As even the most casual student of history knows, yesterday's friends can be tomorrow's enemies and vice versa. Germany and Japan as America's most mortal allies transformed, post World War II, into two close allies. It is worth keeping this in mind to consider the overheated rhetoric about a supposed "war on coal".
Coal was critical for the industrial revolution and was a serious player for transforming the world over the past several centuries. However, somewhat like international relationships, technology and energy systems can evolve and change. And, our understanding of costs and benefits can shift as well.
While coal for a long period was an absolutely critical part of our energy scene, technological advances have changed that. For example, ships and railroads that once ran on coal now run more efficiently with petroleum fuels and electricity. And, the same thing is an ever-increasing reality in the electricity market. Once the 'lowest price' out there for new electricity, natural gas is beating coal down right now due to depressed gas prices. And, increasingly, renewable energy projects are beating coal on a price-point basis -- even without considering 'externalities'.
As to those externalities, we now know that there are very real, very serious, very significant costs that fall outside the price contact -- are external to the financial relationship -- that are costing us as individuals and adults.
We now know that the mining and burning of coal causes tremendous damage, creates costs from ...
brain damage in babies (due to mercury) to environmental impacts (most extreme being climate impacts, but a range of other impacts as well).
If we were to consider rationally those externalities from the mining, transportation, and burning of coal, then coal would be priced out of the market place in market after market after ...
While fossil fuel promoters, uncaring about the havoc they create on others (living and unborn), scream that the Obama Administration is undertaking a "War on Coal" there is a quite different angle. They -- the promoters of coal -- long ago determined that their own profitability was more important than the pain and suffering that they cause others, that cash in their pocket was more important than the damage they cause for all of us. If there is such a thing as a "war", they declared it a long time ago. It is well past time to recognize that and act accordingly.
Friday's announcement of proposed carbon dioxide limits for new natural gas and new coal-fired electricity generation has fueled a rash of fossil foolish screaming about a "War on Coal". Those shrill screams of faux outrage ignore, of course, our expanded (and expanding) understanding of the damage(s) that burning coal causes, all "external" costs like driving up asthma rates, and dismisses the revolution in distributed renewable energy that is pricing new coal out of many markets even without the externalities being considered.
Another angle ignored in that faux outrage, that the coal industry, itself, was the biggest promoter of asserting that "clean coal" was 'there', ready for deployment, and more than able to foster a "clean" electricity that could go toe-to-toe with and win against renewables in both price and cleanliness. That (dishonest? misleading? deceitful? less than truthful?) truthiness has disappeared from their vocabulary with a discussion of "price" that ignores the vast majority of costs that we all -- unborn and born -- are and will pay for the burning of coal.
Forget any such "War On Coal", yesterday's announcement about emissions rules was simply a shot fired in a desperate defense for our health, prosperity, and security against those who long ago declared war on the U.S. ... on all of us.
Ken Ward, Jr, is a must read when it comes to coal and West Virginia. After the President's Georgetown climate change speech, he wrote Here we go again: Will the mining industry’s renewed ‘war on coal’ rhetoric go unchallenged again?: