Presidential debate highlights future of coal

Obama-Romney debate

During the second Presidential debate on Oct. 16, President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney hit on key energy issues like the future of coal and wind energy.

"Coal” was mentioned 22 times – 14 times by Romney and eight times by Obama. Both candidates stressed an “all of the above” energy policy – utilizing traditional fossil fuels, natural gas and renewable energy.

“We have seen increases in coal production and coal employment,” Obama said. “But what I've also said is we can't just produce traditional sources of energy.  We doubled clean … energy production like wind and solar and biofuels.”

“I want to make sure we use our oil, our coal, our gas, our nuclear, our renewables,” Romney said. “I believe very much in our renewable capabilities; ethanol, wind, solar will be an important part of our energy mix.”

Both candidates made comments on the uncertain future of coal power generation in light of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. “I was in coal country,” Romney said. “People grabbed my arms and said, ‘Please save my job.’ The head of the EPA said, ‘You can't build a coal plant …  it's virtually impossible given our regulations.’”

Obama combated by pointing out that Romney himself has been opposed coal to some degree. “When you were governor of Massachusetts, you stood in front of a coal plant and pointed at it and said, ‘This plant kills,’ and took great pride in shutting it down. And now suddenly you're a big champion of coal.”

The plant Obama was referring to, Footprint Power’s Salem Harbor coal plant, is still operating two of its four units, but the company plans to close it by 2014 and convert it to burn natural gas. In 2003, Romney said he was against giving the plant an extension on regulations that required a reduction in emissions.

Obama stressed the need for more coal generation while highlighting the importance of clean coal technology. “We made the largest investment in clean coal technology, to make sure that even as we're producing more coal, we're producing it cleaner and smarter.”

Romney argued that the President’s track record has not been one of supporting coal. “This has not been Mr. Oil, or Mr. Gas, or Mr. Coal … The right course for America is to have a true all-of-the-above policy. I don't think anyone really believes that you're a person who's going to be pushing for oil and gas and coal.”

The candidates also brought up wind energy, which has already faced hundreds of layoffs in the U.S. over the last few months due to the expiring Production Tax Credit.

“You've got thousands of people right now in Iowa, right now in Colorado, who are working, creating wind power with good-paying manufacturing jobs,” Obama said.

“I appreciate wind jobs in Iowa and across our country …  I'm going to make sure we're taking advantage of our energy resources,” Romney said.

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