Oped: Coal represents untapped American potential
Coal recently took center stage during the presidential election. While President-elect Donald Trump rode a wave of blue collar frustration with full-fledged support of the coal industry, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a national audience in Ohio that she would put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business. Some called Clinton’s remarks statement a gaff; others called it a rare moment of honesty. Either way, they showed how little our political elite and their supporters understand about coal and its value.
Energy is the backbone of society and is essential in sustaining human life. It provides the power necessary to innovate, manufacture, sustain our food supply, build our cities, care for our sick, and purify our water. Coal offers Americans a consistently inexpensive and reliable form of energy, on which the country can thrive. America’s coal reserves provide an energy independence that others envy — at least 100 years of a proven low-cost energy source that will allow for longer and more prosperous lives for our citizens.
Worldwide 1.3 billion people (over four times America’s population) lack access to reliable electricity. Consider China for instance. It recognizes what affordable and reliable coal energy can do for its citizenry. As Alex Epstein noted in his book, “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels,” over the last four decades China increased use of coal by a factor of five. What was the result? Life expectancy rose, and infant mortality dropped by 70 percent. Similar benefits were seen in India, where the infant mortality rate fell by 58 percent. Many of these energy impoverished citizens have a light bulb, refrigerator, and consistently clean water for the first time. Given this, it is no wonder that China just announced it would raise coal power capacity 20 percent by 2020. India likewise indicated that it plans to double its coal output by 2020 and will rely on coal for decades to come. These countries recognize that coal and the energy it provides lead to longer lives, better jobs, and an improved quality of life.
Another aspect of coal that goes underappreciated is that America’s air and water are cleaner despite increased coal production. Emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulate matter (PM) from coal-fired power plants have been reduced by 92 percent since 1970. Through innovation, companies can build and retrofit coal plants that operate cleaner and more efficiently. This improvement was not cheap, as approximately $111 billion has been invested through 2015. Moreover, owners of coal-fired generating units are expected to spend an additional $16 billion for emission controls from 2016 through 2020.
Some mock Trump’s support of coal as a political stunt and question his ability to “bring it back.” But just as Trump recognized untapped potential in the American people, he recognizes the same potential in American coal. Coal can be used responsibly to improve all of our lives, and over the next four years coal will help support Trump’s vision of a Great America.
Rachel Gleason is executive director of the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance.