Who benefits from a transition away from coal? Removing coal from our nation's energy mix, will not be without environmental consequences that must be analyzed in the BLM's ongoing review of the federal coal leasing program. Major funding for anti-coal initiatives comes from the same industries that benefit most from reductions in coal use. The percentage of our nation's power generated by both coal and natural gas has changed little over the last 10 years. In 2006, coal and gas shared 69 percent of total generation, with coal at 49 percent and gas at 20 percent. In 2015, coal and gas shared 66 percent of the total, with both coal and gas sharing an even split of 33 percent, and wind and solar sharing 5.3 percent of the market.
Consider Hillary Clinton's comment, "to put coal companies out of business." At the same time her campaign had received more than $6 million in contributions from oil and gas companies. The most outspoken critics of coal, the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, was funded from 2007 to 2012 with $26 million from the gas industry -- a time period that correlates with the bottoming of gas prices and coal's slide in market share.
Increased restrictions placed on the coal industry directly benefit the gas industry and have little impact on renewable use. One could argue that increased renewable use is driven more by federal incentives than market competitiveness. Although power generation from coal produces more carbon dioxide than natural gas, gas development poses substantially more risk to groundwater quality with the injection of production fluids and wastewater. Is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere a greater concern than the risk to water quality in our nation's deep aquifers? A shortsighted, dismissal of the coal industry-based misconceptions of environmental noncompliance is not worth the substantial economic and environmental impacts to our local communities.