Obama misses point on coal

To the editor:

Disclaimer: I am a landowner with mineral rights for the Marcellus and Utica formations. I am employed in the energy and chemicals construction business, have held environmental licenses in two states, have a bachelor of science degree in environmental studies and at one point held credentials as a registered environmental manager. I have worked at many types of power, energy and chemical plants, including various coal processes and natural gas-fuel oil fired combustion turbines. There is not much that happens with the energy and chemicals business that would not affect me in some way.

Our country’s energy policy has been fractious for too long. Now that it appears we are making headway on domestic oil and gas production, the true benefits will be undermined by the policy shift on coal. A recent similar situation occurred in the early 2000s when natural gas prices dropped enough to make combined cycle gas turbine projects competitive with coal, especially because the Clean Air Act enforcement was a significant unknown within the coal industry.

Developers across the country rushed to build the easily permitted gas projects, often building facilities next to each other. This drove the price of natural gas too high to remain competitive except for those who held long-term futures contracts. Home owners don’t buy gas futures, so many people struggled to heat their homes. This also led to rolling brownouts in California along with the unpleasant demise of the industry once the Enron scandal was exposed. This was bad energy policy then as it is now.

What occurred during the last decade and this new policy will affect different types of projects in addition to the electricity markets. When natural gas costs are low there are other industries that grow, including polymers, methanol, fertilizers and such. These chemical projects are being proposed as the shale gas production becomes reality. Currently in the U.S. we see many projects that would create thousands of permanent jobs outside of the construction industry. By forcing these new rules onto the coal industry, the focus will shift to gas again, driving prices too high to allow these new projects to proceed. These projects will be built, but they will be built overseas where gas prices remain stable. Most of the jobs that are created will not be here at home. I know, I have built several facilities overseas.

When you look at the total economy, unemployment, environmental concerns and scientific developments with clean coal you have to ask yourself, why is this administration side-stepping the debate on a real energy policy and implementing this war on coal? I do not have the answer for that except to say they do not have a strong position to debate. The elimination of coal as a viable energy source is unsustainable. If this policy is implemented it will cause extensive damage to an already fragile economic recovery. We should at least have the debate.

Rick Roy