Coal's global importance is only growing

The Obama administration isn’t coming to grips with the global importance of coal. Despite headlines that laud the growth of renewable energy, it’s the use of coal that’s surging globally, particularly in the developing world where it’s the principal fuel to drive economic growth.

Yet, the President has launched a climate change crusade against our coal industry. He’s using environmental regulation to roll back the use of coal in the U.S. when he knows very well that the U.S. cannot fight climate change alone.

ADVERTISEMENT
In fact, Obama recently sent Secretary of State John Kerry to Indonesia to remind the developing world that one country cannot reduce global emissions by itself. But nonetheless, the president has us doing just that.

Despite his professed all-the-above energy approach, the president’s actions send one message: coal’s days in the U.S. are numbered. The EPA’s latest rule on greenhouse-gas emissions for new power plants would make it almost impossible to build a new coal plant in the U.S.

This new rule would require all new coal plants to employ carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.  By law, the EPA is only allowed to mandate the use of environmental control technology that is commercially viable and available. While the Department of Energy has spent several billion dollars since 2005 on the development and demonstration of CCS, just one CCS-equipped power plant is even under construction. By no means is this a technology that is commercially viable and available.

Sen. Joe Manchin(D-W.Va.) has sponsored a Senate bill that would block EPA’s mandated use of CCS on new coal plants. Manchin, like many other concerned lawmakers, recognizes that CCS simply isn’t ready for the marketplace and believes that demonstrating the technology at several fully functioning power plants has to come before the EPA can mandate its use. That’s a reasonable request.

The president needs to recognize coal’s value both here and abroad and get serious about advancing clean coal technology, instead of using regulation to drive our coal industry out of business. Following his own logic – the same logic Secretary Kerry laid out in Indonesia – it’s irrational to cast aside our most abundant and affordable source of energy if the rest of the world has no intention of reducing emissions.

Remember, China, not the U.S., is the world’s largest carbon emitter and now burns more coal than the rest of the world combined. The U.S. Energy Information Agency reports that the Chinese accounted for 88 percent of the growth in world coal consumption from 2001 to 2009.

India, too, is burning more coal than ever and will overtake the U.S. as the world’s second largest coal consumer by 2030. As India’s middle class grows, so does the country’s thirst for electricity. Last year, record electricity demand caused a blackout that left 300 million Indians in the dark.

And Europe, despite its aggressive subsidies for renewables, is burning more coal as well. In 2012, the Europeans imported U.S. coal at record levels to offset growing reliance on Russian natural gas. That trend is surely going to grow. 

If the president hopes the world will follow our lead – if that’s the meat of his strategy and his justification for phasing out coal – he needs to wake up. Coal is here to stay and he needs to recognize it.

A pragmatic energy strategy embraces the need for the U.S. to seize the reins and champion clean coal technology. We have the world’s largest coal reserves and an unmatched capacity for innovation. We should be pursuing an energy strategy that allows us to utilize our vast resources and export clean coal technology to a global market that needs it.

Abandoning American coal is a recipe for economic disaster and it’s also a strategy that will do nothing to reduce global emissions. The President’s anti-coal agenda may help appease some environmental boosters, but it’s certainly not putting folks to work or producing a global solution to a truly global challenge.

Porter is an energy and environment consultant located in Savannah, Ga.  He is a former assistant administrator at the EPA.