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Indiana faces crisis over attack on coal

The recent announcement of President Barack Obama’s climate-change plan is a revealing look into the future of our nation and, more importantly, the far-reaching and crippling effect it will have on Indiana.

Though coal-based energy is at the root of the issue, the outcome of the president’s plan will spread to affect far more than the 13,000-plus coal-related jobs in our state. Unfortunately, too many Hoosiers are not aware of its impending impact.

Coal is used to generate 90 percent of all electricity produced in Indiana, and yet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the president want to eliminate coal-fired generation.

Most news stories emphasize that the EPA’s coal-emission proposed standards will threaten our coal-mining, electric-generation and manufacturing industries, the damage doesn’t stop there. Every business, every home, hospital, school and local-government operation will feel its affect. All Hoosiers will be affected, and more so than most other regions in the country.

Far more than just the business sector is going to feel that pain. Millions of households already spend more than a fifth of their take-home pay on energy — and yet with the EPA proposed regulations, national experts predict electricity prices will skyrocket. This could cripple the most financially vulnerable in our communities. Many of those households rely on energy assistance from state and local governments. Neither these families nor state and local governments can afford the down-stream cost of these unrealistic EPA regulations.

In discussions with electric-industry experts, we know there is no conventional technology available to meet the EPA’s proposed standards, making it all-but impossible to get permitting to build a new coal-fired power plant that can comply. Furthermore, EPA regulations imposed in the past few years have already forced a number of coal-fired electric-generation plants into planned retirement. In fact, 288 coal-fired plants in 32 states are closing – that’s like turning off the entire electricity supply of 11 states.

So not only do we face rising energy costs from the president’s climate-change plan, but we also face the real possibility that just because we have electrical outlets in our homes and businesses, the electric energy we’ve become accustomed to may not be available when we plug in.

I wish this were just hyperbole we could dismiss, but this is real. Critics of coal will tell you differently. Some will make you believe we can just replace coal with natural gas or renewables. But that’s just not true. The ICCTR estimates that Indiana has enough natural-gas supply to meet the entire state’s energy needs for just one day. As for renewables, collectively they contribute about 4 percent to covering Indiana’s massive energy needs. Then there is the whole question of how to transport natural gas and renewables to the power plants spread across our state. As for coal, it can be transported by truck, rail and barge. And Indiana has enough coal to meet the state’s current energy needs for the next 200 years.

But through advancing coal technology, we can further achieve emission control that balances environmental concerns with economic stability and energy reliability. In fact, data from our own Department of Environmental Management shows Indiana’s carbon emissions have been reduced significantly over the past several years with existing technology. By bringing clean-coal technology innovators to our state, we can lead the charge to an even better way forward, far better than the EPA’s proposed regulations.

In fact, U.S. carbon emissions have been reduced since 2006 more than any other country and we are back down to 1992 levels. All of this without EPA carbon regulations. And world carbon emissions will not be reduced by the pending EPA regulations in America, as more coal is used in other nations.

We are at a moment in our history in which every Hoosier, from our national and state leaders, to our local governments, businesses and community members need to speak up against the unnecessary pain planned for our state, and our nation. Write your Congressional leaders and ask them to stop the EPA’s attack on coal. Together we can keep our prices affordable, reliability high, and Indiana strong.

But if we do not rise to the occasion, the EPA surely will – and Indiana will become a very different place than we know it to be today.

J. Nathan Noland is the president of the Indiana Coal Council Inc. He wrote this for Indiana newspapers.

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