The United States is about to become the first country in history to adopt policies to ensure its own decline. Melodramatic? Consider that the U.S. is steadily adopting an environmental agenda promoting a lower standard of living for future generations – literally, pushing Americans to travel less, live in smaller and less comfortable homes, give up their cars and eliminate many modern conveniences. No nation has ever even considered such a future, much less made it official policy, yet that is precisely what America is now doing – at unconscionable expense. We are pursuing an official course of action based on the view that free enterprise is selfish, and that our people must stop much of their production, manufacturing, and especially consumption. We are headed in this bizarre direction because of the dubious theory that our pursuit of the good life is destroying our environment.
Today’s environmental lobby has created a powerful misconception that we are “subsidizing” fossil fuels to the tune of billions, while failing to invest in renewable energy. The idea that tax credits are “subsidies” is highly debatable, of course, since they merely let people keep more of the money they earned. But aside from that academic debate about tax policy, we “spend” exponentially more not only in tax credits, but in direct financial subsidies for renewables, especially compared to the miniscule amount of energy produced. The DOE reports that gas-fired power generation receives 64 cents per megawatt-hour in subsidies, and coal receives 64 cents. By contrast, wind turbines get over $56 and photovoltaic solar systems over $775. And in direct government outlays, it is estimated that by the summer of 2011 this Administration had spent over $60 Billion in the renewable energy sector.
Has it paid off? Only about 6 percent of the energy in America is produced from all “renewables” combined. That number has been growing slowly for several years because of the rising price of oil, increases in federally-funded research, and continued growth of government mandates. The Administration’s stated goal is to double America’s “renewable energy” supply. Even if that is successful, we will still get 88 percent of all energy from fossil fuels, and nearly 45 percent of our electricity from coal. And the nation’s demand for energy continues to grow, not shrink.
The Minerals Information Institute says every American born today will require 587,000 pounds of coal, 5.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas, and 82,000 gallons of oil to live the same lifestyle we now live. To meet future demand over the next generation with our current mix of energy sources, the country would need to build 747 new coal and gas power plants, 52 new nuclear plants and 1,000 new hydro-electric dams. I do not know a single leader in either party who believes Americans are prepared to do that.
The coal industry in particular is facing opposition like nothing ever seen before. The environmental movement has grown into a gigantic worldwide industry, much of it laser-focused on a battle to end the use of coal.
An analysis by the Sacramento Bee found that by the year 2000, American foundations and corporations were donating to environmental organizations at the rate of $9 million a day. A decade later, these groups are bigger than ever, filing an average of 3 environmental lawsuits every day.
According to 2010 annual reports, the Nature Conservancy has assets of $5.65 billion and annual revenues of over $210 million (no coal mine makes that kind of money). The Sierra Club has annual revenues of over $87 million, over 500 paid staff, and a $100 million foundation. The Environmental Defense Fund has assets of $140 million and annual revenue of $101 million. The Wilderness Society has over $53 million in assets and $23 million in revenue. Trout Unlimited showed $20.4 million in revenue, and the Natural Resources Defense Council took in another $114 million. Annual revenue of the National Wildlife Federation is $100 million; Earth Justice, $34 million; Defenders of Wildlife, another $34 million. There are thousands of environmental organizations – more than 250 involved in mining and climate issues – spending billions in what has become a battle for the hearts and souls of American voters.
The size and success of these organizations, however, does not necessarily mean they represent majority opinion. Indeed, much of their funding comes from a very small elite clique of foundations and wealthy individuals. More than a third of EDF’s 2010 revenue, for instance, came from a single donor. And consider that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s donation of $50 million largely finances the Sierra Club’s anti-coal campaign.
You would think with such resources aligned against the use of America’s abundant coal resources, the environmental industry would be champing at the bit for construction of solar, wind, and biomass plants. You would be wrong. In fact, the agenda of many of the world’s top environmental lobbyists has little to do with the environment; it’s more about money and power.
Every place where wind farms or solar plants are planned, there is opposition from these same groups. The use of biomass (which could also help solve a desperate need to thin overgrown and dying national forests) has been all but prohibited on public lands in the West. And the rapid improvement in clean technology for burning coal without polluting the air has been completely ignored by these groups. They could spend huge resources on requirements for cleaner coal technology, but that would actually hinder their overall effort to ban coal.
Taking back the high ground in today’s energy debate requires one very simple strategy – talking about the environment. If the agenda is genuine, reasonable people can find common ground. The conversation should focus on how to supply the energy America needs for a prosperous economy – in a clean, responsible, and sustainable manner – not how to simply stop our use of energy. That might sound good to some people, but in the real world, it would leave the public freezing in the dark.
(This article was published in American Coal magazine, 2012, Vol. 1)