Five months ago, more than 200 million Americans from Colorado to Maine faced record-low, subzero temperatures, heavy snowfall and dangerously cold winds that closed schools, businesses, roads and airports.
Now, imagine if we had encountered widespread blackouts and no electricity for days on end? If the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed carbon emissions rule had been in place this past winter, our country would have experienced brownouts, blackouts and even more severe outcomes.
Why? Because without coal, utility companies would not have been able throughout this Polar Vortex to provide 24/7 generation to maintain power of our electric grid.
While supply met demand, prices surged as supplies were stretched to their limits, and coal guaranteed the reliability of our grid system. Throughout the crisis, coal provided 92 percent of the energy increase we needed to heat our homes and power our communities.
Natural gas generation was significantly cut back because of sky-high prices and generation from renewable sources was negligible.
In spite of these facts, the EPA released a proposed rule Monday that appears to focus more on a desirability to remove fossil fuels from our energy mix rather than the reliability of our electric grid or current electrical generation feasibility.
We need to strike a balance between our energy needs and global environmental concerns, and I am convinced that the EPA’s proposed rule does not strike that balance.
Today and for the foreseeable future, fossil fuel energy will be vital to our nation’s economy and security. Fossil fuels currently provide more than 75 percent of our country’s electric generation.
Our own Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) even projects that fossil fuels will still provide roughly 70 percent of our power 20 years from now. The EIA also estimates that coal will continue to provide 32 percent of our power in 2040, with most other generation coming from natural gas.
There is no doubt that seven billion people have impacted our world’s climate. However, this proposed rule does little to address a global problem with global solutions because the use of coal is increasing around the world.
By 2040, China will produce 62 percent of its electricity from coal, while India will produce 56 percent and a number of other developing countries in Southeast Asia will produce up to 30 percent. During the next few years, construction of roughly 1,200 new coal plants will be built across 59 countries – 363 in China and 455 in India alone.
The U.S. has already been a leader in proving to the world that we can produce coal cleaner today. Many know that traditional pollutants – sulfur, nitrogen, mercury and particulates – have been cut from coal emissions by 80 percent or more over the past few years. What is less known is that technologies are being developed – and some already exist – that lower carbon emissions from coal plants significantly.
More than 8 billion tons of coal is consumed around the world each year. China currently burns more than 4 billion tons per year, while the U.S. and Europe each burn less than one billion tons per year. With the right policies and the right coordination between the public and private sectors, we can lead by example and show the world we can burn fossil fuels cleaner than ever.
Many technologies are already known – fuel drying, improved sensors and controls, low temperature heat recovery – that can further reduce emissions. New operation methods – cycling to balance intermittent renewables and feed water preheating – can do the same thing.
With smart investments, we can not only finish demonstration of the first carbon capture and storage plants but also develop the second generation. When that happens, in the not-so-distant future, we will be able to utilize fossil fuels in a way that produces negligible or zero emissions.
I’ve taken several recent actions to address both this existing plant rule and the rule to be put forward shortly that will govern new fossil fuel sources.
I’ve introduced legislation that would require DOE to approve $2 billion of the available $8 billion in loan guarantees within two years. We must continue to invest in innovative technologies, including clean coal and natural gas technologies, to ensure our energy supply remains accessible, affordable and reliable for all Americans.
I have also introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation that would require any new source performance standards set by the EPA to have been achieved on a commercial basis in at least six electricity generating units for a minimum of one full year. That’s just common sense.
I have said again and again that government needs to work as an ally, not as an adversary, when it comes to developing our nation’s energy policies.
While the rule has several flaws, one provision is particularly destructive in developing new clean coal technologies. The EPA’s New Source Review Rule must be suspended as we work to ensure that coal plants get cleaner. Failure to do so would undoubtedly kill any chance of producing clean coal innovations in the future.
If we hastily regulate our energy sector and miss the developmental opportunities before us, we’ll compromise reliability and the low energy prices needed to fuel our economy now. We’ll lose out on the deployment of technologies to further clean up existing coal technologies and the development of new technologies that can ensure our future.
My fear is that if we don’t come up with commonsense solutions now, the American people will face unintended consequences. Not only will brownouts and blackouts occur more and more frequently, but jobs will be lost, energy prices will continue to rise, and our already anemic economy will suffer.
I will continue to invite President Obama, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, and DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz to West Virginia to see firsthand how valuable coal remains for this country today and for future generations.
The time to act is now, and I will continue to seek partners in the fight for an all-of-the-above energy policy.
Democrat Joe Manchin represents West Virginia in the United States Senate.