House Approves “Stop the War on Coal” Act

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill last Friday morning that would significantly deregulate the coal industry.

In its last legislative act before the November election, the House approved the Stop the War on Coal Act (H.R. 3409). The bill, introduced by Representative Bill Johnson (R-OH), would prevent the EPA from using the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act to impose environmental regulations on the coal industry.

House Republicans argue that federal regulation of the coal industry has cost Americans jobs and hurt the economy. As evidence, Republicans cite last week's announcement from mining giant Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE:ANR) that it will cut 1,200 jobs and idle eight mines in three states.

A new report from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) reveals that nine of the top ten congressional beneficiaries of oil, gas and coal money are Republicans. Topping the list is Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), who received $814,606 from the fossil fuel industry. "Oil, gas, and coal companies want to make the odds seem too overwhelming for the rest of us to affect change in the fight to combat climate change," said NWF president and CEO Larry Schweiger.

In contrast to Republicans, House Democrats argue that competition from other energy sources, rather than federal regulation, is hurting the coal industry.

"When the Republicans say there is a war on coal, in a market sense, yes, there is a war," said Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA). "In the same sense that when we started carrying BlackBerrys, it was a war on the black rotary-dial phone; in the same sense that when we started using Macs and PCs, it was a war on typewriters; in the same sense that the horseless carriage was a war on horses; in the same sense that refrigerators were a war on salted meats; in the same sense that the telegraph was a war on carrier pigeons."

If the Obama administration has declared "war on coal," as Republicans claim, then the outcome of the war is still very much in doubt. While U.S. coal consumption fell by about 10.5 percent from 2005 to 2011, coal production only fell by about 3.3 percent in the same time period. Such steady production despite a decrease in consumption can be attributed to an increase in exports of U.S. coal, which increased by about 115 percent from 2005 to 2011.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts that U.S. coal consumption will actually increase in 2013 as a result of a projected increase in natural gas prices relative to coal.

The White House's threat to veto the bill is moot, as the Democratic-led Senate will not consider the bill before it leaves for the November election. Congress will return after the election for a lame-duck session in which major year-end budget and tax decisions will rule the agenda.

Image credit: Gage Skidmore