If there’s a War on Coal, Obama’s helping coal

We’ve been looking at methane lately, and at how Obama’s new rules (the “Clean Power Plan”) will attempt to take us from coal (a cheap, sulfurous, inefficient fossil fuel) to methane (a soon-to-be-cheaper, less sulfurous, more efficient) fossil fuel as an energy source.

The coal industry is calling this a War on Coal, they blame regulation, and they want it to stop.

In fact, coal is already a casualty — of the free market. The falling price of methane (“America’s natural gas”) has driven coal sales down and methane sales up. Coal is already losing in the U.S. market. Here’s Dave Roberts writing at Grist in 2012 (my emphasis and some reparagraphing everywhere):

Long story short, the regulatory climate for coal is slightly more favorable than expected two years ago. But it doesn’t matter, because “market conditions” are kicking coal’s ass anyway.

One market condition has to do with demand for power, which has slowed/plateaued due to the recession and recent mild weather. Another is the falling price of renewables. But the big one, the cudgel to coal’s head, is natural gas prices. You will recall that in April, natural gas generation equaled coal generation in the U.S. (at 32 percent each) for the first time since the Energy Information Administration started keeping records. Utilities are cranking natural gas up and retiring coal plants, mainly for economic reasons. Nick Akins, president and CEO of the coal-heavy utility American Electric Power, has said flat out that “there will not be any new coal plants built, with the current price of gas and the forecast for the future for gas.”

And then, again, there’s those EPA rules, which appear also to be putting pressure on coal plants, however slowly.

Does that mean coal is dead and the climate relatively safe from it? If you thought that, you’d be wrong. Coal that’s mined in the U.S. may not be burned in the U.S., but it will be shipped abroad and burned there, unless that mining and that shipping is blocked. Coal emissions are coal emissions, no matter where the coal is burned.

Shipping coal has a large state-by-state aspect. Mining coal, however, has a very large federal — meaning, the Obama administration — aspect. Meaning, Obama has control of a good part of it.

So what’s Obama doing with the coal under his control? Answer: Selling it, dirt cheap, to coal companies.

Obama has been aggressively selling permits to mine coal on federal land

So this is another EPA rules story with an “on the one hand, on the other hand” aspect. On the one hand, Obama issues EPA rules designed to reduce America’s carbon emissions footprint by putting the squeeze on coal plants.

On the other hand, the Obama administration encourages coal burning by aggressive issuing permits to mine coal on federal land, especially the Powder River Basin of Wyoming. Here’s Luiza Chwialkowska Savage, writing in McLean’s (h/t DeSmogBlog’s Steve Horn):

The centrepiece of Barack Obama’s climate policy, announced this month, limits greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants largely by cutting the country’s reliance on coal. The policy was touted as a major piece of the President’s environmental legacy but it raised an important question: what will happen to America’s coal—the largest recoverable reserves in the world?

It’s a question that could soon have an answer. With coal demand at home expected to fall by 20 per cent due to new regulations, and competitive pressure from low-priced natural gas, coal companies are now pushing to increase exports to Asia. … Three new coal-export ports are being proposed for the Pacific coast: two in Washington state and one in Oregon. They could eventually ship up to 100 million tons of coal per year—an amount equivalent to the total volume of coal the U.S. will export this year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA). …

Environmentalists warn that emissions from that volume of coal would dwarf the savings from Obama’s new power plant rule.

And the federal government is a big source of that coal. Ms. Savage again:

The port approvals are a state matter, but the Obama administration does have a role to play in shaping the fate of coal exports. That’s because the coal that would go through the new ports would come from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, where 80 per cent of the coal resource is owned by the federal government. The basin produces some 400 million tons of coal per year.

And the government — Obama’s government — practically gives the stuff away:

Since 2009, the Obama administration has sold leases for more than two billion tons of coal in the Powder River Basin for rates as low as $1 per ton, drawing the wrath of critics, including some in Congress, who say too much coal is being leased too cheaply. (Coal from the Powder River Basin is worth about $13 per ton.)

And they’re considering selling a whole lot more, even today, after the EPA rules were released:

As it reviews its long-term plans for the leases, which could eventually put another 10 billion tons of coal up for auction, the administration has so far resisted calls to include carbon emissions abroad in its decision-making.

What do you make of this? Is Obama serious about carbon emissions, or not?

If Obama were serious about carbon emissions, he’d stop all coal production on federal lands

Is Obama serious about climate change and carbon emissions? Or is what’s happening in the front office (the EPA) the part you’re supposed to notice, while the fat cats and the government play scratch-my-back games in the warehouse (the Bureau of Land Management), where the real money changes hands.

Is the Obama administration, like the rest of the government, in bed with the fat cats after all?

The Littles and the Bigs. Only one of these groups is visible to the public.

The Littles and the Bigs. Only one of these groups is visible to the public. (Can you find Coal and Oil?)

If Obama is really serious about carbon emissions, he’d stop coal production on federal lands; stop it completely. Remember, this is his Bureau of Land Management. Those people work for him. To the best of my knowledge, he doesn’t need Congress to say No to federal coal.

All he needs is … to want to. You can ask him to want to. “Dear Mr.Obama, please say No to Federal Coal. Zero new coal leases on federal land. Period.”

White House phone numbers:

Comments: 202-456-1111
Switchboard: 202-456-1414

Operators are waiting. This isn’t over, folks.


Twitter: @Gaius_Publius
Gaius Publi

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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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22 Responses to “If there’s a War on Coal, Obama’s helping coal”

  1. SheenaJeetyib says:

    just before I
    looked at the receipt ov $8130 , I didn’t believe that my sister woz like
    actualy bringing in money part-time from there pretty old laptop. . there aunts
    neighbour has been doing this 4 only about 22 months and at present repayed the
    mortgage on their appartment and bought themselves a Chrysler . see here M­o­n­e­y­d­u­t­i­e­s­.­C­O­M­

  2. Ferdiad says:

    This is why I am tired of liberals. Seriously, this happens over and over again. I am a democrat and an independent one at that, but not a politicized liberal. Why? I am so tired of raising questions about policy and pointing out how many of the liberal leaders are just as corrupt as everyone else but then being attacked for it. Over and over again the liberal politicians and media trumpet some cause and anyone who questions it is lambasted. Then, in the end we see it was nothing more than a give away to the moneyed elite and sold on populist grounds. That is the new playbook. Keep the elite happy with money, give red meat to the left in the form of rhetoric and in the process sell out the middle class.

  3. RayDuray says:


    I’m with you!


  4. Bill_Perdue says:

    If he’s as successful as the Clintons he’ll be rolling in it.

  5. LucySinclairsyk says:

    my buddy’s sister makes $87 every hour on the internet
    . She has been unemployed for 6 months but last month her payment was $19402
    just working on the internet for a few hours. go right here M­o­n­e­y­d­u­t­i­e­s­.­C­O­M­

  6. Bill_Perdue says:


  7. Indigo says:

    The Socialist in me loves the idea!
    The Pragmatist in me doesn’t think it’d fly in these United States.
    Maybe after the Revolution . . .

  8. Bill_Perdue says:

    A better suggestion would be to nationalize them without compensation and run their operations through a council of workers and consumers as part of a plan to green the economy.

    I wonder if the Democrats (or the Republicans) are up for that?

  9. Bill_Perdue says:

    Exactly correct. Except maybe for the scatological humor. If I used that a dozen Dixiecrats and/or ‘guests’ would be ‘offended’ and up in arms trying to deflect the discussion.

  10. lynchie says:

    But their capital is invested in petro, coal and gas. they will exhaust that resource before going on to the next. Imagine we have been to the moon, apparently, and yet can’t develop a car that gets 50 or 100 miles to the gallon. Automakers are more concerned with how many cup holders they can shove in a car and other redundant shit.

  11. lynchie says:

    Bill: electing Hillary will be a continuation of the slide into the septic tank. You can paint a turd gold but inside it is still a turd. We cannot break out of the cycle of having only two choices (supposedly) to pick from, thus the lesser evil horseshit. Obama made it clear when he woke up the day after being put in office……he is for the status quo. The rich knew he would lead a populist electorate. Black, young, hip, athletic, etc all the things to bring the left out and especially the old guard like myself and O’highness got himself into the White House. The 1% realized they could not have another 8 years of a rich prick at the helm we may actually get off our collective asses and push back so we have Barack. From the start he showed no interest in probing the illegalities of the Iraq fiasco, bailed out Wall Street and the Banks and made sure no one went to jail and continued the same sad, tired policies that are driving the U.S. into 3rd World status. In the last 6 years Barak-O offered us some great anthem speeches, some passionate horseshit strung together with non action. The ass couldn’t even get background checks approved to own a firearm, but ready, willing and able to send more young folks to die in Iraq and Afghanistan in the name of terrorism. While the old, poor and young are paying the price of the greedy corporations and the 1% the fat cats in the WH and Congress are totally unconnected to the reality of living in America because it is a reality they know they will never face. No ever.

  12. lynchie says:

    Obama is helping whoever has the most to offer him post presidency.

  13. Bill_Perdue says:

    The central question posed here is the role of the rich and the corporations they own in controlling the political life of the two major parties and government as a whole, including the courts.

    The reality is that the control of the rich in the US is absolute. The rich own political life in this country and own both parties. They own the WH, no matter who’s president and do it with a system of bribes in office and after they leave office. They own the courts. They own legislatures and the Congress through bribes.

    Obama’s regime has been a clear example of the president as a lap dog of the rich and at the same time an even clearer example of the absolute idiocy of the theory of the ‘lesser evil’.

    Voting for Democrats or participating in their party, one of the two parties of the rich, is just as bad as voting for a Republican. In truth, it’s the same thing. “The truth of the matter is that my policies are so mainstream that if I had set the same policies that I had back in the 1980s, I would be considered a moderate Republican.” Obama, in an interview with Noticias Univision 23 on ABC News, 12 15 2012

  14. QAdams says:

    None of it really matters at this point. It’s already too late. Are you familiar with the 40-year climate lag? (see http://www.skepticalscience.com/Climate-Change-The-40-Year-Delay-Between-Cause-and-Effect.html) The climate change we are experiencing today is a result of greenhouse gas concentrations as of ~40 years ago. That means the effects of what we have pumped into the atmosphere in the last four decades — much more in total than in all of human history combined — are still to be felt.

    No, I wish it wasn’t so, but the story is over. The human experiment is a failure. We have already pointed the gun at our heads and pulled the trigger.

  15. Naja pallida says:

    Oh, have no fear. All the big oil companies have significant investments in solar and wind. They’re not going to let an ounce of profit slip away if they can help it. They’re happy to hedge their bets, and buying off politicians is just another business expense.

  16. Indigo says:

    You know, it occurred to me that the possibly sane resolution would be to take Exxon, BP, Chevron and the like by the hand and show them how to tap energy sources other than petroleum. They don’t understand how to do that, oddly enough, and apparently they also don’t understand there’s money to be made by doing it. Silly them.

  17. Naja pallida says:

    Even if we stopped burning coal world-wide tomorrow, it wouldn’t stop coal mining. Coal can be turned into other fuels (at greater expense to the environment and water supply). Current known coal reserves are estimated to be enough to continue burning coal at an ever increasing rate well into the next century. But really, let’s not kid ourselves. The companies that are making money off natural gas are basically the same companies that are making money off of coal – Exxon, BP, Chevron all have extensive coal operations as well as natural gas operations. Talking about a ‘free market’ competition between them is ridiculous, the money is all going to the same place. They don’t really care which one ends up “winning” in the end, as long as they get their profit.

  18. Indigo says:

    As far as the War on Coal is concerned, Coal already won and that’s the end of this chapter. Now about nuclear energy . . . oh, right! The War on Nuclear Energy was won by the Eco-Coal Coalition. And then there’s the War on LNG-Methane which . . . huh! There’s a vicious circle here all players ignoring long-time sidelined Solar Energy potential. Coal won the war on Solar Energy a century ago but here we are again. And then there’s Wind Energy . . . we have plenty of options with very little coordinating between them. Shades of Tesla!

  19. Denver Catboy says:

    Every time I hear the GOP saying such and such a Democratic Representative/Senator/President is THE MOST LEFT-LEANING POLITICIAN EVARRRR!, I just can’t help but shake my head. Obama, Socialist? They keep using that word….

  20. QAdams says:

    “Is the Obama administration, like the rest of the government, in bed with the fat cats after all?”

    Gaius, after all this time, are you really asking that question with a straight face? OF COURSE Obama is in bed with the fat cats! We’ve seen nothing but irrefutable evidence to that effect for more than six years now.

  21. Elijah Shalis says:

    It is frustrating to be a Dem sometimes.

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