- - Friday, June 22, 2012

Sun Tzu famously said in “The Art of War,” “All warfare is based on deception.” Though that sentence was written more than 2,000 years ago, it is still relevant. Just ask any senior White House official. Those words help explain how this administration can claim to support an “all of the above” energy plan while simultaneously advocating and pursuing policies that negatively impact the coal industry.

Now Americans are faced with a government that so far has been trying a Washington-knows-best approach to the coal industry, with the result being lost jobs and a reduced standard of living. My friend Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environmental and Public Works, reminds us that after cap-and-trade was rejected by the American people and defeated in a Democrat-controlled Congress, President Obama promised he wouldn’t give up in his efforts to stop coal development. He said, “Cap-and-trade was just one way of skinning the cat. It was a means, not an end. I’m going to be looking for other means to address this problem.”

If you think this sounds far-fetched, look no further than the Obama campaign’s original seven-point energy proposal. Coal, which produces nearly half of the nation’s electricity, was conspicuously absent. The president’s campaign revised the proposal to include coal only after members of Congress, the media and conservative organizations exposed the smoke-and-mirrors trickery.

The Obama administration’s hostility toward coal extends far beyond mere omission. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched a full-scale regulatory assault on America’s coal industry. No amount of campaign propaganda can hide that fact from the American people. Step 1 of the president’s war on coal is to prevent new coal power plants from ever being built. Mr. Obama didn’t mince words in 2008 when he promised that any company that wanted to build a new coal-powered plant could, but “it would bankrupt them.”

Four years later, the EPA was working under that very edict when it proposed rules governing emissions from new power plants.

EPA’s crafty approach does not dictate which fuels a plant can burn. However, in a regulatory sleight of hand, the agency requires that any new coal plants must significantly limit carbon-dioxide emissions to be on par with natural-gas-powered facilities.

As a result, coal plants must install technology to capture and store carbon emissions. This is a cost-prohibitive prospect and one that all but forces new power plants to be generated by natural gas instead of coal. Of the proposed EPA rules, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity has predicted they “will make it impossible to build any new coal-fueled power plants and could cause the premature closure of many more coal-fueled power plants operating today.”

Step 2 of the president’s war on coal is increasing regulatory pressure on existing coal-fired power plants, some of which already are closing their doors in recession-plagued states including Ohio and Pennsylvania. At a cost of $10 billion, the EPA also wants existing power plants to update and implement new emission and pollution controls, such as wet or dry scrubbers, activated carbon injections and fabric filters.

The Maximum Achievable Control Technology rule, dubbed Utility MACT, which would be among the most expensive agency actions in history, conveniently ignores the environmental gains already made by coal plants over the past several decades. According to the Energy Information Administration, sulfur-dioxide emissions from coal plants declined more than 60 percent over the past 20 years and nitrogen-oxide emissions declined by three-fourths over that time.

Make no mistake: This is not a partisan attack by the president. Just last month, 24 state attorneys general, including one-quarter of all Democratic state attorneys general, filed suit to overturn Utility MACT because of the devastating effects it will have on jobs and their states’ economies. These are Democrats from Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, West Virginia and Wyoming. In other words, it appears that Democratic attorneys general from several states are trying to save coal while Washington goes into election-year mode. But, of course, this is not enough for the EPA. That’s because the administration’s policies that impact coal have little to do with clean air or climate change. This fight is about scoring political points with key constituencies in advance of Election Day.

The problem is that killing coal in favor of the more politically palatable fuel sources comes at a price - literally. A recent survey of 500 utility executives showed a whopping 90 percent believe rules requiring renewable energy use and pollution cuts from coal-fired power plants will lead to higher monthly utility bills for consumers. About half said bills could potentially increase by up to 10 percent.

While I have long supported more natural gas exploration and production, as well as the development of alternative fuels, using them as a political pawn to eliminate coal is hardly an “all of the above” energy policy.

Natural gas just happens to be the president’s foil, as his administration policies create an adverse effect on the coal industry. It may be good for Mr. Obama’s politics, but it is bad for America.

What the U.S. needs from Congress is to reverse draconian EPA actions and put forth a balanced energy program that doesn’t elevate one fuel while simultaneously killing another. Only with a level playing field - where coal, natural gas and oil all are given a chance to contribute - can we drive down energy costs for American families and small businesses.

J.C. Watts is a former Republican House member from Oklahoma and has represented energy interests in his role as a lobbyist.

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