The War on Coal

The coal industry has been a political battleground ever since then-candidate Obama said he would implement a cap-and-trade program that would bankrupt anyone who started a new coal-powered plant:

[W]e would put a cap-and-trade system in place that is more — that is as aggressive if not more aggressive than anybody else’s out there … so if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can, it’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.

This issue has continued to dog the President as his EPA policies stifle the coal industry as energy prices sky-rocket and jobs are harder to find in these regions The Wall Street Journal takes a look at the politics of coal in this election:

Coal has improbably risen to become one of the top issues of the presidential campaign, with dueling ads about coal in swing states and attacks by each candidate on the other’s position. The battle is escalating even though coal employment is just a shadow of what it was a few decades ago and its use in power generation is steadily declining, from 48% of U.S. electricity in 2008 to 38% in the 12 months ended July 2012. The industry retains outsize importance in part because of its operations in the contested states of Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania. The candidates have turned coal into a linchpin in their different visions of America’s energy future. Mr. Romney’s energy plan calls for large increases in domestic production of fossil fuels, including coal, while seeking to roll back environmental regulations.

Tricky politics

The fight over coal is tricky for both men. As governor, Mr. Romney championed a regional program to cap emissions of greenhouse gases, which would have hurt the coal industry. But he later abandoned the program, during his first presidential run. For Democrats, coal is even more contentious. Some conservative Democrats, especially in the upper Midwest, fear the decline of the coal industry will lead to higher electricity prices. Those worries led Senate Democrats to scuttle a bill in Congress in 2010 that would have capped greenhouse-gas emissions. Mr. Obama has defended multibillion-dollar investments in “clean coal,” even though many of his supporters who have concerns about the environmental adamantly oppose any federal support for coal. The Obama campaign says coal-industry employment has risen 10% in Ohio since 2008, a message those supporters are loath to hear.

Stabilizing constituency

The U.S. has about 88,000 coal miners, according to government figures, down from more than 700,000 in the 1920s, but up from 75,000 a decade ago.

Natural gas threat

The greatest difference between the candidates comes in environmental rules targeting greenhouse gases and mercury emissions, which fall most heavily on coal-fired plants. Mr. Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency has aggressively pursued the rules, while Mr. Romney says they amount to a death sentence for coal-fired plants. Energy analysts say a bigger factor is the increase of abundant and cheap natural gas in the U.S. Demand for coal is growing elsewhere globally, though, which is one reason employment in the industry has notched up in recent years despite coal’s slipping rank among power sources. The U.S. has become a major supplier of coal to countries including China, India, Brazil, the Netherlands and Britain. The U.S. has exported more coal so far this year than in all of 2009, and is on pace for a record level of coal exports.

2 Comments

  1. No Tribe
    Posted October 19, 2012 at 8:24 am | Permalink | Reply

    Oh, sweet. Romney & Ryan are headed to Red Rock in Colorado. The seating capacity is about 10k. This is Tuesday after the debate.

    • No Tribe
      Posted October 19, 2012 at 8:29 am | Permalink | Reply

      That’s on the 23rd in the evening. On the same day, Obama is having a Florida event in the morning, and into Ohio in the evening of the 23rd. Biden, not sure how it helps, is staying in Ohio Mon-Wed, so it’s likely that Obama also spends the 24th in Ohio.

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