Karl Koehler: The assault on coal
October 1, 2012
Each year, the American Lung Association publishes its "State of the Air" report. Cities are ranked with respect to three air pollutants. In 2012, Denver managed to avoid the most-polluted cities lists but was absent from the list of the cleanest.
For ozone, nine of the 10 most polluted cities were in California. California also captured the five worst rankings for year-round particles. That performance was repeated in the short-term particle class and accentuated with the 10th-, 12th-, 15th-, 18th- and 21st-worst placements for a pathetic showing in the bottom 25 for this category. California — the environmental protection pace-setting state without a single baseload coal-fired power plant — led the nation with the most air-polluted cities cited in the survey.
Meanwhile, the EPA's regulatory assault on coal continued. Even though research underpinning the catastrophic global warming theory has been critiqued fairly, our government continues to battle this exaggerated threat as though led by the three wise monkeys. In June, the EPA's Endangerment Finding for greenhouse gas emissions was upheld. So carbon dioxide, the non-toxic plant food emitted during hugely beneficial combustion processes, was determined by the EPA to be endangering something. Knowing more than a little about this issue, I naturally wonder, "What? How? When? Are you sure?" while regulatory proponents predictably assert, "Mere details. Trust the models." I don't. And here's the rub: Carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. continue to decline all by themselves thanks to market forces — not government interventions.
A short time later, the Senate voted down a resolution to overturn the EPA's MATS rule (Mercury and Air Toxics Standards). That rule forces coal-fired plants to either close or invest significant capital in hopes of achieving and keeping pace with endlessly more stringent emissions limits. Ultimately, consumers foot the bill as electricity costs necessarily skyrocket in accordance with President Barack Obama's legislatively defeated yet steadfastly pursued campaign to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, no matter the cost.
Here in the Yampa Valley, we live next to coal-fired power plants surrounded by panoramic vistas including beautiful, clear blue skies. When in Denver, I take notice of the sky there. It's usually a paler, rather sickly looking imitation of what I'm accustomed to. Thanks to HB10-1365, coal-fired power plants along the Front Range are slated to shut down. Other plants across the nation will close because of MATS and similar anti-coal initiatives still in the pipeline. But let's be clear: If we stay this course, the economic brunt of those decisions will be borne most acutely by small communities like ours.
To what end? Climate change experts tell us these actions will have no discernible impact on global warming. None. And I'll predict no conspicuous improvements in air quality as monitored by the American Lung Association either. Why? Because these concerns are not significantly attributable to coal-fired power plants located here in the U.S. In Colorado Springs, a coal-fired power plant anchors the electricity supply needs of that city. Not so in Fort Collins, but there, too, a smokestack can be seen on the skyline. Then there's Pueblo, home to the largest coal-fired plant in Colorado. All three cities were highlighted on the American Lung Association's cleanest cities lists in 2012. And Boulder? Seems its geography is showing. That fair city earned a "D" from the American Lung Association on its ozone report card. Tut, tut.
California's widespread air-quality issues cannot be attributed to baseload coal-fired power plants in that state — there aren't any. So from where might they arise? What typifies Californian cities? Vehicles — lots of people driving cars and trucks. You don't suppose? No doubt the greens and EPA are hot on the case. Left unchecked, rest assured they'll come after those sources as hard and as fast as they've come after coal. It's a brand of environmental justice we can do without.