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President Barack Obama is winning his regulatory war on coal, even though public opinion supports it as a beneficial part of America’s energy mix.
It’s not often that a presidential campaign moment is applicable eight years later. In 2008, then-candidate President Barack Obama told The San Francisco Chronicle, if elected president, “if somebody wants to build a coal-fired power plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them."
Fast-forward to today. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) points out almost 14 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired power plants were retired in 2015.
There’s no doubt that some of this stems from market forces. The shale boom has unleashed so much natural gas that its price has been driven down, making it a very competitive fuel source for electricity generation.
But no one can seriously argue that the Obama’s regulatory attacks on coal haven’t played a major role. Here’s one example from the Energy Information Administration:
About 30% of the coal capacity that retired in 2015 occurred in April, which is when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule went into effect.
This rule was struck down by the Supreme Court in July 2015, but as EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy bragged, the damage was done. "Over 50 GW of affordable, reliable power plants have been shuttered by an illegally crafted" mercury rule, writes Heath Knakmuhs of the Institute for 21st Century Energy.
Another example is the Goliath of regulatory attacks on coal: EPA’s Clean Power Plan. The regulations will force states to abandon reliable coal-fired power plants and reconfigure their electrical systems to reduce U.S. carbon emissions.
Americans must be scratching their heads at this administration’s regulatory onslaught. A poll for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity found that a majority (54%) of voters support using coal to generate electricity.
This makes total sense. Coal-fired power plants work. They produce reliable electricity at an affordable price. As families and businesses use more devices like smart phones, computers, televisions, along with the rise of the Internet of Things, the need for dependable electricity will only increase.
President Obama’s eight-year war on coal may have fulfilled a campaign promise, but it runs counter to an economy relying more on electrons and bits than atoms. The public gets this even if the president doesn’t.