The Politics of Energy
The price you pay for energy, whether its solar power, wind power, or coal power isn’t actually what the market would set for that energy. Our government spends billions of dollars each year to support the energy industry and make energy cheaper than it would be on the open market. This gives a skewed sense of what things actually cost. Subsidies, in the form of either tax breaks and/or funding, favor certain energies over others.
According to the Environmental Law Institute, between the years of 2002-2008, the U.S. government directed $72 billion to fossil fuels and only $29 billion to renewable energy. Some could argue they would rather see it switched and there’s no way their political party would allow such a thing. Their elected officials care about the future of the country, the environment, and their overall health. I’m sure most do and I’m also sure that money and power can change people’s agendas.
In the election cycle of 2008, the top 2 recipients of donations from the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) were Sen. John McCain a republican, and Sen. Barack Obama, a democrat. ACCCE is a group of 48 mining, rail, manufacturing, and power generating companies with an annual budget of $45 million. Lobbyists work hard in Washington to support elected officials that will drive laws and regulations in their favor. Subsidies that promote certain energies over others are an example of how politics and energy are closely related.
Coal and Politics
Politics play a big role in the coal industry and vice versa. One feeds the other and self sustains. Kentucky, which is the third top coal producing state in the U.S. (Wyoming is #1 and West Virginia is #2) is deeply rooted in that perpetual cycle. Regardless of where a candidate may stand on the use of coal and its environmental impacts, that candidate usually won’t buck the system.
Currently in Kentucky, there are a lot of elections underway. One of the biggest campaigns is for the 2014 United States Senate election. Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, is running for re-election to a sixth term. One of the biggest challengers for his seat is Alison Lundergan Grimes, a democrat who is the current Secretary of State. Both candidates have taken a strong stand on coal and support extensive use of coal as the coal industry makes up a significant part of Kentucky’s economy.
From Small Town to Capitol Hill
From small towns all the way to Capitol Hill, coal and politics walk hand in hand. Coal not only supports Kentucky’s economy, it is a major contributor to the U.S. economy and beyond. In 2012, Coal was used for roughly 37% of the 4 trillion kilowatt hours generated for electricity in the United States. For perspective, only 12% was used for renewable energy. As long as coal is the driving force in the economies of states, regions, and countries, it will continue to be a major player in U.S. and global politics.
“Estimating U.S. Government Subsidies to Energy Sources:2002-2008.” Environmental Law Institute, 2009. 13 Apr 2014
“The Clean Coal Lobbying Blitz.” The Center for Public Integrity, 2011. 14 Apr 2014
“Fossil Fuels Generate Most U.S. Electricity.” U.S. Energy Information Administration, n.d. 14 Apr 2014
“Where We Get Coal.” U.S. Energy Information Admisitration, n.d. 13 Apr 2014