Coal-State Lawmakers Struggle With Global Warming

Bill Scher

Today’s CQ Weekly has a big piece on how coal-state lawmakers are “well-positioned” in Congress to shape global warming legislation.

And they risk falling into the trap of thinking strong legislation will be bad for jobs in their districts.

The article focuses on western Virginia’s Rep. Rick Boucher, a key subcommittee chairman. It reports that the “National Mining Association and several of the biggest corporate coal producers have organized a $1,000-a-plate breakfast fundraiser for Rep. Rick Boucher this week,” but also notes that Boucher recently said “Understandably, to date I have been a skeptic about the need for a mandatory U.S. program for greenhouse gas control. But my view is changing, as is the view of much of the energy industry.”

And it lays out some of the ideas Boucher and other coal-staters are considering:

  • “providing incentives for technologies that allow coal to be burned more cleanly and store carbon emissions underground”
  • “delaying new emissions standards if other greenhouse gas-emitting nations such as China and India do not enact similar controls.”
  • “[tying] emissions standards to economic growth instead of mandating reductions below current levels.
  • “These conditions could be included in a broader ‘cap and trade’ system that would set mandatory restrictions on emissions” but “If [clean coal technology] is not widely available, Boucher may try to delay some of the emissions caps from going into effect.”

The details matter big time.

Without a cap that reduces emissions and forces polluters to pay, and with slippery escape clauses that delay such caps, there won’t be strong incentives to move towards essential clean coal technology that stores emissions underground.

Weak incentives will make the short-sighted corporate coal executives very happy, as CQ reports they are angling for empty “voluntary reductions” in emissions.

But implementing clean coal technology would create jobs. Just last week in Australia, which is grappling with the same issues, the Sydney Morning Herald reported, “The union movement has swung behind the need for clean coal technology saying it was necessary to protect both jobs and the environment.”

Further, instead of using heavy coal burners China and India as excuses not to move aggressively, we should move to create jobs by perfecting and exporting clean coal technology.

As our own Apollo Alliance says:

By taking a lead in the development of new, cleaner coal technologies and carbon sequestration [underground], not only could the United States reduce the impacts of its own coal use, it could develop exportable technologies that mitigate the even larger impacts of coal use in China and India.

On Friday, this blog noted that Congress may first take a baby step towards solving the climate change crisis. A baby step is one thing. A weak long-term strategy is another.

Keep a close eye on this legislative process, and watch those details.

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