A full-bore political punching match between big coal and the Obama administration has been brewing for years, fated even before Obama took office when the Supreme Court in 2007 ruled that CO2
canmust be regulated under the Clean Air Act. George H. Bush's White House sat on the ruling but Obama's embraced it. Subsequent rulings including one last month have further cemented the executive branch's ability to call the shots on this foremost among greenhouse gases.
Looks like it is finally, really on – almost an anticlimax considering that the war of words between conservative and industry groups on one hand and scientific academies and environmental activists on the other already has for years been a staple of media climate coverage. The false war is over. Big Coal in the US may be looking death in the face. It is unleashing its armies.
The news now is, of course, release today by the White House and EPA of the detailed timetable for electrical power plants to reduce their CO2 and other emissions – early a third by 2030. Coal plants are the biggest offenders. Unless daunting new technologies come along it may soon be impossible burn coal for electricity efficiently enough to stay in business. Unlike the somewhat nebulous, frustrating task of reporting on the reality of global warming and seeking a new way to find something fresh in the latest scientific report asserting its seriousness, this brass tacks road map from the Obama administraiton puts reporters on easier, political turf. There are deadlines, rules, political maneuvers, technical challenges, job and other economic factors, and more that will shift day by day and month by month. True, the topic – a densely detailed policy matter rather than the overarching drama of potential ruinous eco-cide by the human race – is not as compelling in principle as is the story of global warming. But the focus and vigor of events during this political dust-up should pep coverage up considerably. As this policy struggle works itself out one can only hope that horse-race mentality does not completely suppress media awareness and mention of the larger backdrop issue of serious threat to Earth's suitability as a home.
Interesting that the White House strategy for selling this package appears to rely as much on it as a health remedy – coal emissions include many non-CO2 things that make people sick – as it is a climate protector. We'll see how that plays.
Tomorrow will come a longer roundup post on coverage.
For now, a list of a few of the first-break and advance scene-setters from major outlets:
- Washington Post – Juliet Eilperin, Steve Mufson: Everything you need to know about the EPA's proposed rule on coal plants ; Yikes, mid-post this well-balanced summary of issues transformed from an advance story to a news story, its lede altered from future to present tense. Eilperin, who for years did enviro writing full time, is in a familiar element. Mufson, currently on the energy beat, is an experienced economics writer. The result is a very solid, punchy review of the history and prospects of these new rules and of the major protagonists. Lots of info, mostly clear. Many readers, including this one, may have to take a moment to digest the meaning of a price tag of 2.8 cents per kw-hour for conservation to meet demands rather than construction of new power plants. I get it, but it doesn't come naturally.
- NY Times : Coral Davenport: Obama to take action to slash coal pollution ; If it is in the NYTimes I guess this syntactically odd, lame duck allusion is true: that this is "President Obama's last chance to substantially shape domestic policy and as a defining element of his legacy."
- Reuters – Valerie Volcovici, Jeff Mason: US unveils sweeping plan to slash power plant pollution ; This and the NYTimes headlines will please the White House, one thinks. People understand pollution as definitely bad, are more perplexed by global warming. The story puts a smart, international policy context on this move.
- Wall Street Journal – Amy Harder, Reid J. Epstein, Kristing Peterson: EPA to Seek 30% Cut in Emissions at Power Plants ; A good enterprising story, published Sunday, relying on advance word from people who had seen the full report and regulatory text. One feels some sympathy for the Democratic lawmaker in West Virginia who tries to have it both ways, declaring her acceptance of global warming science while at the same time saying she will fight anybody who tries to undermine the state's coal jobs. She splits the difference by hoping for technologies that will let coal miners work on while protecting the atmosphere too. Um, fat chance on that.
- AP: Jim Kuhnhemm: White House touts energy politices as rules loom ; published late last week. Yesterday it ran another advancer – David A. Lieb: States move to blunt Obama carbon reduction plan ;
- BBC – Aleem Maqbool (filed from W. Virginia): US unveils sharp curbs on coal power plants ; Interesting and savvy decision on graphics to highlight – a chart showing US coal emissions already falling while China's larger CO2 plume keeps on growing.
- LA Times – Neela Banerjee, Evan Halper, Michael A. Memoli: New EPA rule seeks to cut carbon emissions 30% by 2030 ;
… more to come.
Grist for the Mill: EPA Press Release ;