Home Energy and Environment Big Mistake: Virginia’s “Coal Country” Should Have Voted for Rick Boucher, Supported...

Big Mistake: Virginia’s “Coal Country” Should Have Voted for Rick Boucher, Supported “Cap & Trade”


That’s right, let me repeat: Virginia’s “coal country” voters should have voted in 2010 to reelect Rick Boucher. They also should have strongly supported Boucher’s work to protect the coal industry in the Waxman-Markey “cap-and-trade” bill that passed the House of Representatives but never came to a vote in the U.S. Senate.

But wait, what do I mean by Boucher’s “work to protect the coal industry?” I refer you to “The Climate War” and Why Rick Boucher Lost His Election, which I wrote back in November 2010, right after Boucher got swept away by Tea Party extremist and climate science denying nutjob Morgan Griffith. The key points:

*According to Eric Pooley’s fascinating book, “The Climate War,” Boucher believed that “if coal was going to have a future, it had to find a way to capture and store CO2,” that “[b]y making that happen, legislation could usher in a new golden age for coal.” Boucher also believed that he “had to make sure Waxman-Markey became that bill, then persuade the coal and power industries to back it.” Which is exactly what he did.

*As Pooley writes, Boucher “had done painstaking work on how to structure a cap-and-trade program so it wouldn’t punish industry or consumers.” In the end, and from my view this is morally reprehensible and environmentally disastrous, “If it came to choosing between the future of the planet and the future of coal, he would choose coal.”

*Which, again, is exactly what Boucher did on this legislation, working closely with coal and coal-fired power industry titans like Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers. Among other things, what Boucher worked on was ensuring that “existing coal-fired power plants – and plants that were under construction – would be ‘grandfathered’ in and not subject to the new carbon standards (though they would be bound by the new economy-wide cap).” Boucher got that agreement “early”, then proceeded to work on other aspects of the legislation so that the coal and coal-fired power industry folks would be happy. Which they were.

*In the end, Rogers and other fossil fuel barons realized that “We’re not going to get a better deal” and “If you do the math, you’re going to make this trade every day.”

*In sum, Pooley concludes, “Boucher had collected a breathtaking set of concessions for coal,” including “the weaker 2020 target and the free allowances and the generous offsets that would allow power companies to comply with the law while continuing to burn coal” to “$1 billion a year for ten years for [carbon capture and sequestration] research and development” to “$181 billion worth of bonus allowances to hand utilities that began capturing and storing their carbon dioxide after 2020.”  

*Again, Boucher won a grab bag/cornucopia of goodies and wish-list items for the coal and coal-fired power industries, and to a large extent they were pleased. Heck, even Dominion Power CEO Thomas F. Farrell II testified (on June 9, 2009) that “the allowance allocation approach in this bill will minimize the economic impact on electricity customers nationwide during the early years of a federal GHG cap-and-trade program. It also will help ensure that utilities continue to provide reliable, reasonably priced electric service that supports economic growth, job creation and strong communities.”

So, this coal-friendly bill which Rick Boucher pushed so hard is what ended up passing the U.S. House of Representatives, but was never voted on in the U.S. Senate. And that lack of action, of course, made it almost inevitable that the EPA would act, as it is required to by law (note: this is a really important point!) and by the U.S. Supreme Court.

People like Miles Grant and I were saying this for years, arguing that it would be better if Congress passed comprehensive energy and climate legislation which put a price on carbon pollution, than having the EPA do this piecemeal, sector by sector. Not because there’s anything wrong with the EPA, of course – they do great work and should be applauded for their efforts on behalf of our health and wellbeing! – but ultimately Congress could have done a more comprehensive job than the EPA, could have done it faster, and could have thrown in the types of protections for the coal industry which environmentalists like me strongly oppose, but which Rick Boucher and his coal baron buddies loved!.

In the end, obviously the voters of Virginia’s “coal country” decided to vote out Rick Boucher. I’d argue strongly that this was against their own economic self interests in a big way. Why they did this is the big question. In my view, Rick Boucher’s big mistake was that he apparently failed to get a guarantee from the fossil fuel folks that they’d “have his back” when he was (inevitably) attacked as waging a “war on coal” or whatever bull****. Talk about “life’s unfair”: Boucher was a loyal friend to the coal industry for years, was looking out for their long-term best interests, and did pretty much whatever they asked, yet when he needed their help, they went AWOL. And now, we see the results: EPA regulations on existing coal-fired power plants (fine with me, but it’s laughable to hear the same Republicans who opposed Boucher’s bill in 2009 and 2010 scream about it now), which will not be “grandfathered” as they would have been under the evilevilevil (according to Republicans) “cap-and-trade” bill.

Yet another irony in all this is that “cap-and-trade” was a conservative, market-oriented, Republican idea in the first place. So, in voting against Rick Boucher and opposing cap-and-trade, “coal country” voters basically did the exact opposite of what would have been rational for them to do. Any political scientists out there care to explain this? Economists? Psychologists? Anyone?


Sign up for the Blue Virginia weekly newsletter

Previous articleVirginia News Headlines: Wednesday Morning
Next articleVideo: Virginia GOP’s “Cruel Summer” of Doing Nothing