Cheap coal? Tell that to the dead miners' families
And not surprisingly, the mining industry objected.
"Requiring coal-based power plants to meet an emissions standard based on natural gas technology is a policy overtly calculated to destroy a significant portion of America's electricity supply," said Hal Quinn, chief executive of the National Mining Assn. "This proposal is the latest convoy in EPA's regulatory train wreck that is rolling across America, crushing jobs and arresting our economic recovery at every stop. It is not an 'all of the above' energy strategy."
Of course, what Quinn doesn't want to talk about is what types of jobs the EPA rules are "crushing."
To get a better idea of that, you need to read another Times story Tuesday, one headlined "Report: Safety agency failed to enforce laws at deadly mine."
That story tells of the regulatory and safety lapses at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, where an explosion in 2010 killed 29 coal miners and seriously injured two others.
It's a story of lax regulatory enforcement, of inspectors simply not doing their jobs, and of a mine operator that, as the Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration said in a report on the deadly incident, engaged in "systematic, intentional and aggressive efforts ... to avoid compliance with safety and health standards, and to thwart detection of that non-compliance by federal and state regulators."
How bad were conditions at the mine? Bad enough that "Alpha Natural Resources, the company that acquired Massey Energy Co. after the explosion, reached a settlement late last year with the Department of Justice in which it agreed to pay a record $209 million in compensation and fines and federal prosecutors agreed not to pursue criminal charges against the company," according to The Times' story.
Even so, some former officials at the mine are under criminal indictment.
Last month, prosecutors charged the then-superintendent of the mine with conspiring with others to block federal regulators from enforcing safety requirements -- a charge that suggests other individuals are likely targets of action as well.
Prosecutors allege that the former superintendent altered the mine’s ventilation system while an inspector was taking an air sample and ordered that a monitor be rewired so that mining could continue despite elevated levels of methane.
What industry spokesman Quinn also didn't talk about is that EPA regulations would apply only to new power plants, and that, as The Times story said, "the proposed regulations further bolster a trend that the power industry began years ago, as more utilities replaced aging coal-fired plants with new natural gas plants. Very few new coal plants are now on the drawing boards."
Coal is a relatively cheap power source, but it's only really cheap if you ignore the costs in lost lives mining it and the health effects from burning it, not to mention the environmental costs from digging it up.
As The Times story concludes:
"[W]hat this essentially says is we will never be building dirty old coal plants ever again," said Michael Brune of the Sierra Club, one of the litigants in the lawsuit that led to the development of the new rules. "The dominant power source of the 19th and 20th centuries won’t be built the same again."
This isn't about "crushing" jobs.
This is about progress. And it's time to move on.
-- Paul Whitefield
Photo: President Obama speaks about energy on March 22 at a TransCanada pipe yard near Cushing, Okla. Credit: Larry W. Smith / EPA