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Friday, November 22, 2013

President Obama's regulations are killing the mining industry

Carbon emission regulations affect industry profitability
Coal mining expansion is held back by emissions regulation

As of September 2013, the federal government has imposed the first-ever carbon output limitation on the nation's power companies. Specifically, newly built electricity-generation plants will be required to produce no more than 1,000 lb. of carbon dioxide (CO2) for each megawatt hour of electricity generated, while newly built coal-fired plants are limited to no more than 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour of electricity produced. 

As things now stand, this basically means that no new coal-burning plants will be built anytime in the near future, since even the most technologically-advanced plants right now produce more than 1,600 pounds per megawatt hour and the technology needed to reduce this number within the new limits doesn't currently exist on a commercial scale.

Natural gas-fired plants, however, are well within the capability of operating within the government's new CO2 limitations, which is just one more nail in the coffin of the hard hit U.S. coal industry, already reeling from many new regulations in what many view as the Obama Administration's "War on Coal." These new regulations are cited as being responsible for a number of coal-production plants closing and thousands of workers losing their jobs, especially in the half-dozen or so Appalachian states responsible for most coal production in the U.S. Consider the following:
  • Alpha Natural Resources, the second-largest coal producer in the country, recently closed eight of their mines because of Obama's regulations, throwing as many as 1200 employees out of work. Affected areas include Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
  • Coal-mine closures nationwide are being tied to "fundamental changes" taking place in the industry, i.e., new EPA regulations, backed by the current Presidential Administration, putting a "squeeze on coal."
  • While the President acknowledges the importance coal has played in providing energy to the country, he makes no secret that his goal is to have this resource replaced by cleaner natural gas which, especially with the advent of fracking gas from shale, has become a more competitively-priced energy resource.

Is there really a war on coal?

While the administration seems to deny it, there's no question that the Obama administration is anti-coal and pro-natural gas. The actual term "War on Coal" has been picked up and widely used by the media, but also referred to by Daniel Schrag, one of the members of the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, who was quoted as saying, "A war on coal is exactly what's needed."

If you're one of the thousands of mineworkers who have been laid off from your job in an already depressed economy and unable to find work, to you this is a war and you and your family are the unwitting casualties. If you live in a state such as Kentucky, where a great percentage of the jobs are dependent on the coal mining industry and more than 90 percent of the state's electrical energy is produced through the burning of coal, not only have you possibly lost your job but your utility rates have also skyrocketed. It's a lose/lose scenario, much like any other "war."

Although the U.S. House of Representatives passed a "Stop the War on Coal" bill at the end of 2012 just before the November recess, that was basically just a political show that went nowhere. With more than 50 members of congress coming from "coal country," they're feeling the pain of their constituents. On the other hand, if you've seen pictures of what the Chinese are dealing with as far as air pollution greatly affected by the burning of coal, you may have your own opinion of the need for serious environmental regulations.

About the author: Nicole has been writing about the mining industry for years, including everything from the newest government regulations to the best mining products. In her opinion, allight mining pumps are the best on the market.

Image license: Steven Codrington, CC BY 2.5