Coal has become the bête noire of the environmental movement. Environmentalists would eliminate coal (coal-fired power plants produce 48.5 percent of the of the nation’s electricity, according to the U.S. Department of Energy) by making it so expensive to use that other forms of alternative energy could compete economically.

The preferred strategy to eliminate coal is the Waxman-Markey Climate Change legislation, which is more commonly referred to as Cap and Trade or, increasingly, Cap and Tax. A recent study by the Heritage Foundation estimates that on average between 2012- 2035 the Waxman-Markey bill would in Michigan:

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• Lower gross state product by $8,739 million;

• Reduce personal income by $3,417;

• Destroy 39,445 jobs;

• Raise electricity prices by $444.97 per household;

• Raise gasoline prices by $0.72 per gallon.

Fortunately Waxman-Markey, which narrowly passed the U.S. House, has run into stiff opposition in the U.S. Senate. Never to be deterred, the anti-coal crowd has backup strategies. Environmentalists have petitioned the U.S. EPA to:

• Declare fly ash as a hazardous material. Fly ash is a combustion byproduct of coal — most of which is currently recycled in gypsum board production and used in highway construction. Requiring the fly ash to be landfilled in hazardous waste facilities would be prohibitively expensive, thus eliminating coal as a fuel for producing electricity.

• Require carbon sequestration for coal-fired power plants. Although it sounds good, the technology to sequester carbon is not currently economically feasible and may never be.

• Impose more stringent wastewater discharge limits from steam electric-power generating facilities. The EPA recently announced that it expects to revise rules for wastewater discharges from power plants. This seems reasonable since the regulations have not been revised since 1982. A closer review of EPA’s proposal, however, indicates it is focusing on fly ash generated from burning coal. As a former state regulator, I understand the power to control major policy by regulation. This effort bears close scrutiny to ensure whether it is really a water-quality initiative based on science or just another attempt to regulate coal to the dustbin of history.

The important national policy issues of energy and the environment should be debated in a transparent manner in the public forum, rather than left to the devices of unaccountable bureaucrats.