In an article for Cato mocking the Obama Administration for creating energy technology forecasts that run to the year 2300, Pat Michaels wrote:
Consider the case of domestic natural gas. In 2001, everyone knew that we were running out. A person who opined that we actually would soon be able to exploit hundreds of years’ worth, simply by smashing rocks underlying vast areas of the country, would have been laughed out of polite company.
Energy statists on the Left today are trying to get rid of coal-fired electricity generation in this country (due to climate concerns). But one thing that few people remember is that a significant reason we have so much coal-fired electricity generation in this country is that energy statists on the Left in the 1970's mandated it. I kid you not:
The Powerplant and Industrial Fuel Use Act (FUA) was passed in 1978 in response to concerns over national energy security. The 1973 oil crisis and the natural gas curtailments of the mid 1970s contributed to concerns about U.S. supplies of oil and natural gas. The FUA restricted construction of power plants using oil or natural gas as a primary fuel and encouraged the use of coal, nuclear energy and other alternative fuels. It also restricted the industrial use of oil and natural gas in large boilers.
As a further irony, and absolutely typical of government regulation, this regulation banning oil and gas fired plants because oil and gas seemed to be running out was really trying to fix a problem caused by another regulation. The government had caps on oil and gas prices through the 1970's that artificially reduced supplies. Once these price regulations were removed, we suddenly had an oil and gas glut in the 1980's and the FUA was eliminated in 1987. Watching regulators chase their tails in energy policy over the last 40 years would be comical if the effects of their repeated mistakes were not so dire.
So, why do we have all these "dirty" coal plants? Market failure? Industry greed? Nope -- Carter-era government policy. For you younger folks, here is a law you may have never heard of:
The Powerplant and Industrial Fuel Use Act (FUA) was passed in 1978 in response to concerns over national energy security. The 1973 oil crisis and the natural gas curtailments of the mid 1970s contributed to concerns about U.S. supplies of oil and natural gas. The FUA restricted construction of power plants using oil or natural gas as a primary fuel and encouraged the use of coal, nuclear energy and other alternative fuels. It also restricted the industrial use of oil and natural gas in large boilers.**
In other words, all new fossil fuel-powered boilers had to be coal-fired (which in a year or so, after Three Mile Island, translated to all new boilers since nuclear was essentially eliminated as an option). Yes, this may seem odd to us in an era of so much environmental concern over coal, but something coal opponents don't tell you is that many of the exact same left-liberal-government-top-down-energy-policy types that oppose coal today lobbied hard for the above law several decades ago. Here is a simplified timeline:
1. Government energy policy sets price controls that create artificial shortages of oil and gas
2. Government-created shortages of oil and gas lead to this law, with government demanding that all new fossil fuel-powered electric plants and boilers be coal powered.
3. Government mandates on coal use create environmental concerns, which lead to proposals for taxes and bans on coal power.
4. The need for government action against coal is obviated by a resurgence of oil and gas supply once government controls were removed. However, in response, government beings to consider strong controls on expansion in oil and gas production (e.g. fracking limits).
** I got involved with this because I worked in an oil refinery in the 1980's. We had to get special exemptions to run our new boilers on various petroleum products (basically byproducts and waste products of the refining process). Without these, the law would have required we bring in coal to run our oil refinery furnaces.