Under the shadow of the West Virginia coal mine disaster earlier this month, a congressional hearing Wednesday on the future of coal in a “new energy age” seemed at times like a dialogue of the deaf.
Four representatives of the coal industry appeared before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming in an atmosphere frosty enough to lower global temperatures itself.
Committee chairman Edward Markey (D-Mass) castigated the industry representatives for resisting measures to reduce carbon emissions and compared them to auto executives who ignored the need for change until it was too late.
Markey, who is co-author of a bill passed by the House to limit greenhouse gas emissions, urged the coal industry to get on board with the efforts to fight global warming.
“Today, with the future of the coal industry in your hands, I challenge you to join us in charting a new path forward to prevent a perilous outcome for your industry and for the planet,” Markey said in his opening remarks. “I ask that you cease efforts to deny the science of global warming and stop spending millions of dollars in misleading the public as to the true science behind climate change.”
Markey noted that the House bill offers billions of dollars in aid to help the industry develop clean coal technology.
Despite his pleas, Mike Carey, president of the Ohio Coal Association, accused Congress and regulators of conducting a “war on coal” by imposing tougher limits on carbon emissions. He criticized the Environmental Protection Agency’s “endangerment finding” about carbon dioxide emissions, which enable the regulator to take action without legislation.
“The Ohio Coal Association is challenging this endangerment finding in court, and we will win,” Carey said defiantly. “We believe that the science underpinning the endangerment finding is questionable.”
The industry wants Congress to forgo any further restrictions while it develops carbon capture and sequestration technology to reduce emissions from coal-fired electricity plants. However, they admit that commercial deployment of CCS, which is an untested technology, is a minimum of 15 to 20 years away.
Markey noted that coal’s share of electricity generation fell to 44% last year from 49%. New plants using wind or natural gas were started in 2009, but no new coal plants broke ground.
“While the rest of the energy world is already moving to a lower-carbon future, people wonder whether the coal industry is stuck in another time,” Markey said, warning them that the industry was headed for “an inexorable decline.”
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