Rethinking U.S. Energy Policy

If it does no more than slow the nation’s headlong rush toward abandoning a relatively inexpensive, reliable source of energy — coal — the Environmental Protection Agency’s new Affordable Clean Energy rule will be performing an enormous service to Americans.

Announced this week, the ACE is intended to replace former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which was aimed at wholesale closures of coal-fired power plants. Hundreds of such generating units already have been shut down or are scheduled to go cold.

Some analysts cite increased availability of low-priced natural gas as a generating fuel to explain the decline in coal-fired power. Indeed, it has had an effect, but can there be any common-sense doubt that Obama-era rules have encouraged utilities to make the switch from coal to gas?

Of course not.

And, taking their cue from how the political winds were blowing, many utilities — even those where coal and gas are plentiful — have begun pouring money into so-called “alternatives.” They include both wind and solar generation, which are as unreliable as the sunshine and prevailing breezes.

In addition to attempting to kill coal, Obama poured billions of taxpayer dollars into subsidies for solar and wind operations.

No wonder coal, within a few years, became so unpopular as a generating fuel.

But abandoning it in favor of less reliable, more costly “alternatives” is expensive to consumers.

Even today, after several electricity price increases, West Virginians pay power bills far below those in states that jumped on the “alternative” bandwagon. The average price for a kilowatt-hour of electricity here is 8.98 cents. In California, where virtually no coal is used, the price is 15.23 cents.

Continuing down the path Obama put us on would be a financial catastrophe.

The new ACE proposal represents a sea change from the period of energy and environmental policy dictated in Washington — and primarily by the White House.

Instead of allowing the EPA to dictate emissions standards, the ACE leaves it up to states to regulate existing coal-fired power plants.

Exactly how will that work? No one knows with certainty. Some states may be even more harsh than the EPA with regard to coal as a generating fuel.

But at least the ACE should provide more time for both state and federal leaders to rethink energy and environmental policy. It gives them an opportunity to understand the wisdom of an “all-of-the-above” energy policy that would serve all Americans well — and that is a very good thing.

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