Energy / Environment / Politics

War on Coal: Why We Should be Moving Forward

Last Tuesday, President Obama gave his climate change speech at Georgetown University, addressing one of the more controversial environmental issues: the increasing amounts of carbon pollution being produced from our power plants, and the lack of regulations on them. During his speech, Obama noted that there were absolutely no limitations on coal-fired power plants, allowing for the “unlimited dumping” of carbon emissions from these plants into our air. These plants alone account for 40% of the total pollution created on a yearly basis.

Several plans of action were mentioned in the climate change talks. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is being asked to work closely with state governments, industry and corporate heads, and various stakeholders in order to create and set carbon pollution regulations and standards. The was also up to $8 billion in loan guarantee funds mentioned, being put towards promoting and improving advanced fossil energy and energy efficiency. There are plans to expand the President’s Better Building Challenge, with focus on cutting waste from industrial, commercial, and multi-family buildings, with the goal to become at least 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020. And possibly the most impressive goal mentioned would be reducing carbon pollution by 3 billion metric tons, a little more than half of the annual carbon pollution emitted on an annual basis.


Photo by Randy Slavey

However, there is controversy surrounding these policy changes. While the push to move away from coal and towards cleaner energy alternatives does sound promising, how will this affect the coal industry and its employees? According to the Institute of Energy Research, 92.6% of all coal used in the U.S. goes towards creating electricity, producing nearly 37% of the nation’s annual energy. With an industry that large, there are certain to be set backs if it is no longer taken advantage of.

Many predict that moving away from coal-fired plants may benefit the environment, but will also hurt employment and the economy. Forbes released an article saying how more than 760,000 American jobs are in danger of being lost if coal based power plants are closed. In the same article, it is mentioned that families in states that have 50% percent or more of their electricity produced from coal, pay around 11% less for their electricity bills every year. By suggesting that we should rely less on coal as our go-to energy source, it is beginning to instill the fear that electricity bills rise, and the job deficit will become even greater.

In response to these predictions, Obama pointed out that there have been similar predictions for nearly every environmental policy. It would either kill jobs or ruin the economy. However, this has never been the case. The push for environmental change in the past has not only benefited the environment, but has often benefited the economy and increased jobs. By moving away from coal-fired plants, Americans will be forced to come up with new innovations to create cleaner, cheaper energy, than burning coal could provide us with. New clean energy companies and businesses will form, replacing the old coal plants and the jobs that were lost with them. In fact, there are already alternative energy solutions being thought up and tested. NPR released an article about Peter Eisenberger, co-founder of Global Thermostat, a firm that is building a device to pull carbon dioxide from the air. He plans to use the C02 pulled for a multitude of things, the first of which is feeding it to algae that will create biofuel. Though it may be ahead of its time, it shows that new energy solutions are being developed. While the coal industry is a large part of America’s energy source, finding cleaner, safer, and more efficient energy alternatives is certainly possible.