My Republican congressman, David McKinley, who defeated the thoroughly contemptible blue dog Mike Oliverio, has been making quite the use of his Franking privilege, and every so often I get a flyer from him. McKinley is a conservative, but so far he has not done anything insane, and by the current standards for Republican behavior, he’s really covered himself with glory. He hasn’t shown up on Hardball to demand to see Obama’s birth certificate or yelled “YOU LIE” during the State of the Union, he hasn’t pushed for secession or written letters accusing state department employees of terrorism, or any of that. He’s actually been the way Congressmen should be, which is quiet and boring.
At any rate, he had a survey on the back of the flyer that he wanted me to mail back (I didn’t), and he asked what the most important issues were. The choices were job creation, balance the budget, stop illegal immigration, and a couple others, but my favorite of the suggested issues was “stopping the war on coal.” You know what is waging war against coal? The free market:
RAZ: If you’re looking for the best biscuits for miles around, head to the hilltop diner in Cowen, population 512. Thick slices of bacon and homemade potatoes sizzle on the grill as the early risers down mugs of strong coffee.
Steve Williams is a retired mining engineer. He’s catching up on the latest news with his regular breakfast crew this morning. Ask any of them what’s killing coal and the answer is unequivocal.
STEVE WILLIAMS: President Obama’s a lot of the problem because he’s against the coal. The EPA is the big problem around here.
RAZ: This past March, the EPA announced tough new standards that require all new coal-fired electricity plants to cut carbon emissions by half. It’s an expensive proposition and it’s led many power companies to back away from coal.
But to get to the heart of what is really killing coal, you have to go about 500 miles south to Atlanta, Georgia. This is one of Georgia Power Company’s newest power plants in metro Atlanta.
TONY TRAMONTE: Two gas turbines…
RAZ: And the plant manager, Tony Tramonte, is duly proud of it.
TRAMONTE: Eight hundred and forty megawatts. That’s enough energy to supply about 250,000 homes.
RAZ: Just a year ago, railroad tracks led right into this facility. Rail cars filled with coal to power the massive turbines, but today, those railroad tracks are gone, dismantled, the old coal turbines mothballed. Georgia Power, like a rapidly growing number of power plants, is ditching coal and burning natural gas and the reason? Cheap and abundant domestic gas. Four years ago, electricity generated by natural gas was twice as expensive as coal, but today, gas is less than half the price of coal.
MICHAEL ZENKER: And what that means is, literally, natural gas is going to kill more coal-fired power plants than the EPA regulations.
RAZ: That’s Michael Zenker. He’s a coal analyst for Barclays. Last month, for the first time in U.S. history, natural gas generated a third of all U.S. electricity the same as coal, and Zenker says that trend is going to continue. The recent advances in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the process by which gas can now be extract deep under rock formations, has brought about a huge surplus in U.S. gas.
Plant managers aren’t wed to coal out of nostalgia or loyalty to Appalachia. They used coal because it was the cheapest way to generate electricity. Now, it isn’t, and probably never again will be, so they are moving on. That is what is killing coal. As he is a businessman, I’d have thought Rep. McKinley supported the free market.