The US Environmental Protection Agency has released its much-awaited rules requiring reduction of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) from coal-fired power plants. These plants are responsible for 75% of the US GHG emissions from the generation of electricity, but produce only 38% of US electricity.
To prevent the rules being characterized as purely a climate change measure, the EPA points out that lessening emissions from coal will reduce air pollution, moderate asthma rates and avoid deaths caused by heart attacks. The EPA refers to these benefits as the “clean-air” revolution. The saving in health costs through a decrease in these medical problems will be significant.
Still these savings are a collateral benefit from steps the US must take as its contribution to the world campaign to reign in global warming. The opposition to these rules is most vocal in those US states where coal mining is an important industry. Republican candidates label these rules as “the war on coal”. Democratic candidates in these states are just as vocal in their criticism.
Canadians might well wonder why the measure has created such a political furor. This year Ontario closed down its last coal-fired generating plant. The Federal Government enacted regulations that require coal fired plants built after 2015 to be equipped with Carbon Capture and Sequestration.
Before we feel too smug, a comparison is in order.
The coal industry is much smaller in Canada than in the US. Much of Canadian coal is exported to the Pacific Rim. US coal is consumed principally in the generation of electricity: the US generates nearly four times the amount of electricity from coal than Canada. So we have much less at stake than our southern neighbour.
And remember, the US is reducing its GHG emissions and is on track to meet its Copenhagen targets. Canada is not!