President Donald Trump has certainly jumped out of the starting gate by issuing a flurry of executive orders taking aim at onerous regulations held over from the Obama administration. It’s a mixed bag, however, given the variety of issues confronting the economy.
There is one step that the new administration could take immediately to ensure affordable energy for America’s struggling middle class: end the moratorium on federal coal leases.
Last year, the Obama administration announced a three-year moratorium on the leasing of coal reserves on federal lands. Because the coal mined from these reserves accounts for 42 percent of total U.S. production, this moratorium poses serious consequences for U.S. energy diversity.
Undeniably, the motivation for the moratorium was inspired by a “keep it in the ground movement” aiming to end coal-fired power in the United States. But such an ideological agenda overlooks the significant technological advances that have emerged over the past 30 years. Today’s coal plants are much cleaner and far more advanced than ever before, thanks to specialized equipment that scrubs emissions of sulfur, mercury, and particulate matter.
Because coal has gone high-tech, it’s disappointing to see such a headstrong rush to end a significant, long-term source of affordable, reliable electricity for the United States. In part, that’s because there’s a financial aspect involved. Coal leased from federal lands has generated more than $12.6 billion in royalties, rents, and bonus payments over the past decade. In 2014 alone, the program generated revenues of $1 billion for American taxpayers and was responsible for 40 percent of total coal-generated electricity in the United States.
Realistically, it is America’s working class who would pay the price for a continued moratorium on federal coal and the power it provides. A study by IHS Energy found that America’s current base load power generation, which has long been anchored by plentiful coal, saves ratepayers roughly $93 billion in annual electric bills.
Contrast that, however, with the 40 percent of U.S. households currently spending 17 cents of every after-tax dollar on energy-related expenses. Simply put, many Americans are struggling right now, and they depend on affordable energy for their homes, jobs, and livelihoods.
With the new administration actively fighting to save coal, President Trump should now turn to the leasing moratorium. After Ryan Zinke is confirmed as the new interior secretary, he could move immediately to end the moratorium. The move would ensure that America’s working class has access to affordable and reliable electricity — which must remain a key priority for Washington.
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