- - Thursday, October 9, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If the Obama White House had a secret plan to emasculate America by making the country more dependent on foreign oil and federal bureaucracy, and if the president’s means to that end involved creating greater uncertainty across U.S. energy markets and fear of climate change with no chance for a lifeline from the Keystone XL pipeline, oil drilling, fracking or clean coal, it could not be doing a better job. The plan is working. Fear and dependence appear on the rise; optimism and self-reliance on the wane.

Let’s go one level deeper and pick an issue — clean coal. This White House has effectively begun turning the clock backward, choking off America’s supply and raising energy costs, and no issue more symbolizes this than coal. Every administration member from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief to the secretary of state has President Obama’s “coal is bad” talking points.

What about the facts, though? Ronald Reagan once said “facts are stubborn things,” and so they are. Like it or not, coal’s transformation is an American success story — an industry cleaning and growing despite a hostile government. Today, U.S. coal plants produce 60 percent fewer emissions than they did in 1970. Coal-fired power plants emit 90 percent fewer emissions than the plants they replace.

Yet, despite major advances in air and water clarity, strong production, job prospects and relief to Americans through lower energy prices, Mr. Obama’s EPA continues to pound this industry.

Here is why this approach hurts. Many older Americans live on fixed incomes. They may not feel the Obama EPA’s drag on the job market, although their children and grandchildren will. They may not recognize the improvements in air and water quality, since these are often hard to measure. However, they will feel the spike in their energy costs. Put bluntly, with winter coming on — Mr. Obama’s climate change notwithstanding — America’s seniors will be hammered by higher energy prices. Threats to coal are one big reason.

Unless the next Congress stops the pending EPA regulations, many older Americans, veterans and widows, retired and pension-dependent Americans, will find that they are facing unconscionably higher costs for heat and electricity. Specifically, the EPA plans a 30 percent reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions by 2030, with mandated reductions to that point. While this sounds innocuous, it is not. Coal generates 41 percent of the nation’s electricity. The costs associated with artificially accelerating plant replacement and turning emissions into a bogeyman for climate change are high. Estimates of the adverse impact on America’s oldest demographic are arresting. While they vary, all suggest a major bite out of fixed incomes for those least able to afford it.

There’s more. Mr. Obama’s anti-coal stance is like taking a stance against geography, population growth or weather, most of which occurs outside the United States and is beyond our control. What Mr. Obama decides to do with fringe carbon-dioxide emissions between now and 2030 will have minimal effect on the larger emission problem. Most coal emissions are not from advanced U.S. plants, but from older Chinese, Indian and other foreign coal plants. Even Europe is burning more coal these days in an attempt to escape dependence on Russian natural gas and hold down surging electricity prices.

Here is a dose of reality for the Obama White House: Fossil fuels remain the backbone of the global economy, and will for the foreseeable future. While we all wish for an increase in renewable options and cleaner air, the incremental benefit that will flow from imposing draconian changes on U.S. plants will disproportionately penalize older Americans while adding little or nothing to reduce global emissions.

In fact, current Obama restrictions on coal are already elevating prices nationwide. The U.S. Energy Information Administration just reported that electricity costs rose by 3 percent nationally last year, while New England — being pushed away from coal — saw electricity prices jump by more than 11 percent.

Let’s rethink all this — and if Mr. Obama refuses to, then let us ask a new Congress to do so. Let’s reward those who make good industry decisions by modernizing their plants rather than penalize them. Let’s encourage the world to come to the current U.S. standard before we emasculate another important U.S. industry. Let’s use common sense and protect the scarce, fixed and hard-earned resources of older Americans, not compel them to pay higher prices for no logical reason.

As Mr. Obama, Secretary of State John F. Kerry and EPA chief Gina McCarthy fly about the country and world in their fuel-guzzling jets, let’s remember who is really paying those bills — those who have saved a lifetime just to be safe, warm and secure in older age, and who are less interested in the president’s latest public relations blitz than in fidelity to stubborn facts. Clean coal is no curse, foil or sleight-of-hand. It is an accomplishment, the product of sequential industry commitments and a source of American strength. Another source of American strength is our older generation, and we should not forget them — especially this winter — when energy prices may be expected to spike again under pressure from Mr. Obama’s EPA.

Dan Weber is founder and president of the Association of Mature American Citizens.

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