We sometimes forget that Missouri has been a coal-producing state for decades.
Although not a major producer such as Wyoming or West Virginia, our state has mined coal along with lead, zinc, copper and silver for more than a century. This mining has not only employed thousands in family-supporting, middle-class jobs but has underpinned some of key industrial sectors.
In one area, however, coal is still of pre-eminent importance to Missouri — power generation. Thanks to the modern technology that scrubs emissions from coal-fired power plants, Missouri relied on coal for 78 percent of its electricity generation in 2015 — ranking us No. 4 nationally in coal use.
There are real benefits to using coal, particularly when it comes to reliable and affordable power generation for our cities, schools and water infrastructure. Coal still generates more than one-third of U.S. electricity — more than any other single power source.
Unfortunately, Missouri’s enjoyment of low-cost electricity faces a real challenge because the Obama administration is preparing to implement a Stream Protection Rule aimed at keeping coal in the ground.
You wouldn’t know it from the name, but the new Stream Protection Rule could spell the end for much of the U.S. coal industry. It extends far beyond streams and instead deals more with enhancing a federal agency’s mission than addressing environmental issues.
The federal government’s own reports have already demonstrated that, after decades of careful and improved oversight, virtually all U.S. mining operations now carry no off-site environmental impacts.
The U.S. Office of Surface Mining is preparing to foist the Stream Protection Rule on coal producers, even though the agency spent six years dodging its legal obligation to consult with state mining agencies before proposing such a massive rule. In fact, coal states were left in the dark as the Office of Surface Mining assumed new authority to set mining standards. Such a bullheaded approach is part of the reason that 17 coal-producing states are now formally protesting the rule. It matters to Missouri because the Stream Protection Rule is certain to drive up the cost of mining.
The annual value of lost coal production from the Stream Protection Rule could reach $29 billion, with federal and state tax revenue falling by as much as $6.4 billion annually. Displacing affordable coal power with higher-cost alternatives will mean heavier price burdens on everyone.
Missouri has already learned how to modernize its coal plants and to ensure that they produce affordable power without the waste emissions that once gave coal a bad name. But driving up the cost of coal by eliminating much of America’s coal production will hit our state hard.
Overall, the Stream Protection Rule is an unnecessary overreach by the federal government, and one that will not only close down many of America’s coal producers but needlessly drive up electricity prices.
Our elected officials need to say “no” to such a heavy-handed effort that will hurt many working families.
Terry Jarrett served on the Missouri Public Service Commission from 2007-2013. He is currently an attorney with Healy Law Offices. He lives and works in Jefferson City.