America Needs Continued Coal Use

Coal is currently the feedstock for nearly 40% of America’s baseload electricity supply, and in communities and states where coal has the highest utilization, utility bills are the lowest. With more than two centuries of coal available in the United States, the government and power sector need to find ways to maximize the use of this abundant natural resource in the cleanest, most economical way possible—ensuring that all families, businesses, and communities can benefit from reliable, affordable energy.

Coal—and other fossil fuels—share a proud history, having powered three industrial revolutions (including today’s technology revolution), increased life expectancy, improved the quality of life, and brought hope to every civilization that has used these fuel sources. According to the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration (EIA), coal will continue to be a significant feedstock for U.S. electricity and for power around the globe for decades to come.

Policy Implications

Although the EIA’s prediction is based on past trends and future anticipated use, poorly written and executed federal and state public policy could lead to constraints on domestic coal use which, in turn, would undoubtedly cause systemwide brownouts, blackouts, and price spikes.

Unfortunately, for American families and businesses, President Obama has increasingly abdicated his energy policy to leaders at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who are engaging in an assault on the U.S. coal industry. The recently released draft New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) will—as written—impose a de facto ban on the construction of new technologically advanced coal-fueled power plants. To meet the EPA’s stipulated standards, plants will be forced to use technologies that are not yet commercially or economically viable. Considering this troubling precedent, we are even more concerned that a forthcoming rule on existing coal-fueled power plants could lead to the shuttering of active units across the country.

It’s disconcerting that leaders at the EPA are ignoring the coal-based industry, its hundreds of thousands of workers, and businesses and families across the country who rely on affordable coal-powered energy for their livelihoods. Instead, they are working behind the scenes, through secret emails and communication, with environmental organizations like the Sierra Club, whose stated goal is to end coal-fueled energy in the U.S., to write regulatory energy policy.

I simply cannot believe the president has considered the deleterious consequences to our national security, our nation’s economy, or families’ budgets should coal power plants go offline; if he has, he is consciously putting us on a dangerous path. The nation’s power sector is already grappling with the very ominous possibility that nearly 15% of the nation’s coal-generated electric capacity will be shut down over the next decade as 330 coal units are shuttered because of EPA’s existing regulations. And, as we have seen over recent weeks, other fuel sources cannot meet demand as reliably and as affordably as coal. In short, we are on a collision course brought about by misguided policies that will cause an overreliance on less-predictable energy sources.

Coal Technology Progress

Regrettably, much of the administration’s angst with coal is misplaced. Over the past 40 years, the coal industry has invested more than $130 billion in new technologies that have reduced emissions by 90%. And we’re committed to doing more.

I’m excited to see the slate of more than 15 new clean coal technologies come online in promising projects like the Prairie State Energy Campus in Illinois and John W. Turk, Jr. Plant in Arkansas. I believe these next-generation applications will be game-changers for the coal power industry—as long as the government allows us to succeed.

We stand ready to work with government officials and regulatory agencies to ensure a smart path forward that supports the clean use of coal in the years ahead. If the president and others in the administration refuse to work with us, however, and instead put Americans’ economic and energy security at risk, the coal-based electric industry is ready to use every resource available to fight onerous and overzealous regulations that would harm our industry, our economy, and our nation.

It’s not just one American industry that is at risk; it’s America’s way of life. ■

Mike Duncan is president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE).