Two weeks ago, the United States national debt surpassed $16 trillion. To put that into perspective, that is more than $50,000 per person in the U.S. To finance this overwhelming debt, the U.S. is borrowing roughly 40 cents of every dollar we spend, a good portion of it from foreign countries like China.
There are many news stories highlighting instances where the federal government wastes our money, but Americans may not be aware that our federal government is actually using taxpayer dollars to subsidize projects that benefit our foreign competitors, including China.
Last week, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Energy and Power held a hearing on the Accountability in Grants Act, which would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from awarding grants under Section 103 of the Clean Air Act for foreign projects. Since 2001, the EPA has awarded grants to foreign recipients totaling more than $100 million. In many instances, these taxpayer-funded grants help foreign companies at the expense of domestic ones.
On the list of recently awarded grants, one is especially troubling to us -- EPA's grant to the China Coal Information Institute for a "Technical Assessment of Coal Mine Gas Recovery and Utilization in China."
Taxpayers may wonder why the EPA is funding coal projects abroad, and in China no less, while simultaneously spewing regulations that are helping to destroy coal mining here at home.
Coal still accounts for nearly half the country's electricity production, even though the coal industry goes through cyclical ups and downs. Recently, natural gas has become a viable alternative to some types of coal, especially for electricity generation. But as the global use of coal is rapidly increasing, the U.S. has seen a decline in coal electricity generation, thanks in large part to new EPA regulations.
More than 30 years ago, Ronald Reagan said, "We're not energy-poor. There's energy yet to be found and developed in this country, including the biggest coal pile that any country in the world sits on." Even President Obama acknowledged the potential of America's rich coal reserves, once touting the U.S. as the "Saudi Arabia of coal." Unfortunately, our current policies aren't permitting us to utilize this abundant and affordable resource. Just this year, as a result of harsh new regulations, American coal companies have announced premature plant retirements and been forced to lay off thousands of workers. This is why the House of Representatives will stand up for jobs and pass the Stop the War on Coal Act this week. China, on the other hand, continues to dominate the world in terms of coal production, and in the last few years, Chinese coal production has surpassed U.S. levels.
As in a number of other areas, the Chinese don't seem to have any problems competing with us when it comes to coal production. We welcome the competition, but would prefer that our own taxpayer-funded federal government agencies didn't tip the scales by investing in Chinese projects. Thousands of American workers have already been laid off as a result of the EPA's actions, so we question why, in this time of high unemployment, the EPA would want to fund coal projects abroad at the same time the agency is imposing regulations that are helping eliminate coal mining jobs here at home.
Last summer, our committee released a report on EPA's foreign grants. Since then, numerous members of Congress have expressed concern that the EPA is exceeding its core mission by investing taxpayer dollars abroad. Given our nation's mounting debt and deficits, and our continued high unemployment, we believe it is irresponsible to continue to permit the EPA to fund foreign grants. How about betting on American projects and American coal?
Rep. Ed Whitfield is chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Energy and Power, on which Rep. Morgan Grifith also serves.