Is Obama Waging War on the Coal Industry?


After years of being questioned on his climate change promises, President Obama finally laid out his agenda for the remainder of his time in the White House. Plans include limiting the incessant flow of carbon pollution into the atmosphere. While the effects of endless CO2 emissions are still debated among some leaders in Washington, representatives from coal country are claiming new regulations would destroy the industry while the Obama administration contends the future holds a place for all energy sources.

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) was at the White House on Wednesday and emerged skeptical of the plans of Obama and the EPA with respect to coal. According to The Washington Post, Sen. Manchin described the standards of the EPA with respect to the coal industry out of reach from a technological standpoint., saying the goals were therefore “unattainable.”

In question was Pres. Obama’s idea that coal plants could retrofit their operations with newer technology. From the point of view of coal plant operators, the cost of upgrades would be too high and would drain the resources of an industry already in danger from the booming natural gas industry. The severity of the risk for the coal industry was underscored by the stance of a senator from Pres. Obama’s party.

Manchin, who did not vote to approve new EPA chief Gina McCarthy, offered very harsh words in the press, indicating the dangers for the coal industry on which many of his constituents rely. “They’re using every tool they have to destroy the most abundant, reliable and affordable resource that we have,” Manchin told The Washington Post Wednesday. “We’ll see how it plays out.”

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said Thursday that there is no such war on coal, and the administration must explore all avenues when trying to reduce the carbon emissions coming from different industries in the country. According to U.S. News and World Report, Moniz said, “There are multiple instruments that can be used to squeeze down the carbon emissions.” A tax on carbon emissions has been proposed by different organizations in recent years.

As the biggest source of carbon emissions, the coal industry would be the one hardest hit by increased regulation, limits on pollutants, or a carbon tax. In every case, no other industry would be affected on the same level. EPA head Gina McCarthy responded to the topic by bringing up the larger implications of the plan to lower greenhouse emissions.

“Can we stop talking about environmental regulations killing jobs please?” McCarthy said at Harvard Law School this week, via NBC News. “We need to cut carbon pollution to grow jobs. We need to cut carbon pollution to strengthen the economy,” she said, adding it was an opportunity for the country, rather than a backbreaking policy aimed at the coal industry at large.

Senator Manchin has the unfortunate position of defending an industry that has similarities to gas-guzzling vehicles when compared to hybrids and electric vehicles. Both Moniz and McCarthy see coal as an energy source for decades to come, though the industry will be forced to accept increased regulations if it hope to survive.