Today, President Obama’s Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, spoke to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, encouraging the continued use of coal as a part of our energy mix and supporting the continued investment into advanced coal technologies.
“We must also invest in the improvement of existing sources of energy that will provide a bridge between current and future technologies. These technologies are already a major segment of the energy mix and will play a critical role in providing a solid foundation that will make possible the creation of a new energy economy … The world will continue to rely on coal-fired electrical generation to meet energy demand. It is imperative that the United States develop the technology to ensure that base-load electricity generation is as clean and reliable as possible … The United States has 25 percent of the world’s coal reserves …”
Coal has had a particular importance to our standard of living. Yet there have been two stories about coal-based electricity and our standard of living: one story is about the environmental challenges associated with the use of coal; the other is about the economic benefits coal provides.
In that light, here are three things you need to know about coal-based electricity and our standard of living:
- The Coal-Fueled Electricity Industry Continues to Commit Resources to Have a Smaller Environmental Footprint: Since 1970, emissions (per unit of electricity produced) of major air pollutants from coal-fueled power plants have been reduced by over 80 percent. Today, clean coal technologies are being installed on coal-fueled power plants, removing 90 to 99 percent of the major air pollutants. The fact is that coal-fueled power plants are subject to dozens of federal and state clean air regulations that are designed to reduce air emissions and protect public health. That’s why coal-fueled power plants will spend an estimated $115-125 billion by 2015 on emission technologies to comply with clean air requirements.
- The Coal-Fueled Electricity Industry Provides Well-Paying Jobs: Many well-paying jobs are directly and indirectly related to the use of coal in our nation. According to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers based on U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data, U.S. coal mining was responsible for 154,000 direct jobs and over 400,000 indirect jobs in 2008.
- Using Coal Maintains Lower Energy Prices, Which is Linked to a Higher Standard of Living and Better Health: Half of all U.S. families live on an income of $50,000 or less. Over the past 10 years, families that are struggling economically have doubled the percentage of their after-tax income that is spent on energy. Using coal to generate electricity has helped families by holding down the increase in energy costs.
When Americans evaluate their standard of living, they take a look at multiple items: the environment they live in, the economy they participate in, and where they spend their money. And when evaluating how a particular item impacts our standard of living, it’s important to look at all factors and not single out one issue.
When you look at all of these factors, it’s no wonder why the Obama administration, as well as Congressional Republicans and Democrats, are committed to using coal and investing in technologies to generate electricity from coal as cleanly as possible so that our standard of living can be maintained.