We can’t say we didn’t see it coming, but Montanans are shocked nonetheless that the Environmental Protection Agency actually went through with implementing a new round of rules, part of the Obama administration’s Climate Change Action Plan, aimed at dismantling the coal industry in the United States.
The rule effectively prohibits the construction of any new coal-fired power plants in the United States by adopting regulations that require them to employ carbon capture and storage technology to reduce their emissions. The trouble is that the technology necessary to comply with the regulations is still in the development phase and years away from being deployable on an industrial scale. By requiring such technology before it’s ready, the EPA rule could actually disincentivize any serious investment in the technology and, consequently, development of coal-fired generation facilities.
The implications of this rule cannot be overstated. Instead of using our country’s scientific and technological prowess to work on solutions to reduce emissions, the EPA basically has declared a moratorium on clean coal technology. Instead of embracing the opportunity to create thousands of new American jobs, the EPA is forcing us onto a path of higher energy prices that will put a strain on every sector of the economy even as we try to recover from the Great Recession.
For all this cost, what has the EPA gained? Carbon emissions in the United States have already declined and are currently at levels last seen decades ago. Meanwhile emerging economies, like China and India, have turned to coal because it is the most cost-effective and reliable way they have to fuel their growth and lift their populations out of poverty. Coal consumption is even increasing in Europe as they look to mitigate rising electricity costs.
The bottom line is the EPA rule will do nothing to reduce the global demand for coal – it’s on a steep rise. That means global emissions will continue to grow until we develop the technology that reverses it. Effectively, the EPA is forcing the most innovative economy in the world to sit out efforts to invest in technology to curtail carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.
For Montana, it’s troublesome that effectively we’re not going to be able to build any new coal-fired power plants in our state. Montana has the largest and cleanest coal reserves in the United States, and the opportunity to produce more of that coal to fuel a new generation of high-tech power plants could have a transformative effect on our state economy. And, of course, no other state is going to build them either, which means we won’t be supplying those states with our coal.
There’s also a very real concern that the EPA’s next move will be to apply this same rule to existing power plants, effectively forcing them to shut down. Coal supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s electricity and 50 percent of Montana’s. Stop to consider what that could do to electricity prices paid by consumers. Compounding the problem, industries that have high electricity inputs, like manufacturing or agricultural irrigation, will be hit the hardest by increasing electricity rates. The ripple effect will be felt by higher prices for everything from consumer goods to food. When input costs rise for U.S. producers, we’ll see even more jobs shipped overseas where energy prices are lower and products can be produced more economically.
The world has always relied on America to find solutions to the biggest problems. We can’t afford to shun coal – we need to adopt policies that serve as an incentive to develop coal technology. We need to be the leader on this issue, but right now the EPA has relegated us to the sidelines. And by all indications the agency is going to make the problem even worse by forcing the closure of our existing power plant fleet in coming years. It’s the ultimate goal of the war on coal. Please take the time to contact Congress and the president to urge them to stop this ill-advised and destructive rule.
Glenn Oppel is government relations director for the Montana Chamber of Commerce.