New EPA rule on greenhouse gases the latest blow to King Coal – by Steven Mufson (Washington Post – August 1, 2015)

http://www.washingtonpost.com/

When coal was king, it fueled more than half of the nation’s electricity. It fired up American industry and powered an ever-growing variety of household appliances and electronics. And American presidential hopefuls paid homage to coal, courting mine owners and miners whose unionized ranks once numbered more than 400,000.

Barack Obama was no exception. As a state legislator in 2004 and again as a U.S. senator, he supported proposals for huge federal subsidies to turn coal into motor fuel and ease America’s reliance on oil imports. “With the right technological innovations, coal has the potential to be a cleaner-burning, domestic alternative to imported oil,” Obama said in June 2007.

All of that has changed. On Monday, the Obama administration takes on the coal industry with the final version of rules it has dubbed the Clean Power Plan, a complex scheme designed to reduce, on a state-by-state basis, the amount of greenhouse gases the nation’s electric power sector emits. The main target: coal.

Today, more people in the United States work jobs installing solar panels than work in the coal industry. Ideas for using liquefied coal for cars never materialized. Industrial users have become more efficient. And coal’s share of electricity generation is waning, with natural gas and renewable energy taking its place. Only a handful of coal power plants have been built in recent years, and the Sierra Club keeps a tally of canceled coal-fired power plants like trophies on the wall.

The reason for the focus on coal is that it remains the largest U.S. producer of greenhouse gases at a time when President Obama is striving for an agreement at the December climate summit in Paris. In March, the United States submitted its own goal to the United Nations, vowing to reduce by 2025 U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels. Trimming coal emissions must be a part of that.

The president has been leaning on other world leaders one by one — from China, India, Brazil and more — to make commitments to slash emissions. China pledged to a peak year for emissions; India came up with daunting renewable-energy targets; and Brazil said it would protect rain forests that absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide.

But while the president has made inroads abroad, he has had to fight a rear-guard action at home, where Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have accused him of waging a “war on coal” — and the jobs that go with it. Obama has said his energy policy is an “all of the above” strategy, and his energy secretary, Ernest Moniz, has encouraged Southern Co. in its effort to build a highly efficient coal plant that would inject carbon dioxide emissions into old oil fields to enhance recovery and store the carbon dioxide there permanently.

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