December 11, 2015

Not So Fast: EPA Chief's Coal Comments Unhinged from Reality

Dan Byers

As we have repeatedly warned, an “air of unreality” is permeating the COP 21 climate talks.  Any agreements reached later this week will have little or no impact on what actually happens in the real world.

On Thursday, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy joined the party with some unreal comments of her own about the use of coal. While in Paris lobbying for a deal with numerous other Obama Administration cabinet officials, McCarthy stated in an online Q&A session that [emphasis added]:

We know now, however, as China does, that it’s [coal] not necessarily the path to the future,” McCarthy said from Paris, where she’s taking part in the United Nations climate conference.

“We know in the U.S. that we are transitioning away from coal because coal is no longer marketable. We have cleaner natural gas, and we have opportunities for low-carbon sources like renewables and using energy efficiency to lower energy demand.”

McCarthy, though, noted that other countries like China are also looking to cut [back] on their coal use as part of a proposed global pact on climate change, which officials in Paris are working to finalize this week.

McCarthy would do well to have a chat with her counterpart, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz (also in Paris lobbying for a deal). His Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) is forecasting that coal as a percentage of overall domestic energy consumption will remain flat between now and 2040. 


While this forecast does not assume implementation of the Clean Power Plan, it shows that, contrary to McCarthy’s claims, coal remains extremely marketable as an affordable, reliable energy source. The overwhelming challenge facing coal is not the market, but a storm of Obama Administration regulations intended to keep it in the ground.

What about McCarthy’s claims that China and the rest of the world do not see coal as “not necessarily the path to the future”? Au contraire, mon ami McCarthy. The rest of the world is hungry to access and use vast amounts of energy that will lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, and coal is going to provide it. EIA is forecasting that global coal use will increase 33 percent between 2015 and 2040—more than any other source of energy. 


What about China? Is it looking to cut back on coal use as McCarthy claims? Not quite. While bureaucrats around the world huddle and scarf down late-night baguettes in search of a “deal,” China is building an incredible 368 coal-fired power plants, and has another 803 in the planning stages. Once operational, these plants will have 460 gigawatts of capacity, or more than 10 times the entire amount of coal that will be shut down by the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. And China is no exception—this movie is currently playing nearly everywhere throughout the globe (see figure).

As with the American people it serves, the EPA owes it to the rest of the world to present an honest picture of the energy and environmental realities under which the Paris climate agreements are being negotiated. Sadly, McCarthy’s unsupported narrative about the future of coal both domestically and abroad does the opposite. America’s interests in Paris would be much better served if Obama Administration officials’ negotiating priorities were driven global energy realities instead of the helium-filled rhetoric emanating from COP 21 negotiating halls.