Is “All of the Above” an energy strategy or a catchphrase? It’s a critically important question for government officials in both parties as they debate the future of our nation’s energy policy. If “all of the above” is a strategy, then public policies must recognize coal’s importance and allow coal to compete fairly with other fuels in the American energy mix. If it’s a catchphrase, then we’ll see more heavy-handed government rules and regulations that will unnecessarily shutter coal-fueled power plants. Unfortunately, recent regulations cascading from the EPA make it clear that “All of the Above” is currently more of a catchphrase than a strategy.
As the nation’s single largest source of electricity, coal is directly responsible for more than half a million U.S. jobs, and indirectly supports and creates millions more. From the coal producers and miners in states across the nation, to the railroads, barges and trucks that ship coal to power plants across the country, to the manufacturers, American businesses and families who rely on affordable and reliable electricity, coal is a connecting force.
As our nation’s largest, domestically-produced fuel, coal is essential to rebuilding our nation’s economy and protecting American jobs, while keeping electricity reliable and affordable for our families and businesses, especially during these tough economic times. Coal also contributes to a higher standard of living, especially for people with low and fixed incomes.
Coal is vital, not only to America, but also to the world. According to the International Energy Agency, coal is the fastest growing fuel globally as many of the surging economies are powering their growth with coal.
Keeping electricity prices low is especially important in light of increasing energy prices. A recent study for ACCCE found that because coal has provided about half of America’s electricity over the past decade, electricity prices have actually declined when adjusted for inflation. But, even with coal providing affordable electricity for millions of American families, more than half of U.S. households now devote more than 20 percent of their family budget toward overall energy costs (home heating and cooling, along with transportation), nearly double what they spent just ten years ago.
This reality is even starker for low-income Americans. The one-in-ten families in our nation who earn $10,000 or less annually pay, on average, more than 70 percent of their after-tax income on energy. For these families, having access to affordable electricity from coal means more money for nutritious food, better health care and a quality education. So why are some in Washington attacking coal?
Despite coal’s continued importance in generating affordable, reliable electricity, the EPA has released a tsunami of new rules and regulations that are aimed largely at coal plants. A study done for ACCCE by the National Economic Research Associates found that these EPA rules would destroy over 180,000 American jobs per year through 2020. These rules will not only have a damaging impact on jobs and our electricity rates, but will also affect the costs of every day goods and services – and will negatively impact many facets of the American economy.
So far, just two EPA regulations, the Utility MACT rule and the Cross-State Air Pollution rule, are primarily responsible for the announced closure of more than 140 electricity generating units in 19 states. Those plant closings will not only devastate the lives of many of people who work there, but will also rip tax revenues away from local governments and schools.
The newest EPA regulation, the New Source Performance Standards for greenhouse gases, would almost certainly preclude construction of new, advanced coal-fueled power plants for the foreseeable future. Rarely is there bipartisan agreement in Washington these days, but 221 Democrat and Republican Members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter to the White House Office of Management and Budget demanding changes to this regulation because it would force a transition to undeveloped technologies and send thousands of U.S. jobs overseas.
The need for an effective national energy strategy supersedes political partisanship. With a sustained reliance on coal, our nation can continue to generate affordable, reliable electricity for families and businesses 24-7 in a way that enhances energy independence and meets our commitment to electricity generation with ultra-low emissions. America needs an “All of the Above” energy strategy. And as a key component of that strategy, now is the time to support coal.