January 20, 2016

Obama Escalates His War on American Energy

  • Last Friday, Interior Secretary Jewell ordered a halt to new coal mining leases on federal land and a review of the federal coal program.

  • This order will accelerate deteriorating market conditions in the coal industry and undercut economic opportunity across America.

  • It is the latest attack in the administration’s war on American energy.

Last Friday, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell ordered the Bureau of Land Management to stop issuing new coal mining leases on federal land for three years. During that period, BLM will prepare a programmatic environmental impact statement that recommends potential leasing and management reforms to further undermine the federal coal program. This order is the latest attack in the Obama administration’s war on American energy, which hurts jobs and economic growth.

In her order, Secretary Jewell acknowledged concerns about U.S. coal market conditions. She conceded that U.S. coal production has plummeted to the lowest level in 30 years. She admitted that U.S. coal exports declined by a staggering 21 percent in 2015 alone. She observed: “As a result, a number of mines in the U.S. have idled production, several major coal companies have entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy, many coal miners have been laid off, and coal-dependent communities have suffered.”

Coal production plummets 2008-2015

Forty thousand coal industry jobs have been lost since 2008. More than 50 coal companies have filed for bankruptcy since 2012. At least 410 coal-fired power plants representing 67,000 megawatts in 37 states have announced plans to retire or convert. Such disastrous market conditions should compel the Obama administration to improve, not undercut, economic opportunity in coal country. Yet last week’s order will only make things worse.

The Obama administration bears primary responsibility for creating these deteriorating market conditions through new rules and other executive actions over the past seven years. Trying to shield itself from criticism, the administration often cites the new market conditions to justify additional rules and regulations. That’s exactly what Secretary Jewell did last week, pointing to the bad market conditions as a reason for ordering BLM to review the federal coal program.

The secretary ordered that BLM’s review will examine options for: exercising more federal control over how, when, and where coal companies are permitted to lease; applying additional financial pressure on coal companies by raising bonus bid, rental, and royalty payments in exchange for a lease; denying export markets by refusing to issue a lease for federally held coal that will be sold overseas; and reducing, if not altogether banning, continued production and combustion of federally held coal in furtherance of the Obama administration’s climate legacy.

Secretary Jewell suggested that these themes at a minimum will be explored because they received “the most attention” in more than 92,000 oral and written comments submitted to BLM last summer. The validity of these comments is in serious doubt. Last December, the Government Accountability Office concluded that the Environmental Protection Agency broke federal law by blitzing social media with “covert propaganda” encouraging the public to support its controversial Waters of the U.S. rule.

A Barrage of Energy Regulations

Secretary Jewell’s order is just another in a long line of executive actions targeting fossil fuels and American energy businesses. The Obama administration is not stopping at coal. It is also targeting oil and natural gas. In last week’s State of the Union address, the president promised to change the way the federal government manages not just coal but also its oil resources. When the Obama administration finalized its rule governing carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, it signaled its preference to sideline natural gas, saying, “In the final rule, that early rush to gas is eliminated.”

The Obama administration is expected to advance a barrage of energy regulations during his final year in office. The EPA and BLM are expected to finalize methane emissions rules. According to a January 4 Politico report, the Energy Department will advance “dozens of new or updated efficiency standards for computers, gas furnaces, dishwashers, pool heaters, air conditioners, walk-in coolers and freezers, vending machines, ceiling fans, fluorescent lamp ballast, boilers, ovens, and hearths” in order to “generate roughly half the carbon emissions cuts that the Obama administration pledged to deliver before the Paris climate talks.” 

Issue Tag: Energy