More Coal Mines? Really?

The main argument for coal mines seems to be that they offer jobs to people who would otherwise have no job. If this is really the case, why not train those people for other jobs working on projects to develop sustainable energy sources such as solar, hydro and wind power? The human resources and financing used to keep coal mining operations going would be far better employed in creating these new jobs and offering the qualifications needed to perform them.

Just this month the EPA proposed to change industry regulations to make it easier for coal mines to re-open or continue operations. As the current administration does away with regulations and protections put in place with a view to lessening the damage done by pollution and just by mining activities, we’re heading down a slippery slope and it appears to end in a slag heap.

Tuesday August 21st EPA brought out a proposal for an Affordable Clean Energy Rule. On close scrutiny it appears that under the new ‘rule’ energy will be neither cleaner nor more affordable – in fact the opposite. There are several factors involved, and it’s a real challenge to sort out the language used in this proposal, but it can be explained in very basic and non-technical terms.

The new rule only requires CO2 producers to deal with existing plants as they are, not to implement other, cleaner sources of energy as a way to reduce emissions. It also allows individual states to set their own standards for how much emissions should be reduced, if at all. The Clean Air Act, as it reads now, sets up specific numeric targets for CO2 reduction, but the new Rule does not.

When it comes to analyzing the comparative costs of the existing Clean Power Plan and Affordable Clean Energy the waters get very murky, mainly because the EPA “altered its methodology” – or in plain speak, juggled the numbers – differently. Initially, EPA estimations put the ‘net benefits’ under the CPP at between $26 and $46 billion by the year 2030. Under the ACE rule they estimate benefits of up to $400 million per year.

What is wrong with this picture? If you feel up to it, study the tables provided by RIA (Regulatory Impact Analysis), but the gist of it is that no matter how the numbers are juggled, they add up to more long-term costs and fewer benefits either long or short-term. It’s another move on that downward slope that could ultimately result in a drastic change in our quality of life – and it won’t be a change for the better.

One more thing to note and remember: no change in regulations or suggested quick fix for the coal industry can return coal mines to the status of necessary energy solutions. As it stands now, the cost of mining coal with or without strict regulations makes it unprofitable compared to the options now available in clean, renewable energy sources. This attempted resuscitation of a failing industry is misguided and tragically unfair to those who have been promised a future livelihood in the mines.