Cleaning Coal is the Path Forward
When policymakers look for new ways to add jobs to the economy, they need to remember the critical role that American coal is already playing in protecting our jobs and helping our economy. Just as the Hippocratic Oath compels doctors to "first, do no harm," so, too, must our elected and appointed officials ensure that any actions they take will not harm coal and, by extension, our nation's economy.
It is no accident that coal generates nearly half of our nation's electricity. It is because coal is affordable, abundant and reliable and is being increasingly used in more environmentally friendly ways. Thanks in large part to investments by the utility industry in clean coal technology during the past 30 years, major air pollutants from coal-fueled power plants traditionally controlled under the Clean Air Act are more than 80 percent lower per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated.
Coal's ability to serve as a baseload power source means that it provides the electricity needed for millions of American families and businesses, day or night. Coal makes sure that our lights are on, our water is hot, and appliances and computers are working, regardless of whether the sun is shining or the wind is blowing.
Today, coal is directly responsible for more than a half million U.S. jobs, but this is just the beginning. With even broader deployment of clean coal technologies, we can create new jobs that will keep America competitive through lower-cost energy in addition to building toward a future of using coal with nearly zero emissions.
A 2010 state-by-state study done for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity by BBC Research and Consulting found that investments in technologies that can capture and safely store carbon dioxide would create or support more than 150,000 skilled, high-wage jobs across at least 30 states. If there was ever a time when we needed affordable, reliable energy and new, well-paying jobs, it is now.
To make sure that coal can continue to work for America, the industry needs a clear view of the regulatory landscape. That means federal and state policymakers must ensure that we have both a cleaner environment as well as affordable and reliable electricity.
Over the past few years, the EPA has issued or proposed a cadre of regulations that would result in a substantial decline in the usage of American coal and lead to the premature shutdown of many coal-fueled power plants. A study done for ACCCE by the National Economic Research Associates found that four of the Environmental Protection Agency's new and proposed regulations would lead to significant increases in the price of electricity and natural gas and result in 183,000 jobs lost per year - that's an American job lost every three minutes.
Without reliable energy, we are also at risk of disruptions in the many industries that are the backbone of our country's economy. For example, in addition to the families and small businesses that rely on coal-fueled electricity, the U.S. manufacturing industry relies heavily on coal-fueled electricity for producing American goods. If these industries are faced with increased electricity costs and possible blackouts because of unreasonable regulations on electricity generation, they will be less competitive in the global economy and ultimately that will mean fewer jobs for Americans.
Coal has been America's fuel for decades -- a pillar of our nation's economy. The path forward for the United States therefore must include greater investments in clean coal technologies to continue our nation's environmental progress, and implementation of public policies that recognize coal's key role in supporting American jobs, businesses and families.
This story first appeared in the January/February edition of EnergyBiz magazine. EnergyBiz Insider will run similar commentaries from natural gas, nuclear and green interests.