Send message regarding coal
President-elect Donald Trump has pledged to put many coal miners laid off during the past several years back to work. Closed mines will be reopened, he has said.
Trump will not be inaugurated until Jan. 20, however. Between now and then, an enormous amount of mischief, and that is the right word for it, can be done by the outgoing administration of President Barack Obama.
Two recent stories during the past week illustrate the problem. One noted that state regulators have approved American Electric Power’s plan to convert three power generation units at plants in Ohio to burn natural gas. Currently, they are fueled by coal.
Another story, on Ohio-based FirstEnergy, was about that firm’s plan to close coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania because of concerns about the cost of operating them.
Utilities make plans for generating stations years in advance. During Obama’s nearly eight years in office, he and the Environmental Protection Agency have made it clear their goal was to close as many coal-fired power plants as possible.
Throughout the country, hundreds of generating units once fed by coal already have been idled because of the Obama assault. Some of those closures are irreversible. The utilities that own the equipment have moved on to natural gas — or expensive solar and wind generation.
Be assured of this: Obama views the war on coal as a key part of his legacy as president. He is proud of it. During the more than two months he remains in office, he will instruct the EPA to do all in its power to make even more of the shift permanent.
Why does that matter? Again, the AEP story is instructive: Changing the three Ohio generating units to gas “should not raise (consumers’) bills by more than 5 percent,” the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio has estimated.
Gas is relatively cheap now. That will not last forever. Without the massive taxpayer subsidies Obama has provided to the solar and wind industries, the costs of power from those sources would be much higher.
Coal remains the most economical way to generate electricity, by far. Consumers forced by the government to pay for power generated otherwise will pay hundreds of dollars a year more.
This is about far more than coal miners’ jobs.
Officially, Trump is powerless to do anything about an accelerated war on coal and affordable electricity during the next two months.
But many of the decisions made to close coal-fired power plants were based on utility executives’ realization that with Obama in office, their companies could not afford to do otherwise. In other words, their plans were made in anticipation of policies by the current White House.
If he really means to keep his promises, Trump should make it very, very clear that current policy on coal will change drastically — and immediately after he takes office.