According to a new poll conducted on behalf of the National Mining Association, more than 75% of Americans are concerned that new EPA regulations - specifically targeting coal power plants - will lead to higher electricity prices. The new regulations are a part of Obama's climate change campaign and, in short, are meant to curb carbon emissions from coal plants and force energy companies to find cleaner methods of production.
If they are passed as planned, the regulations will likely force some of the nationa's 600 coal-fired plants to shut down completely or, at the very least, force them to operate at a much higher cost because of the measures that will need to be taken to adhere to the new emission guidelines. According to the NMA, these regulations would push more than 20% of the current coal-derived electricity out of grid circulation by 2020, drastically decreasing America's largest source of power generation.
"Americans are rightfully concerned about higher electricity prices. If EPA continues to push forward with unrealistic standards for coal-based power plants, consumers' fears will become locked-in for the foreseeable future," Hal Quinn, National Mining Association president and CEO, said. "The leap in electricity bills consumers saw this winter is as much the result of EPA's policies as it is the cold weather."
Unsurprisingly, a large percentage of those concerned about the potential price hikes were elderly Americans and others living on a fixed income. This winter, with it's polar vortices and seemingly never-ending stay, was one of the harshest in recent history, which also translated into being a very expensive winter in terms of energy. Many poll respondents reported that their lives were noticably impacted by the high energy bills this winter, with almost one fifth stating that the higher electricity costs limited their ability to buy other necessities.
Ultimately, the regulations and the people pushing them forward are well intentioned, even if it doesn't always feel like it from the energy industry perspective. Once you strip away the potential political fuel, the EPA and administration's goals are to preserve our environment and encourage the development of alternative energy sources by the only method that they feel works - force. However, forcing out this much coal energy production will undoubtedly have a drastic effect on the diversity of American energy sources and these widespread fears could become a reality. After a bitter winter full of energy troubles, 70% of respondents fear that removing coal power from the energy mix could lead to black and brown outs in the hot summer months.
Will these regulations mean "running out" of power the way many fear? It's too soon to know. But it does seem clear that prices will rise, just as in any market where demand begins to outweigh supply. It also seems clear that in the push for energy diversity, we aren't just pushing toward "clean" sources. All energy sources yet known come with some environmental or health risk, perhaps none more notorious than natural gas obtained via fracking. While fracking is too new to have the same public consensus on it's environmental impact that the public generally has with coal, it's clear that fracking does pose some environmental risk. We're replacing one environmental problem with another, and this new one is less understood. While the American people are a complicated bunch, I'd be willing to be that nine times out of ten, they'd pick the devil they know over the devil they don't.
So let's not kill coal; let's rehabilitate it. Let's incentivize making coal cleaner not just at the end of the process, but throughout the process. Let's make it easier to learn how to make coal cleaner and make it financially feasible for companies to actually do it. Forcing such an abrupt change is very likely to provoke a large number of plants to shut down, and with emissions also go the jobs and economic that branches out from any energy plant in a region. Shouldn't we be striving to keep any and all jobs? Let's put people to work researching better ways to solve the problem - and then more to work actually solving it.