Coal Stocks Plummet, Environmentalist Hopes Rise Ahead of Obama's Climate Speech

Coal Stocks Plummet, Environmentalist Hopes Rise Ahead of Obama's Climate Speech

President Barack Obama will deliver a speech at Georgetown University Tuesday afternoon in which he will call for new regulations aimed at restricting carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants, not just new ones. Previously, Obama had aimed regulations at new coal plants. Shares of U.S. coal stocks plummeted ahead of the speech, though the Washington Post suggested global market turmoil played a role.

The Obama administration has been uniquely hostile to coal and other fossil fuels, despite the fact that the rapid expansion of natural gas development through “fracking” and oil production from shale deposits has driven much of the growth that the U.S. economy has mustered during his presidency. Permits for oil and gas exploration and development on federal land have slowed; offshore oil and gas activity has been blocked, especially after the Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010, even in defiance of the courts; and the Environmental Protection Agency has pushed new emissions rules despite Congress’s refusal to pass a cap-and-trade bill.

Obama has long singled out coal in particular. In January 2008, as he sought to outflank rival presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on the left, then-Sen. Obama promised to “bankrupt” new coal plants. His administration issued heavy-handed new regulations on coal, forcing many plants out of production. And his left-wing supporters in Hollywood have cheered him on, encouraging him to bypass Congress, far from the job losses that will occur. Politicians of both parties in coal-producing state have protested, to little avail.

Earlier this week, seven governors wrote to the president to urge him to stop new EPA regulations on the new source performance standard (NSPS) for new coal power plants, arguing that they would cause plants to be shuttered, and pointing out the industry’s own progress on reducing emissions. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) was one of the seven, and wrote to the president: “It is imperative that abundant natural resources such as coal continue to be available to meet our base load electricity needs. I am convinced that we can achieve this goal, while lowering emissions. Significant technological advancements in generating plant efficiency and emission capture and reduction are within reach, but need regulatory flexibility that does not discriminate against our own home-grown energy resources if they are to be achieved.”

Nevertheless, Obama is expected to announce an expansion of regulations. The New York Times reported last week that the president would seek to apply regulations to existing coal plants as well as new ones. 

In his speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany last week, President Obama warned of the need to take action against “coastlines that vanish, oceans that rise”–an echo of his much-lampooned 2008 speech in Minneapolis upon winning the Democratic nomination, in which he said that he was “absolutely certain” that future generations would remember his nomination and anticipated victory as the moment that “when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”

For Obama and his most radical supporters, that moment was much delayed–perhaps, until today.