Emissions rules leave big gaps

President Barack Obama claims not to be conducting a war on coal, yet last week his administration proposed the strictest carbon emissions rules yet, using the Clean Air Act of 1970 in a way it was never intended.

Obama praised an “all of the above” energy strategy for 2014 during his State of the Union Address in January, but the requirement to cut emissions of carbon from power plants by 30 percent effectively means an end to any future for coal-burning power plants.

The proposed rule released Monday by the EPA would see carbon emissions set to 30 percent less than where they stood in 2007.

What’s more, it’s a rule being made because, though scientists continue to argue, the president has made it clear that he believes in global warming as reality – and has changed the terminology to a more politically acceptable “climate change.” Further, he cites health claims that say the move will reduce lung disease deaths, again based on science that is still in dispute in a nation where a quarter of the adult population still smokes.

The EPA estimates coal would still factor in for about a third of the electricity mix in 2030, predicting about a 7 percent drop in coal use for power plants. And, Obama claims he doesn’t understand why opponents of the plan think electric rates will skyrocket. One needs only to look at the AEP Cardinal Plant at Brilliant and the FirstEnergy W.H. Sammis Plant at Stratton to see a physical reason: Billions of dollars have been invested in technology to burn coal more cleanly.

Absent doing that, shuttering plants and building new gas-fired or converting current coal-fired plants to gas-fired boilers is the alternative, and all of those choices cost money that eventually is passed on to consumers.

Obama continually contends that such regulatory goals bring out business opportunity, but so far, his administration’s ill-fated investment in solar power has been one of the most prominent private-sector “opportunities.” Solyndra cannot be forgotten.

The administration seems content with fighting the use of coal and the 800,000 jobs it provides, many in our region and long a vital part of the nation’s energy picture.

While supporters claim it’s the U.S. having a duty to do what it can to save the planet, we continue to note that the Chinese, despite choking air pollution, direct evidence of illnesses among its citizens, and major cities that don’t see the sun – in other words, a nation that looks like U.S. industrial areas before the passage of the 1970 Clean Air Act – are not cleaning up their act.

Until all nations are doing their part, the U.S. doesn’t need to set an example with hundreds of thousands of jobs, increasing electricity costs and investments by utilities that could otherwise develop the smart grid to the point where every home is hooked into energy managed systems that would save energy use – and thus cut pollutants by requiring less production of energy.

These arguments and this regulatory step seem to forget that the United States has cleaned its air substantially under the Clean Air Act of 1970.

And, 44 years later, we’re still waiting to see all of the world respond in kind.