Ideological environmentalism has killed many of our most important natural-resources companies. Millions of jobs and billions of dollars have been lost. Now that coal, America's leading energy source, is in the cross hairs of climate-change campaigners, the situation will only get worse — much worse. Unless, that is, major energy suppliers work together to fight environmental fundamentalism, a growing force that is focused on destroying all energy sources aside from the hopelessly ineffective alternative-energy sector.
Sadly, such cooperation is a long way from happening. Instead, a kind of civil war rages within the energy industry, in which large power companies in oil, natural gas, coal, nuclear and hydro often work to discredit their competitors in an attempt to gain an advantage for short-term profit. All the while, their real enemy, and indeed the enemy of us all — aggressive environmentalism — continues its long campaign to dismantle the Western world's primary energy sources.
The situation is especially critical right now for America's coal sector, which has been targeted by heavily funded climate campaigners, who count the Obama administration among their staunchest allies. Of course, coal mining and usage is far safer and cleaner than ever before. Its combustion, though, emits more carbon dioxide than does natural gas or oil, and it will be at least a decade before large scale carbon-dioxide capture and storage is even possible, let alone economical. Even though the theory that carbon-dioxide-induced climate catastrophe has fallen into disrepute, many politicians, media and other opinion leaders think that our use of coal must end. Some even still cite the godfather of climate scare, recently retired NASA scientist James Hansen, who labels coal power stations "factories of death" because of their carbon-dioxide emissions.
To the contrary, coal drove the Industrial Revolution and was largely responsible for our attainment of the highest living standards in history. Indeed, coal power stations have been "factories of life," providing the plentiful, reliable energy that saved generations of people from lives of poverty and sickness. While the carbon-dioxide emissions from coal stations have delivered airborne fertilizer to plants, increasing crop yield worldwide, modern research increasingly demonstrates that their impact on climate has been insignificant.
Nevertheless, coal is under deadly attack. Speaking before the U.S. House of Representatives on April 17 in the special order on "The Importance of America's Coal Industry," Rep. Andy Barr, Kentucky Republican, laid out the crisis in the industry starkly:
"Within the past year, 226 coal electricity-generating units have been shut down."
"U.S. coal-mining jobs dropped by 7,700 in 2012."
"New and pending EPA regulations will cost 1.65 million jobs."
"With 205 coal-fired generators shutting down in the coming year due to stricter environmental regulations, the United States is expected to lose up to 17,000 jobs."
Until recently, coal producers could at least count on being able to supply a steady and growing demand from customers overseas. If climate activists have their way, however, this too may cease. Accusing companies of "exporting climate change" by shipping their coal overseas to power Asian electricity-generating stations, climate campaigners have teamed up with local environmentalists to mount a powerful opposition to the construction of new coal-export terminals on North American coasts. Like President Obama himself, they want nothing less than the end of the coal industry in America.
Sadly, many energy producers outside of the coal sector look on King Coal's problems as business opportunities, apparently not recognizing that they are next on the green chopping block. The nuclear industry in particular seems to relish publicizing the supposed climate evils of coal combustion. Perhaps the most egregious example of the civil war in the energy sector occurred between 2007 and 2010, when the natural-gas industry led by Chesapeake Energy gave the Sierra Club $26 million to help fund the organization's Beyond Coal campaign. Now, with donations from other sources, the Sierra Club has turned on its former ally by unleashing a "Beyond Natural Gas" project.
At the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin remarked, "We must all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately." If the energy sector and, indeed, the whole natural-resources field, don't band together and start to mount a strong, well-coordinated defense against their common enemy, environmental extremism, then they — and we — will most assuredly all hang separately.
Tom Harris is executive director of the International Climate Science Coalition. Tim Ball is an environmental consultant and former climatology professor at the University of Winnipeg.