WASHINGTON – President Obama’s climate program is neither the bureaucratic monster that its opponents charge nor the savior of the planet that his White House portrays.
There is one great myth in the middle of the argument on global warming – it doesn’t deal with whether man-made carbon dioxide is melting Antarctica. It is the underlying pretense advanced by the White House and environmental extremists that anything significant can be done at all to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions without the cooperation of China.
But in New York, Obama’s climate posturing will goad green hardliners to ratchet up their opposition to the lifting of the moratorium on hydrofracking for natural gas and oil. That’s bad news for New York households and businesses that are paying the highest electricity rates on the U.S. mainland. And it will keep the state’s Southern Tier economy buried under the Great Recession.
First, Obama’s critics, who claim his new regulations that restrict coal-fired power plants will only add to his personal sway over American business. He already has the official cadre to enforce these edicts in the Environmental Protection Agency. The biggest economic gain will be for the lawyers hired by the power companies to fight – with probable success – the Obama rules against coal-fired power imposed without benefit of Congress.
Another phalanx of Obama detractors includes those who say, with accuracy, that he is out to kill coal mining in this country. Well, he really can’t as long as factories in Asia want coal.
The skunk in the president’s green garden is the fact that the use of coal to generate electricity in the United States has fallen since 2004. The Department of Energy reports the use of gas in these plants rose from 16 percent to 26 percent because of market forces and EPA restraints already in place that curb dirty emissions from coal-driven generators. Overall, carbon dioxide emissions in the United States dropped about 11 percent between 2005 and 2011, according to the European Commission’s Joint Research Center. Cleaner cars and trucks, increasing supplies of cleaner natural gas, and the continuing shift of smokestack jobs to Asia also played a role.
The commission reports that Canada’s carbon dioxide product is unchanged in that period; France’s is marginally less; and Germany has reduced its emissions about 20 percent. In last week’s clean energy message, the president said he would use his influence to get other nations to reduce the use of coal.
Obama’s thinking he can influence China on coal is plain foolishness. China is hell-bent on building new coal-fired plants. Its carbon dioxide emissions are already double this country’s. Coal is a key to China’s wealth.
China’s per capita carbon dioxide consumption increased four-fold between 2002 and 2009, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency. American coal exporters are competing ardently with Indonesia and Australia to get China’s business. American coal exports hit a record in March.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo delayed a decision on hydrofracking until next year by ordering a fresh study on its health effects. The bet here is the moratorium will remain in place through 2014 because fracking opponents are so well organized.
The extraction industry thinks in time that the opposition will fold in the face of the promised riches of joining Pennsylvania and West Virginia in fracking. That’s unlikely. It’s time for industry to put something new on the table to get New York. An industry indemnity fund should be created to ensure municipalities and householders against loss due to this process. Where the danger is small, the cost of premiums would be marginal. Where the hazards are great, the premiums would be too high to drill. It’s called using market forces.