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House finds itself on both sides of coal debate

Tuesday, Jun 3, 2014

* Remember when the House voted last month for a budget that included tax hike extension revenues but against a budget which didn’t include those revenues? Well, that’s not the only directly contradictory stance taken by the chamber in May.

As you probably already know, the Obama administration unveiled new rules this week to force states to lower carbon emissions by power plants. Those emissions are significant in Illinois

Only five other states emitted more greenhouse gases from power plants than Illinois in 2012, according to the EPA. And while the Obama administration is saying that the proposed rule requires a 30 percent reduction of carbon from the power sector by 2030 based on their emissions in 2005, the reductions don’t fall equally state by state. Illinois is being asked to cut its power-plant emissions by 33 percent from its 2012 emissions. Only two other Midwestern states, Wisconsin and Minnesota, are being asked to do more. Strangely, neighboring Indiana, which emits more greenhouse gases than far larger Illinois thanks to its heavy dependence on carbon-heavy coal, must cut its emissions by only 20 percent. […]

Assuredly, coal plants will close because of this. Coal accounted for 41 percent of the power generated in Illinois in 2012 and is by far the biggest source of carbon emissions. But Princeton, N.J.-based NRG Energy Inc., which recently bought four coal plants serving the Chicago area out of bankruptcy, could argue for converting at least some of them to cleaner-burning natural gas as a way to lower emissions rather than simply maintain current carbon-free power generation through keeping nukes open.

* Last week, the House passed a resolution on a voice vote which strongly backed the idea of nuclear power to balance the greenhouse gas emissions of coal-fired plants

WHEREAS, Closing even a few nuclear power plants could make achieving State and national carbon reduction goals difficult or impossible; after the January 2012 shutdown of a nuclear power plant in California, the state’s carbon dioxide output increased by 35% in the first year, according to the California Air Resources Board, and increased generation costs in the state by about $369 million, equivalent to a 15% increase in total generation costs, during the 12 months following the January 2012 shutdown, according to a working paper issued by the Energy Institute at Haas

The resolution was pushed by Exelon, which sold its coal fired plants years ago.

* The very same day, however, Rep. Brandon Phelps successfully fought to get his own pro-coal resolution out of the House Environment Committee, where it had been stuck for months. Phelps’ motion to discharge passed with 71 votes. He passed his resolution the next day

State Rep. Brandon Phelps’ (D-Harrisburg) resolution passed the Illinois House Friday, calling for the Obama Administration to allow Illinois to set its own time table developing energy standards. The state’s abundance of coal and dependence on coal makes Illinois unique, and the state should be allowed to move into renewable energy sources at a different rate than other states, the lawmaker said. […]

State Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago) blasted the resolution as a work of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative think tank, and called for a “no” vote, saying Obama’s home state should not balk at the president’s efforts to protect the climate.

“These restrictions that are coming will drive coal companies out of business,” said Republican House member Ed Sullivan (R-Mundelien). He said shutting down coal businesses in Illinois will cause power bills to skyrocket.

The resolution also asked that the IEPA be given more time to phase in the compliance schedule.

* From Crain’s

“The House has passed two resolutions that point in two different directions that are hard to reconcile in a policy way,” says Howard Learner, executive direction of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which has battled coal plants for years.

So who is likely to win in this shootout at the OK Corral, Exelon or coal-plant owners?

Never, never bet against Exelon in Illinois.

That’s correct.

* The coal industry has fought pollution regs tooth and nail, which will likely be their ultimate undoing. From a new Washington Post-ABC News poll

Fully 70 percent say the federal government should require limits to greenhouse gases from existing power plants, the focus of a new rule announced Monday by the Environmental Protection Agency. An identical 70 percent supports requiring states to limit the amount of greenhouse gas emissions within their borders.

Democrats and Republicans are in rare agreement on the issue. Fifty-seven percent of Republicans, 76 percent among independents and 79 percent of Democrats support state-level limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Strong tea party supporters are most resistant to limits on emissions by states and power plants; 50 percent say the federal government should impose caps, while 45 percent say they should not.

The cross-party agreement extends to a willingness to pay for such limits with higher energy bills, a flashpoint for debate and a key area of uncertainty in new regulations. Asked whether Washington should still go forward with limits if they “significantly lowered greenhouse gases but raised your monthly energy expenses by 20 dollars a month,” 63 percent of respondents say yes, including 51 percent of Republicans, 64 percent of independents and 71 percent of Democrats.

Americans living in coal-heavy states are supportive of limiting greenhouse gas emissions in the poll, even as their states will be forced to make bigger adjustments to meet the EPA’s new emissions targets. Among those in states where a majority of electricity is produced by burning coal, 69 percent say the government should place limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Support is a similar 71 percent in states where less than half of electricity comes from coal.

* Related…

* Illinois officials applaud new EPA rule on emissions

* Illinois coal industry concerned about Obama’s call to tighten emission standards

- Posted by Rich Miller        


26 Comments
  1. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Jun 3, 14 @ 2:10 pm:

    Coal is done. The natural gas boom was going to finally kill it off without any new regs. Cheaper and cleaner.


  2. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Jun 3, 14 @ 2:11 pm:

    All energy is good.
    Don’t ban any of it.


  3. - plutocrat03 - Tuesday, Jun 3, 14 @ 2:19 pm:

    If natural gas can kill coal, so be it. Forcing the issue will cost $$$/

    Hope the folks who will pay more for electricity and manufactured goods will remember whose bright idea this is come election day.


  4. - OneMan - Tuesday, Jun 3, 14 @ 2:21 pm:

    Actually my municipal provider is going to be charging more for Illinois green power… Still suspect some of it is going to come from coal.


  5. - Six Degrees of Separation - Tuesday, Jun 3, 14 @ 2:22 pm:

    Coal will have a continuing role, probably in the formulation of some of the petrochemicals now more easily extracted from oil. Some smart people will figure it out, or may have already. And it will be burnt for power for the foreseeable near-term, but in increasingly smaller numbers. Getting rid of the Crawford and Fisk stations was unarguably one of the best things that happened for Chicagoans’ lungs in the past few years.


  6. - Bunson8r - Tuesday, Jun 3, 14 @ 2:23 pm:

    Good riddance to coal. While there are decent arguments for and against other types of power generation, including renewables and nuclear power, coal is just too great a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions to remain feasible. I know industry will cry about the loss of jobs, but they will just shift elsewhere.


  7. - Old Shepherd - Tuesday, Jun 3, 14 @ 2:29 pm:

    ==I know industry will cry about the loss of jobs, but they will just shift elsewhere.==

    Wow. Tell that to the folks living in coal towns in Southern Illinois, Eastern Kentucky, and West Virginia.


  8. - Chicago Cynic - Tuesday, Jun 3, 14 @ 2:40 pm:

    “Never, never bet against Exelon in Illinois.”

    Sad but true.


  9. - Precinct Captain - Tuesday, Jun 3, 14 @ 2:43 pm:

    that industry official admitted “there’s been some crying of wolf in the past.”

    http://time.com/2806697/obama-epa-coal-carbon/

    This time they mean it though!


  10. - Precinct Captain - Tuesday, Jun 3, 14 @ 2:43 pm:

    ==Wow. Tell that to the folks living in coal towns in Southern Illinois, Eastern Kentucky, and West Virginia.==

    Kentucky and West Virginia were done already. We have 200 years of reserves and the raping of the land in KY & WV means the easy stuff has already been mined for a century. The cheaper coal that’s left is elsewhere.

    http://www.marketplace.org/topics/sustainability/coal-play/eastern-kentucky-whos-blame-coals-decline

    http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/industries/story/2012-06-12/coal-to-gas-project-denied/55557114/1


  11. - State Rep. Ann Williams - Tuesday, Jun 3, 14 @ 2:44 pm:

    Looks like the Illinois Review has mixed up it’s liberals…Rep. Elaine Nekritz is the one who pointed out the resolution came from ALEC materials and referenced the President; my comments against the resolution centered around Rich’s point about the inconsistencies among the two resolutions in terms of carbon emission standards.


  12. - dupage dan - Tuesday, Jun 3, 14 @ 3:02 pm:

    Illinois and the US do not live in some kind of a bubble like dome, disconnected from the rest of the world. China brings on 4 coal fired electric generating plants on line every week. The US has reduced CO2 emissions in the last 20 years but many other countries are boosting theirs far more than we have reduced it. Even if the US closes all the coal fired plants the reduction in CO2 emissions compared to other sources both inside and outside the country would be nearly indistinguishable. If natural gas is so plentiful and cheap (it could be made even more plentiful and cheap if fracking were to be active in Illinois in the immediate future - could help those good folks who will likely lose their coal jobs), why force this issue. Just let the market decide.


  13. - fed up - Tuesday, Jun 3, 14 @ 3:03 pm:

    coal is dead and it’s mining has been very automated now days. Coal mining jobs are declining rapidly, time to move forward.


  14. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Jun 3, 14 @ 3:06 pm:

    DD, what “market” are you talking in public utilities?

    By the way, China is moving away from coal, not expanding.

    http://online.wsj.com/articles/chinas-coal-demand-could-fall-soon-1401715431


  15. - Neglected stepchild - Tuesday, Jun 3, 14 @ 3:11 pm:

    Carry this to its logical zenith, the only people with access to energy within a century will be the wealthy liberal elite (talk about the 1% crowd!). The rest of us can live like cavemen.


  16. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Jun 3, 14 @ 3:14 pm:

    –Carry this to its logical zenith,–

    What is logical in your statement.


  17. - dupage dan - Tuesday, Jun 3, 14 @ 3:37 pm:

    So, word, China seeks to diversify (as any sane country would) and you conclude that China is moving away from coal. Who wouldn’t buy natural gas, as cheap as it is now. You can predict that NG will stay cheap? Forever? Wow, your portfolio must be bursting at the seams.

    Public utilities make decisions about cheaper and more expensive fuels, don’t they? Why else move towards NG. We were told, back in the 50s, that nuclear energy was going to be so cheap the utilities may have to pay us to use it. But, maybe you know what fuel utilities must use - another boost to your portfolio, no?


  18. - Precinct Captain - Tuesday, Jun 3, 14 @ 3:51 pm:

    “China Targets Heavy Industry, Vehicles, Coal for 2015 Carbon Cuts”

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-05-28/china-targets-heavy-industry-vehicles-coal-for-2015-carbon-cuts.html


  19. - Precinct Captain - Tuesday, Jun 3, 14 @ 3:54 pm:

    “China closed in on the U.S. at the top of a renewable-energy ranking by consultants EY after installing record solar-power capacity last year.”

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-02-25/china-narrows-gap-to-u-s-in-ey-renewable-energy-ranking.html


  20. - East Central Illinois - Tuesday, Jun 3, 14 @ 4:00 pm:

    This message is directly for Rich Miller . . . I know that that comments are off for your words about Grandma Cuz, but I needed to share something with you. The very same thing happened to me once with my grandpa and tears going down his cheek when he passed away and I thought the same thing as you did; that he was sad when he died. But my grandma was right beside me and said “nope, tears of joy, boy, tears of joy”.
    Some things are indescribable and death is one of those things. Tears of joy Rich, . . . sounds like she had seen it all, done it all and loved it all . . . tears of joy.


  21. - Rharaz - Tuesday, Jun 3, 14 @ 4:03 pm:

    Part of China’s plan to shift to natural gas apparently involves converting coal to synthetic natural gas (SNG). Although SNG burns cleanly, the life-cycle/conversion process produces 82% more greenhouse gasses than if coal were used directly. See http://oilprice.com/Energy/Coal/Chinas-Plan-to-Reduce-Coal-Fired-Electricity-Disastrous-for-Global-Climate.html

    Behind almost every increment of real GDP is an increment of energy. And since we’re all competing globally, I think developing countries like China and India will continue to pollute in far greater amounts than will the US. Which means that laws to curb greenhouse gasses in the US will likely have little effect on global climate, but will almost certainly reduce our ability to compete.


  22. - countyline - Tuesday, Jun 3, 14 @ 4:06 pm:

    Wind and solar are supplements only, they are not a viable source of 24×7x365 power generation.

    China and India are powering up by whatever method is cheap at the time, meanwhile, small towns across America become ghost towns because the only source of jobs in the area shuts down - but as long as the greenies feel good about themselves, that all that matters.


  23. - Demoralized - Tuesday, Jun 3, 14 @ 4:37 pm:

    @countyline:

    I don’t think our goal should be to be like China and India when it comes to energy policy. New Dehli and Beijing are two of the most pollution ridden cities in the world. I’m not for putting coal plants out of business, but I don’t see why there is an issue with making sure that coal fired plants are as green as they can possibly be. It’s nonsense that it’s an either/or proposition when it comes to the environmental and coal. It’s not.


  24. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Jun 3, 14 @ 4:49 pm:

    –So, word, China seeks to diversify (as any sane country would) and you conclude that China is moving away from coal.–

    I conclude that because that’s what they’re doing. You can read all about it if you choose to inform yourself.


  25. - Laughing all the way - Tuesday, Jun 3, 14 @ 7:40 pm:

    Less jobs and increased taxes for the Illinoisans
    Cool!


  26. - Holdingontomywallet - Tuesday, Jun 3, 14 @ 7:46 pm:

    Like most things passed by this legislature, my question is always - “how much is this going to cost?” They really don’t care, it is all political optics. Sick of it….


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