Opinion: Santa says it's time to end coal-shaming

Mandy Gunasekara

President Donald Trump is getting coal in his stocking this year, but not for being naughty. Rather, as a sign of the “beautiful, clean” fuel that is a key part of our nation’s energy story that has produced a record-breaking economy alongside world-leading environmental progress. 

If you are thinking this sounds completely counter to all you’ve heard about coal, then you have no doubt fallen prey to coal-shaming tactics, which have been on the rise in recent years. The reality is that coal is safe, reliable, affordable and thanks to our engineers and innovators, increasingly clean. 

Advanced energy technologies alongside new pollution control devices have transformed coal mining into a cleaner, more efficient process that delivers reliable electricity to millions of Americans, Gunasekara writes.

It’s safe to say that coal use today is significantly different than the coal use of a couple decades ago. Advanced energy technologies alongside new pollution control devices have transformed a once dirty process into a cleaner, more efficient process that delivers reliable electricity to millions of Americans. 

The widely adopted use of “scrubbing” technology by U.S. coal-fired power plants has led to a 90% reduction of mercury emissions, a 92% reduction of sulfur dioxide and an 84% reduction of nitrous oxide. These technologies coupled with balanced clean air regulations are why American citizens are breathing air that is 74% cleaner today than it was in the 1970s.  

Under Trump, the standards for what qualifies as “clean coal” have also been raised. Earlier this year, he finalized the first legally viable plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from our nation’s existing coal-fired power plants. Referred to as the Affordable Clean Energy rule, greenhouse gas emissions are projected to decrease 34% once it is fully implemented. 

The Trump administration announced on June 19, 2019, that it had rolled back a landmark Obama-era effort targeting coal-fired power plants and their climate-damaging pollution.

Beyond its role in environmental progress, the evolution of coal development and use has produced a range of other important benefits. The electricity produced by coal has expanded the scope of access to modern amenities like lighting, electric or gas cooking, air conditioning, life-saving heat, refrigeration for medicine and food and clean water treatment systems. As a result, life expectancy has more than doubled and global poverty has been reduced from over 40% to less than 10% of global population.  

While a home without electricity is almost a completely foreign concept in the United States, globally more than 4 billion people still don’t have access to electricity. In these countries and communities daily necessities like food, water and basic medical care are hard to come by.

America’s energy story is not just about coal. It’s not even about any of the other vast resources like natural gas, oil and nuclear or steadily growing renewables like wind and solar that make our modern economy work. The strength of our energy story is attributed to American ingenuity enabled by a free-market process. This piece of our energy story is why we continue to develop new technologies and better processes to reduce the environmental effects of energy extraction, development and use.

Santa understands the vital role coal has and will continue to play in human flourishing. Accordingly, he has called for coal-shaming to end and in an effort to start this trend, he will be leaving a lump of “beautiful, clean coal” in the president’s stocking. Regardless of their naughty or nice status, all little boys and all little girls deserve a brighter, healthier and more prosperous future and the path for that starts with a reliable, safe and clean source of energy. 

Mandy Gunasekara is a visiting fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum. She previously served as a senior official in the Environmental Protection Administration, and was a former counsel to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.