Coal—Always Getting the Shaft
By Ken Thornberg
What does a naughty boy get in his stocking at Christmas? Right—a lump of coal. Coal is rather low on the list of topics for country western songs, folklore, or greetings cards, isn’t it? By and large, it doesn’t get much respect. It’s not the most pristine mineral in the world, yet it deserves much more credit than it gets. It is highly responsible for the increased prosperity in the world.
When one reviews our own history and that of Europe, we see the Industrial Revolution improving the quality of life in myriads of ways and coal had a large part to do with that. Infant mortality decreased, life expectancy increased, food was more plentiful and jobs were created at amazing rates. It finally became a main source of heat for homes in the 1800s.
Coal and Energy Production
I believe that many are under the impression that coal has lost its impact on our lives, but this is not so. There is a 50% chance that the energy used to bring light to your home or office where you are reading this article came from a coal-burning power plant. In fact, 94% of coal in the U.S. is used for electrical generation. Forty-five percent of the country’s annual four trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity are fueled by coal. There were 934 million tons of coal used for that purpose alone in 2009. It would take a line of pickups full of coal over 7,500 miles long to represent what is mined daily, or put it another way, 820 million pickup truck loads per year. One more example—100 trains leave Wyoming daily with 100-120 cars full of coal. A 1,000- megawatt plant consumes the coal from a single car in just 15-20 minutes. There is no way an American could diminish the value of coal today.
What Else Does Coal Provide?
There is a different kind of Coke in the world other than the one you drink (or use to get a high)! The coke made from coal helps produce the iron ore we use. This specialized product is used to melt iron ore and then it helps transform it to pig iron, the raw material for iron production. Coal is also a great export for our nation, delivering about 100 million tons of coal to foreign nations last year. Most of the exported coal is used for steelmaking in countries who then make the steel and often send it back to us!
We Have Plenty
You would think with these gigantic figures in front of our face that we would be running out of it, but we aren’t. We have a reserve of 496 billion short tons of coal, of which 272 billion are recoverable with current technology. With 1.1 billion tons used per year in the U.S., that leaves us with about a 250-year supply at the present rate of consumption. The good news is that new seams of coal are discovered annually to actually increase that number.
What of the War on Coal?
You might expect I would get to this sooner or later. Let’s review a certain president’s comment about coal in 2008 to the San Francisco Chronicle: “So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them because they are going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that is being emitted.” Obama was hoping that Cap and Trade (see earlier Miners News article I wrote) would have taken effect by now, so instead he has turned to his socialist Environmental Protection Agency to do the dirty work for him. A new regulation was put into effect in January of this year. Political syndicator Mark Whittington noted in Voices in January, “The effects on the price of electricity of the new regulations will be about the same as the effects on the price of gasoline of the administration’s restrictions on oil drilling. The president possesses the charming idea that he can change the way the U.S. generates energy by government fiat. Unfortunately, attempting to supplant the marketplace with central planning always results in economic dislocation that rarely affects the policy makers who institute the plans to start with.”
The rule Whittington refers to is the Clean Air Transport Rule now being implemented as the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. Why is this expensive measure being proposed suddenly in this period of economic malaise? Have coal-powered plants suddenly gone nuts with emissions? Not. Quite the contrary. Between 1980 and 2008, sulfur dioxide ambient levels dropped 56% nationwide! Levels of oxides and nitrogen dropped 46%. Yet, the new EPA rule requires an additional decrease in sulfur dioxide by 73% from 2005 levels and a 54% decrease in the oxides and nitrogen!!!! Want to see pollution? Try China or India, or even neighboring Mexico. On an alleged clear day (according to the Beijing English newspaper) I could not see skyscrapers even ¼ mile in front of me! And no, coal is not the primary source, as they allow people to burn tires in downtown Beijing to stay warm and vehicles have little if any emissions controls.
EPA Goes Crazy
The modifications required by this new set of regulations are tremendous in engineering man-hours, design of site-specific control devices, and lengthy shutdowns for construction purposes. Years of planning and obtaining capital equipment are necessary. Utilities are required to plan for standards in 2012 with only six months’ notice of the details of the final rule. The industry only recently discovered what the EPA was specifically implementing, much less what the final requirements would be.
In summary, EPA is requiring compliance with these new regs in six months, not the normal period of several years. Why? Could it be that Obama is so afraid of losing the next election that he has to pay back his environmental supporters before it’s too late? Is he in a hurry to abort our free market system?
The Effect on Citizens
When a plant cannot afford the reckless plan of the bureaucracy, they shut down. According to the Wheeling (WV) News-Register, “It was revealed at least 32 coal-fired power plants in 12 states, including West Virginia and Ohio, would be closed so utility companies could comply with the Obama administration’s air pollution regulations.” Up to 55 million households will be in danger of outages, brownouts, or at least higher rates due to this unnecessary EPA rule.
Others are in the Sights for Future Collectivism
The EPA is also considering making nuclear and fossil-fuel plants add cooling towers. The completely unnecessary cost is suggested to be $64 billion! As you can guess, the projected cost now will undoubtedly double down the road. The sad thing is that it is not needed at all.
The EPA is also considering calling coal ash a hazardous waste, in spite of the fact that EPA has twice in the past deemed it not to be hazardous! Go figure. If implemented, the storage costs could be as much as $20 billion annually. Small electric providers would go out of business or else consumers would have to foot the bill again. So much depends upon who is in office and who they choose to run regulatory agencies which are unconstitutional in the first place.
Now EPA is poised to regulate all hazardous air pollutants, including mercury and acid gases, for coal and oil power plants. All power plants would have to reduce emissions to a level equal to the top 12% of power plants. This would occur even though most mercury Americans are exposed to come from foreign sources. Costs are estimated between $261 and $358 billion.
In Appalachia, the EPA has halted 150 permits for coal mining that were already approved by state and federal officials and is refusing to consider almost 100 more, purportedly because ONE study claimed that water in close proximity to coal mines negatively affected mayfly populations! Yes, you heard me right. This decision will derail tens of thousands of jobs, both in mining and in servicing miners. That is radical politics, folks.
The list goes on. Greenhouse gases released by coal-fired plants are also being targeted by the EPA. The EPA has been arm-twisting states to enact strict statutory thresholds for greenhouse gases which could lead to millions of fewer jobs.
Obama has placed prohibitions on off-shore drilling and previous bans have been kept in place in Alaska (ANWR). An election year has given oil companies a short reprieve, but it won’t last long if Obama wins re-election. And, of course, Obama has opposed the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas. Jobs definitely take a back seat for Obama, unless they are federally mandated by bailout funds!
There has also been obstruction of the development of coal-to-oil and gas-to-oil technology, as the EPA wants to find a link to hydraulic fracturing to groundwater contamination. Can’t find one yet, but they’ll keep trying.
Why Obama Hates Coal
First of all, he buys 100% into the climate change scam that has been online for years. Miners News columnists, including Harold Hough, others, and myself have for years written on the false science related to global warming, so there is no need to repeat what we have written.
He also supports the environmentalists’ goal of sending Earth’s population back to the days of the mule and plow. I wrote years ago how I’d learned decades ago that the Socialist Party, USA and its “children” (like the Social Democrats, USA which was a socialist arm) decided to disband and start the environmental movement by which they could achieve their plans without using the term “socialist.” That movement has been saturated to the tune of 100% by these people ever since.
Obama knows that coal-fired power plants emit pollution that can have a deleterious effect upon one’s body. Early death can indeed result in certain circumstances, especially those with chronic lung problems. Yet, that is no reason to shut down all of these plants, for the results would actually cause a greater death toll. Scientific data actually proves that (of which I have a copy for those interested). For example, for every 15 people who lose an estimated 10 years of life from TWh pollution, the benefits of electricity cause 78 people to gain 224 years of life.
While he opposes coal, he loves undependable and expensive sources of energy, such as wind, solar, ethanol and bio-fuels. He seems to follow the advice of Earth Summit guru Maurice Strong, when he noted, “Frankly, we may get to the point where the only way of saving the world will be for industrial civilization to collapse.” Our president, the EPA, and the bureaucracy is certainly moving as quickly as possible to prove Strong a prophet in his own time, all in the name of either saving the Earth or “sustainability.”
We should be thankful for this energy miracle that provides us comfort, improves our health, and gives us more years to enjoy the blessings of life. As usual, I urge you to write your legislators with these facts and an anti-regulation point of view.