We sometimes forget that Missouri has been a coal-producing state for decades.
Although not a major producer like Wyoming or West Virginia, our state has mined coal, along with lead, zinc, copper and silver for more than a century. And all of this mining has not only employed thousands in family-supporting middle class jobs, but it has also underpinned some of America’s key industrial sectors, thanks to the lead we extract for car batteries and computers and the copper we contribute to electric wires and home appliances.
In one area, however, coal is still of preeminent importance to Missouri — power generation. Thanks to the modern technology that scrubs emissions from coal-fired power plants, Missouri relied on coal for 78 percent of its electricity generation in 2015, ranking us number four nationally in coal usage.
There are real benefits to using coal, particularly when it comes to reliable and affordable power generation for our cities, schools and water infrastructure. It’s not just Missouri, though, that has become accustomed to the low-cost and robust power generation driven by coal. Much of America has, as well, and coal still generates more than one-third of U.S. electricity – more than any other single power source.
Unfortunately, Missouri’s enjoyment of low-cost electricity faces a real challenge. The Obama administration is preparing to implement a Stream Protection Rule aimed at keeping coal in the ground. And that will have serious implications for the cost of electricity in America.
You wouldn’t know it from the name, but the Stream Protection Rule could spell the end for much of the U.S. coal industry. Why? Because the SPR extends far beyond streams and deals more with enhancing a federal agency’s mission than any environmental effort. We know this because the federal government’s own reports show that, after decades of careful and improved oversight, virtually all U.S. mining operations now carry no offsite environmental impacts.
Regardless, the U.S. Office of Surface Mining is preparing to foist the SPR on coal states. This matters to Missouri because the SPR is certain to drive up the cost of mining. And keeping coal in the ground will be expensive. The annual value of lost coal production from the SPR could reach $29 billion, with federal and state tax revenue falling by as much as $6.4 billion annually. That’s why America’s biggest losers may not be coal communities. Displacing affordable coal power with higher-cost alternatives will mean heavier price burdens on everyone, including the low-income households who can least afford it.
Missouri has already learned how to modernize its coal plants, and to ensure that they produce affordable power without the waste emissions that once gave coal a bad name. But driving up the cost of coal by eliminating much of America’s coal production will hit our state hard.
Overall, the Stream Protection Rule is an unnecessary overreach by the federal government, and one that will not only close down many of America’s coal producers, but needlessly drive up electricity prices. Our elected officials need to say no to a heavy-handed effort that will hurt many working families.
Terry Jarrett served on the Missouri Public Service Commission from 2007-2013.
See the article here.
- On August 18, 2016