Head of clean coal group sees trouble for Obama greenhouse plan

Robert “Mike” Duncan, President and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), delivered June 26 remarks critical of the new Obama White House policy on climate change at the group’s semi-annual board meeting in Washington.

President Obama on June 25, in a major policy speech, called for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to make final last year’s proposed greenhouse gas restrictions on new power plants, and to impose further restrictions on existing plants.

Duncan said Obama views climate change as a ‘legacy’ issue. “And on this point, he and I agree,” Duncan added. “But that ‘legacy’ is going to be higher energy costs, less reliable electricity, lost jobs and a shattered economy.”

Duncan continued: “Even before the President’s call for carbon regulations, the EPA was extracting pound after pound of flesh from the coal industry. According to National Economic Research Associates, seven of the EPA’s proposed regulations would cost the electricity sector roughly $200 billion in compliance costs, and destroy at least 544,000 jobs annually. And now they want to put new carbon regulations on top of that?”

The ACCCE has a number of members, including coal-fired power generators American Electric Power (NYSE: AEP) and Basin Electric Power Cooperative, the coal-hauling BNSF Railway, and coal producers like Arch Coal (NYSE: ACI) and Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE: ANR).

Duncan said the fight from here will come in two stages, one inside the Beltway and one outside. The first round will be fought in Washington, as public comments are gathered. The second will take place at the state level, as state governments develop plans to meet the proposed standards.

“Fighting these regulations will be challenging, but I am optimistic about our chances,” Duncan said. “First, the facts are on our side. Singling out the American coal industry won’t make a dent in a global challenge like climate change. But it will have a devastating impact on our national economy. Second, the politics are on our side. There’s a reason the President wasn’t out there talking about these regulations on the campaign trail last year. And with mid-term elections coming up next year, there are going to be many Senators unhappy with this government overreach. And third, the American people are on our side. Affordable and reliable electricity is something most people take for granted. But carbon regulations on existing plants could change that. The more people learn about the potential impacts, the less they are going to like it.”

Manchin, from second-biggest coal producing state, slams Obama plans

Much of what Obama wants to do can, in theory, be accomplished without congressional approval under the existing provisions of the Clean Air Act. But there will be a fight in Congress over these plans, with the Republicans lining up solidly against them, and some coal-state Democrats joining those ranks.

One of the opponents will likely be Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who said in a June 25 statement: “The regulations the President wants to force on coal are not feasible. And if it’s not feasible, it’s not reasonable. It’s clear now that the President has declared a war on coal. It’s simply unacceptable that one of the key elements of his climate change proposal places regulations on coal that are completely impossible to meet with existing technology.”

Manchin added: “The fact is clear: our own Energy Department reports that our country will get 37 percent of our energy from coal until 2040. Removing coal from our energy mix will have disastrous consequences for our recovering economy. These policies punish American businesses by putting them at a competitive disadvantage with our global competitors. And those competitors burn seven-eighths of the world’s coal, and they’re not going to stop using coal any time soon.”

Rockefeller wants more economic protection, CO2 research

On the other hand, West Virginia’s other Democratic senator, Jay Rockefeller, has been traditionally more out front in support of climate change legislation and on June 25 voiced general approval of the Obama goal, but not so much the plan to get there as outlined so far.

“I understand the President wants to move forward on climate change, but his remarks today were short on details, and those details matter in the lives of West Virginians,” Rockefeller said. “Any action on climate change is going to have a direct effect on the lives of our mining communities that are already facing great uncertainties, and on the pocketbooks of every one of our middle-class families still dealing with a recovering job market.”

Rockefeller added: “We need more from the President to assure our miners and working families they’re part of this plan. To begin with, we need to see a timeline, a cost estimate and to understand how communities that have relied on coal are going to be supported once these proposals take effect. I’m deeply concerned that, in its current form, there’s not enough emphasis in the President’s plan on the people who are the backbone of our economy and the fabric of our nation. And, any roadmap to deal with our future energy needs must include the promise of clean coal. Our demand for energy can’t be met without it.”

The senator said that he has sent letters to coal operators, industry groups, labor organizations and environmental advocates asking for their ideas about how to drive deployment of clean coal technology in the state. Their input is critical as Rockefeller works on shaping a new, comprehensive clean coal bill.

In 2010, Rockefeller co-authored the first comprehensive legislation designed to realize widespread Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage technologies. The Carbon Capture and Storage Deployment Act of 2010 would create funding for research; financial incentives for large-scale deployment; and technology standards for new power plants, among other provisions.

In addition, Rockefeller secured funding for CCS as part of $3.4bn for advanced coal in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. 

And last fall, Rockefeller joined Senators Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., in introducing legislation that would allow companies to claim a credit of $20 per ton of CO2 captured when producing energy. That bill amends current law to provide assurances to companies who were previously concerned that the tax credit would no longer be available to them once construction of CCS projects began.

More broadly, Rockefeller said he remains committed to a plan to secure a future for West Virginia coal that includes: his new CCS bill; a push for stronger funding of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fossil Energy R&D program; and continued efforts to push regulations that help promote development of CCS technology.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.