Obama Brings His Anti-Coal Campaign to Energy-Insecure Europe

By Susan Jones | March 25, 2014 | 7:23am EDT

Obama (left) and Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte shake hands following their joint statement in front of Rembrandt's "The Nightwatch" at Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam on March 24, 2014. (Photo: AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - The Dutch prime minister announced on Monday that the Netherlands will join the U.S.-led effort to end public financing of coal-fired plants abroad.

His comments come at a time of European jitters over the possibility that Russia might cut the supply of natural gas to Europe as a result of the Ukraine crisis. Much of Europe's natural gas comes from Russia through pipelines running across Ukraine.

In a joint appearance with President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he and Obama had discussed a "wide range of subjects," staring with climate change.

"The Netherlands is joining with the United States and a group of other countries in a bid to stop international public funding of new coal-fired power plants, for example, by multilateral development banks. We want to achieve an international level playing field to ensure that private and public parties invest in green growth wherever possible," Rutte said.

President Obama also mentioned the two countries' "shared determination to confront climate change and its effects," such as rising sea levels that concern the Netherlands:

"We're pleased that the Netherlands has joined our initiative that will virtually end all public financing for coal-fired plants abroad. It's concrete action like this that can keep making progress on reducing emissions while we develop new global agreements on climate change."

Last week, the World Coal Association warned that the Ukraine crisis "reminds us that further switching from coal to imported gas would be a major risk to the security of energy supply in Europe.

"The stakes are high," WCA said.

The global industry association noted that Russia has threatened to stop shopping natural gas to Ukraine -- a move that would harm the European Union, which relies on Russia for 30 percent of its natural gas imports, with 80 percent delivered through Ukrainian pipelines.

"With Europe’s main natural gas supply route at risk, this crisis should serve as a wake-up call to the EU’s decision-makers that they should pay more attention to Europe’s indigenous energy coal resources, as well as reliable coal imports," the WCA said.

WCA said coal accounts for 90 percent of the EU’s fossil fuel reserves and is the cornerstone of Europe’s energy supply. And it is supplied mainly by domestic producers -- "creating jobs and adding value to the European economy while at the same time reinforcing Europe’s energy security."

In his June 2013 Climate Action Plan, President Obama said the U.S. government would no longer support public financing of new coal plants overseas -- except for the most efficient coal technology available in the world’s poorest countries in cases where no other economically feasible alternative exists; and except for facilities using carbon capture and sequestration technologies.

"As part of this new commitment, we will work actively to secure the agreement of other countries and the multilateral development banks to adopt similar policies as soon as possible," the plan says.

As Obama spoke in Amsterdam on Monday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced that his chamber will vote this week on a bill to protect coal mining jobs in the United States.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) would prevent the Obama administration from imposing what Boehner called "excessive, unnecessary regulations on coal-fired energy that will destroy jobs and drive costs up even further."

Boehner noted that home heating bills nearly doubled for some families during this particularly cold winter, and he said gas prices are rising once again.

"Despite the strain on family budgets, the Obama administration is continuing its regulatory assault on American energy, taking aim at coal-fired energy production with new rules that, in the words of one veteran coal miner, will 'destroy the economies of states that produce coal and propel thousands of coal miners on the jobless rolls.'”

On Sept. 20, 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a proposed rule that would cap carbon pollution from new power plants. It is now working on a  rule that would limit emissions from existing coal-fired plants.

Critics say the administration wants to make it cost-prohibitive to build new coal-fired power plants in this country.

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