Energy Policy Shakes Down Along Party Lines As Election Nears

Public enemy number 1? | Photo: Jeffrey BEall/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Did you know the Obama Administration had declared a War on Coal? No? Neither did we. But the leadership of the House Natural Resources Committee has decided that war is in full swing, and this week the House will be considering five bills forwarded by the Committee designed to end that war, by way of unconditional surrender.

The bills, consolidated into what the Republicans are calling the "Stop the War on Coal Act of 2012," include one that would bar the Secretary of the Interior from issuing rules or regulations that would cause economic impact to coal companies.

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That bill -- H.R. 3409, the Coal Miner Employment and Domestic Energy Infrastructure Protection Act -- would also forbid the Interior Department from declaring any area -- presumably including wilderness study areas and other potentially protected sites -- as "unsuitable for coal mining," or from reducing coal production through regulation.

HR 3409's provisions would be effective until December 31, 2013.

Also included in the package:

  • H.R. 910, the misleadingly named Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011, which would actually bar the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas;

  • H.R. 2401, the Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation Act of 2011, which would require the administration to examine cumulative economic impacts of environmental regulations, mainly focusing on the EPA;

  • H.R. 2273, Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act, which would loosen and codify individual states' authority to regulate disposal of coal ash, and;

  • H.R. 2018, Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011, which would decrease the EPA's power to regulate water pollution if a state government opposed the EPA.

The cumulative impact of these bills would be essentially to prevent the Department of the Interior and EPA from regulating the coal industry at all.

The "Stop the War on Coal Act" joins a couple other Republican offensives on behalf of the fossil fuel industry being discussed on Capitol Hill this month. Last week, the Natural Resources Committee held hearings on the Obama administration's six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico declared in the aftermath of the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. Republican Resources Committee chairman Doc Hastings said, in a statement at the opening of the hearing Thursday, that

The drilling moratorium directly impacted the lives of thousands of individuals in the Gulf of Mexico. It caused widespread economic devastation and decreased American energy production[.]

The moratorium, which lasted until October 2010, affected only 33 deepwater drilling rigs.

It's worth noting that Chairman Hastings isn't uniformly opposed to renewable energy. He's actually gone to bat for deregulation of hydroelectric power as well. Hastings' 4th Congressional District in Washington State contains dozens of dams, and Hastings has opposed efforts to protect beleaguered salmon populations from operation of hydropower turbines. He also backs wind development in his state, and advocates an "all of the above" national energy strategy.

Still, the focus seems to be on fossil fuels in the run-up to the election, and even though the Obama administration is much more friendly to the coal industry than many renewable power advocates would like, it seems House Republicans are determined to paint the President as coal's implacable enemy. Whether that will cost the President votes or win him some remains to be seen.

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For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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