Tuesday, March 9, 2021
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What Energy Sources Do Your Tax Dollars Subsidize?


Republicans squawk about incentives for renewable energy because those are new & need approval, while dirty energy sources locked in their subsidies long ago - like, say, the tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks Virginia gives to dirty coal companies every year. Why not eliminate all subsidies & put a simple price on carbon pollution? That's what dirty energy companies (and the politicians they fund) are terrified of.

Graphic via Good.is

“The Dark Lord of Coal Country” to Retire; the Damage He...

Cross posted from Scaling Green, a project of the people at Tigercomm. Note: I am now consulting for Tigercomm, located in Rosslyn, VA, and helping "cleantech companies, advocacy organizations and government leaders" to "tackle the big, high-stakes challenges they face in promoting clean energy and sustainability." I'm excited to be working with Tigercomm, which has also done work for Virginia Democratic political campaigns like Steve Shannon's in 2009. Check them out!

Late last week came word that Don Blankenship CEO of Massey Energy, the largest coal producer in central Appalachia - will retire at the end of this year. You may recall that Massey owns the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, where 29 miners were killed back in April, the worst coal mining accident in the United States since 1970.  The Upper Big Branch disaster was far from an isolated incident.  In fact, Massey has a long history of environmental and worker safety violations going back many years. In the aftermath of the Upper Big Branch disaster, one of Massey Energy's largest shareholders called on Blankenship to resign immediately, citing the company's "cavalier attitude toward risk and callous disregard for the safety of its employees has exacted a horrible cost on dozens of hard-working miners and their loved ones."

That would all be bad enough, but unfortunately there's much, much more.  In this video, for instance, listen as Blankenship declares, "I don't believe climate change is real."  Then there's the current Rolling Stone magazine's brutal expose on Blankenship, which calls Blankenship "The Dark Lord of Coal Country" for having "destroyed the region's mountains, polluted its waters and overseen the worst mining disaster in 40 years." According to Rolling Stone, Blankenship "is a rich hillbilly who believes that God put coal in the ground so that he could mine it, and anyone - or any law - that stands in his way needs to be beaten down, bought off or tied up in court."

How Few Jobs Will Wise County Coal Plant Create?

Dominion Virginia Power is spending $1.8 billion dollars worth of your electric bills to build a dirty coal-fired power plant in Wise County. How many jobs will that investment of our money deliver? Shockingly few, according to the Virginia Mining Association (PDF):
At the end of July, there were about 1,800 men and women employed in the construction of the 585-megawatt power station. The work force included about 600 people from the local area, accounting for 33.4 percent of total employment. The local area is defined as being within a 50-mile radius of the town of St. Paul, with Wise, Russell and Scott counties accounted for the majority of the local hires. Additionally, the staff that will operate the power station is being formed and trained. After Oct. 4 operations employment will stand at 34 with half of those hires coming from the local area.
Well hey, that's only $106 million of our money per permanent job for local residents. What a bargain!

Meanwhile, a Virginia State Corporation Commission analyst has testified (PDF) that, because the higher rates needed to pay for it, the plant will cost Virginia 1,474 jobs.

Now, apologists for this terrible deal will say, "But they need every job they can get in Wise County!" By that rationale, why bother actually building this polluting plant? As the Chesapeake Climate Action Network has pointed out, we could pay 75 Wise County residents $100,000 per year and give the county $6 million a year for the next 133 years with the $1.8 billion it will take to build the plant. And in that scenario, we wouldn't have to deal with the 5.4 million tons of carbon dioxide, thousands of tons of other air pollutants & dozens of pounds of mercury the plant will release.

All in all, a terrible deal for Virginia's economy & environment.

RIP, “Clean” Coal

Rest in peace, "clean" coal. Such a tragic death -- killed by the people who claimed to love it. With "clean" coal's best interests at heart, they blocked the only thing that could've kept it alive: A comprehensive climate & energy bill.

"Clean" coal's death came late Tuesday night when the usual midterm party pendulum swing pushed a group of Tea Party Republicans into power & installed several new self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives in the Senate. They're talking about cutting the budget -- a death knell for the absolutely enormous sums of money "clean" coal needs to escape from Imaginationland.

The American Clean Energy & Security (ACES) Act that passed the House had an estimated $177 billion dollars for carbon capture & storage (CCS) research & development and implementation, negotiated in large part by ... Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), who was defeated last week. The moment for a big climate & energy bill - when George Voinovich would go along with it because it had "clean" coal subsidies & Bernie Sanders would go along because it had a carbon cap - is gone.

Webb Turns Back on Appalachia, Cozies Up to Big Coal

To understand Jim Webb's shocking flip on the coal industry, you have to understand where he began. Here's what he wrote in his book, Born Fighting, just six years ago:
The ever hungry industrialists had discovered that West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia sat atop one huge vein of coal. And so the rape began. The people from the outside showed up with complicated contracts that the small-scale cattle raisers and tobacco farmers could not fully understand, asking for "rights" to mineral deposits they could not see, and soon they were treated to a sundering of their own earth as the mining companies ripped apart their way of life, so that after a time the only option was to go down into the hole and bring the Man his coal, or starve. The Man got his coal, and the profits it brought when he shipped it out. They got their wages, black lung, and the desecration of their land.
Now Jim Webb is standing before those very same industrialists & pledging to do their bidding. This video from a recent Virginia Chamber of Commerce event shows Webb promising to fight any effort to rein in coal's destructive, polluting, poverty-sustaining excesses. Webb's pandering to corporate polluters stands in contrast to Sen. Mark Warner's appearance at the same event making the case for energy reform.

Who else is Webb fighting for these days? The ultra-rich, pledging to protect them from having to do their fair share to reduce America's deficit.

Speculation so far has centered on whether Jim Webb wants a 2nd term in the Senate. But I'm hearing more & more Virginia Democrats question whether we should want six more years of Jim Webb.

“I am a coal miner’s daughter so we do not hate...

The following is from Kathy Selvage of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, "the only environmental organization in southwest Virginia whose expressed mission it is to take on the ravages of coal." Also from her Facebook page, "In 2006, Kathy received the St. Francis Ecological Award of the Ecological Network of Sowers of Justice, an award for lifetime innovative work promoting the interconnectedness of all life; in 2008, she was named in the Blue Ridge Country Magazine as one of 14 who are shaping our region in Southwest Virginia; and in 2009 she appeared in the long awaited Mari-Lyn Evans and Phylis Gellar documentary 'Coal Country' as a path to bring the devastation of the Appalachian region to the consciousness of every American." In sum, Kathy Selvage knows what she's talking about on the subject of coal, mountaintop removal mining, etc.  [Note: bolding added by me for emphasis]
The industry and busloads of miners headed out to DC yesterday and we learned that certain politicians would join them on the public stage today.  I called Senator Webb's DC office, got five minutes or less of a staffer's time and used every second, barely stopping for even a deep breath. I was unable to wrestle his name from him, even though I tried. At the end of our conversation, he did ask again for my name and zip code.

As explained to him, I am a coal miner's daughter so we do not hate coal miners.  My father was an underground miner who also loved the forests and being there (You see hunting and just "being" in the woods is a part of our culture.)

I explained what it's like to live in a community where mining goes on extremely close to homes and the effect that has on our lives, communities, mountains and streams.  Then, as if from Senator Webb's own mouth (it is from his book Born Fighting), these words rolled: They got their wages, black lung, and the desecration of their land. I said that's us.  These are the Senator's words and they are accurate, totally accurate.  He got it right, then.  (Implication:  he might not today.)  

Contrary to the belief of some, it is not environmentalists or environmental regulation that has taken away the jobs of miners in the Appalachian region but the practice of mountaintop removal through its huge increase of mechanization.  If you will track the number of mining jobs over the last decade or more, you will see the number of jobs go down as production goes up.  It is the method of extraction that decreases the jobs.  (Even though I did not relay this, there is a solution: We should be creating green jobs throughout the region to replace those thousands of jobs already lost to this huge mechanization, jobs that don't destroy our homeland and our lives.)

And contrary to the belief of some (I told him),  we understand that you can't shut down coal fired plants all over this nation immediately - we wouldn't have electricity - but that we were looking for a new direction - a start - for green energy.  

At the very least, the Senator could have been neutral today and that was my request to the staffer.  

I was told this morning of a bumper sticker on a car that said, "Save a miner's job, shoot an environmentalist" and I also relayed this to the staffer along with stressing how important it was that leaders respond to this kind of public display and advocating of violence. It was the only time in our conversation that he responded to anything I had expressed.  He said, "Gees" (slightly drawn out).

Did Dominion Brainwash Ticer and Morrissey?

This is one of the most bizarre articles I've read in a while. WTF?
State Sen. Patsy Ticer, D-Alexandria, might be a leading opponent of coal in Virginia, but even she spoke highly Wednesday of the 585-megawatt coal-fired power plant under construction here.

"It's very impressive," Ticer said after touring Dominion's Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center with a group of legislators Wednesday. "This is not your regular plant. It's unique."

She stopped short of saying she'd vote in favor of another such plant, but the influential Democrat who chairs the senate's Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee said the visit changed her perspective.

"I don't like the idea of coal as a primary source of energy ... because it has downsides," she said. "But I think that here, I've always said there's no such thing as clean coal, and I think here at the plant they want to make it as clean as they possibly can, and provide a needed resource to our population."

She said she still wants more alternative fuels. But of the power company's need to provide electricity, she said: "I think this is a very good, very responsible way for them to fulfill that responsibility."

Also see Del. Joe Morrissey's positive comments in the same article, about how "this is something that's good that they are doing."

Uh, guys?  Now that you're back home, can you tell us what they did to you at that coal plant? Either they: a) brainwashed you; or b) gave you some seriously powerful hallucinogens. Either way, I'm very curious to hear the story.  Thanks!

P.S. In all seriousness, this is big-time bizarre. No evidence whatsoever is presented in that article as to what makes this plant so (supposedly) "impressive" or how it is a "very good, very responsible" way to produce power. Sen. Ticer, Del. Morrissey: we're all ears!

Next Thing You Know, EVERYONE’S Gonna Want Clean Air

From the Associated Press:
A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, on Monday reversed a ruling requiring the Tennessee Valley Authority to upgrade emission controls at three coal-fired power plants in Tennessee and one in Alabama. The ruling reverses a decision by Judge Lacy H. Thornburg of Federal District Court, who said emissions affecting air quality in North Carolina's western mountains were a "public nuisance." Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III of the appeals court wrote that allowing the ruling to stand would undermine the nation's regulatory scheme.
Come on, you can't give Tennessee, Alabama & North Carolina cleaner air while letting coal pollution cause respiratory problems, foul our air & water and kill our forests in the rest of the country! Give our lungs an inch, they'll take a mile!

Cross-posted from The Green Miles; photo via Flickr's Roger Smith

“Coal Has Not Been Good for West Virginia.”

West Virginia blogger Debra Dean Murphy has an op-ed in today's Charleston Gazette taking on the myth that her state owes whatever prosperity it has to coal:
Lest I be misunderstood, let me say, as clearly as I can, that I don't in any way denigrate the risky work that coal miners do, nor the sense of accomplishment they rightly feel in their vocation.

But here's the thing: I worry, at least a little, when generations of West Virginians - whether they're connected to coal mining or not - absorb this notion that they are beleaguered and put-upon, the most-derided in our culture, and then turn that woundedness into a kind of guarded bravado that refuses to reckon with some hard, uncomfortable truths.

To say we're proud of coal miners without acknowledging that for decades miners have been given the shaft - literally - by greedy coal companies does not serve the long-term well-being of those who do this dirty, dangerous work. And, sure, we should pray for the victims of this most recent tragedy, but we should also do the holy, pressing work of challenging an industry that enriches absentee corporate shareholders while sucking the life out of the people and places it needs for its pursuit of profit at any cost.

This latest disaster should not be one more occasion for West Virginians to turn their latent defensiveness into full-blown denial of what's really going on. Here's the truth: Coal has not been good for West Virginia. Coal has been good for corporations. After more than a century of extracting this valuable resource from the earth, the considerable profits it has generated have gone elsewhere.

Takes a lot of guts for someone to stand up to their state's status quo and call it like it is. Read more from Debra at her blog.

What Cooch Could (and Should) Be Doing About Massey

While Virginia Attorney General Ken "Cooch" Cuccinelli wastes his office's time and money on frivolous lawsuits against the federal government, appearances at Tea Party events, appearances at gun rallies, appearances on a panel a "faith healer," etc., etc., here's the type of thing he should be paying attention to.
Massey's Tiller No. 1 mine in Tazewell, Va., had the company's highest injury rate at 9.78 [injuries per 200,000 worker hours].
Priorities, priorities, I guess, not that this has anything to do with Cooch's (non)allocation of time and resources.

So, I've been asking around to our elected officials regarding what Cooch can and should be doing about Richmond-based Massey Energy, as well as about its Tazewell, Virginia mine. Here's what they had to say.

2009 Democratic AG Nominee Steve Shannon
"There's a lot the Attorney General can do to make sure inspectors are ensuring compliance for laws related to mine safety and that bad actors in the market are punished. In addition, Commonwealth Attorneys are charged with prosecuting violations of the coal mine safety laws of Virginia."

Donald McEachin
"Attorney General Cuccinelli certainly has the power to look at Virginia-based companies' safety records within Virginia. Depending on where the safety violations take place, that will determine what course of action the Attorney General takes. There's no doubt that the AG has the power of the 'bully pulpit' to speak out about companies like Massey. That's precisely what the AG should be doing."

Del. David Englin
"[I]f an activist AG can go after the EPA and Health Care Reform, he could go after Massey."

Del. Albert Pollard
"The short answer: if there's the political will to go after the Federal government...it's certainly sounder reasoning to go after Massey than the federal government on healthcare reform. The Virginia AG has a fair amount of latitude and discretion to enforce environmental laws. If there are violations in the state of Virginia, the AG could definitely act."

Del. Mark Keam

[E]very AG can decide if he wants to be more proactive and come up with creative ways to make himself relevant (as we already saw with Ken Cuccinelli and the gays memo, EPA and healthcare lawsuits, etc). I'm sure he can point to some specific statutory authorities that allowed him to intervene in these areas or at least make a colorable assertion that he has jurisdiction to take such actions.

Likewise, I have to assume there are some provisions of existing VA law that would give him the "hook" he needs to bring some sort of enforcement action against Massey, if he's willing to be creative enough.  Or maybe someone can find such jurisdictions for him and suggest that he bring a suit using that statutory authority against Massey.  The existing statutes don't necessarily have to be criminal.  They can be civil with enforcement penalties.

I'd look at consumer protection or environmental/safety regulatory laws to start.  I'd also look at federal environmental or mine safety laws to see if they provide for state enforcement as dual jurisdiction in addition to federal penalties.  Or maybe there are private rights of action created under federal law, in which case a VA constituent could ask the VA AG to intervene in his private lawsuit as a party of interest.

In short, the Virginia Attorney General has the power -- certainly if he has the will and the creativity to use that power -- at the minimum to speak out about and/or investigate Virginia-based Massey Energy for safety violations occurring within the borders of Virginia (such as at the Tazewell mine). The question is, why isn't Cooch doing that?  As noted above, he certainly has plenty of spare time on his hands, so that's not an excuse. Hey, for another "$350", maybe Cooch could have his staff spend a few hours and look into Massey, preferably before a disaster like the one that took place in West Virginia occurs here in Virginia? Just a thought...

UPDATE: Great comment by Gretchen Laskas regarding Republican attacks on those who call for action against Massey. "The only people who think anyone is 'capitalizing' on the deaths of miners are people who wish those fighting for mine safety would just shut up." So true.