- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2014

Less than a week before releasing far-reaching new restrictions on coal-fired power plants, the White House and its environmentalist allies on Thursday launched a preemptive attack against critics of its energy policy.

In a lengthy report detailing the vast increases in domestic oil and gas production over the past decade, the administration touted its energy policy and described it as an “all-of-the-above” approach that takes advantage of fossil fuels rather than discriminating against them, as detractors suggest.

“Natural gas is booming, and the administration is committed to developing natural gas safely and responsibly,” White House counselor John Podesta told reporters on a conference call.

The study, which highlights the economic benefits of the U.S. oil and gas boom, comes days before the Environmental Protection Agency releases new limits on carbon emissions for existing coal-fired power plants. Energy industry groups and lawmakers of both parties fear the regulations, a central piece of Mr. Obama’s larger effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change, will deal a devastating blow to the American coal industry.

Coal still provides more than 35 percent of the nation’s electricity but has seen its share of the U.S. energy landscape diminish in recent years, partly because of the rise of natural gas and partly due to federal regulations.

Separately, a leading environmental group tried to rally support for the EPA proposal that they say has the potential to quickly slash energy costs and create thousands of efficiency-related jobs.

SEE ALSO: The coal-state Democrat may be climate casualty

The Natural Resources Defense Council in a new analysis projects that the carbon standards to be announced next week by the EPA could cut 531 million tons of pollution, create 274,000 efficiency-related jobs and save household and business customers $37.4 billion by 2020.

“It will be the most significant action that President Obama will take on climate change during his two terms,” Daniel Lashof, a senior fellow at the council and a co-author of the analysis, said Thursday in a teleconference with reporters. “We’ll see this play out over a period of time, but it’s a very significant moment as we anticipate this proposal.”

Administration officials say they aren’t dismissing coal outright but are hinting that it will play little or no role in the energy future they envision.

“In oil and gas, jobs have increased by 133,000 between 2010 and 2013. With coal you see there’s been a continuous decline in jobs,” Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, told reporters. “That decline has actually halted in the last couple of years and employment in coal mining has edged up slightly over the recent period, but the increase in job growth and the big contribution to economic growth we’ve seen has come in the oil and gas sectors.”

Among the administration study conclusions: Natural gas consumption has risen 18 percent in the last decade; the oil and gas sectors have directly added nearly a quarter of a percentage point to GDP growth in each of the last two years; oil imports have been cut in half over the last decade; and the U.S. is now the world’s largest producer of natural gas.

All of that has taken place, White House officials point out, while the U.S. also has been producing more fuel-efficient vehicles, reducing gasoline consumption and dramatically cutting carbon emissions.

The new rules on power plants are aimed at cutting emissions even further, but critics say the targeting of coal will cost jobs and result in electricity price hikes for American consumers.

House Republicans shot back Thursday and said the administration’s report “is not fooling anyone,” and the president’s underlying hostility toward fossil fuels soon will be evident to everyone.

“This report is nothing but a continued attempt by the White House to divert attention away from its next regulatory assault on jobs and affordable energy,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, Michigan Republican. “With the unwelcome news that the U.S. economy shrunk in the first quarter of 2014, the president should abandon once and for all this quest to raise energy prices and put coal workers out of work. Sadly, it is the poor and the nation’s most vulnerable who will endure the most pain.”

The EPA’s new regulations will focus on existing power plants. The agency already has released rules for new facilities.

Kristen East contributed to this report.

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