Black Cloud On Earth Day: Big Coal’s War Against EPA Emission Rules

Dave Johnson

It’s Earth Day and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is readying new greenhouse gas emissions rules for power plants, with the draft expected June 1. Forty-one percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from power plants. Nearly half of that comes from just 100 power plants, with all but two of those using coal. So doing something about these older, coal-fired power plants will go a long way toward reducing the amount of carbon we are putting into the air.

EPA And Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Many states rely on old, coal-fired power plants for electricity and worry that the new EPA rules for regulating emissions from power plants might force their energy sources to be shut down or become unreliable. So EPA staffers have held around 300 meetings with input from 10,000 people, according to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy.

McCarthy is not giving away what the new rules will be, but promises flexibility so the states will have some leeway as long as they reduce the amount of carbon going into the air from these plants. According to a Los Angeles Times story, “EPA director says draft greenhouse rules will give states new tools,”

She was careful, however, to point out the there were limits to the idea of flexibility. The existing power plant rule would have standards or targets that are “federally enforceable, that will be a requirement. They are not aspirational standards,” McCarthy said, which states can adopt “if everything else goes right.”

The rules “won’t be so flexible that I can’t rely on them as a federal standard that reduces carbon,” McCarthy said.

Coal Companies Fighting New Rules

Needless to say, coal companies don’t want these new regulations at all. They just want to keep putting carbon pollution at public expense in the air and keep the cash rolling in. So there is and will be a big fight over the new rules.

Of course, House Republicans have passed efforts to hamstring the executive branch to keep them from regulating carbon. A March Associated Press story, “House backs bill to block EPA power plant rule,” explained:

The Republican-controlled House moved Thursday to block President Obama’s plan to limit carbon pollution from new power plants, an election-year strike at the White House aimed at portraying Obama as a job killer. … Supporters said the measure was part of a strategy to fight back against what they call the Obama administration’s “war on coal.”

War On Coal

Apparently the idea that we should do something about climate change is really a plot to get rid of all the jobs in the country and take over the capitalist system in order to make us all slaves to communism. Or something.

To fight regulations, the coal and other fossil-fuel companies have set up a “War On Coal” campaign. They say they are innocent bystanders supporting the American way of life while the mean, communistic, America-hating liberals are just trying to hurt them because dumping pollution at public expense is the underpinning of our free society. And, by the way, there is no such thing as global warming, climate change, sea-level rise, Arctic ice melt, or science in general. And never mind what you can see with your own lying eyes, the science (which doesn’t exist and is always wrong) isn’t settled. Hey, look over there!

The “War On Coal” campaign follows the usual lobbyist PR/GOP template: Industry lobbyists roll out a massively funded campaign, call it a “political” issue, and say that conservative ideology demands that the country let their client companies do whatever it is they’re doing or want to do to further enrich themselves not matter the cost to the public. Front groups are set up to make it appear the public is solidly behind this. Think tanks issue reports to make it appear that “public policy experts” conclude this is the best approach. Then Drudge, Fox News, Rush, the WSJ, TownHall and the rest of the right’s corporate/billionaire-funded propaganda apparatus gets going. And of course when the money is flowing the Republican party climbs on board.

See this National Journal story, “The Coal Lobby’s Fight for Survival,” on the origins of the War on Coal campaign. “[T]he clout of the coal lobby—and the money it doled out—was a major reason Congress has never enacted a serious climate-change law.”

When there is a nasty, smearing propaganda campaign against government and science going on, the Koch’s (oil company billionaires who help massively fund the corporate/conservative propaganda machine) are always lurking behind the front groups. Center for Public Integrity: “Koch-funded groups attack Obama for ‘war on coal’“:

Secretive nonprofits affiliated with oil and coal companies, including Koch Industries, are hitting Obama hard for what they call his “war on coal.”

… The American Energy Alliance is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, which means its donors remain unknown to the public. Its president, Thomas Pyle, is the former director of federal affairs for Koch Industries and former lobbyist for the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association.

… The American Energy Alliance is affiliated with the Institute for Energy Research, a free-market energy nonprofit that has received backing from the Koch-run Claude R. Lambe Foundation. Pyle is also the institute’s president.

… Dustin DeBerry, the institute’s director of donor relations, once worked for the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. Board member Wayne Gable the a managing director of federal affairs at Koch Industries and has held leadership positions at Koch-funded nonprofits including Americans for Prosperity, Citizens for a Sound Economy and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.

Go read the whole thing, these are just a few of the Koch-funded connections.

Fox News (part-owned by a Saudi oil billionaire), for one, has been promoting the idea that there is a “War on Coal” with stories and op-eds like:
Obama declares a War on Coal
Obama’s war on coal hits your electric bill
EPA coal rules leaving US vulnerable to power blackouts?
‘Not looking good': Coal workers see future dim amid regulation burden
To stop the war on American jobs we must end Obama’s war on coal.

When Koch, oil and coal money is flowing the Republican Party is never far behind. GOP National Committee: Obama Opens A New Front In His Ongoing War On Coal By Unveiling Job-Killing Regulations On New Coal Plants.

The Hill: GOP: ‘War on coal’ key campaign issue.

Earth Day Factoid

Republican Representative Pete McCloskey (R-CA) was co-chair of the first Earth Day in 1970. Republican President Richard Nixon began operation of the Environmental Protection Agency by executive order, with bipartisan Congressional approval later that year.

Unfortunately, Republicans are different today: The $80 million-a-year Heritage Foundation (an organization that is not without coal and oil funding), states their environmental principles today, saying “Free people and free markets are the engine of superior environmental policy for a cleaner, healthier, and safer environment.” Also, “The most successful environmental policies emanate from liberty.” (What does that even mean?)

And, of course, Heritage says, “Wait on regulations until the science is settled, as in the case of CO2 regulations.”

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