, if anything, to protect people.
Trump should also reverse the moratorium placed on coal-mining operations on federal lands imposed by the Obama Administration and take the steps necessary to expand coal-export terminals, which would help satisfy two Trump campaign promises: to reverse coal’s fortunes and to invest in the nation’s infrastructure.
Ultimately, Congress must join the fray. I recommend the creation of a simple, two-sentence law that would do what Congress should have done more than a decade ago: “Carbon dioxide, a naturally occurring, beneficial trace gas, not being toxic to humans or harmful to the environment at any foreseeable levels, is a not pollutant. Accordingly, no agency or department of the U.S. government is authorized to regulate, place limits on or tax carbon-dioxide emissions, directly or indirectly, unless and until the Congress of the United States expressly directs specific agencies or departments to impose such regulations and taxes.”
[Originally Published at Forbes]