A coal-fired power plant in Illinois. (Wyofile/Gregory Nickerson — click to enlarge)
A coal-fired power plant in Illinois. (Wyofile/Gregory Nickerson — click to enlarge)

Enzi, Cheney lockstep in opposition to Obama’s “war on coal”

By Gregory Nickerson
— September 24, 2013

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced last Friday that it will enforce stricter limits on carbon dioxide emissions in newly built power plants. The move increases pressure on a coal industry already under siege, while providing more political fodder for Liz Cheney and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming) in their race for the 2014 GOP primary.

Both candidates have framed the EPA rule as part of President Obama’s “war on coal,” an effort they worry will have disastrous effects on Wyoming’s coal industry along with the state and national economy.

Since Enzi and Cheney both stand against EPA regulation of carbon emissions, the candidates are trying to gain advantage by being the stronger advocate for Wyoming coal, and against Obama.

In an interview with K2 radio in Casper earlier this month, Liz Cheney said that Wyoming needs to decide, “whether we are going to elect somebody who will go to Washington and lead those battles, like the one to save the coal industry.”

One of her chief lines of attack is that Enzi isn’t effective on defending coal, and that she would be better at fighting anti-coal interests.

“We must go on offense against POTUS [Obama] & his job-killing war on coal,” Cheney wrote in her twitter account. “Can’t keep going along to get along. Time to stand and fight for Wyoming,” she wrote, alluding to her ongoing criticism of Sen. Enzi as too passive.

Meanwhile, Enzi countered Cheney’s attacks by highlighting his pro-coal stance and the actions he takes to defend the industry.

“Our energy sector is too important to leave its fate to a few Washington bureaucrats and a president who obviously has a bias against energy that comes out of the ground,” Enzi wrote in a press release published last Friday. “Congress should be setting energy policy for the country, not the Administration through backdoor, unaccountable executive actions.”

The release describes efforts Enzi made with Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) to stop the EPA emissions regulations from taking effect without congressional oversight. Specifically, Enzi and Barrasso offered an amendment to an energy efficiency bill that would have sent proposed EPA energy rules to Congress for approval.

When that amendment failed, both Senators pledged to file a resolution of disapproval, which would provide a chance for the Senate to vote on repealing the new EPA rules.

Enzi also took his message to social media. “EPA rule would essentially ban new coal-fired power plants. I’m working to stop this job-killing rule,” he wrote in his twitter feed shortly after the rule was announced.

The new rule

Under the new EPA emission rule, newly built coal-fired power plants would have to achieve emissions levels of natural gas generation, a threshold that will be difficult if not impossible to reach with out deploying carbon capture and sequestration technology.

Natural gas power-plants built with the best available emissions control technology will be able to produce electricity without employing carbon capture.

The Carbon Management Institute's test well in the Rock Springs Uplift. The Jim Bridger Power Plant is in the background. (University of Wyoming photo — click to enlarge)
The Carbon Management Institute’s test well in the Rock Springs Uplift. The Jim Bridger Power Plant is in the background. (University of Wyoming photo — click to enlarge)
The Carbon Management Institute’s test well in the Rock Springs Uplift. The Jim Bridger Power Plant is in the background. (University of Wyoming photo — click to enlarge)

Carbon capture and sequestration has received of intense study and investment at the University of Wyoming’s Carbon Management Institute. State, federal, and private money invested in the pilot project near Rock Springs totals $16.9 million.

In the Powder River Basin, the stalled Two Elk project which was awarded $9.9 million in federal stimulus money without drilling a research well is under investigation, as reported by WyoFile contributor Rone Tempest.

At an energy conference held at the University of Wyoming last week, Dr. Mike Celia of Princeton University said the new EPA rules could mean that there will be greater chance that carbon capture and sequestration technology to be deployed at commercial levels in the next ten years, particularly if EPA carries out its plans to place stricter emissions requirements on existing coal-fired power plants.

Gov. Matt Mead issued a statement saying the rules would stop innovation.

“The standards for coal-fired power generation in the proposed rule are unachievable and will arrest research, development and commercialization of clean technologies,” Mead said. “This poses grave implications for the continuing viability of coal as an energy source and for the economic stability of Wyoming and the nation.”

Wyoming’s coal mines employed 6,869 in the state in 2010, forming a little over 2 percent of the state’s workforce of 290,000 people. However, the industry contributes over $1.2 billion in taxes, royalties and fees, according to the Wyoming Mining Association numbers for 2011.

A coal mine in the Powder River Basin (USGS photo — click to enlarge)
A coal mine in the Powder River Basin (USGS photo — click to enlarge)

Coal provides about $2 billion in royalties to the state of Wyoming every two years, or about a quarter of Wyoming’s $8 billion biennial budget.

A drop in revenue from federal mineral royalties and lease payments on coal prodution would have an especially pronounced effect on the state’s budget for K-12 schools, as reported by WyoFile in this feature.

Political problem, political solution?

Enzi and Cheney’s recent statements depict the “war on coal” as a primarily a political problem, while offering themselves as the political solution.

“The amendments Senator Barrasso and I have offered would help take the teeth out of the war on coal and other traditional forms of energy,” Enzi’s release stated.

“Whether you are talking about the haze regulations, whether you are talking about carbon sequestration which is clearly coming down the pike next, they are looking for ways that they can run coal out of business and we simply can’t let that happen,” Cheney said.

Enzi and Cheney, along with Barrasso and Gov. Mead, all agree that the new carbon emission rules could have negative effects on coal production in the Powder River Basin, with subsequent effects on the Wyoming’s economy and state government revenue.

With so much at stake, the politically expedient move is attempting to turn back the tide of national public opinion that increasingly views coal as the most polluting source of energy.

“We’ve gotta fight back. We have got to go on offense, and understand it’s a war,” Cheney said. “You have got to stand up and convince people … from states that don’t produce coal, that if they value affordable electricity, if they want to avoid things like brownouts, they need to join us in this battle.”

Despite coal’s reliability as a source of electricity, its carbon dioxide emissions create a major public relations hurdle because of the growing number of people who believe that climate change is happening.

A recent study from Yale University found that the percent of Americans who believe in global warming rose from 57 percent in 2010 to 70 percent in 2012. The number of Americans who say global warming is not happening declined from 20 percent in January 2010 to 12 percent in 2012, the study reported.

Economic pressures

Coal certainly faces a challenging political environment, but market forces are also wreaking havoc on the industry, dropping domestic production last year to levels not seen since 1993. The availability of cheap natural gas through fracking threatens to topple the coal industry from its long-time perch as the cheapest available source of electricity.

An article by Reuters pointed to U.S. Energy Information Administration numbers showing that coal’s share of national electricity production declined 12 percent in recent  years — from 50 percent in 2005 to 38 percent in 2012. During that time natural gas generation climbed from 19 percent to 30 percent of the nation’s total electric power.

Also adding to the challenge for coal are renewable energy quotas set by many states, including some of the largest power consumers like California.

The degree to which EPA regulations or shifting economics are to blame for coal’s decline is a matter of debate. Industry representatives and some politicians blame the EPA almost exclusively, while environmentalists and some media analysts see market fundamentals driving the shift.

Enzi and Cheney’s focus on regulations as the greater challenge to coal is borne out by some data. A study by Duke University found that 9 percent of existing coal-fired power plants face risks due to competition from natural gas, while 56 percent of plants are vulnerable to new regulations from the EPA.

— Gregory Nickerson is the government and policy reporter for WyoFile. He writes the Capitol Beat blog. Contact him at greg@wyofile.com.

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Gregory Nickerson worked as government and policy reporter for WyoFile from 2012-2015. He studied history at the University of Wyoming. Follow Greg on Twitter at @GregNickersonWY and on www.facebook.com/GregoryNickersonWriter/

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  1. Outlaw this crap, It has had it’s ‘day’, move to something that costs nothing to acquire, sunlight/ wind. We have ‘Rare Earth’ minerals, tourism, Natural Gas (with an Eagles eye on fracking). Big oil owns this state and it shows, start installing PVs on all homes being built today, there are so many ways to produce energy, and use it more efficiently that our “Big Oil Industry Executives” Mat Mead, John Barrasso, Mike Enzi and Cynthia Lumis refuse to address, lord forbid if their campaign donations dry up and they have to run on accomplishments, and not lies!
    Beware/ Liz Cheney, she will send your kids to die for Big Oil Profits, just like “Daddy”!!

  2. As brief as I can say it.

    1. Coal has consequences. One good consequence is the stuff burns and makes a little heat, releasing 400 million years of stored sunlight in an instant. The remained of the consequences—of which there are many — are all negative. And global.

    2. There is no such thing as Clean Coal. The laws of physics and chemistry and thermodynamics cannot be broken , only bent slightly. There are good reasons why Fischer-Tropf and DKRW and Carbon sequestration ad infinitum ad absurdum have not taken off. NOBODY seems willing to pay the true costs of carbon energy , in Wyoming or anywhere else. Coal always leaves a mess behind that costs real money to clean up, if even possible. The coal industry indisputably produced paychecks, but it’s Dirty Money through and through. ( you there, Rob ? )

    3. There is no financial future for Wyoming that has a strong or even middlin’ presence of Coal in the cash flow. Coal is going away . We need to move to Plan B, and C, while we can. My strongest suggestion is to immediately elevate the Severance Tax on coal back to its former level of 10.5 percent, then be brave and incrementally over 4 years raise it to 15 percent. And base it on the ” retail” value of the coal to the miner-shipper-user , rather than the underpriced cost at the minemouth.

    A 15 percent tax rate on Coal will barely cost jobs or tonnage produced in Wyoming. That’s a myth there’s a state study done by UW that proves it ( Shelby Gerking et all , 2000 , buried by the same Legislature that commissio9ned it ). Any drop in production or loss of jobs in the Wyoming coal industry in the coming years will be due to external forces and the market. All the more reason to raise the severance tax NOW, while we can still sell the stuff and bank the proceeds.

  3. The hyperbole–war on coal–suggests that neither of these candidates have experienced combat.

    The refusal to govern with regard to the catastrophic trajectory of green-house gasses in our lifetime is tragic.

    The top 1% are already moving their eggs, but are concealing their departures with claims that regulation is unbearable.

    We should all have to serve in the military, and we should all start paying $10/day for the cleanup of our unsustainable use of non-renewable resources. That’d be a grown up way to counteract the scare talk of clan Cheney and the willful ignorance being perpetrated largely by Republicans in the state, including Meade, Enzi, Lummis and Barrasso.

  4. Ron,
    Thanks for your enlightening words. Perhaps you might yourself show me some proof that the coal industry is NOT killing our kids and grandchildren.

    I base my proof on the following link, far too much evidence to list here. It speaks of millions of deaths worldwide to coal [generic, clean, dirty or otherwise] and the results of its extraction. It’s a lengthy read, Ron. Or you may simply want to skip to the impact on humans…or perhaps the 48 citations at the bottom of the page there in support of what I’m saying. Have fun.


    Of course, I confess to being more biased toward saving/lengthening the lives of our children than I am for saving/lengthening jobs in the coal industry. Sorry.


  5. It’s a lose lose for both Enzi and Cheney. According to the fossil fuel behemoth BP, coal is on its way out by 2030. China is starting to already reduce and will start drastically cutting coal in a few years. BP and the IEA (International Energy Agency) is also saying that renewables are far outpacing coal, oil and gas as far as growth and creating sustainable jobs. Clean tech employers and local job creation in Massachusetts have outpaced any natural gas job creation in Boom and Bust Pennsylvania. Wyoming… It’s time to see the coal writing on the wall before it’s too late.

  6. Hello, Bob? As someone whose family members have been employed in the coal industry for decades, providing good incomes to support their families, while producing an efficient source of energy for the country, and many tax dollars that have supported the state’s infrastructure (much of which you as a resident have undoubtedly enjoyed, yet spit upon), I am appalled by your accusations. I could care less about your diatribe toward Liz Cheney (though I regard Mr. Enzi as being very knowledgeable about the coal industry and energy policy). Rather, I take major issue with your insinuation that we have “the dirtiest coal in the world”. This is a complete show of ignorance on your part. Powder Basin coal is of the sub-bituminous variety, which means it is lower in sulfur content than other coal types, making it a much more viable alternative to higher carbon content coal mined in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, such as anthracite and bituminous coal (see this link: http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=2670). Also, China’s coal is much higher in sulfur and ash than what we produce. So when Obama and the EPA finally kill coal mining as in industry and increase unemployment throughout our state, while the country experiences brownouts, what will be the alternatives to meet the demand? Natural gas? What about the dangers of hydraulic fracturing? Wind power? What about the dangers these ugly wind turbines have upon raptor populations? Hydro-electric? What about the environmental effects upon river ecosystems? How about nuclear energy? Remember Fukushima? Is there any one source of market-ready energy that comes without the risk of environmental impact? Not really. So, here’s my suggestion: While coal’s still around, enjoy paying less in taxes because your state government has the means to support the bulk of the state’s bills (much to do with how the coal industry supplies those tax dollars), while having ample electricity to power your property and community. Lastly, Bob, show me the proof of how the coal industry is “killing our kids and grandchildren”. I would be very entertained to read your “euphemistic” answer.

  7. Senator Enzi says, “EPA rule would essentially ban new coal-fired power plants. I’m working to stop this job-killing rule.”

    Hello Senator? As a 45 year Wyoming property owner, taxpayer, three generational background resident, I would far rather see what you euphemistically call a job killing regulation than you and Candidate Cheney’s shoot-from-the-hip politically motivated attempt to deny that our “blessed” Wyoming coal [the dirtiest in the world] is ‘killing our kids and grandchildren.”
    Bob Cherry
    Cody, Wyoming