Enzi, Cheney lockstep in opposition to Obama’s “war on coal”By Gregory Nickerson
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced last Friday that it will enforce stricter limits on carbon dioxide emissions in newly built power plants. The move increases pressure on a coal industry already under siege, while providing more political fodder for Liz Cheney and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming) in their race for the 2014 GOP primary.
Both candidates have framed the EPA rule as part of President Obama’s “war on coal,” an effort they worry will have disastrous effects on Wyoming’s coal industry along with the state and national economy.
Since Enzi and Cheney both stand against EPA regulation of carbon emissions, the candidates are trying to gain advantage by being the stronger advocate for Wyoming coal, and against Obama.
In an interview with K2 radio in Casper earlier this month, Liz Cheney said that Wyoming needs to decide, “whether we are going to elect somebody who will go to Washington and lead those battles, like the one to save the coal industry.”
One of her chief lines of attack is that Enzi isn’t effective on defending coal, and that she would be better at fighting anti-coal interests.
“We must go on offense against POTUS [Obama] & his job-killing war on coal,” Cheney wrote in her twitter account. “Can’t keep going along to get along. Time to stand and fight for Wyoming,” she wrote, alluding to her ongoing criticism of Sen. Enzi as too passive.
Meanwhile, Enzi countered Cheney’s attacks by highlighting his pro-coal stance and the actions he takes to defend the industry.
“Our energy sector is too important to leave its fate to a few Washington bureaucrats and a president who obviously has a bias against energy that comes out of the ground,” Enzi wrote in a press release published last Friday. “Congress should be setting energy policy for the country, not the Administration through backdoor, unaccountable executive actions.”
The release describes efforts Enzi made with Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) to stop the EPA emissions regulations from taking effect without congressional oversight. Specifically, Enzi and Barrasso offered an amendment to an energy efficiency bill that would have sent proposed EPA energy rules to Congress for approval.
When that amendment failed, both Senators pledged to file a resolution of disapproval, which would provide a chance for the Senate to vote on repealing the new EPA rules.
Enzi also took his message to social media. “EPA rule would essentially ban new coal-fired power plants. I’m working to stop this job-killing rule,” he wrote in his twitter feed shortly after the rule was announced.
The new rule
Under the new EPA emission rule, newly built coal-fired power plants would have to achieve emissions levels of natural gas generation, a threshold that will be difficult if not impossible to reach with out deploying carbon capture and sequestration technology.
Natural gas power-plants built with the best available emissions control technology will be able to produce electricity without employing carbon capture.
Carbon capture and sequestration has received of intense study and investment at the University of Wyoming’s Carbon Management Institute. State, federal, and private money invested in the pilot project near Rock Springs totals $16.9 million.
In the Powder River Basin, the stalled Two Elk project which was awarded $9.9 million in federal stimulus money without drilling a research well is under investigation, as reported by WyoFile contributor Rone Tempest.
At an energy conference held at the University of Wyoming last week, Dr. Mike Celia of Princeton University said the new EPA rules could mean that there will be greater chance that carbon capture and sequestration technology to be deployed at commercial levels in the next ten years, particularly if EPA carries out its plans to place stricter emissions requirements on existing coal-fired power plants.
Gov. Matt Mead issued a statement saying the rules would stop innovation.
“The standards for coal-fired power generation in the proposed rule are unachievable and will arrest research, development and commercialization of clean technologies,” Mead said. “This poses grave implications for the continuing viability of coal as an energy source and for the economic stability of Wyoming and the nation.”
Wyoming’s coal mines employed 6,869 in the state in 2010, forming a little over 2 percent of the state’s workforce of 290,000 people. However, the industry contributes over $1.2 billion in taxes, royalties and fees, according to the Wyoming Mining Association numbers for 2011.
Coal provides about $2 billion in royalties to the state of Wyoming every two years, or about a quarter of Wyoming’s $8 billion biennial budget.
A drop in revenue from federal mineral royalties and lease payments on coal prodution would have an especially pronounced effect on the state’s budget for K-12 schools, as reported by WyoFile in this feature.
Political problem, political solution?
Enzi and Cheney’s recent statements depict the “war on coal” as a primarily a political problem, while offering themselves as the political solution.
“The amendments Senator Barrasso and I have offered would help take the teeth out of the war on coal and other traditional forms of energy,” Enzi’s release stated.
“Whether you are talking about the haze regulations, whether you are talking about carbon sequestration which is clearly coming down the pike next, they are looking for ways that they can run coal out of business and we simply can’t let that happen,” Cheney said.
Enzi and Cheney, along with Barrasso and Gov. Mead, all agree that the new carbon emission rules could have negative effects on coal production in the Powder River Basin, with subsequent effects on the Wyoming’s economy and state government revenue.
With so much at stake, the politically expedient move is attempting to turn back the tide of national public opinion that increasingly views coal as the most polluting source of energy.
“We’ve gotta fight back. We have got to go on offense, and understand it’s a war,” Cheney said. “You have got to stand up and convince people … from states that don’t produce coal, that if they value affordable electricity, if they want to avoid things like brownouts, they need to join us in this battle.”
Despite coal’s reliability as a source of electricity, its carbon dioxide emissions create a major public relations hurdle because of the growing number of people who believe that climate change is happening.
A recent study from Yale University found that the percent of Americans who believe in global warming rose from 57 percent in 2010 to 70 percent in 2012. The number of Americans who say global warming is not happening declined from 20 percent in January 2010 to 12 percent in 2012, the study reported.
Coal certainly faces a challenging political environment, but market forces are also wreaking havoc on the industry, dropping domestic production last year to levels not seen since 1993. The availability of cheap natural gas through fracking threatens to topple the coal industry from its long-time perch as the cheapest available source of electricity.
An article by Reuters pointed to U.S. Energy Information Administration numbers showing that coal’s share of national electricity production declined 12 percent in recent years — from 50 percent in 2005 to 38 percent in 2012. During that time natural gas generation climbed from 19 percent to 30 percent of the nation’s total electric power.
Also adding to the challenge for coal are renewable energy quotas set by many states, including some of the largest power consumers like California.
The degree to which EPA regulations or shifting economics are to blame for coal’s decline is a matter of debate. Industry representatives and some politicians blame the EPA almost exclusively, while environmentalists and some media analysts see market fundamentals driving the shift.
Enzi and Cheney’s focus on regulations as the greater challenge to coal is borne out by some data. A study by Duke University found that 9 percent of existing coal-fired power plants face risks due to competition from natural gas, while 56 percent of plants are vulnerable to new regulations from the EPA.supporting WyoFile: a non-partisan, non-profit news organization dedicated to in-depth reporting on Wyoming’s people, places and policy.