In Michael Bloomberg's recent comment piece, "Obama didn't kill coal, the market did," he makes use of the tired epithet "dirty coal" to attack an energy resource that — despite the recent market difficulties he described — continues to provide this country with almost 40 percent of its electricity needs.
His use of this term conveniently ignores the widespread deployment of technology that makes coal increasingly clean today. Furthermore, his attempt to paint the challenges the coal industry is facing as solely market related is overly simplistic and ignores the heavy impacts of regulation on an essential industry.
The coal industry has been at the forefront of efforts to reduce emissions, investing billions of dollars in efficiency upgrades and installing billions more in emissions-reduction equipment. In fact, research by the consulting firm Energy Ventures Analysis showed that the industry will have invested more than $136 billion in clean-coal technologies by the end of 2015.
These investments have resulted in dramatic environmental improvements. While coal use in the United States more than doubled over the past 45 years, overall emissions of the six common pollutants on the EPA's National Ambient Air Quality Standards list have decreased by more than 68 percent, and emissions of the three primary pollutants have decreased by almost 90 percent.
Additionally, widely used technologies like selective catalytic reduction can be paired with activated carbon injection to help existing plants achieve mercury emissions reductions of 90 percent or more.
Similar emissions reductions in any other industry would be hailed as groundbreaking. But we're not done there. The coal industry also is addressing carbon dioxide emissions.
For example, projects like the Dakota Gasification Company, which produces synthetic natural gas by gasifying North Dakota lignite (a lower rank coal), actively captures CO² and ships it via pipeline to the Weyburn-Midale CO² project in Saskatchewan, Canada, where it is used in a process called "enhanced oil recovery."
That process helps optimize oil production from mature oil fields and stores CO² emissions permanently underground. Over the life of this project, managers expect to sequester 40 million metric tons of CO².
Furthermore, a project of Archer Daniels Midland and the Department of Energy is demonstrating the growth potential for carbon capture use and storage. The Illinois Basin-Decatur Project has successfully captured and stored more than 1 million metric tons of CO² in a deep saline formation.
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz lauded this project as "an important step toward the widespread deployment of carbon capture technologies in real-world settings."
Regarding Bloomberg's assertion that market forces are solely driving recent declines in coal's market share, of course low natural gas prices are competing with coal. Competition between our industries is expected. However, the bulk of recent new environmental regulation — representing billions of dollars in additional costs — is being targeted directly at the coal industry.
Additionally, building new coal-generation facilities has been effectively outlawed in the United States through legislation and regulation. At the same time, special-interest pressure and regulation is forcing the closure of coal-fueled facilities.
In contrast, construction of newer, more efficient gas generation capacity is enabled and encouraged.
It is truly unfortunate that Bloomberg and his philanthropies fund refuse to recognize the need that average Americans have for abundant, affordable, reliable energy. If we followed their lead, Americans would have few (if any) real energy options and would be left shivering in the dark.
One of the best ways we can meet our growing need for energy is by ensuring American utilities can continue to operate their existing coal plants, most of which already use widely available emissions reductions technologies — rather than forcing them to shutter those plants, strand their investments and lay off workers.
We should also support the further development of new clean coal technologies, so coal-based energy can continue to play a pivotal role in providing Americans with affordable, reliable and clean electricity.