Amid all the promises President Barack Obama has broken since he has occupied the White House, he’s kept one: his promise to destroy the coal industry.
In 2008, candidate Obama remarked, “If somebody wants to build a coal-fired power plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them. … Under my plan … electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.” Four major coal companies have filed for bankruptcy in just the past 15 months.
Obama has waged a sustained war on coal. The newly unveiled final Clean Power Plan (CPP) for new and existing power plants is a knife to the heart of the entire coal industry, from mining to transportation to power plants to the American energy consumer. It’s Obama’s coup de grace for a once-vibrant industry that served as the backbone of the American Industrial Revolution and the nation’s global economic dominance. It could still provide cheap, clean power if Obama would only let up.
Obama’s CPP requires states to develop individualized plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, by an average of 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. This is an even steeper cut than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) originally proposed.
Obama’s misguided focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to prevent a completely theoretical anthropogenic climate change catastrophe is destroying U.S. jobs, threatening electric power reliability and affordability, and doing absolutely nothing to prevent climate change. By the administration’s own estimates, the Clean Power Plan would reduce future global temperature by less than a hundredth of a degree, an amount thermometers can’t even measure.
Obama’s climate obsession comes at a high price for electric power ratepayers. Since Obama ascended to the presidency, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports coal’s share of the nation’s electric supply fell from 48 percent in 2007 to 39 percent in 2014. Because coal is a low-cost source of electricity, electric power prices have risen 15 percent since Obama became president, despite historically low inflation.
An analysis of EPA’s initial proposal, which would have required emissions to be 30 percent below 2005 by 2030, by NERA Economic Consulting shows U.S. ratepayers would have seen their electric power prices rise an additional 13 percent above inflation. This amounts to the average household paying as much as $4,157 more for electricity over the life of the Clean Power Plan. And because electricity prices will rise for businesses as well, wages and disposable income will fall short of what they would otherwise be without CPP.
Because Obama’s CPP requires even more emissions cuts than the NERA analysis took into account, costs will be even higher. Higher costs, less income, and all to prevent a temperature increase of less than a one-hundredth of a degree. Talk about hot air!
Between 2000 and 2007, 151 new coal-fired plants were proposed or began construction. Obama’s war on coal brought what would have been real progress to a screeching halt. Since Obama became president, only 22 of those 151 coal plants have come online, and 104 projects were cancelled or placed on hold. The rest are stuck in limbo.
Obama’s new and existing regulations have caused the premature closure of dozens of U.S. coal-fired power plants. The EIA reports between 2009 and 2014, 265 coal-fired power units, at dozens of power plants, ceased operations. These closures took more than 28 gigawatts of electricity offline, enough to power approximately 12.6 million homes. These closures have cost 39,684 jobs at coal-fired electric power plants, a 28.8 percent reduction in the industry’s total employment.
Obama’s CPP will shutter hundreds more coal-fired power plants, so the industry can expect additional job losses that number in the tens of thousands. And because fewer power plants will be burning coal, there will be a lot less coal required, meaning thousands more unemployed miners.
A report by the American Action Forum shows Obama’s existing anti-coal policies resulted in 30.7 percent of the coal miners in Kentucky losing their jobs since 2008. The CPP will cause more job losses in coal country than all of Obama’s previous policies combined.
The North American Electric Reliability Corporation, the agency charged with ensuring the reliability of the nation’s electric power system, warns CPP will result in more than 134 gigawatts of early power plant retirements, which the organization says will threaten the stability of the nation’s electric power grid.
It will take a new president and Congress working together, placing America’s economic progress above overhyped environmental fears, to reverse fortunes of the coal industry and the nation’s electric power consumers. Let’s hope it’s not too late to undo the damage.
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a research fellow on energy and the environment at The Heartland Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research center headquartered in Arlington Heights, Illinois.