The CoalBlue Project seeks to bring Democrats together, from the left and from the right, in support of new approaches to environmental and energy policy challenges that can otherwise divide key elements of the Democratic Party.
With that purpose in mind, CoalBlue will be sending a letter to the President in November that:
Dear Mr. President:
As Democrats committed to a prosperous America and a healthy environment, we believe the United States has a unique opportunity to lead the world in addressing the global climate challenge, and yet do so, as we must, without unduly burdening the American economy or the American people.
To lead means more than simply being the first to act. It means getting others to follow. Seizing the opportunity before us thus requires the adoption of environmental and energy policies that will not only be met with broad support at home, but engender the international community – industrialized and developing nations alike – to follow our lead.
American leadership must therefore be built upon an understanding of the realities of global energy supply and demand, the role that multiple forms of energy – including coal – will play in the world’s energy future for many decades to come, and the imperative of accelerated energy innovation. American leadership must also be built upon an understanding that sustainable energy is more than just clean energy, and that in our pursuit of clean energy, we cannot lose sight of the predominant importance, at home and abroad, of energy affordability and reliability.
Disconcertingly, the current direction of U.S. policy – underscored by recent decisions of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding new and existing electric power plants – falls short of these critical benchmarks and, in our view, requires serious reevaluation and adjustment. In sharing these concerns with you, Mr. President, please know that we do so not on behalf of any industry or special interest, but on behalf of the American people we represent in elective office and as leaders within the Democratic Party.
Despite the significant steps being taken in the United States and across the globe to conserve energy through greater efficiency, the world will nonetheless consume ever-greater amounts of energy in the decades to come, and coal will, without question, be a critical part of future energy supply. Globally, coal is the fastest growing fuel of the 21st century. Even as its growth slows relative to other fuels, coal will remain a major source of energy for decades – the world’s third-largest fuel source in 2040 in the climate-stabilizing “450 Scenario” of the International Energy Agency (IEA).
The nations of the developing world are starving for affordable and reliable energy that will enable their economies to grow and their citizens to prosper. With so much of their growth fueled by coal and other fossil fuels, it is in the developing world where the carbon challenge will be won or lost, with success hinging on our ability to manage the carbon in coal (and natural gas), not thinking or hoping we can simply wish it away. There is no path to a clean, low-carbon world without clean, low-carbon coal.
Looking beyond conservation and efficiency, we must focus our efforts on the development and use of truly sustainable – abundant, affordable, reliable, and clean – energy. At present, no source of energy meets all four elements of sustainability. For that reason, the United States must ignite an era of energy innovation, working to make clean those electrons that are today affordable and reliable, and make affordable and reliable those electrons that are relatively clean. Unfortunately, current policies are overwhelmingly skewed toward the latter, while giving little attention and support to the former. This imbalance is a serious failing that demands immediate attention. More than talk about “policy parity,” we must make it real.
To be focused only on clean is not enough. Energy affordability and reliability have helped lead our nation to the heights of economic prosperity, social well-being, and environmental progress, and both are of critical importance to families and businesses in every corner of America. Maintaining access to affordable and reliable electricity – domestically and globally – are essential prerequisites to any serious or realistic effort to address the climate challenge.
The American people will object, and other nations of the world will not follow, if the path we chart is one of more expensive, less reliable energy. True leadership requires the pursuit of policies that will make all forms of clean energy less expensive, be they renewable or fossil-based, and as reliable as current baseload coal-fired generation.
Unfortunately, the EPA’s recently published rules for new and existing electric generating units severely miss the mark in many important regards. Taken together, they endanger the continued development of critical carbon-mitigating technologies necessary to achieve sustainability, threaten the reliability of the U.S. power grid, and place significant economic burdens on the American economy and the American people, in the form of higher energy costs and a potentially less reliable electric grid, without achieving any meaningful reductions in global CO2 emissions.
Carbon capture and utilization/storage (CCS) is an absolutely essential element of any realistic climate strategy. In the IEA’s World Energy Outlook Special Report (June 2015), published in preparation for the COP 21 meetings in Paris this December, CCS accounts for a full one-third of the total CO2 emission reductions necessary to move from the IEA’s near-term “Bridge Scenario” to its longer-term, climate-stabilizing “450 Scenario.” According to the Fifth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released last year, to attempt to achieve climate stabilization without CCS would increase the cost, globally, by 138% – more than double.
If we are to be serious about addressing the climate challenge, we must get serious about CCS, making the same public commitment to it that that we have to the development and deployment of the other two “legs of the climate stool” – increased energy efficiency and increased use of non-fossil fuels (renewables and nuclear). To do so will require both greatly increasing public and private investment in CCS and adopting regulatory mechanisms that encourage, not impede, its accelerated development and broad deployment.
It is in the latter regard that the EPA’s rule for new power plants is of real concern. Rather than driving CCS forward, the rule threatens to discourage continued investment in the development and deployment of CCS in the United States. To do so, the rule, contrary to the very purposes for which it has been created, would actually work against itself.
As for the EPA’s rule for existing power plants, there is great concern that it will place tremendous economic burdens on the American economy, American families, and American businesses, without any direct material impact on global CO2 emissions. Absent other nations following our lead, the EPA’s existing-unit rule will do nothing to stem the growth of global CO2 emissions. Leadership requires that others follow, and while we not only support, but call for U.S. leadership in addressing the global climate challenge, policies that increase the cost of electricity and reduce the reliability of the grid – as the EPA’s proposal for existing units would do – will not lead other nations to follow, particularly not those in the developing world.
Moreover, raising the cost of energy in the United States will lead to a transfer of economic activity and jobs from the United States to other nations – many of which generate electricity less efficiently and with far higher rates of CO2 emissions. In such instances, this “carbon leakage” will actually result in a net increase in global CO2 emissions, all the while our constituents will be paying a very real economic price at home. As Democrats, particularly mindful of the impact of policy decisions on American workers and their families, seniors, minorities, and others, we find such an outcome difficult to explain.
The debate over climate change is one of the most divisive of our time. It need not be, and this letter is proof-positive of that. We are as diverse a collection of Democrats as possible, drawn from all regions of our nation, all levels of government and our party, and with wide-ranging views on energy and the environment. By rallying around all three legs of the climate stool – efficiency, renewables, and CCS – and not losing sight of the importance of affordability and reliability in our pursuit of clean, we can overcome what are too often seen, incorrectly, as intractable and irreconcilable differences. We can create harmony and consensus, and, in doing so, we can establish a workable pathway for reducing CO2 emissions not only at home, but around the world.
Mr. President, we have consciously sought to be constructive in expressing our concerns regarding the EPA’s rules for new and existing power plants and the larger imbalance in our current energy and environmental policies. Our goal is to work with you to seize the opportunity before us for the United States to establish itself as a true global leader – through an unparalleled commitment to energy innovation – on one of the great challenges of our time. Let us lead by bringing abundant, affordable, reliable, and clean energy – sustainable coal, natural gas, wind, solar, and nuclear energy – to our nation and to the world.
Holding fast to our Democratic traditions and principles, let us work together to deliver both a prosperous economy and a clean, enduring environment to current and future generations, at home and abroad.
For a one-page overview of the letter (There is a Better Way), as well as additional information on the issues involved in the climate-energy debate, open the PDF documents below: