“Everybody is waiting for action,” [Daniel P. Schrag, a White House climate adviser and director of the Harvard University Center for the Environment] said. “The one thing the president really needs to do now is to begin the process of shutting down the conventional coal plants. Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they’re having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what’s needed.”
Phrasing this as a war on coal just puts people on the defensive and creates political backlash. The issue is not the evils of coal and the maliciousness of those who developed the coal industry over the past 150 years, but rather despite the obvious benefits, the failure to recognize the full social costs of using coal as an energy source, and the inability of markets to incorporate those social costs once they were recognized. Carbon, sulfur and other emissions from coal burning are classic externalities. The benefactors (coal industry and consumers of underpriced energy) have no economic incentives to incorporate some of the costs (those borne by others) into their decisions. Sure you can argue that the coal industry should 'do the right thing' and incorporate those costs, but reality--and rationality--dictate otherwise; without proper incentives, people will act in their own self interests. If you don't believe me, ask yourself if you paid the full social cost of your driving this morning. The solution here is to recognize, calculate/estimate and develop instruments/policies to incorporate the full social costs of coal and ensure that the market price of coal fully reflects those full social costs. Once that happens, markets will take care of the rest.