Coal’s CCS – Change, Challenge and Sustainability

We redefined the term CCS for use as the theme of the recent American Coal Council 2016 Coal Market Strategies conference. The traditional CCS reference of “Carbon Capture and Storage” was expanded to “Change, Challenge and Sustainability.” Our program covered timely coal-related markets, policy, regulation, and technology topics.

Change, Challenge and Sustainability are the order of the day for coal. These are words that describe our industry now and will define it in the future. It’s a tumultuous tug-of-war of sorts, as the essential contribution of our industry to the economy and well-being of our country continues to be recognized even while the governmental regulatory barriers pile on against us.

Bill Kovacs, Senior Vice President of Environment, Technology, and Regulatory Affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, spoke at Coal Market Strategies and assured us that coal is not alone with regard to facing an increasingly stringent regulatory environment. He discussed the evolution of regulation in the U.S. and the challenges posed by the ease of enacting federal regulation compared to the process of passing laws, as shown in the illustration below – the latter being made purposely difficult in the structure of the Constitution of the United States.

Bill explained that over time, as Congress passed broad, vague laws and the courts deferred to agency decisions, the stage was set for more and increasingly aggressive agency rules. The data bear this out, with 190,000 new regulations enacted since 1976 and a larger number of them in the category of “billion dollar rules” (those costing $1 billion dollars or more annually).

Moreover, what is so frustrating to industry in general and certainly what we find in coal is that expensive new rules are completely lacking in commensurate benefits. There are no trade-offs to be had in terms of environmental improvement, or even more streamlined, effective, or certain regulatory processes and outcomes. Regulation has become only about costs, compliance burdens, and lost jobs.