“Yet with far less fanfare,” Obama’s actions undermine climate change rhetoric

war-on-coal
Yeah, right.

Look, you know that I am not exactly a fan of Obama. I do think most of the venom directed his way is … confused.

But it works both ways. Those who denounce the president as a secret socialist Black Muslim revolutionary, well, nothing’s going to change what they think about THAT, no facts or evidence anyway.

Not surprisingly, there is a corresponding hardheadedness among pro-Obama partisans. I have had dozens of fruitless arguments over the past seven years with a certain type, someone who decided long ago that Obama was a good man with the best interests of the country at heart. Full stop. This notion is more postulate than something that can be tested or changed by things that happen in the world. A key sub-precept of this mindset is that Obama “gets” global warming, and that were it not for the bravery of the man in the Oval Office, America would be overrun with predatory despoilers of our land, waters, and air.

So maybe it’s pointless to offer up this excellent piece from yesterday’s Boston Globe, In mining country, ‘war on coal’ hard to see. Or maybe not.

SOMERSET, Colo. — The desolate stretch of Highway 133 crests a Rocky Mountain pass and settles into a valley where some of the world’s most valuable coal is located — and the landowner is the US taxpayer.

If there is a “war on coal” by President Obama, as his critics say, then this might be a place to wage it. Obama has, after all, approved regulations designed to cut global-warming carbon emissions by nearly one-third, and he is preparing to attend a Sept. 23 United Nations climate summit at which he will renew his call for world action to fight climate change.

But here in the Rockies and across much of the West, Obama may be the coal industry’s critical, if unlikely, ally. The administration has rejected calls to place a moratorium on leasing public land to mining firms — even though such leases account for 40 percent of coal mined in the United States. Nor is the administration much interested in blocking exports of coal from such leases to countries where it could be burned without antipollution controls. Or in significantly raising the price of the billions of tons of publicly owned coal now sold at what critics consider bargain rates.

This is war?

The story takes us back to June, when Obama, laudably defying Congressional inaction, “approved regulations requiring a cut in carbon emissions from power plants from 2005 levels by 30 percent in 2030.” Not surprisingly, that made his supporters feel quite superior while simultaneously getting Boehner’s knickers in a twist. Predictably, the speaker denounced, via a spokesman, the president’s “devastating war on coal.”

Yet with far less fanfare, 17 days after the regulations were issued, a scene unfolded in a Denver courtroom that would have surprised those who believed Obama a coal industry foe.

The Obama administration’s lawyers (from the Bureau of Land Management and Department of the Interior) sat at the same table as lawyers for Arch Coal, and supported a shady land deal that would enable Arch to extract 12 million tons of coal.

The central issue in the case was why the Obama administration had failed to account for the impact of global warming from the coal lease, sometimes known as the social cost of carbon. A key piece of evidence worked in favor of the environmentalist legal team. A Bureau of Land Management economist had written an e-mail that said “placing quantitative values on greenhouse gas emissions is still controversial.” He wrote that estimates on the impact of methane emissions, which routinely occur during mining, ranged anywhere from $5 to $800 per ton of coal. Rather than strike a middle ground, as it often does in calculating the cost-benefit analysis, the bureau opted to leave out the “carbon cost,” while including the positive economic impact of mining.

US District Judge R. Brooke Jackson sounded stunned by the government’s actions.

“If you only look at the problem from the standpoint of the great benefits to employment and taxes and all those things and you don’t even try to look at what it’s going to cost in terms of global warming, the day is going to come when it’s too late to think about global warming,” Jackson said, according to a court transcript. (The Globe paid for the transcription, which otherwise was not publicly available. [Hmmmmm….])

But the Obama administration’s lawyer, David Glazer, stood with Arch Coal. Glazer told Jackson that the government should not “monetize” the impact of global warming.

The judge sounded incredulous.

“Doesn’t somebody sometime need to take very seriously what the effect that these greenhouse gases is on the world that we live in?” the judge asked Glazer.

Glazer sought to shift the blame away from the administration.

“Absolutely, and I would say that that’s Congress,” Glazer said. “Obviously it’s something that a lot of people care deeply about, and a lot of people have different opinions about, and I think it’s going to take that kind of level of activity on the political level.”

Congress, of course, had failed to pass legislation to control greenhouse gases, which is what prompted the Obama administration to maneuver around the congressional inaction by issuing regulations to cut carbon emissions.

In the end, Glazer and the Obama administration lost the case. Glazer did not respond to a request for comment.

In a scathing ruling issued on June 27, the judge wrote that the administration’s failure to consider the impact of carbon emissions was “arbitrary and capricious.” Jackson ridiculed the administration for insisting that predicting the impact of carbon emissions was “impossible” because tools to assess the impact “are presently unavailable.” In fact, the judge said, such tools are available but the administration failed to use them. He accused the Obama administration of delivering a “factually inaccurate justification for why it omitted the social cost of carbon protocol.”

The government “prepared half of a cost-benefit analysis, incorrectly claimed that it was impossible to quantify the [carbon] costs, and then relied on the anticipated benefits to approve the project,” Jackson wrote. He ordered that work on the mine be suspended.

…. The case, while receiving little national notice, has shaken the coal industry and the Obama administration. As the White House decides whether to appeal, environmental groups are planning to launch lawsuits against the Obama administration in an effort to stop much larger leases in Wyoming and Montana.

“This could have a big impact,” said Nathaniel Shoaff, a Sierra Club attorney involved in similar lawsuits. “This is the first time I’m aware of that a federal court has invalidated a federal agency decision because it didn’t take into account social cost of carbon.” If the Obama administration doesn’t start taking into the account the climate-change impact of coal leases, Shoaff said, “we will start using this decision to force them to do it.”

That is exactly what alarms the coal industry.

What alarms me is that Obama is going to bat for them.

It also alarms Senator Ed Markey, who has been fighting for more than 30 years to put a moratorium on coal leases which he argues, persuasively, are sold far too cheaply, undercut Obama’s stated greenhouse gas goals, typically are awarded to lone bidders, and amount to taxpayers subsidizing the coal industry.

And then there’s this:

Markey said he is frustrated that he has had less success with his supposed allies in the Obama administration than he did during the Reagan era.

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