Commentary Magazine


Topic: war on coal

Don’t Compare War on Coal to Tobacco

As the negative feedback about President Obama’s new regulations aimed at strangling the coal industry from Democrats as well as Republicans continues to pour in, administration cheerleaders aren’t daunted. Writing off coal producing states is no big deal to the coastal elites who have been push the environmental alarmist agenda that forms the rationale for the coal-killing orders from the Environmental Protection Agency. And if it means losing a few more House seats or the Democrats best chance of stealing a Republican Senate seat in Kentucky, for most liberals that seems a small price to pay for the joy of imposing their warming views on the nation. Though, as even the New York Times noted yesterday, the measures will have little if any impact on the amount of carbon in the earth’s atmosphere, a devastating blow to the nation’s economy is considered an unimportant detail to those who believe the earth is melting.

But contempt for economic concerns isn’t the only factor behind the confidence of climate change extremists. They believe there is a precedent for an elitist campaign directed at a specific industry and the regions that depend on it: tobacco. One of the chief liberal talking points on cable news shows as well as the conceit of a feature in today’s Times, is the idea that coal can be defeated as easily as tobacco was in the 1990s as a wave of regulations cut back on a huge business that was once king in some states as well as on Capitol Hill. If big tobacco could be toppled, why not coal, which can’t depend on the loyalty of millions of addicts and hasn’t been promoted by generations of Madison Avenue execs and their ads?

But though the analogy is exactly what liberals want to be told, the analogy is a false one. The superficial comparisons between a once-unchallenged sector of the economy and another that is in the crosshairs of the Obama administration may seem like sense. But it is based on a fallacy. Americans could be persuaded to stop smoking and to place restrictions on the ability of the tobacco industry to sell or to market their product to minors. But coal is not a symbol of teenage rebellion or an unpleasant personal habit. It is a vital cog in the engine of the American economy that lights homes and keeps factories working. It may be supplanted in part by natural gas (which the warming crowd also hates) but it is not going away any time in the foreseeable future. America needs coal.

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As the negative feedback about President Obama’s new regulations aimed at strangling the coal industry from Democrats as well as Republicans continues to pour in, administration cheerleaders aren’t daunted. Writing off coal producing states is no big deal to the coastal elites who have been push the environmental alarmist agenda that forms the rationale for the coal-killing orders from the Environmental Protection Agency. And if it means losing a few more House seats or the Democrats best chance of stealing a Republican Senate seat in Kentucky, for most liberals that seems a small price to pay for the joy of imposing their warming views on the nation. Though, as even the New York Times noted yesterday, the measures will have little if any impact on the amount of carbon in the earth’s atmosphere, a devastating blow to the nation’s economy is considered an unimportant detail to those who believe the earth is melting.

But contempt for economic concerns isn’t the only factor behind the confidence of climate change extremists. They believe there is a precedent for an elitist campaign directed at a specific industry and the regions that depend on it: tobacco. One of the chief liberal talking points on cable news shows as well as the conceit of a feature in today’s Times, is the idea that coal can be defeated as easily as tobacco was in the 1990s as a wave of regulations cut back on a huge business that was once king in some states as well as on Capitol Hill. If big tobacco could be toppled, why not coal, which can’t depend on the loyalty of millions of addicts and hasn’t been promoted by generations of Madison Avenue execs and their ads?

But though the analogy is exactly what liberals want to be told, the analogy is a false one. The superficial comparisons between a once-unchallenged sector of the economy and another that is in the crosshairs of the Obama administration may seem like sense. But it is based on a fallacy. Americans could be persuaded to stop smoking and to place restrictions on the ability of the tobacco industry to sell or to market their product to minors. But coal is not a symbol of teenage rebellion or an unpleasant personal habit. It is a vital cog in the engine of the American economy that lights homes and keeps factories working. It may be supplanted in part by natural gas (which the warming crowd also hates) but it is not going away any time in the foreseeable future. America needs coal.

The tactics that helped mollify tobacco-growing states aren’t likely to work with coal. Raising the price of tobacco via the imposition of draconian taxes could induce many Americans to quit a nasty habit that could eventually kill them. But as even the Times pointed out:

The government’s method of weaning the nation from each product — by raising the price — has a regressive impact. In the case of carbon emissions, it hits not just the poor who can least afford higher energy prices but also those in rural areas who tend to drive long distances.

The impact of raising the cost of fossil fuels would be broader than taxing tobacco. Smokers, in the end, can quit, difficult as that may be. A Montana rancher cannot give up his pickup truck.

Measures aimed at putting more than 600 coal-fired power plants around the country out of business won’t just inconvenience those who work to mine coal which is, after all, a group that could be retrained or bought off by the government in some way. But cutting back on the availability of power will send everyone’s electricity costs skyrocketing and put more people out of work than can be subsidized by federal largesse.

Moreover, tobacco was already on the way out as demand for the product lessened in the decades after the first warnings about the connection between smoking and cancer as well as other diseases. Environmentalists may dislike coal but it is still a staple of the U.S. economy and doesn’t bring with it the sort of opprobrium that was brought down on smoking as the culture changed.

Though it was once considered not merely socially acceptable but a staple of our culture, tobacco was always a luxury product, not a necessity, let alone a pillar of the economy. Weaning individuals and even regions from dependence on it was hard but not impossible. But though many on the left believe in alternatives to fossil fuels the way toddlers cling to the Tooth Fairy, there is little likelihood that wind or solar or nuclear (which is a viable option but even more politically incorrect than coal) can replace oil, gas or coal. If it is to continue to prosper, America will need coal for decades to come.

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Sacrifices on the Altar of Obama’s Vanity

By ordering the Environmental Protection Agency to enact sweeping new regulations that will transform the U.S. economy by essentially putting hundreds of coal-fired power plants on the road to extinction, President Obama is finally making good on his famous campaign promise that his election would signal “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and the planet began to heal.” The goal of the new regulations that bypass Congress is to reduce power plant carbon emissions by 30 percent by the year 2030. But in order to do that, hundreds of the more than 600 coal-burning plants will have to close. Though it is impossible to say with any certainty how much damage this will do to the U.S. economy, what Obama is doing with a stroke of a pen will turn the energy industry upside down, send energy prices skyrocketing, and likely send those regions of the country that are dependent on either the coal industry or the plants that use the stuff into crisis.

Though EPA chief Gina McCarthy claimed that the move would actually help the economy and emphasized the plan’s flexibility, that’s the sort of usual empty “green jobs” rhetoric that no one, even on the left, believes anymore. While the more the president wraps himself and his party in the environmentalist flag the better his liberal base and young voters–who have been indoctrinated in the catechism of global warming throughout their education–will feel, Democrats will pay a price for this piece of ideological governance. Embattled red state incumbents may seek to distance themselves from the president, as will Democrat Senate challengers like Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes. But the White House clearly regards Grimes and others like her as falling into the same category as the large numbers of jobs that will be lost by this decision. They are acceptable collateral damage that can be lived with because the main goal here is to burnish the president’s legacy as a leader who took serious steps to stop the warming of the planet.

Liberals are celebrating the decision both for its supposed benefits on climate change and for the sheer exercise of executive power to achieve liberal ends, but even one of the president’s leading cheerleaders admitted that what happened today won’t really do much to fix the environment. As the New York Times reports:

On Monday, Mr. Obama is bypassing Congress and taking one of the biggest steps any American president has ever taken on climate change, proposing new rules to cut emissions at power plants. Yet, by itself, the president’s plan will barely nudge the global emissions that scientists say are threatening the welfare of future generations.

In other words, all the pain that the EPA will cause won’t actually save a single cute polar bear, keep an Arctic ice flow from melting or those pesky oceans from rising, assuming you believe all of the alarmist claims at the heart of the new warming orthodoxy. What, then, is this all about? The answer lies in the gargantuan conceit of the man in the Oval Office.

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By ordering the Environmental Protection Agency to enact sweeping new regulations that will transform the U.S. economy by essentially putting hundreds of coal-fired power plants on the road to extinction, President Obama is finally making good on his famous campaign promise that his election would signal “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and the planet began to heal.” The goal of the new regulations that bypass Congress is to reduce power plant carbon emissions by 30 percent by the year 2030. But in order to do that, hundreds of the more than 600 coal-burning plants will have to close. Though it is impossible to say with any certainty how much damage this will do to the U.S. economy, what Obama is doing with a stroke of a pen will turn the energy industry upside down, send energy prices skyrocketing, and likely send those regions of the country that are dependent on either the coal industry or the plants that use the stuff into crisis.

Though EPA chief Gina McCarthy claimed that the move would actually help the economy and emphasized the plan’s flexibility, that’s the sort of usual empty “green jobs” rhetoric that no one, even on the left, believes anymore. While the more the president wraps himself and his party in the environmentalist flag the better his liberal base and young voters–who have been indoctrinated in the catechism of global warming throughout their education–will feel, Democrats will pay a price for this piece of ideological governance. Embattled red state incumbents may seek to distance themselves from the president, as will Democrat Senate challengers like Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes. But the White House clearly regards Grimes and others like her as falling into the same category as the large numbers of jobs that will be lost by this decision. They are acceptable collateral damage that can be lived with because the main goal here is to burnish the president’s legacy as a leader who took serious steps to stop the warming of the planet.

Liberals are celebrating the decision both for its supposed benefits on climate change and for the sheer exercise of executive power to achieve liberal ends, but even one of the president’s leading cheerleaders admitted that what happened today won’t really do much to fix the environment. As the New York Times reports:

On Monday, Mr. Obama is bypassing Congress and taking one of the biggest steps any American president has ever taken on climate change, proposing new rules to cut emissions at power plants. Yet, by itself, the president’s plan will barely nudge the global emissions that scientists say are threatening the welfare of future generations.

In other words, all the pain that the EPA will cause won’t actually save a single cute polar bear, keep an Arctic ice flow from melting or those pesky oceans from rising, assuming you believe all of the alarmist claims at the heart of the new warming orthodoxy. What, then, is this all about? The answer lies in the gargantuan conceit of the man in the Oval Office.

The official explanation for the gap between the president’s rhetoric and the actual impact of the EPA’s dictates is that what the president wants is to start moving the country in “the right direction.” That’s a sobering thought if you consider that what is happening here is a massive government intervention in the private sector to achieve an ideological rather than an economic goal. Anyone inclined to accept the EPA’s new role riding roughshod over both Congress and the economic interests of the country should think long and hard about the prospect that this is merely the first of a new series of rulings from Washington that could hamstring any hopes of a real recovery in the coming years.

More than that, though, is the fact that what Obama really wants here is to show the international community that he means business about restricting the ability of America to do business. The real audience for this spectacle isn’t so much in blue states where any bow in the direction of environmentalism is applauded as it is abroad where other nations are watching to see if the U.S. is really going to walk the walk on climate change rules that could do damage to the American economy. The president wants the Chinese to see that the U.S. will handicap its own industries in order to set a good example for the Communist nation that almost certainly will do little if anything to cap their own growing carbon emissions.

Why would the U.S. hurt itself merely to take the high ground in negotiations with the Chinese and other developing countries even when the move will do very little to solve the climate problem?

President Obama has sorely missed the international adulation that greeted his election in 2008 but which quickly evaporated when most of his foreign fans began to rightly perceive him as nothing more than a left-leaning garden variety U.S. politician rather than the revolutionary figure they applauded. Obama’s various foreign-policy initiatives have largely failed to garner much interest, let alone cheers, abroad. But by recapturing that moment when perhaps many on the left actually believed his boast about turning back the oceans, he hopes to reestablish himself as the prince of hope and change.

Seen in that light, the large numbers of Americans who will be the losers in this exchange are nothing more than human offerings on the altar of Obama’s vanity. He may not heal the planet or even save his party’s chances in the midterm elections as he slides inevitably into lame-duck status. But as long as he can pose as a new messiah, there is no limit to the number of friends, foes, and innocent bystanders that he will sacrifice.

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The Casualties of Obama’s War on Coal

This week President Obama is expected to announce new regulations on carbon emissions that will have a potentially devastating impact on America’s more than 600 coal-fired power plants. The move was made possible by Supreme Court decisions that ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency had the right to regulate such emissions, giving the president virtual carte blanche to remake this sector of our economy without requiring congressional consent. As the New York Times reports today, this decision is being closely watched abroad as governments look to see whether the U.S. is setting a good example for other nations, such as China, whose economies are driven by coal and which do far more polluting of the atmosphere than America does.

Yet the Chinese aren’t the only ones following this issue. The president has already signaled that addressing climate change was one of the priorities of his second term as well as making it clear that he was eager to move ahead and govern by executive order rather than via the normal constitutional process that involves the legislative branch. As such, the White House rightly anticipates that this broadside aimed at the coal industry will be intensely popular with Obama’s core constituencies on the left as well as the liberal mainstream media. But while leading Democratic donors such as Tom Steyer will be cheering a measure that fits his ideological agenda, not everybody in the Democratic Party is going to be happy with what amounts to a new Obama war on coal. In particular, the Democrats’ brightest hope for stealing a Republican-controlled Senate seat this fall—Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes—may wind up paying a fearful price for Obama’s decision.

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This week President Obama is expected to announce new regulations on carbon emissions that will have a potentially devastating impact on America’s more than 600 coal-fired power plants. The move was made possible by Supreme Court decisions that ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency had the right to regulate such emissions, giving the president virtual carte blanche to remake this sector of our economy without requiring congressional consent. As the New York Times reports today, this decision is being closely watched abroad as governments look to see whether the U.S. is setting a good example for other nations, such as China, whose economies are driven by coal and which do far more polluting of the atmosphere than America does.

Yet the Chinese aren’t the only ones following this issue. The president has already signaled that addressing climate change was one of the priorities of his second term as well as making it clear that he was eager to move ahead and govern by executive order rather than via the normal constitutional process that involves the legislative branch. As such, the White House rightly anticipates that this broadside aimed at the coal industry will be intensely popular with Obama’s core constituencies on the left as well as the liberal mainstream media. But while leading Democratic donors such as Tom Steyer will be cheering a measure that fits his ideological agenda, not everybody in the Democratic Party is going to be happy with what amounts to a new Obama war on coal. In particular, the Democrats’ brightest hope for stealing a Republican-controlled Senate seat this fall—Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes—may wind up paying a fearful price for Obama’s decision.

As the Times notes, the conundrum of America’s extremist environmentalist lobby lies in the fact that the U.S. is actually doing relatively little of the carbon damage that they believe is fueling global warming. The vast majority of the increase in emissions comes from developing economies around the globe, especially in places like China. While resistance to the sort of tough restrictions on carbon that environmentalists lust for is strong in nations that produce fossil-based fuels, the Chinese believe that the West should pay the steep economic price involved in such schemes while they and other developing nations are allowed to burn all the coal they want. By making his ruling, Obama won’t just be harming the U.S. economy. By setting a good example, Washington thinks their going first will somehow persuade the Chinese to follow suit.

This is highly unlikely. Though it pays lip service to global warming theories, China’s top priority is building their economy. Meanwhile, nations such as Russia are not shy about stating their unwillingness to stop burning coal. But by taking what he believes is the high road with respect to the environment, the president will be fulfilling not only the promises made to his domestic liberal constituencies but also behaving in a manner that is consistent with his belief in multilateral foreign policy.

But back at home this high-minded environmentalism may not play as well as he thinks. Many Americans fear that Obama will damage their economy while doing nothing to alter the warming equation that is being decided elsewhere. Though the media has followed the White House playbook in emphasizing any report that hypes the threat from global warming while downplaying any development that undermines this thesis, the public has demonstrated repeatedly that this issue is not a priority, especially when compared to their concerns about the economy and jobs. And this is exactly what the president’s orders will affect most grievously.

Among the biggest losers will be regions where the coal industry is a mainstay of the economy. Unfortunately for the Democrats, the best example of such a state is Kentucky, where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell remains the country’s most endangered Republican in an election cycle that should otherwise be quite favorable to the GOP. McConnell has been working hard to tie Grimes to Obama, a charge that she has steadfastly rejected. But the president’s regulatory war on coal will be a body blow to Grimes’s attempt to argue that it will be her and not Obama who will be on the ballot this November. Grimes smartly opposes the administration’s environmentalist stands with respect to coal, but the new orders will escalate the struggle to a point where it could play a crucial role in the midterms. Grimes has sought to make McConnell the main issue in the contest, something that is not to the advantage of the dour minority leader and longtime incumbent. But if the key issue is defense of Kentucky’s coal industry against the White House, it will be difficult for the Democrat to assert that she will be in a better position to resist this assault than the man who may be the majority leader of the upper body next January. In a contest to see who can be most hostile to Obama, the GOP has the edge over even the most independent Democrat.

The war on coal is exactly the ticket to fire up the president’s coastal elite base as well as very much what the international community wants. But it could be the death knell for Grimes’s Senate hopes. If that race makes the difference in deciding control of the Senate, it could be that global warming will be the issue that pushes Obama from a weak-second term incumbent to dead-in-the-water lame duck.

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Do Democrats Really Want a War on Coal?

President Obama may think his speech today outlining an unprecedented package of measures aimed at stopping global warming will burnish his legacy. The set of executive orders announced today was exactly what his liberal base has been yearning for throughout his presidency, and the ideological tone of his speech must he highly satisfying for a president who enjoys dictating to what he considers his intellectual inferiors and despises working with a Congress that rejected these measures. But while liberals are cheering Obama’s far-reaching fiat, a lot of Democrats, especially in coal-producing states, must be far from happy.

The president’s orders that will impose new carbon emission levels on existing power plants will raise the price of energy for everyone and harm an already fragile economy that has struggled to maintain an anemic recovery. By itself that may prove to be a political liability for Democrats running in next year’s midterm elections even if by now most Americans have had their natural skepticism about global warming alarmism pounded out of them by an ideological media. But an all-too-candid Obama advisor may have made a crucial gaffe that could kill the president’s party in coal-producing states next year. As the New York Times reported in their piece on the president’s speech:

Daniel P. Schrag, a geochemist who is the head of Harvard University’s Center for the Environment and a member of a presidential science panel that has helped advise the White House on climate change, said he hoped the presidential speech would mark a turning point in the national debate on climate change.

“Everybody is waiting for action,” he said. “The one thing the president really needs to do now is to begin the process of shutting down the conventional coal plants. Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they’re having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what’s needed.”

To which Democrats running in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and more than a dozen other coal-producing states may say, “Thanks for nothing.”

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President Obama may think his speech today outlining an unprecedented package of measures aimed at stopping global warming will burnish his legacy. The set of executive orders announced today was exactly what his liberal base has been yearning for throughout his presidency, and the ideological tone of his speech must he highly satisfying for a president who enjoys dictating to what he considers his intellectual inferiors and despises working with a Congress that rejected these measures. But while liberals are cheering Obama’s far-reaching fiat, a lot of Democrats, especially in coal-producing states, must be far from happy.

The president’s orders that will impose new carbon emission levels on existing power plants will raise the price of energy for everyone and harm an already fragile economy that has struggled to maintain an anemic recovery. By itself that may prove to be a political liability for Democrats running in next year’s midterm elections even if by now most Americans have had their natural skepticism about global warming alarmism pounded out of them by an ideological media. But an all-too-candid Obama advisor may have made a crucial gaffe that could kill the president’s party in coal-producing states next year. As the New York Times reported in their piece on the president’s speech:

Daniel P. Schrag, a geochemist who is the head of Harvard University’s Center for the Environment and a member of a presidential science panel that has helped advise the White House on climate change, said he hoped the presidential speech would mark a turning point in the national debate on climate change.

“Everybody is waiting for action,” he said. “The one thing the president really needs to do now is to begin the process of shutting down the conventional coal plants. Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they’re having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what’s needed.”

To which Democrats running in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and more than a dozen other coal-producing states may say, “Thanks for nothing.”

Even if one accepts the constant lecturing from the White House and much of the media that claims there is no debate about their dire predictions of warming—a point that was undermined by a New York Times story published earlier this month which spoke of rising temperatures having actually slowed over the last 15 years rather than going through the roof, as we keep being told—the impact of Obama’s plans on the economy could be severe. While the ideological left is more worried about their doomsday predictions for the planet than the job-killing aspects of the president’s proposals, most Americans have their eyes firmly fixed on their wallets in an economy that remains in the doldrums despite the optimism created by housing prices and a booming stock market (until the last week).

Coal is still responsible for 37 percent of America’s energy production and with new technologies for mining it is no longer the ecological nightmare that it was routinely depicted as being for decades. That means that the president’s new regulations will have a drastic impact on energy prices and reduce the income of a vast cross-section of Americans.

By signaling to the country that, despite official denials by the White House, what the administration is contemplating is a “war on coal,” the president is more or less consigning Democrats in coal-producing states to a grim fate. The president’s cheerleaders are quick to remind us that elections have consequences and that since Obama campaigned on these issues, we should not be surprised that he would attempt to govern as he campaigned. They’re right about that. But now that the “war on coal” tag can be directly traced to an architect of the president’s plan rather than being attributed to GOP propaganda, it may be that there will be elections in the future with consequences that Democrats don’t care for as much as the one in 2012.

Liberals have been delighted with the idea that the president would use his executive powers to enact measures that have already been turned down by Congress. Though cap and trade bills were defeated by huge margins, Obama is now putting them into effect for all intents and purposes by a vote of 1-0. Yet it is exactly the freedom to act with impunity by a reelected president that should scare many Democrats. Were these issues put to congressional debate and votes, Democrats in coal states could count on using the legislative process to derail any war on coal.

But with Obama acting alone all they can do is stand by and watch in horror. The war on coal may cost American consumers dearly. But it may cost some Democrats their seats in the House and the Senate.

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