After years of dropping, global coal-fired electric generation has rebounded strongly in 2021.

According to a report by the International Energy Agency, after falling by 3% in 2019 and 4.6% in 2020, global generation has increased by approximately 15% in just the first half of the year.

According to the IEA, the decreases were largely fueled by COVID-19-driven reductions in demand, lower natural gas prices and a mild winter in some regions.

However, with natural gas prices spiking, the IEA reports that China (+21%), India (+13%) and the United States (+35%) are all expected to show year-over-year increases in coal-fired generation for the first quarter of 2021. 

Meanwhile, despite public platitudes about reducing greenhouse gasses (coal power generation and mining are considered one of the leading producers of several greenhouse gasses, including carbon dioxide and methane) President Joe Biden’s policies are pushing natural gas prices higher — helping to fuel the rise in coal generation in the U.S.

In the opening days of his administration, the president signed executive orders halting construction on the embattled Keystone XL pipeline and halted sale of new oil and gas leases on public lands — moves critics contend have driven prices higher.

Ed Cross, president of the Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association, is one such critic. 

In a Dec. 3 op-ed in the Topeka Capital-Journal cross noted that, while the administration is accusing the industry of illegal activity and announcing an investigation into gas prices, the administration bears much of the responsibility.

“The Biden administration need look no further than its own actions to find the primary reason energy prices have escalated since he took office,” he wrote. “Within the first week of office, Biden issued an executive order halting all U.S. drilling permits and federal leasing.

“He added further injury to the American oil and gas industry through a batch of punitive, unnecessary and burdensome regulations on oil and gas operations. These actions have severely hampered American oil and gas companies’ ability to adequately supply the market and have put American energy independence at risk.”

Moreover, in the “Build Back Better” bill, effectively killed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) recently, was a section entitled the “Methane Emission Reduction Act of 2021.”

While the omnibus reconciliation bill appears to be dead for now, the possibility remains open that individual sections could be passed, and that particular section would levy “fees” — actually taxes — on oil and gas producers for “ambient methane emissions.” Those fees, in the way of all taxes, would naturally be passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices.

The bill would also require technology that does not currently exist.

“The tax is based on ambient methane emissions measurements,” Cross wrote in a guest column in the Kansas City Star. “The measurements would have to distinguish between oil and natural gas production, agricultural emissions – about a third of U.S. methane emissions – and landfill emissions – about a third of U.S. methane emissions. 

In another guest column published in November, Cross noted that — in contrast to the administration’s pronouncements, U.S. emissions have been falling dramatically for over a decade.

Cross noted that at the recent Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, was “expensive, energy-burning theater.”

“One hundred eighteen private jets flew into the airport and President Biden’s motorcade had 24 vehicles,” Cross wrote, noting that the overall message was only that people should use less and do with less. “President Biden should have touted America’s successes in reducing emissions.  From 2005 to 2018, total U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions fell 12% while global energy-related emissions increased nearly 24%.  Since 2005, national greenhouse gas emissions fell by 10%, and power sector emissions by 27% — as the US economy grew by 25%.  Biden should have compared that to China’s announcement of 30 new coal-fired power plants and China being the world’s biggest polluter.  The president should have stood up for his people. Our people.

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