Romney Energy Policy: Global Clean Coal Comment Aside, Global Use of Coal Should Be Limited

ByErin Noonan

Despite Mitt Romney endorsing "good, clean coal" in the last presidential debate, the burning of coal in electricity production and in industrial sectors emits greenhouse gasses that generate more environmental harm than the burning of oil. Today’s global consumption of coal continues to increase, despite the availability of more efficient and cleaner forms of energy. In the United States — and around the world — coal production, burning, and exportation should be restricted using government bans, taxation, and economic fixes.

Coal has been used in the United States since colonial times. The use of coal has steadily increased ever since. During the Industrial Revolution, once the country’s major transportation systems and electrical production relied on coal, consumption began to rise exponentially. Today, many American industries depend mostly on petroleum, causing the U.S. consumption of coal to steadily drop in recent years. Despite the stagnant consumption of coal domestically, American exports of coal to foreign countries have steadily increased since 2002.

China, the world’s largest energy consumer, claims the title of second largest petroleum consumer of any nation, aside from the United States. Where do 1.3 billion people receive the rest of the power to fuel their rapidly growing economy? The majority of this energy is created by the use of coal. China has access to not only abundant imports, but utilizes its domestic coal resources, as it is the world’s largest producer of the resource.

Songli Zhu, of the Energy Resource Institute in Beijing, China, and Judith Cherni of the Centre for Environmental Policy in London, states that the Chinese government has traditionally ignored environmental and political problems related to coal production. However, in recent years, China has come to the realization that more sustainable and renewable energy resources are essential to future growth.

While lawmaking bodies are mindful of the need, current legislature must overcome financial, regulatory, and educational barriers that are well established within the nation. Economically, coal is the cheapest and most accessible option for China both domestically and internationally. With the growing awareness of green energy, countries worldwide are beginning to cut coal emission due to stricter regulations.

In the United States, coal restrictions have led the industry to look over-seas for markets in order to keep the sector alive. David Riker, of the University of Maryland, states, “countries that restrict their coal consumption will likely expand their coal exports to foreign markets with fewer restrictions on consumption.”

Nevertheless, Riker’s research goes on to find that if the number of countries enforcing limits on their coal consumption increases to a certain point, the exports will begin to drop, and the net consumption globally will drop as well. Zhu and Cherni suggest that strengthening the entire industry by reducing market price fluctuations and creating governmental agencies to oversee local and national facilities on a uniform level will allow for natural competition and decreased production of the resource. This growth of natural competition would also affect international markets, and the prices of coal globally.

While completely banning coal production and consumption at this point in time is unrealistic, drastically restricting and limiting use on a global scale would domestically and internationally cut emissions as well as increase air quality and limit further climate alterations.

Restricting coal mining in areas of the country that are at high risk would be more feasible than a total ban. Such areas would include those that are at high risk of biodiversity loss, in close proximity to an aquifer, or areas that are of historical importance.

Arguments against any form of ban would include the major loss of jobs in the coal sector; however, new energy production facilities and methods are being created around the country to create renewable, safe energy as well as ability to create new jobs for America.

Mining bans in specific high-risk areas should be adopted by international legislature, as well as taxation of coal exports. Incentives and restrictions to limit coal use would not only increase the quality of the environment, but limit the use of international coal.