How coal can help the president help the middle class

President Obama has some good ideas for turning the economy around, pledging in a series of speeches around the country to "build on the cornerstones of what it means to make your way into the middle class in America: jobs security with good wages and durable industries…  ." 

Unfortunately, one bad idea will work directly against that goal.  New regulations proposed by the administration on construction of new coal power plants puts hundreds of thousands of new and existing jobs at risk in mining, manufacturing, energy, transportation and construction.

The coal industry supports 805,000 jobs across the country – in mines from Wyoming to Pennsylvania, at equipment manufacturers in Wisconsin, at power plants from Montana to North Carolina, at rail yards in Illinois and at ports from New Orleans to Baltimore.   Every job in coal mining supports nearly four others in allied occupations.  And unlike so many part-time jobs added recently, these are some of the highest-wage jobs in the country, averaging $80,000 annually.  As the president knows, you can't have a middle class without a middle class income.

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In fact, the very standards the Administration is proposing are so extreme they will effectively prevent power plants utilizing the latest in advanced coal technologies from being built, banning plants that are between 30 to 40 percent cleaner than the older ones they replace.
 
Coal is the largest single source of America's electricity—affordable, steadily available electricity that keeps household utility bills low and U.S. industry humming. It is no coincidence that states using predominantly coal-fired electricity also are the home of a high percentage of manufacturers—and the hundreds of thousands of middle-class jobs those manufacturers support. 

Coal-generated energy ensures that these workers enjoy the kind of dependable manufacturing jobs that underpin nearly all the objectives the president hopes to achieve for the middle class in his economic initiative:  Good wages in a durable industry, a home to call your own, a secure retirement, growth opportunity —a pathway to the middle class.

Moreover, there is a need for thoughtful policies when regulators consider guidelines for existing power plants next year, so that the tens of billions of dollars already being spent to upgrade existing coal plants to meet tougher emission standards is not stranded investment.  By taking coal out of the energy equation, these regulations will endanger the reliability of America's power grid, rob manufacturers of inexpensive energy needed to stay competitive and tax the wallets of U.S. households when half already spend 21 percent of their disposable income on energy.

The first step to strengthening the middle class is to do no harm.  Gambling with the economy and the nation’s future energy supply is not the way to reassure middle class Americans.  Nor will damaging the coal and power industries and risking the hundreds of thousands of high-wage jobs they support grow the middle class.

The coal community is committed to a cleaner and affordable energy future that provides all Americans with the reliable energy they deserve.   To succeed, we need policies that allow advanced, low-emission coal base power plants to be built so all of us can continue to enjoy a stable, clean and affordable supply of electricity for our homes and businesses alike.  

Quinn is president and CEO of the National Mining Association.