The final day of the presidential campaign focused in part on an issue of great importance to workers everywhere—the future of the coal industry. The San Francisco Chronicle revealed that earlier this year Senator Obama offered the following during the course of an interview: “If somebody wants to build a coal power plant they can, it's just that it will bankrupt them because they are going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that's being emitted.” Senator Obama immediately complained that the quote was taken out of context, and that he was in fact a “strong supporter” of the industry.
Yet this quote, and the insistence that listeners have somehow misunderstood, seems awfully familiar. After all, Senator Obama’s running mate, Senator Joe Biden, got into his own trouble over coal policy when he told voters “We’re not supporting clean coal…no coal plants here in America,” and then later clarified by reversing course.
This should be of particular concern to voters in key coal producing states— which also happen to be critical “swing” states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia. But all of us will be greatly affected by the next administration’s energy policy. And although the media hasn’t pressed Senator Obama on many of the details, a look at Senator Obama’s “New Energy for America” plan also makes his vision of energy in America clear: he wants to “invest” taxpayer money in favored alternative fuel endeavors, create new mandates for the use of renewable energy sources and higher fuel efficiency standards, and advance a so-called “cap-and-trade” program designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by taxing carbon, but which would greatly raise the costs of energy—particularly energy generated by fossil fuels like coal and oil.
Senator Obama is careful to throw a bone to the coal industry as a part of his official energy plan: the website proclaims: “Obama’s Department of Energy will enter into public private partnerships to develop five ‘first-of-a-kind’ commercial scale coal-fired plants with clean carbon capture and sequestration technology.” But it’s clear that Obama believes fossil fuel use should go the way of Atari and Betamax. And while those technologies were sunk by superior technologies in the competitive marketplace, a President Obama would use the power of the state to pick winners and losers in the energy industry. And make no mistake – coal and oil would be the big losers.