Back during the Obama administration, we heard a lot about the War on Coal. The Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama did its level best to strangle the coal industry through regulatory fiat to try to affect climate change.
The effort did serious damage to mining, industry suppliers and communities that rely on the good jobs and tax revenue that coal provides. While the EPA actions were a clear overreach, at least it originated with an elected administration.
The latest attack on carbon comes from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The multi-billionaire is giving $500 million dollars to a “Beyond Carbon” campaign. Bloomberg’s plan is to donate money to political candidates at the local and state level who share his vision of shuttering every coal-fired power plant by 2030 and capping natural gas-fueled energy production.
This is indeed rich. Organizations like the Sierra Club and Earth Justice, who are partnering with Bloomberg, have long complained about the political influence of traditional energy producers. Now their answer is to take a massive amount of money from a private individual to finance their own gaggle of political elites who believe their fantasy of a carbon-free energy sector that still somehow sustains economic growth.
United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts is incensed at Bloomberg, as he should be. “Instead of taking a rational approach to addressing the issue of climate change, he has pledged to throw more than 800,000 people out of work and destroy their families and communities while he’s at it.”
Governor Jim Justice is also livid. “I stand with our state’s… energy, oil/gas, coal, pipeline, and utility workers and their families and challenge anyone anywhere who threatens to remove their livelihoods.”
Climate change is a real threat. Utilities are gradually shifting from coal to natural gas, which produces less carbon, primarily because it is cheaper, but also because of public pressure.
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that coal-fired power generation will decrease from 28 percent of the supply to 17 percent by 2050. Natural gas-fueled power will rise only gradually from 34 percent to 39 percent by 2050. Renewables will increase from 18 percent to 31 percent by 2050.
Renewables are clearly becoming an attractive alternative as their technology improves and prices come down. The EIA estimates their growth will continue even after the expiration of federal production tax credits.
In other words, the transition toward lower carbon emissions from energy production is already well underway, and without completely wrecking the economy. However, the energy sector has not yet solved the problem of how to provide massive amounts of electricity on a consistent basis from renewables.
That’s the biggest reason why coal and natural gas are, and should remain, integral suppliers of baseload power in this country.
The critical energy sector of West Virginia’s economy—especially coal—is just regaining its footing after some tough years. The growth has meant more money for road improvements and pay raises for teachers and public employees, as well as a bit of a cushion in the treasury.
Bloomberg’s pledge to put a heavily-funded political foot back on carbon’s neck means the revival could be short-lived.