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International Politics, Recent News, U.S. Politics

Outlining Upcoming Coal Regulations

The language used in President Barack Obama’s upcoming State of the Union speech may be vague regarding specific climate change regulations, but two media outlets have now confirmed that new coal regulations by the Administration are likely. “In trying to slow climate change, Obama is considering acting through the Environmental Protection Agency to issue new rules governing carbon emissions by existing power plants, according to three people familiar with White House discussions,” states the Washington Post today (emphasis added).

According to the Wall Street Journal’s Peter Nicholas and Keith Johnson,In the run-up to the speech, Mr. Obama has been ‘pushing the team to get very specific about how to achieve the goals he set on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions,’ one former administration official said.”

“The president may not announce the specific steps in the speech itself,” write Nicholas and Johnson. “The White House would not specify what policy steps he might take, but said any steps would likely come later.” And again, according to the Washington Post, “The administration declined to provide details on timing of the possible actions; one White House official said the moves to boost housing, retrofit buildings, offer same-sex protections or issue new environmental rules were not imminent.”

These job-crushing regulations could have a devastating effect on the American economy. “Although coal has ceded ground to natural gas, it remains the top fuel for generating electricity,” write Nicholas and Johnson. “According to EPA data released Tuesday, power plants account for about one-third of total U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions” (emphasis added). The Union of Concerned Scientists states on their website that “Coal generates 44% of our electricity, and is the single biggest air polluter in the U.S.”

The U.S. would not like to end up like Germany, which is suffering due to climate regulations and actions decreasing its nuclear power. “Germany’s collapsing; 800,000 Germans sit in the cold and the dark right now because they can’t afford to pay their electricity bills,” asserted Christopher Horner in a recent interview with Roger Aronoff of Accuracy in Media. In fact, Germany is burning more lignite, or brown coal, to offset its energy shortage.

As pointed out in a recent blog entry, European countries are increasingly importing American coal to offset their energy shortages, thereby raising their greenhouse gas emissions. “U.S. coal exports to Europe were up 26 percent in the first nine months of 2012 over the same period in 2011,” Michael Birnbaum reported for the Washington Post on February 7. “Exports to China have increased, too.” In other words, climate change regulations have created an export market for the U.S. which President Obama would like to stifle in the name of greenhouse gas reduction.

“In spring 2012, the EPA proposed strict emissions limits for new power plants,” write Nicholas and Johnson. “The proposed limits—1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour of electricity—would make coal-fired plants all but impossible to build. The average coal-fired plant today, according to the EPA, emits 2,249 pounds per megawatt-hour, about double the average gas-fired plant. The rule is set to be completed later this year” (emphasis added). In other words, new coal plants would be virtually impossible under these restrictions.

As for existing plants,

“Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA sets general standards that states must implement. The law gives states flexibility in curbing emissions from existing sources, and the EPA says they could try to meet targets by rewarding energy efficiency or using market-based schemes such as sales of emissions permits” (emphasis added).

This latter point sounds like an encouragement to create state-level cap-and-trade. 10 states currently have a cap-and-trade scheme in effect to curb greenhouse gas emissions. However, as I recently outlined, this scheme has acted more as a revenue stream for the states rather than actually curbing greenhouse gas emissions, which have decreased for other reasons.

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