Obama's War on Coal Powered by Natural Gas

By Geoff Davis

Now that the 2012 election is over, it is time for our elected leaders to get back to the business of running the country. Since President Obama did not lay out a clear second-term agenda during his re-election campaign, we are left to guess what he meant when he asked voters to give him another four year to finish what he started.

 

Already, many small business owners are announcing they will be forced to lay off workers to get below the 50-employee threshold set by ObamaCare to avoid the law’s costly regulations, which will take effect in January. A more immediate threat, though, are the reckless anti-coal regulations that are expected to be released before the end of November that will make it cost-prohibitive to build any new coal-fired plants, and further drive up consumer and industrial energy prices.

 

While there has never been a doubt that President Obama is conducting a war on coal and American energy in general, it’s not the just burdensome regulations that are putting coal miners out of work. In a very crafty move, he is using a natural gas – a fuel popular among conservatives and once found to be palatable to his radical environmental allies – to put coal out of business. Supporters of natural gas claim that it is cleaner than coal; this is not true when you look at more than just the emissions at the end-stage of the development process. Moreover, if natural gas should supplant coal as the primary “Base Load” for generating electricity, it is likely to skyrocket in price, leaving us in an even worse situation than we have today.

 

Gas industry advocates and entrepreneurs like T. Boone Pickens went to Capitol Hill to push The New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act. It featured a number of Republican co-sponsors who saw the legislation as a way to create jobs and provide a real economic stimulus for a growing industry. The bill provides taxpayer-funded subsidies for manufacturing and buying vehicles that run on natural gas, converting commercial fleets from diesel to natural gas and creating natural filling stations. I didn’t support this legislation but those are all admirable goals as long as the market can support the technology at a competitive price. Indeed, and developing natural gas into a usable fuel is something we should do.

 

But the legislation also created tax preferences that would favor natural gas over other sources of energy, and this is where the Administration’s war on coal comes into play. Some time ago, environmental groups like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council decided that they would support the development of natural gas because it was “cleaner” than the hated coal that’s used to power our country. This could create a dangerous “bait and switch” because once we are dependent on Gas to carry our base load for industrial energy prices will skyrocket and the economy will suffer.

 

Friends of natural gas defend their support of government subsidies and mandates claiming that promoting this fuel will help clean up the air and water, which allegedly has been polluted beyond recognition by coal. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that the New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act could cost $3.8 billion to $14 billion annually; this is a massive taxpayer give-away to industry that private investors aren’t even willing to finance, so why should the American taxpayer? While natural gas has its uses, we should learn from the mistakes of Solyndra and similar businesses that have gone bankrupt despite massive amount of tax dollars from “well intentioned” bureaucrats and politicians.

 

The most immediate threat to the coal industry is the slate of new regulations set to be unveiled at the end of November. EPA officials rushed the writing so if President Obama had lost re-election, they would have a small window before a new Administration came in to enact them. As it stands, more than 50 EPA staffers are working on rules that will essentially ban the construction of new coal-fired plants. The Manhattan Institute think-tank estimates that these rules would cost upwards of $700 billion. Couple that with the Obama Administration’s crafty preferential carve-outs for natural gas, and coal and the good jobs that industry provides are both heading up a creek without a paddle.

 

America sits on a Saudi Arabia of coal, enough to propel us toward true energy independence through the use of clean technologies to produce coal to liquid transportation fuels, Next Generation clean coal power plants, and a host of new technologies. Let’s use the resources we have to keep American dollars here creating jobs, rather than spending hard earned tax dollars on another boondoggle that will further increase our growing dependence on energy form unstable allies far from our shores.

Geoff Davis served as a U.S. Representative for Northern and Eastern Kentucky from 2005 until August 2012 where he served on the House Committee on Armed Services and later as the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Human Resources.

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