Coal key to National Security Strategy

Climate scare must be debunked if coal is to recover


By Tom Harris

It was a stroke of public relations genius for President Donald Trump to release his National Security Strategy (NSS), a document that emphasizes energy security and energy dominance, on December 18, three days before the start of winter. It is this time of year, especially during a period of record-setting low temperatures such as the past week, when the importance of reliable, abundant, and inexpensive energy becomes obvious.

By comparison, “arresting climate change,” to quote from the Obama administration’s 2015 NSS, seems out of place in a security strategy.  Recent climate change has been unremarkable and clearly does not constitute a national security threat in comparison with a lack of affordable, reliable energy to power the nation and export into world markets. The fact that the 2015 NSS listed “Climate change” before “Major energy market disruptions” in the “list of top strategic risks to our interests” made no sense. Trump was right to make only passing reference to climate change in the 2017 NSS.

To “Promote American prosperity” and “Advance American influence,” two of the four vital national interests identified in the NSS, the Trump administration asserts that “our Nation must take advantage of our wealth in domestic resources.” And one of the most important of its domestic resources, one America is no longer taking full advantage of, are its vast coal reserves, the largest of any nation on Earth.

Testifying on Nov. 28 at the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) public hearing on the withdrawal of the Clean Power Plan in Charleston, W.Va., Robert E. Murray, president and CEO of Murray Energy Corp., summarized the bleak state of affairs: “Prior to the election of President Obama, 52% of America’s electricity was generated from coal, and this rate was much higher in the Midwest. That percentage of coal generation declined under the Obama Administration to 30%. Under the Obama Administration, and its so-called Clean Power Plan, over 400 coal-fired generating plants totaling over 100,000 megawatts of capacity were closed with no proven environmental benefit whatsoever.”

Former President Obama’s dedication to the climate scare contributed significantly to coal’s decline. Besides the impact of the Clean Power Plan, a rule that will hopefully soon be withdrawn, coal has been hammered as a result of a 2015 EPA rule that limits carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions on new coal-fired power stations. The result is that the U.S. can no longer build modern, clean, and efficient coal plants to replace older stations, as is happening in Europe, China, and India. Here’s why:

The 2015 EPA rule, entitled “Standards of Performance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions From New, Modified, and Reconstructed Stationary Sources: Electric Generating Units,” limits CO2 emissions on new coal-fired stations to 1,400 pounds per megawatt-hour of electricity generated. When releasing the new standard, the EPA asserted that it “is the performance achievable by a [supercritical pulverized coal] unit capturing about 20 percent of its carbon pollution.”

This is irrational. CO2 is no more pollution than is water vapour, the major greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. By calling the gas “carbon,” the Obama EPA encouraged the public to think of it as something dirty, like graphite or soot, which really are carbon. Calling CO2 by its proper name, carbon dioxide, would have helped people remember that it is an invisible, odourless gas essential to plant photosynthesis, clearly not a perspective Obama encouraged.

Also, the technology of CO2 capture on a full-scale power plant is still a technological fantasy. So, in reality, the EPA was actually banning even the most modern, very efficient, supercritical coal-fired stations because their CO2 emissions are at least 20% above the EPA limit.

Considering that the U.S. has 22.1% of the world’s proven coal reserves, the greatest of any country and enough to last for 381 years at current consumption rates, it is a tragedy that America can no longer build clean coal-fired power stations to replace its aging fleet of coal plants. Clearly, the Trump administration needs to cancel this damaging rule as soon as possible.

The climate scare has also impeded coal’s development in the U.S. by restricting its exports. In particular, Asia would be a huge market for inexpensive American coal if sufficient U.S. export facilities were available. But, again, thanks largely to the climate scare contributing to the blocking of construction of coal export terminals, the U.S. exports only about as much coal as does Poland.

To “restore America’s advantages in the world and build upon our country’s great strengths,” to quote from the NSS fact sheets, the Trump administration must continue to promote coal. The U.S. is, after all, the Saudi Arabia of coal. And to effectively boost coal, the climate alarm must be thoroughly debunked.

Tom Harris is executive director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition.

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