Home Energy and Environment WVU Expert on Coal Mining’s Impact on Appalachia Calls Ken Cuccinelli’s Assertions...

WVU Expert on Coal Mining’s Impact on Appalachia Calls Ken Cuccinelli’s Assertions “Pretty Sad”

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We all know that Ken Cuccinelli is a climate science denier, persecutor of climate scientists, clean energy basher, and major recipient of fossil fuel industry largesse. So I wasn’t surprised when I saw this headline in the Fredericksburg Patch, quoting Cuccinelli that “The war on coal in Virginia is a war on the poor” and that the coal industry is supposedly “vital to the [Appalachian Power Company service] area’s economic stability.

In fact, as we’ve discussed previously, the whole “war on coal” argument is utter bull****. In fact, Virginia coal mining employment is UP – repeat, UP! – under President Obama. That’s not a LOT of jobs (0.46% of the Virginia total), but still, it’s nice to get the facts straight once in a while – even if you’re a right-wing ideologue (aka, “liar”) like Ken Cuccinelli. In addition, as this post explained, there’s been a decades-long decline of coal mining employment in Central Appalachia, a large chunk of which occurred under Presidents Reagan and George HW Bush (the trend continued under Bill Clinton, then reversed a bit under George W. Bush and Barack Obama).

The reasons for this decline?  First, mechanization (e.g., mountaintop removal coal mining), which has made the coal industry far more capital intensive and far less labor intensive than it used to be. Second, a migration of coal mining from places (e.g., Virginia) where it used to be mined by humans, operating in coal mines, to highly-mechanized Western and/or mountaintop removal operations. And third, the move away from coal and towards cheap and abundant natural gas, as well as much cheaper (and inexhaustible) wind and solar power. Put that all together, and what do you get? A decline in coal mining employment in the U.S. over many, many decades. Nothing to do with a “war,” unless you consider the impersonal forces of capitalism, technology and economics to be conscious beings capable of initiating hostilities against coal miners. (rolls eyes)

Anyway, I was curious what an actual, you know, EXPERT in this subject thought, as opposed to a bought-and-paid-for “useful idiot” like Ken Cuccinelli. So, I contacted Professor Michael Hendryx of West Virginia University, who has done a great deal of work on the health and economic impacts of coal mining in Appalachia (e.g., “Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal” and “The association between mountaintop mining and birth defects among live births in central Appalachia, 1996-2003.”). The first paper, for instance, found that “the life cycle of coal-extraction, transport, processing, and combustion-generates a waste stream and carries multiple hazards for health and the environment,” adding up to massive externalities that are “costing the U.S. public a third to over one-half of a trillion dollars annually” and that, “[a]ccounting for the damages conservatively doubles to triples the price of electricity from coal per kWh generated.”

Anyway, I wanted to see what Professor Hendryx thought specifically about Ken Cuccinelli’s comments that “The war on coal in Virginia is a war on the poor.” His response was very revealing:

The evidence is overwhelming that a coal-dependent mining economy perpetuates poverty and offers increasingly fewer economic opportunities, but the industry and the politicians that cater to it can still play the jobs card it seems. Pretty sad.

In other words, Cuccinelli has it completely backwards: far from his (non-existent) “war on coal” constituting a (non-existent) “war on the poor,” in fact “a coal-dependent mining economy perpetuates poverty and offers increasingly fewer economic opportunities.” So much for that “Big Lie” by Ken Cuccinelli.

By the way, in the same talk, Cuccinelli also attacked Terry McAuliffe for supporting a “Renewable Portfolio Standard of 25% renewable sources of electricity by 2025” which Cuccinelli says is “bordering on California-style energy policy.” Of course, in Cuccinelli’s warped worldview, that’s a bad thing. In stark contrast, in the world of sanity and fact, that’s actually a very good thing.

Recently, the American Council on Renewable Energy’s (ACORE’s) “Fact Check” utterly demolished the claim that “State Renewable Portfolio Standards are job-killing government mandates that offer no economic benefits and cause skyrocketing electricity rates.” In fact, according to ACORE, “RPS policies are currently driving over 1/3 of new renewable energy development across America in a cost-competitive manner that protects American consumers.” Across the country, ACORE explains, Renewable Portfolio Standards are working to “drive in-state economic growth” while dramatically boosting the amount of renewable energy on the grid.

For instance, in deep “red” Texas, the state’s RPS “has been so successful that its 10-year goal was met in just over six years.” In our neighbor to the south, “renewable energy has decreased electricity rates and rates are lower than they would be without renewable energy, according to a 2013 study conducted by RTI International.” And in California, which Cuccinelli singles out as some sort of bogeyman, “[e]lectricity costs are dropping…making renewable energy more competitive with fossil fuels.”

The bottom line is that Ken Cuccinelli either a) has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about when it comes to energy issues; b) is simply spouting the false, “Big Lie”-style propaganda of his big fossil fuel donors and pals; or c) knows exactly what the facts are but has decided to lie through his teeth anyway (to pander for votes, to please his corporate masters, etc.). Actually, come to think of it, it’s probably “a,” “b” and “c” – the triple whammy of lies, disinformation, and ignorance all rolled into one noxious package. What a nightmare.

  • Iechyd Da

    Sadly, this is a point of almost universal denial in the coalfields. No one wants to admit that the coal generations of Virginians have dug is almost gone. Sadly, denial plays right into the hands of the coal operators.

    Employing mountaintop removal is a clear sign that the industry is “pulling the pillars” – the now-illegal and extremely dangerous practice of mining the pillars of coal helping hold the mine roof to harvest the last coal in the mine.

    Depleting coal requires mining thinner and thinner seams. Increasing rock dust from mining out small seams in deep mines is causing a rise in black lung among younger miners.

    If the SWVA coalfields are to have a future, it can’t be in mining – except by exporting workers to adjacent states. There’s less than 20 years of coal left if we take all the mountains down. That not only leaves no economic prospects for coalfield citizens, but leaves them a destroyed land as well.