We’re seeing something very interesting of late from the Obama administration — an all-out war against America’s mining industries.
It’s something the president appears to be undertaking with little thought to economics or practicality.
At the recent UN climate talks in Paris, President Obama proudly trumpeted a “Clean Power Plan” that aims to limit carbon dioxide emissions from America’s power generating sector. The main thrust of the plan is the elimination of 41 megawatts of coal-fired power generation, or roughly 40 percent of America’s entire coal fleet.
You can’t get something for nothing, however, and many of these coal plants are currently running overtime during peak use to keep Americans warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
Overall, America’s coal-fired plants, which utilize scrubbing mechanisms to trap emissions of sulfur dioxide, mercury, and nitrogen oxide, account for 39 percent of total U.S. electricity generation. Simply put, they are the backbone of reliable, affordable power in America.
The CPP aims to eliminate these coal plants on a rapid timetable. But if one connects the dots, troubling questions emerge. What will replace all of this lost power generation, and will it be ready by the 2030 target date?
That’s where the fun begins, actually, since no one is really sure.
As for the underlying goals of the CPP — “Why are we doing this, and what’s the real-world benefit?”— the answer isn’t particularly reassuring. As the Environmental Protection Agency admits, the benefits of the CPP are miniscule. When the plan is fully implemented, the CPP might reduce global CO2 output by less than 1 percent, with a theoretical reduction in global temperatures of 0.02 degrees Celsius by 2100.
We do know the costs of the plan, however. A study by Energy Ventures Analysis foresees a $214 billion increase in America’s utility costs by 2030, plus another $64 billion needed for the construction of new wind and solar facilities. The wind requirements alone will necessitate the installation of roughly 125,000 wind turbines nationwide. And that also means new high-voltage power lines and towers to deliver this power, plus new coal and natural gas power plants to serve as back-up when the wind isn’t blowing.
The CPP leans heavily on wind power, but unfortunately wind turbines aren’t quite the green angels they’re presumed to be. The rare earth metals used in their construction often come from China, and are excavated and refined via some of the crudest and most polluting methods on the planet. Simply put, China’s mining work is rough, dangerous, and toxic.
Which brings us to the latest assault by the Obama administration on America’s mining sector. A few weeks ago, the Department of the Interior unveiled a plan to protect the sage grouse, a gray-brown bird inhabiting the prairies of the Western United States. Invasive species of vegetation and wildfires have, at times, threatened the bird’s population, and there was talk of listing the grouse as an endangered species. The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, however, reports the bird’s population has increased 63 percent since 2013, and state governors have already enacted voluntary measures to protect sage grouse habitats.
Although a federal analysis shows that activities such as ranching, oil and gas development, and mining affect only 7 percent of the bird’s ecosystem, the DOI is now proposing to withdraw 10 million acres of mining claims in the Western U.S.
Essentially, the sage grouse is doing fine. But DOI now envisions the largest mineral withdrawal in American history, an effort that would limit claims to the vast majority of the nation’s mineral endowment, including, copper, gold, nickel and zinc.
Mining in the Western U.S. produces much of America’s mineral wealth. It’s the bright spot amidst the U.S. being otherwise entirely import-dependent for 19 key minerals, and more than 50 percent import-reliant for another 24 minerals. With half of the nation’s mineral wealth already off-limits or under restrictions, the removal of 10 million additional acres will undoubtedly have a significant impact.
So what we now face is a perfect storm of regulatory overkill and rising costs poised to clobber the U.S. economy at the worst possible time. The CPP will raise energy prices, encumbering America’s manufacturers with higher utility bills precisely when they are already paring expenses to the bone. And then, when the CPP demands new wind turbines, they will be made in China, with imported minerals — some of which could have been extracted far more safely and cleanly in the U.S.
These twin assaults on America’s mining and mineral efforts are poorly conceived, with little environmental benefit to justify such a huge wallop to the economy. Reading between the lines, though, the Obama administration simply dislikes coal, and views mining as dirty, archaic work. But that’s an overly simplistic view since America’s mining work buttresses the nation’s economy — particularly in providing the coal that continues to power so many homes and businesses.
Where is the due diligence to envision what will happen when such vital operations are halted because of high-flying ideological concerns? In the real world, such shortsightedness will prove incredibly costly.
The author of this piece served as a media director for several organizations.