Congress must stop war on coal

Time is short for members of Congress to do the right thing for tens of millions of Americans, as President Barack Obama’s decision to pull out all the stops on his war against coal makes clear. Already, it may be too late to keep many families from paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year more for electricity – and to prevent loss of tens of thousands of jobs in states such as West Virginia.

Obama revealed last week he plans unilateral action that would shut down most, if not all, coal-fired power plants in the United States. He admitted he is doing so despite the refusal of Congress to go along with such a draconian strategy.

A war on coal has been in progress for much of Obama’s presidency. Already, utilities have announced plans to close scores of coal-fired power plants. Now, their timetable will accelerate.

During the same week Obama made his announcement, Appalachian Power revealed its AEP West Virginia affiliate will seek state approval for $337 million in upgrades. Why is the expensive work needed? Solely because “upcoming power plant retirements in the Kanawha and Ohio valleys as early as 2015 will change the way power flows on the transmission grid,” according to a news story on APCO’s plan.

APCO’s customers, including hundreds of thousands in the Mountain State, will pay the tab.

As the company admits, it is closing four coal-fired power plants – two in West Virginia and two in Virginia – solely because it is impossible to retrofit them to meet existing Environmental Protection Agency requirements.

Meanwhile, the company assures customers it is doing all it can to provide affordable electricity. Like most utilities, APCO plans to use natural gas for new generating stations.

In the future, that will cost customers much more than power from coal plants. Even now, the cost of operating a gas-fired plant to provide power during peak demand periods is three to four times what the same electricity would cost from a coal-fired station, according to APCO’s own numbers.

And remember this about Obama’s claims “alternative energy” will hold electricity costs down: Solar and wind power are useless in providing electricity during peak demand periods. Gas – at three to four times the cost of coal – is the only viable alternative.

Congress can put an end to this madness. But the longer lawmakers wait to act, the more expensive their dallying will become for Americans. Conservatives in the House of Representatives are ready to stop Obama’s rush to judgment against not only the coal industry, but tens of millions of families who rely on it for inexpensive electricity. Senators should join the House – right now.