Coal piled near a conveyor at a mine near Meta, Ky., in August 2011.
Coal piled near a conveyor at a mine near Meta, Ky., in August 2011. Ed Reinke/AP
Both Democrats and Republicans sing the praises of all-of-the-above energy strategy aimed at reducing the nation's lengthy addiction to foreign oil though both sides suspect the other of lacking sincerity
Republicans, for instance, generally doubt that Democrats really want to exploit as much of the nation's oil and coal resources as they do. Democrats, on the other hand, distrust Republicans' commitment to renewables and energy efficiency.
President Obama's re-election campaign played right into that dynamic, therefore, with a website to explain the administration's energy policy priorities that initially listed oil, natural gas, nuclear, solar, wind, biofuels and energy efficiency. What was missing from that list? Coal.
That omission didn't go unnoticed. Republicans criticized the president and saw the absence of coal as proof that the administration only pays lip service to an all-in approach to energy policy making.
The Washington Times reported the reaction of Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Kentucky Republican who chairs a House energy subcommittee:
" 'This administration has been openly in the business of putting coal out of business,' Mr. Whitfield said. 'And for the president to run around talking about an 'all of the above' energy policy, even on his campaign website, and to not mention coal as an important energy sector is unbelievable to me.'
"Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, on Wednesday tweeted his disappointment about the exclusion of coal, saying Mr. Obama was 'out of touch [with Ohio's] needs.'
"The Obama campaign said Friday that the president has long supported efforts to improve clean-coal technology and pointed to a section on coal in a March update about his energy policies on the White House website."
Kentucky, a significant coal-producing state, isn't in play in the presidential race. Neither is Wyoming, the state that produces the most coal, or West Virginia.
But Ohio and Pennsylvania, Colorado and Virginia, all battleground states, are in the top dozen coal-producing states.
So it wasn't exactly a surprise to learn that the Obama campaign revised the page to add "clean coal" and to defend the president's record on coal.
From Yahoo News:
"In response to inquiries about the new language, Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith... [said] 'employment in the mining industry is at a 15 year high,' but she did not address why clean coal was recently added to the site."
It's a record that has come under criticism from conservatives because of the Environmental Protection Agency's issuance of new rules that would make it cost prohibitive to build new coal-fired power plants.
And during the 2008 presidential campaign, the then vice presidential nominee created some difficulties for Obama because of an off-hand comment to an activist in which he appeared to oppose the building of new coal plants in the U.S. In fairness, Biden did also talk up clean coal during the 2008 campaign.
For his part, Obama supported coal production even before he became president. Illinois, which he represented in the U.S. Senate, has coal mining in the southern part of the state.
Getting back to the Obama campaign website, instead of just adding coal to the list of its energy priorities, the Obama campaign substituted it for energy efficiency which, you would think, could risk angering voters for whom protecting the environment and improving U.S. competitiveness are major issues.
Many energy experts believe that the greatest gains in the U.S. toward reducing its reliance on foreign oil are to come from energy efficiency.
That view was expressed in a blog post published in January by David Goldstein, an energy efficiency expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council. He wrote:
"How big is the potential for energy efficiency? At first, the only serious answers were provided by environmental advocates and national laboratories, and for credibility we had to be 'conservative'—that is, to provide a low-ball estimate. More recent studies by the National Academy of Sciences, the American Physical Society, and McKinsey & Company followed the same pattern. For each of the sectors they analyzed, additional savings potentials weren't counted due to technology questions, or because they were uncomfortable with the topic (for example, the savings from Smart Growth neighborhoods).
"Notwithstanding this timidity, they showed that efficiency could cut energy use in the United States by 30% compared to trends, and by about 15% in absolute terms (to about 85 quads per year – as a nation, we now consume about 100 quads and this is often projected to grow to about 115) in a period of 20 years. This is a big number, far bigger than any new source of energy supply, and comparable to the sum of all new potential sources of energy supply."
So by some estimates, energy efficiency could essentially reduce the amount of energy consumed in the U.S. over time by an amount similar to what could be produced from all new sources of energy.
That will surely make it even odder to many observers that the Obama campaign seems to have dropped energy efficiency down an Orwellian memory hole.