By Stan Dempsey, Jr.
Original published in the Denver Post.
Many Americans have already forgotten about the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the Obama administration’s signature effort to reduce carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants — but not the nation’s coal communities. They’ve lived with this regulation as an ever-present threat even after its implementation was stayed by a federal court.
Colorado’s coal communities saw the CPP for exactly what it was: a thinly veiled assault on their livelihood — and one that would cripple an already reeling industry while providing little environmental benefit.
Fortunately, the Trump administration has done just what it promised. By executive order, President Trump has axed the CPP along with another vestige of the Obama administration’s anti-coal policy, the moratorium on all new leases of federal coal reserves.
Just a few months ago, those waging the War on Coal felt like they were on the precipice of victory. Now, they are in full retreat. The industry can finally compete again without having both of its arms tied behind its back by an overzealous Environmental Protection Agency and Department of the Interior.
We’ve been told that coal plant retirements, falling coal demand, and lost mining jobs were all the result of market competition from cheap natural gas. While lower natural gas prices have played a role, the elephant in the room has been the regulations designed to close coal plants while making it more expensive to mine coal.
To understand just how dangerous the CPP and coal leasing moratorium were, simply look at the numbers. The moratorium on the leasing of federally controlled coal was designed to keep America’s largest source of coal firmly in the ground. Roughly 41 percent of U.S. coal production comes from public lands, providing a major source of electricity generation nationwide. An indefinite moratorium on this resource would have proved crippling, potentially jeopardizing many of the 14,000 miners whose livelihoods depend on federal coal.
The CPP’s impact would have been worse. By the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s own calculation, the regulation would have meant the unnecessary and premature closure of many of our remaining coal power plants. With reduced demand for coal, production would have fallen by roughly 240 million tons per year, impacting nearly 30,000 coal mining jobs along with another 100,000 jobs in the supply chain.
Consumers across the country would have paid for this folly, too. Replacing so much generating capacity would have cost $64 billion. And because this low-cost power would have been replaced with more expensive alternatives, wholesale electricity prices would have soared. Energy Ventures Analysis, a leading consulting firm, calculated that electricity prices would have experienced double-digit percentage increases in more than 40 states. The average American household would have paid an additional $680 per year in electricity costs compared to 2012. These are staggering numbers. And for what?
Environmental activists were willing to sacrifice America’s coal industry, and the affordable power it provides, even as coal demand continues to rise overseas. China now consumes as much coal as the rest of the world combined.
The Trump administration has thankfully restored some common sense to our energy policy. Instead of viewing the coal industry as a problem in need of fixing, the country can again embrace an all-American resource that provides one-third of our electricity and supports hundreds of thousands of good jobs.
Sometimes it’s easy to overlook near misses, damage nearly avoided. But we would be wise not to make that mistake with the War on Coal. The president may not have ended it, but at least it will no longer be waged by our government.