The unexpected death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has brought President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan back from the political graveyard, where it had been consigned by the court’s 5-4 decision to suspend it, pending appeals.
The plan is aimed at reducing carbon, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from American power plants.
Its lofty goals are to reduce annual carbon pollution by 32 percent (or 870 million tons) by 2030 from 2005 levels, while simultaneously reducing SOX and NOX emissions by 90 percent and 70 percent, respectively.
It’s an ambitious goal, but one that’s easily accomplished. You don’t have to plow through 300 pages of rule-making jargon to understand it. Here’s the short version.
1. Phase out coal-fired generators.
2. Replace with gas, wind and solar.
3. The states have plenty of time to figure out how to do it — so get to work.
Why target coal?
Asked why he robbed banks, Willie Sutton replied, “Because that’s where the money is.”
Coal-fired generators emit almost all the industry’s SOX, NOX and CO2. Combined-cycle gas generators produce half as much carbon per megawatt hour as coal.
No serious person still believes that carbon-driven, anthropogenic climate change is some bizarre figment of the liberal imagination. Similarly, no serious proponent of the Clean Power Plan expects that folks who might suffer economic harm from its implementation would let it pass without a fight.
Give credit to the coal lobbyists and their allies in mining, transportation, energy and other regulated industries. They’ve managed to enlist much of the Republican party, most conservative media and every Republican presidential candidate into the goal of suppressing the new energy economy.
Coal, it is argued, is a cheap, abundant and reliable energy source. Solar and wind are intermittent, while gas is more expensive and less reliable than coal.
Given the vast expansion in U.S. gas production and reserves — thanks to hydraulic fracturing technologies — supply and cost issues are largely off the table.
No serious person still believes that carbon-driven anthropogenic climate change is some bizarre figment of the liberal imagination.
Gas plants are no less reliable than their coal-fired counterparts, but coal has at least one advantage.
“At a coal-fired power plant, you can maintain a 30-day stock of fuel supply,” said Mike Easley, CEO of Powder River Energy Corp. in an interview with Christine Peterson of the Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune.
“To the extent that having a reliable fuel supply that can’t be interrupted by pipeline events or other infrastructure events, I think the reliability that coal power brings to the nation’s generation mix is something gas really can’t compete with.”
Brave words, but our prosperous neighbors to the north won’t just be affected by coal’s decline — they’ll be devastated. Wyoming produces nearly 40 percent of America’s coal, almost all of it used to generate electricity.
Coal mining in Wyoming contributes more than $1 billion annually to state and local government budgets from royalties, as well as severance and production taxes. The industry directly employs 6,500 workers at an average wage of $82,000.
As utilities close coal-fired electric generators, Wyoming suffers. In the past eight years, coal production has dropped by 16 percent and state revenue from coal has fallen by 10 percent. And even though Wyoming has vast reserves of natural gas and wind energy, neither can compensate for coal’s ongoing decline.
A major coal-mining complex employs thousands, while Philip Anschutz’s 3,000-megawatt wind project in Carbon County, Wyo., will need only about 250 people when fully operational.
In the past six years, Wyoming’s coal jobs have dropped 7 percent. Recent studies suggest that the Clean Power Plan would accelerate the industry’s financial decline, with production falling by a further 30-60 percent by 2030. If coal giants such as Alpha, Arch and Peabody shut down for good, Wyoming could also be stuck for more than $1 billion in site reclamation costs, now self-bonded by the companies.
Losing such an industry would be an enormous economic blow to Wyoming, a thinly populated (584,000) state with a gross state product of $40 billion. By comparison, imagine the impact on Colorado (pop. 5.35 million, GSP $316 billion) if the winter sports industry disappeared, taking away 46,000 jobs and $5 billion in economic impact.
Ironically, many climate-change models predict that rising temperatures in the Mountain West might radically shrink winter snow accumulations, consigning skiers and snowboarders to the dustbin of history … thanks to global carbon dioxide emissions.
Not to worry, though — climate pessimists predict that coal use will crater, but snowpacks will shrink anyway, leaving both Wyoming and Colorado broke and angry.
And it’ll be all Obama’s fault.