Obama's own goal

WANT to know how to make a small but technically savvy national coal industry? Have a nation with a large, powerful, technically savvy coal industry and elect Barack Obama. Supply Side by Noel Dyson
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Obama's energy policy is widely referred to as anti-coal.

Noel Dyson

Actually, it could go further than that because if some of the pundits are right, the US could soon have no coal industry.

The worrying thing with an election looming is that certain green parts of the Australian political spectrum may get some ideas from what Obama has done.

The US President has beefed up his climate action plan, aimed at reducing America’s greenhouse gas emissions, with coal clearly in the cross hairs.

Indeed, some in the industry have gone so far as to say Obama has declared war on coal.

A key measure of the CAP is to have the US Environmental Protection Agency develop pollution standards governing what US power plants emit.

Had it not been for the huge shale gas reserves the US has been able to tap, this would not have been happening.

Suddenly, the US has found itself going from being a net energy importer to being on the cusp of being a net energy exporter. Some say it could soon be producing enough petroleum products to rival Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer.

The US used to be known as the Saudi Arabia of coal.

With the gas glut it has forming, the US can afford to turn away from coal as a generating source.

Coal makes up 40% of US power generation, but that percentage used to be higher.

Interestingly, Obama says 40% of the carbon pollution in the US comes from its power plants.

So a lot of the initial pain will be aimed at cutting back the pollution at those coal stations and, in some cases, it is probably overdue.

However, the plan does not stop there.

Historically, US-mined coal has been mainly for domestic use.

As the shale gale and EPA-driven push against coal-fired power generation have mounted over the past two or so years, the industry has turned increasingly to exports.

Obama is going after those, too.

There have already been rumblings that proposals to build coal export terminals on the Pacific North West coast be stopped because of the carbon emissions that the coal they export will create.

In his speech today, Obama did not touch on that.

He did, however, call for an end of public financing for new coal plants overseas “unless they deploy carbon-capture technologies or there’s no other viable way for the poorest countries to generate electricity.

“And I urge other countries to join this effort.”

And this is what Supply Side fears.

One can almost sense Greens Leader Christine Milne champing at the bit to push through legislation that puts a stop to Australian coal exports.

Too much of a stretch? Not really.

Should Labor limp back in with a minority and need the Greens again, it is the sort of road Milne may try to head down.

This at a time when there have been nearly 500 job losses announced at Australian coal mines in the past two days.

That sort of scenario would not bode well for the future of the industry.

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