The War On Coal

Activists cite public-health hazards in a new campaign against coal. Opponents say cleaner is too costly

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The War on Coal

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In other words, pick your poison: more coughs or more costs. "These new regulations will be like a ball and chain wrapped around American families and businesses as they try to crawl out of the Great Recession," says Steve Miller, head of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, an industry trade group. "There will be a major impact on electricity rates and jobless rates."

According to a study released in June by the National Economic Research Associates, an economics-consulting firm, the EPA's cross-border-pollution rule and its proposed mercury and toxics regulations will cost industry $18 billion a year, create job losses and increase the average American electricity bill by 11.5% by 2020. While those numbers are much higher than the EPA's estimates--and it's worth noting that the study was commissioned by the coal sector--any regulations that seriously take on coal power in the U.S. will have at least a short-term economic cost. And that cost will be especially heavy in places like Kentucky, where coal provides more than 90% of the state's electricity and some 18,000 mining jobs. Issue rules that raise the cost of coal power and Midwestern utility executives start muttering darkly about power outages, while Republicans and Democrats alike in coal states get angry. "Coal not only built this country, but it built the skyscrapers of New York City," Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia said in response to Bloomberg's pledge. "Without coal, the lights of that city would be dark and its economy would be devastated."

In reality, the rapid pace of regulations is due less to a vendetta on the part of the White House than to the failure of former President George W. Bush's EPA to address air quality, leaving a backlog of rulemaking for Obama. But whether or not the EPA is declaring war on coal, Republicans in Congress have eagerly declared war on the EPA. Since the GOP took the House last November, bill after bill designed to block EPA regulations and strip funding from the agency has made its way through the House. Democratic control of the Senate has so far offset those efforts, but they may be having an effect. In September, Obama decided to pull back on proposed tougher ground-level-ozone standards in a decision seen by many environmentalists as politically motivated. "You have to worry about political pressure from the White House to water down these regulations," says Frank O'Donnell, president of the NGO Clean Air Watch. "The question is whether Obama will defend the EPA."

Healthy Air

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