Coal plays a big role in Pennsylvania’s economy, so officials from around the state were listening intently to President Obama’s new new climate change plan Tuesday.
The centerpiece of the proposal is the use of the EPA to regulate new and existing power plants in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This new effort may divide two of the state’s prominent energy industries: Obama was critical of the use of coal yet praised U.S. advances in natural gas.
“Today, about 40 percent of America’s carbon pollution comes from our power plants,” the President said while visibly sweating in the ninety-plus degree weather. “But here’s the thing: Right now, there are no federal limits to the amount of carbon pollution that those plants can pump into our air. None. Zero. We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulfur and arsenic in our air or our water, but power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air for free. That’s not right, that’s not safe, and it needs to stop.”
“So today, for the sake of our children, and the health and safety of all Americans, I’m directing the Environmental Protection Agency to put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants, and complete new pollution standards for both new and existing power plants.”
In addition, the President announced the end of public financing for new overseas coal plants unless they used carbon-capture technology. Throughout the address he seemed to identify coal as an old, dirty source of fuel that, along with oil, needed to be phased out.
Former state Sen. John Pippy, the CEO of the PA Coal Alliance, denounced the President’s plan.
“There are tens of thousands of good-paying jobs at stake here. We’re talking about shutting down plants and generating capacity at a time when many parts of the electric grid are stressed and vulnerable. We’re talking about increasing the price of electricity for businesses and individuals,” he said.
So did Gov. Tom Corbett.
“Here in Pennsylvania, nearly 63,000 men and women, including 8,100 miners, work in jobs supported by the coal industry,” he said. “This proposal is not only a war on coal, as suggested by a White House climate adviser, but also a war on jobs.”
Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Allegheny), the House Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Oversight Committee, also slammed the President’s new policies.
“This Administration has already closed one-fifth of US coal-fueled plants in the last four years and has made no secret about its anti-coal agenda,” he said, “with a top Obama science advisor quoted that ‘a war on coal is exactly what’s needed.’”
The President praised natural gas, though he acknowledged that sometimes it is controversial.
“The bottom line is natural gas is creating jobs,” Obama said. “It’s lowering many families’ heat and power bills. And it’s the transition fuel that can power our economy with less carbon pollution even as our businesses work to develop and then deploy more of the technology required for the even cleaner energy economy of the future.”
Studies show natural gas, like that extracted from the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania, is increasingly replacing coal – although coal remains the primary source of American power.
Marcellus Shale Coalition CEO Kathryn Klaber offered restrained praise for the President’s speech.
“We are pleased that President Obama once again underscored the clear environmental and economic benefits tied to the safe development of clean-burning natural gas,” she said.
State Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, used the President’s speech as an opportunity to urge Gov. Corbett to take action. State Rep. Greg Vitali, the Chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, sent the Governor a letter signed by 41 of his Democratic colleagues.
“Climate change is the most important problem facing the planet,” the letter read. “President Obama’s announcement is a positive step, but this problem must also be dealt with at the state and local levels. Now is the time to take action.”
The letter encouraged Corbett to support Pa. renewable energy standards.