“Election Results Make U.S. Congress Action on Climate Change Even Less Likely” – National Geographic, 5 November 2014

A Republican-held Congress could spell bigger trouble for President Obama’s push for new climate policy. Republican Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell has long been an opponent of Obama’s climate efforts, namely because McConnell represents a state where a majority of its jobs begin and end with coal. McConnell has sullied Obama’s efforts to curb climate change by dubbing new climate policy a “war on coal.” A quarter of Kentucky’s counties continue to mine coal. Coal is a low-cost source of energy, which, according to McConnell, powers 90 percent of the state’s electricity.

Republicans argue two points when it comes to climate change: one, that scientists are wrong in their contention that humans are largely to blame for climate change; and two, jobs are more important than the effects of climate change. Moreover, some Senate Democrats haven’t backed Obama’s policy; the resistance from both parties has caused Obama to employ executive action to introduce new emissions regulations for power plants. The EPA has announced those regulations, which instruct states to create their own plans for restraining power plants emissions.

According to the Obama Administration’s 2014 National Climate Assessment, humans have had a large influence on the changing climate, and power plants are the “single-largest concentrated source of emissions, accounting for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions.” Two-thirds of the US’s electricity comes from fossil fuels, and 39 percent of that comes from coal-burning power plants.

In addition to the Obama Administration, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has also cautioned that permanent effects could result from climate change, including surface warming, polar ice cap melting, sea levels rising, and severe heat waves.

McConnell’s plan is to stall any new climate legislation in the Senate, whether it’s new restrictions on limiting the impacts of climate change, or regulations devised by Obama. McConnell has also assured that he will not hesitate to cut the EPA’s budget.

Almost all of the McConnell’s more than twenty fellow Republicans who are looking to run for the White House in 2016 — Senator Rand Paul (KY), Rep. Paul Ryan (WI), Senator Marc Rubio (FL), Senator Ted Cruz (TX), and Governor Rick Perry (TX) just to name a few — all doubt scientists’ findings that climate change is a result of human action. Conversely, Hillary Clinton’s beliefs fall more in line with Obama, which is to be expected.

According to the Pew Research Center, 61 percent of Americans believe that the Earth has warmed during the last few decades; 40 percent of those polled believe that it’s human caused. The question of jobs remains a huge issue in Kentucky and across the US. Republicans — who traditionally favor less government involvement — rely on the fear that increased governmental regulation means a drop in job growth.

Of course, McConnell’s coined phraseology ‘war on coal’ carries weight with his constituents. Last year, coal production dropped in eastern Kentucky, seeing its lowest production output since 1962. McConnell associates the fall in Kentucky’s coal production to the US’s explosion in natural gas generation, as well as less costly mining in states like Wyoming. Kentuckians and McConnell are currently concentrating on job loss and growth, and not on how to protect the environment from its own inhabitants.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

November 5, 2014

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“Partnership seeks technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired plants” – The Lane Report, 21 July 2014

Kentucky is currently building its first carbon capture pilot unit at Kentucky Utilities Company’s E.W. Brown Generating Station in Harrodsburg. The $19.5 million project has been funded by national, state, and educational entities to help Kentucky’s lifeblood, coal, from becoming severely undercut by limits in carbon emissions.

Obama’s Climate Action Plan has introduced steep cuts in existing power plants’ emissions levels — Kentucky’s answer to new climate policy is to further explore carbon capture technology. The aim of the “catch and release” pilot system is to show how carbon capture technology can be advantageous to existing power plants, determine ways to improve the system, and analyze the practicality of producing carbon capture systems on a large scale. The system will be ready for testing in the fall; testing will end mid-2016.

Though pricey, the hope behind the carbon capture technology is that it will generate affordable, cleaner energy that will retain Kentucky’s coal industry. Coal has always been a cheap and abundant source of energy in the state, but the federal government’s changing regulations on how to improve the US’s environmental issues is altering coal’s role in Kentucky. Coal-supporters see Obama’s newly proposed climate policy as a “war on coal,” and this is Kentucky’s fight to preserve the state’s leading industry.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

August 1, 2014

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“Coal Scrubbers Give Illinois Basin New Life” – Wall Street Journal, 9 January 2014

Natural gas has been dominating the news, and many feel that the influx of the major energy source has inadvertently waged a war on coal. US coal production dropped 7% in 2012, but now coal is making a resurgence, mainly due to the Illinois Basin, which extends from Illinois to Missouri, Indiana and Western Kentucky.

The Illinois Basin was a key US coal basin, until the Clean Air Act of 1970 passed, making the Illinois Basin unfavorable for mining. Illinois coal has elevated levels of sulfur, which is partially responsible for acid rain. However, widespread use of scrubbing technology has allowed for mines in Illinois to reopen—scrubbing technology can lift 97% of a coal-fired power plants’ sulfur dioxide. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicted that Illinois would generate 56 million tons of coal in 2013, a 70% increase from 2010. The Illinois Basin is anticipated to produce more coal than Central Appalachia, another major US coal basin.

While natural gas has been a huge boost to our economy and is the cleaner energy source, the coal industry provides the US with many jobs. There will be more jobs available as the basin reopens near railroads and along the Mississippi River.

As the US inches towards a more desired energy independence and security, we must continue to pursue a prudent “all of the above ” energy strategy.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

March 21, 2014

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“Coal’s Decline Hits Hardest in the Mines of Kentucky” – Wall Street Journal, 26 November 2013

Wall Street Journal

While the US’s stores of natural gas have been boosting the economy and lowering gas prices in unprecedented ways, the influx has also been hurting many Americans, especially those working in the Central Appalachian coalfields, primarily located in Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Over the past two years, dozens of Central Appalachian mines have closed, causing massive layoffs, which are likely to be permanent for the area. The coal industry is now concentrating on two other major coal basins in Wyoming and Illinois that are cheaper to mine.

Data from the Mine Safety and Health Administration shows that 26 Kentucky counties are the hardest hit by mine closings — counties that have been mining for over a century. Before 2011, the number of mining jobs in the region never dropped below 11,400; however, after 2011, the number of mining jobs has declined to 8,000, the fewest number of jobs since the 1920s. Almost 100 mines Kentucky’s eastern coalfields have shutdown since 2011, from 256 active mines to 161.

Many of the unemployed miners blame the layoffs on Obama and the EPA for introducing new regulations that will limit emissions for coal-burning power plants, what many Republicans have deemed the “war on coal.” However, the coal industry sees the layoffs as the sum of many things: new fracking technologies have further depressed the coal market, and Obama’s regulations have only worsened the situation.

Furthermore, many of the affected Appalachian coal mines’ production costs are higher (with a cheaper selling price), more abundant and more polluting than steam coal (used for power generation). Metallurgical coal, on the other hand, requires less production and a lower selling price needed for exportable global iron and steel production.

In 2003, coal produced 51% of US electricity and natural gas produced 17%; in August 2013, coal produced 39% of US electricity and natural gas produced 27%. The EIA has calculated that, while coal will still be power plants’ biggest fuel supply, use of coal by electricity utilities will decline over the coming decades. Around 9% of coal-fired power plants will be closing between 2013-2018.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

December 12, 2013

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