The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is doing its part to meet President Obama's September 20 deadline for new greenhouse gas emission rules. The agency has submitted the newest version of its rule for future power plants to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which will revise it with input from other areas of government before returning it to the EPA for publication. The rule is an update of an April 2012 draft that would have limited the maximum carbon emissions from a new power plant "to a level about equivalent to a state-of-the-art, combined-cycle natural gas plant." That goal is just about impossible for a coal plant to hit in a cost-effective manner.
Though the details of the new rule are unclear — it likely won't be available for public comment until September 20 — the battle lines have been drawn. By refusing to differentiate between power sources in creating the new emissions caps, the Obama administration has zeroed in on coal as a major culprit in the ongoing climate change crisis.
Scientifically and economically, this strategy makes perfect sense. Politically, it could prove disastrous. First, Republicans, particularly in Congress, will almost certainly cry foul over these seemingly unilateral policy prescriptions.
Second — and more importantly — even if this isn’t the "War on Coal" FOX News wants it to be, conservative framing of the issue has already put Democrats on the defensive. It makes saving Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Tim Johnson's (D-S.D.) seats in 2014 even less likely and turns unseating Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) into a much taller order than before. It also pits the President against a substantial number of Democratic politicians who have defended the fictional "clean coal" and the Keystone Pipeline in recent campaigns, including Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.).
But let's assume that Valerie Jarrett, Denis McDonough, and co. have considered the political fallout and think they can keep a majority in the Senate, even if it means using Vice President Biden's tie-breaking vote. Politics aside, potential gains of targeting coal in this way are massive. The evidence is quite clear that every step of getting electricity from coal is a disaster for our planet. Mountaintop removal mines have scarred the Appalachian Mountains. Coal is the "most polluting fossil fuel of all." Moreover, the mines are still incredibly dangerous.
Calling these regulations an obstacle to business is just a ploy by coal companies to resist the inevitable cost of innovation. Simply put, coal is the fuel of the past. Defending its viability by touting new carbon-capture technology or "clean coal" or better extraction methods is like putting makeup on a corpse. It is in the best interest of our environment, economy, and national security to promote energy independence and encourage innovation in the cutting edge of the industry. Though it is our most abundant domestic energy source, its costs are too great to bear anymore.