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War on Coal Is Cynical Politics

December 31, 2011
By Mike Myer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Critics of President Barack Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency were wrong, The Associated Press informed us just before Christmas. Estimates of the economic impact of Obama's war on coal had been vastly overblown.

Heck, only 22 million Americans would suffer from it, the AP found. And, of course, the EPA, in announcing draconian new restrictions on coal-fired power plants, added the rules would cost the nation only about $8 billion a year.

That's baloney, of course. Ever know a government agency to come anywhere near the truth in telling us what its new regulations would cost?

But here's the thing: Those 22 million folks - also an underestimate, in my opinion - include everyone in West Virginia and most people in Ohio. Nearly all of us rely on electricity from coal-fired power plants.

What happens to the Ormet plant at Hannibal when electricity prices soar because coal-fired power plants are shut down by the EPA? Aluminum smelting is an energy-intensive industry. The cost of power generated by most sources is three to four times what it is from coal-fired plants.

At least 32 power plants may be closed by the EPA's new rules, a survey by the AP determined. Dozens of others may have to shut down some generating units that don't meet the agency's requirements.

Folks in California, Massachusetts, Florida and New York don't care. Most of their power doesn't come from coal now. Matter of fact, they may well be delighted industries in our region are about to be burned with higher prices for electricity. That would open all sorts of economic development possibilities in the Golden State. Heck, Obama's White House might even grant a few hundred million dollars' in loan guarantees for a new aluminum smelter near San Francisco.

Here's the cynical, political aspect of Obama's thinking: Who cares about those 22 million hicks in states that rely on coal? Heck, if the EPA rules convince radical environmentalists in California (population 37.2 million), New York (19.3 million), Florida (18.8 million) and Massachusetts (6.5 million) to vote for the incumbent in 2012, the war on coal is a political winner.

California's electoral college votes also could outweigh the negative impact of the 22 million people whose electric bills are about to soar - and who may be losing their jobs - because of the war on coal.

And so what if the campaign against Appalachia - and that is what the war on coal amounts to - irritates a few small-state members of Congress? Even if they muster enough support to fight back against the war on coal, the White House will simply use executive power to pursue it. It already has happened, in fact, with the EPA in effect overriding legislation approved by both the Senate and House of Representatives.

Were it a proven fact that coal-fired power plants had to be shut down to safeguard the public's health and protect the planet, it would be one thing. But it isn't.

Sea levels have risen and dropped many times because of natural cycles. So have global temperatures. Ever hear of ice ages? In fact, the earth is now in the midst of a warm cycle that may have nothing to do with industrial activity.

Again, however, this isn't about facts. It's about politics. Obama has made the calculation that by devastating the coal industry, he will win more votes than he loses.

It's apparent Obama snookered Republicans in the House over continuation of the 2 percent tax withholding break. But he also took advantage of them regarding the Keystone Pipeline issue, as a friend explained to me.

Sure, the tax bill includes a provision requiring Obama to make a decision within 60 days on whether to allow the pipeline.

Anyone want to bet on how he'll decide on the matter? He may well keep his end of the bargain in two months - by rejecting the pipeline.

Myer can be reached via e-mail at: Myer@theintelligencer.net.

 
 

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