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A pause re profitability …

June 4th, 2008 · No Comments

The Lieberman-Warner Climate inSecurity Act (CISA) can accurately be described as the Coal Subsidy Act. With all the embedded subsidies and support for the coal industry, why is the coal industry fighting the Coal Subsidy Act? In short: not enough.

Take a look at the Coal Industry’s “principles”.  In short, this is core point of those principles:

  • Coal industry merits unconstrained commitments from the American people that measures to deal with Global Warming will not hurt the coal industry.
  • That, in the face of serious technical uncertainties, America must commit to  (”guarantee”) unlimited resources dedicated to carbon capture and sequestration.

In other words, the core principles that the coal industry is advocating for any climate change legislation is that the legislation, itself, guarantees (forever and without exception clause) the profitability of the coal industry.  Actually, not the continued profitability, but increased profitability.

We are at a point of transition, as the USS Fossil Fuel runs (US) aground, where we have the opportunity to strengthen the nation while fostering a better planetary environment for not just ourselves, but the rest of humanity.  That strengthening will involve, quite likely, a move away from polluting fuels to greater energy efficiency and cleaner energy (quite potentially a combination of a wide variety of renewables and fission/fusion power over the coming century) with the potential for capturing pollution from fossil fuels to reduce their polluting impact.  This move, however, would threaten coal-industry profitability and therefore violate immutable principles.

Why oppose Lieberman-Warner, if it is so generous to the coal industry?

  • Because it is not generous enough. It violates the Coal Industry’s “principles”.  
  • Because, even within its poor structure and misaligned subsidies for serial polluters and serial poisoners, it might foster an environment more conducive to energy efficiency and renewable energy which could reduce.  An environment that does not lock in coal, indefinitely, as core to the US energy system is anathema. Again, it volates the Coal Industry’s “principles”.  

The coal industry likes to mouth words, to say that it supports action to deal with climate change (“ABEC supports federal climate change legislation – just not this bill.”).  And that it “supports an integrated US climate strategy that … values coal’s vital role in America’s energy future …”  In other words, if coal is not a centerpiece, forever, then it is not a legitimate approach for climate change legislation.

Whenever I think about this, my thought is: what if the whaling industry had been writing US energy policy in the late 19th century?  Would we all be sitting in the dark as all the world’s oceans would have been scoured of whales (a renewable resource, unless one eliminates that ability of that resource to renew)?  Now, clearly, the analogy is not perfect. There is a lot of carbon still in the ground. Carbon that the coal industry wants to keep digging up and allowing to be spewed into the atmosphere, without limit, without having to pay for the implications of that poisoning of the atmosphere, the oceans and of us (and the US).

Now, of course, this is the other major challenge that the coal industry faces and that it (and its allies) do not want people to recognize.  Coal’s unpaid “external costs” are borne by the rest of us (and the US).  Limiting your tuna intake because of mercury poisoning?  Thank the coal industry.  Concerned abotu acidification of the oceans?  Thank the coal industry.  These are all “external” to the contractual costs of using coal even if they are internal to our health and the health of our children.  These costs are all “external” to the coal industry’s (and its allies’) calculations of costs and benefits of climate change legislation, even if these costs and the benefits of reducing those costs are internal to all of us (and the US).  The huge benefits for the nation of moving toward a more efficient and cleaner economy:  all irrelevant.  What sensible climate-change legislation will do:  end the subsidization of poisoning our lives and make that poisoning “internal” to the poisoner’s contractual relationships.

Why is the coal industry fighting against Lieberman-Warner?  Because, even with its subsidies, it creates uncertainties for future profitability.  Because, it does not enshrine into law the centrality of coal into the indefinite future.  Because, by always demanding more and never hinting at a compromise, a firm negotiator is likely to be able to get more concessions.  Because, they want MORE!!!! And, who are we to deny it to them?

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Tags: analysis · astroturfing · climate change · climate delayers · coal · Congress · emissions · Energy · environmental · Global Warming · global warming deniers · government energy policy · lieberman-warner · politics · pollution · Uncategorized