Oil industry lobbyists have been overwhelmingly successful in killing proposed federal regulations to cut carbon emissions from electric utilities. For over a decade, the industry has effectively financed studies that debunk climate change science, and in recent years, the windfall profits of the energy industry have been fueling a new war against federal regulation. While there is room for doubt about the science behind climate change, industry profit is imperiling Americans’ lives.
Climate change has made landfall in homes and communities all over the country, a photo essay that exposes the tragedy of this invisible threat.
The power plant industry is the single-largest source of carbon emissions in the United States, spewing out billions of tons of carbon pollution each year. Most Americans live near these plants. In fact, just 35 percent of Americans live within 150 miles of a coal-fired power plant. Even if coal were to go out of business today, we would still need 1,000 new coal plants in just 35 years to meet our electricity needs.
Power plants are part of the overall system for generating electricity, and as a result, they pollute power plants, air and water, and contribute to climate change. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined that over half of the annual emission of carbon pollution comes from power plants. As an energy infrastructure central player, the power plant industry must take a seat at the table.
The coal industry, on the other hand, is also in the “power” room of climate. Coal fired electricity generation continues to rise in the United States. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, coal consumption is up 6 percent since 2014. Domestic coal production is also expanding. Yet the coal industry doesn’t like the E.P.A.’s plans for reducing carbon emissions. In April, President Trump directed the E.P.A. to begin work on a new national environmental law — Energy Policy Act of 2017 — that would permit carbon emissions and the construction of new coal plants.
Beyond pollution, this coal industry is an enormous economic drag on the nation. Other industries have far outpaced coal’s decline. But because coal remains a renewable resource (coal can still be used to generate electricity), the renewable energy industry’s boom is largely invisible. It has created more than 400,000 jobs, the largest single job class since the early 1970s, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
When President Trump attacks the environment and the electricity system, he is attacking Americans. As the fight for climate action intensifies, the stakes are ever higher. The energy industry must recognize that the law of unintended consequences is increasingly at play. According to a recent analysis from the Department of Energy, the nation’s electricity system is going to face supply and demand constraints in the coming years. If this is not addressed, it will lead to increases in electricity prices for millions of Americans. Many will be forced to make economic decisions that will reduce the use of fossil fuels, which will have other consequences.
Through court challenges and the press, Americans are looking at Big Oil’s great profits, and the interplay between industry profits and the health and welfare of Americans. Just how close the spotlight is being shone on Big Oil’s role in energy policy is reflected in Trump’s budget proposal, released earlier this month. The executive summary calls for eliminating many vital programs and rules that do not yet show significant returns.
As the argument over the role of Big Oil in energy policy heats up, Congress should work to create a bipartisan energy policy that will help the American people. The American people need to know that we can build a just and prosperous future with a cleaner energy system while powering the economy with clean power.