A Real American Climate Change Solution: Pay Coal Companies and Utilities to leave the Coal in the Ground


Roy Morrison

Our understanding of global climate change as a mortal threat to our collective futures deepens daily.
Yet, the willingness of our political leaders to take effective action for transformative change founders on the shoals of self-interest and the power of polluters.
In the U.S., political compromises with rust belt, coal state and southern politicians were already required to move weakened climate change cap and trade legislation through the House and into the Senate where it faces an uncertain future.
A carbon tax, embraced by most economists and many ecologists, myself included, as a far superior alternative to cap and trade, is viewed as anathema and politically hopeless by both the Obama administration.
Globally, the rich industrialized nations, who profited from a century of carbon pollution, and the rapidly industrializing powers, led byChina and India, appear unable to even propose an equitable solution to curtailing increasing green house gas pollution.
Is the situation hopeless? No. Like Alexander, we need the courage to cut the Gordian knot of resistance to global energy transformation posed by the self-interest of polluters and the allure of cheap, albeit polluting and self-destructive, energy resources.
Instead of trying to tax carbon, or raise prices through a complex and loophole ridden cap and trade scheme, do what Washington did for decades for farmers . We paid farmers not to grow food. Pay coal companies and the coal utilities to leave the coal in the ground.
Make Renewable Energy Transition Payments to coal companies and coal utilities, - say $20 to $50 a ton - divided between people who mine coal and people who burn coal. About one billion tons of coal are burned yearly in U.S. for power. That's $20 to $50 billion a year. A real bargain in today's Washington.
In exchange for the payments for mineral rights, the coal companies would have to reduce coal production 5% a year, reaching zero in 20 years, and invest in projects like natural gas and geothermal development. Utilities would have to gradually replace coal electricity throughrenewable energy development and efficiency projects.
Transition payments would assist rust belt and coal state workers mass producing wind turbines and solar concentrators and building high voltage direct current power lines for a continental renewable resource grid. It's a cure for economic doldrums as well as for climate change, and a path for U.S. global competitiveness.
Sure, it's unfair. Life's unfair. But it can allow us to act now, before its too late to make a difference.
Instead of finding dogged opponents, we'll find at least some of the polluters and their Senators enthusiastic supporters of combating climate change and the renewable transition.
If paying companies to leave coal in the ground seems loony, think about carbon capture and sequestration. Mine the coal, with all its problems, burn it, and then try and capture the carbon dioxide from smoke stack scrubbers, bottle the CO-2, ship it to be injected into old oil and gas wells, and hope it stays there. This will be enormously expensive. We"ll have to pay for it. And truthfully, it's more an excuse to keep burning coal, than intended as a real solution.
Time to get real. Do what we do best. Pay powerful people money for their mistakes. We've done it with the farmers. We've just done it big time with the bankers.
And from Renewable Energy Transition Payments we'll get more than another high interest credit card. We can keep the coal in the ground, help finance the renewable energy transition, build a continental renewable energy grid and help save civilization.

Roy Morrison is Director of the Office for Sustainability, Southern New Hampshire University. With Dr Gregor Czisch he is working on plans for continental renewable grids.
Fact check:
EIA U.S. coal electricity: 1 billion tons/year