Wednesday, November 18, 2015
It’s not that simple, and my colleagues help no one by pretending otherwise. Coal companies are struggling largely because domestic coal is not economically competitive with the country’s cheap and abundant natural gas. That would be true no matter who was president or what climate quality standards we had in place.
The “blame Obama” argument essentially boils down to ignoring economics and pretending that the implementation schedule for the Clean Power Plan, which requires mandatory emissions reductions beginning in 2022, is a bureaucratic overreach rather than the compromise it represents. (The original implementation date was 2020.)
Coal’s would-be friends in Washington have decided to bash the administration and defend the status quo rather than offer a way forward. They’ve also largely ignored legislative attempts to help the industry comply with incoming climate standards. It’s worth examining why.
Companies will need advanced technologies to meet the new standards. Whether it is capturing carbon at the smokestack or some other method, breakthroughs will be required for coal to stay viable in a new world of emissions rules. If you’re a lawmaker who wants to keep today’s coal industry alive under the Clean Power Plan, standing pat is not an option.
Given that reality, you’d think that support for efforts to reduce coal’s climate-changing emissions would be in the Republican Party’s platform by now. But ask almost any Republican on an environmental committee — or better yet, ask the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, of the coal state of Kentucky — where his or her bill is to support these options, and it’s a good bet you’ll get a blank stare.
That’s because, for all their sound and fury on the importance of American coal mining, some of my colleagues have boxed themselves in so tightly by denying the science of climate change that any solution is impossible for them to support. In the unusual world of climate politics, Republicans who help coal companies reduce their carbon emissions would have to admit that those emissions are a problem worth discussing — and for a variety of reasons, they can’t do that.