EPA Administrator: Coal’s Problem “Entirely Economic”

After last week’s “doing just fine” gaffe from President Obama, you would think the big players in the Administration would be on their best behavior not to say anything even remotely controversial or inflammatory.

Enter Lisa Jackson, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator.

During an interview for Grist (part of The Guardian), Jackson made the absurd statement that:

“[I]n my opinion the problem for coal right now is entirely economic.”

Out of fairness, let’s step back (we’re looking at you, Jay Carney) and put her comment into context (emphasis added):

“What we’ve done at EPA, because we’ve had to from court order, and it’s long overdue in my opinion, is deal with pollution from coal-fired power plants. Pollution from coal-fired power plants comes from the extraction of the coal in some cases, the burning of the coal, which gives soot and smog-forming pollution, and mercury and lead and arsenic and cadmium and acid gases and then you’ve got to get rid of the ash! …One form of energy has to at least be subject to the same laws as the other forms are. That’s what we’ve been working on as far as coal. I always tell people, it’s not about coal, it’s about the pollution that for too long has been associated with coal.

“And then coal has another pollution problem, and that’s carbon pollution: it’s the most carbon-intense fossil fuel. And the president invested in carbon capture and sequestration technology as part of the Recovery Act. He said all along, I’m from a coal state, so I believe that if there’s going to be a future for coal it has to be one that deals with carbon pollution, with climate change. So in my opinion the problem for coal right now is entirely economic. The natural gas that this country has and is continuing to develop is cheaper right now on average. And so people who are making investment decisions are not unmindful of that — how could you expect them to be? It just happens that at the same time, these rules are coming in place that make it clear that you cannot continue to operate a 30-, 40-, or 50-year old plant and not control the pollution that comes with it.

Buried in the middle of a response about how coal is a “pollution problem” and how the Obama Administration has worked tirelessly to create an environment that hurts coal because of that problem, Jackson blames the economy for hurting coal.

Well, she’s right in a roundabout way that there are now huge economic disincentives in place for coal. What she forgot to add is that it is the Obama Administration that created the poor economy by instituting policies that make it financially impossible for coal-powered plants to operate. Importantly, this was precisely President Obama’s intention back in 2008, when he was still just a Senator:

“So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can, it’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s emitted.”

And the President has been successful in this campaign pledge: 106 coal plants will be shutting down, thousands of jobs will be lost and electricity prices will go up.

So yes, coal’s problem is the economy, but it’s an economy wholly created by Lisa Jackson and the Obama Administration regulatory regime.

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