Coal’s Newest Friend

January 16, 2009 |

Yesterday I commented
with a slightly raised eyebrow at comments made by Steven Chu,
President-elect Obama's choice to head DOE, on the future of coal. Dr.
Chu's comments seemed to reflect a much more conciliatory tone toward
coal as a key part of America's energy future. Today's raised eyebrow
comes after reading some comments by Henery Waxman, (D-CA), new
chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, as reported in the
E&E ClimateWire:

As the coal industry awaits the first global warming
hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee today, many of its
members are asking, "Which Henry Waxman will show up?"

Will it be the Beverly Hills liberal who pushed for a moratorium
last year on new coal-fired generators unable to capture their
greenhouse gas emissions? Or a moderate willing to shift policy gears
in his new role as chairman of the committee that is expected to write
the next climate bill in the House?

In recent days, the California Democrat has been sounding more like
a centrist than a fossil-fuel fighter as he prepares to gavel the
energy committee's first hearing on the topic today.

"Everything is on the table about coal," Waxman said on Capitol Hill yesterday.

That statement followed comments last week in which he said he
expected coal to "play an important role in our overall sources of
energy" in the future. Asked yesterday whether those comments signaled
a move to the center, he said he wants to start the chairmanship with a
clean slate and "doesn't have a position yet to change." . . .

Many environmental groups continue to express optimism about the
path Waxman will take and argue that his seemingly coal-friendly
comments won't change his advocacy for blocking new electricity
generators that don't control carbon output.

"The bottom line is that Waxman always has been a strong champion
against global warming," said Bruce Nilles, director of the national
coal campaign at the Sierra Club. "Just because he says there is a
future for coal doesn't mean he's suddenly opposed to a moratorium on
power plants."

Yet some political scientists familiar with Waxman's style say he is
one of the most politically shrewd politicians around, and that he
recognizes the need to bring in members of the committee from coal
states in order to get a climate bill passed. Among those Waxman will
need is Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who wants to pump money into a CCS
extra-governmental fund by charging utilities a fee.

Bruce Cain, director of the University of California's Washington
Center, predicted that Waxman might follow the path of Vice
President-elect Joe Biden on the coal issue. During the presidential
campaign, Biden said there would be no new coal plants in America, but
changed his rhetoric to match the Obama agenda after an industry outcry.

"People behave differently when in positions of leadership than when
they're on the outside," Cain said of Waxman. "The guy knows how to
play the political game and should never be confused with an airy-fairy