Biden Says Coal Plants ‘Across America’ Will Be Shut Down, Faces Backlash
The White House scrambled to clarify President Biden’s declaration that an energy transition would mean shutting down coal plants.
In an article for Bloomberg News, Anna Edgerton and Jennifer A. Dlouhy reported that the White House sought to reframe President Joe Biden’s comments on closing coal plants as part of a US “energy transition”.
On November 4, 2022; Biden declared that coal plants were simply too expensive to operate. He had further added that he was inclined to shut “these coal plants down all across America” in order to transition towards more renewable sources of energy.
“I was in Massachusetts about a month ago on the site of the largest old coal plant in America,” Biden mused at an event in Carlsbad, California. “Guess what? It cost them too much money. They can’t count. No one is building new coal plants because they can’t rely on it. Even if they have all the coal guaranteed for the rest of the existence of coal plants.”
“So it’s going to become a wind generation. And all they’re doing is it’s going to save them a hell of a lot of money and using the same transmission line that they transmitted the coal-fired electric on, we’re going to be shutting these coal plants down all across America and having wind and solar power, also providing tax credits to help families buy energy-efficient appliances, whether it’s your refrigerator or your coffee maker, for solar panels on your home, weatherize your home, things that save an average, experts say, a minimum of $500 a year for the average family,” he added.
Biden’s comments drew immediate criticism from the mining industry
Biden’s comments drew almost immediate criticism from different quarters including the mining industry and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. The latter called the remarks “outrageous and divorced from reality.” The situation is particularly delicate because the US is days before midterm elections with Democratic congressional majorities at stake.
Republicans were also quick to criticize Biden for pursuing an energy policy that could cost American jobs. “We know how this ends,” Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana, said on Twitter. “People lose their livelihoods. You pay more for energy.”
The coal industry lost 7,125 jobs in 2021
A Department of Energy report published this summer had indeed shown massive job losses in the fuel industry. The annual U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER) stated that the coal industry lost 7,125 jobs in 2021 which reflected a reduction of 11.8% year-over-year.
The backlash came just as the President was about to campaign in Pennsylvania which is a coal-rich state and has a long history as both a producer and user of the fossil fuel. Pennsylvania is also the battleground of a closely fought Senate race that could potentially determine control of the chamber. The neighbouring states of West Virginia and Pennsylvania are the second-largest and third-largest coal-producing states in the US respectively.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement that Biden’s comments “have been twisted to suggest a meaning that was not intended” and that the President “regrets it if anyone hearing these remarks took offence.”
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Coal plants had long powered the US economy
Jean-Pierre also went on to state that Biden recognized that coal plants had long powered the US economy. She also highlighted that Biden had worked with Manchin to bring jobs and federal funds to regions hit by the transition away from fossil fuels. “No one will be left behind,” assured Jean-Pierre.
However, the damage may have already been done. “Being cavalier about the loss of coal jobs for men and women in West Virginia and across the country who literally put their lives on the line to help build and power this country is offensive and disgusting,” Senator Manchin said in a statement on November 5. He called for a public apology and declared that it was time that Biden learned “a lesson that his words matter and have consequences.”
The United Mine Workers of America also jumped to defend the coal industry’s role in the energy transition and in developing technology which would lower coal’s carbon footprint. UMWA President Cecil Roberts stated that Biden’s comments were “disheartening”. He went on to invite the President to visit communities in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky that had been impacted by coal plants shutting down.
“It’s easy to talk about ending an industry that supports hundreds of thousands of jobs in Appalachia and the Midwest, but the reality of such an action is harsh,” Roberts declared in a statement.
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For his part, Rich Nolan – Head of the National Mining Association – said that Biden’s comments were “completely incompatible” with energy-driven inflation. Furthermore, he stated that the statements were not in tune with the needs of the electric grid in many parts of the US. Any action that contributes to the global energy crisis would be “reckless and unthinkable” he opined.
It is important to note that Manchin isn’t up for re-election this year. He also happens to be a rare Democrat who represents primarily conservative constituents. Manchin had previously emerged as a key vote in the evenly split Senate when he helped to pass Democrat-only projects such as the Inflation Reduction Act. This was after he had initially blocked Biden’s Build Back Better tax-and-spending plan.
Manchin has come under fire recently from parts of the Democratic Party for holding up policy priorities and refusing to end the filibuster which depends on a 60-vote majority to pass most bills. On November 5, his frustration with Biden boiled over as he publicly questioned the President’s credibility.
“Comments like these are the reason the American people are losing trust in President Biden,” Manchin said in a statement. “It seems his positions change depending on the audience and the politics of the day.”