Coal Tattoo

Boucher: Climate bill is good for coal

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This is a responsible measure. It is carefully balanced; it reduces greenhouse gases by 83 percent by the year 2050 as compared to 2005 levels; it keeps electricity rates affordable; it enables coal usage to grow as the demand for electricity increases nationwide; and it opens the door to a more secure energy future and the creation of millions of new jobs, innovating, deploying and exporting to the world the new, low-carbon-dioxide-emitting technologies that will power our energy future.

— Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., on the climate bill

West Virginia’s three House members all cited  concerns about negative impacts on the coal industry when they voted against the American Clean Energy and Security Act, a move that the New York Times’ Paul Krugman likened to “treason against the planet.”

Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., are also dissing the bill, again citing concerns about coal.

Oddly, as I pointed out earlier, the Friends of Coal industry front group is not attacking the legislation’s impacts on coal — instead going for a general criticism of potential increases in energy costs to consumers.  And as I’ve also pointed out, the United Mine Workers union concluded the bill ensured that “the future of coal will be intact (but still withheld its endorsement, seeking more concessions for coal companies and coal-fired utilities).

One pro-coal voice that has been outspoken in support of the bill is Virginia Congressman Rick Boucher. A Democrat from his state’s southwestern coalfields, Boucher was a strong force in pushing the legislation’s main sponsors, Reps. Henry Waxman and Ed Markey, to add language that slows down emissions reductions and funnels billions of dollars to help the coal industry try to figure out how to control is carbon dioxide output.

During Friday’s House floor debate, Boucher explained why he thinks the bill is good for the coal industry:

 Approximately 80 percent of the electricity in the district that I represent is coal-generated. Coal production is one of our region’s major industries, and it is a major employer of our constituents. Not surprisingly, my focus in the shaping of the bill in the Energy and Commerce Committee was to keep electricity rates affordable and to enable utilities to continue using coal, which accounts for fully 51 percent of America’s electricity generation. Both of these goals have been achieved in the bill that is before us today.

The Environmental Protection Agency projects that by 2020, the usage of coal in our economy will grow as compared to today’s usage. Now, that may seem somewhat counterintuitive in a bill that regulates greenhouse gas emissions, so let me repeat that: the EPA projects that by 2020, coal usage in America, under the terms of this bill, will actually grow.

As transportation electrifies and the demand for electricity increases, coal, our most abundant fuel, will still be the fuel of choice to meet that rising demand. The claims of opponents that the CO2 controls under the bill will force utilities to surrender coal use, causing an overreliance on natural gas with attendant broad economic harm to the Nation are also simply wrong.

Not for nothing, but Boucher also pointed out:

Electricity rates will be only modestly affected. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says that by 2020, the cost of the entire program for the typical American family will be $175 per year. The Environmental Protection Agency projects that the nearer-term cost for the typical family from all elements of this legislation will be between $80 and $110 per year; that’s about 20 cents a day for the typical American family. And so the claims by the opponents that this legislation will impose enormous electricity price increases are simply wrong.

va_9th_congressional_district.pngAll of this from a congressman who received more campaign contributions from electric utilities than from any other industry, and also received significant campaign cash from the coal-mining industry. Boucher’s Virginia 9th District includes all of each of the six counties in Virginia where coal is produced: Buchanan, Dickerson, Lee,Russell, Tazewell, and Wise.

A lot of folks think Boucher went too far in helping the coal industry in this bill. Some of them felt so strongly that they got arrested outside his office to protest his actions.  He’s also been attacked from the other side, with — as Grist and the Wonk Room have reported — Newt Gingrich’s coal-powered front group, American Solutions for Winning the Future, running ads that asked, “Why did Rick Boucher vote to kill Virginia jobs?

But Boucher stuck to his support for the bill, explaining in his floor speech:

In March of 2007 the Supreme Court held that CO2 is a pollutant. Under that ruling and the terms of the existing Clean Air Act, the EPA is now effectively required to regulate CO2 emissions.

And so federal regulation of greenhouse gases is now inevitable. It is not a question of whether we will have regulation.

The only question is whether the regulation will be our carefully balanced economically sustainable regulation as contained in the bill before us or EPA’s regulation under the blunt instrument of the Clean Air Act where economic considerations cannot be fully weighed.

Where is the bill headed now? To the Senate, where we’ll see what roll Rockefeller and Byrd decide to play … or maybe we will. I asked aides to both senators more specific questions beyond the prepared statements they issued yesterday, and both declined to respond.

Darren Samuelsohn, who provides excellent climate coverage in Greenwire, explained today that the 60 votes needed in the Senate might be “within reach for a cap-and-trade climate bill, but many concessions must be made to get the measure across the goal line.”

But you know what? His story didn’t mention the word “coal.”