Tag: West Virginia
Just five years ago, coal was flourishing in the U.S. With electricity demand and the price of natural gas both rising, coal was viewed as essential to keeping power costs under control. Utilities drew up plans to build dozens of coal-fired plants.For coal industry apologists, here's the real kick in the pants: "Even without the EPA rules, coal is not really competitive," says Jone-Lin Wang, head of Global Power for the energy research firm IHS CERA. So much for coal executives' fever dreams of a "war on coal."
But around the same time, a revolution was under way in the natural gas industry. Drillers figured how to tap enormous deposits of previously inaccessible reserves. As supplies grew and the price of natural gas plummeted, the ground shifted under the electric-power industry. [...]
Power plants that burn coal produce more than 90 times as much sulfur dioxide, five times as much nitrogen oxide and twice as much carbon dioxide as those that run on natural gas, according to the Government Accountability Office, the regulatory arm of Congress. Sulfur dioxide causes acid rain; nitrogen oxides cause smog; and carbon dioxide is a so-called greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere.
So if America really has put coal in its rear view mirror, what does it mean for Appalachia? Countries like Saudi Arabia are taking their oil profits and pouring them into renewable energy to prepare for the inevitable decline of their oil reserves. Is there a similar plan to prepare Appalachia for a world where its coal is too expensive and too dirty? Or any plan at all?
For generations, out-of-state coal corporations have used West Virginia like a colony, bleeding away mineral wealth and leaving little behind but poverty and ravages. The industry invests heavily to sway the Legislature. Traditionally, it wielded enormous power.Replace "West Virginia" with "southwest Virginia" and "Legislature" with "General Assembly" and this editorial could just as easily be talking about our own state.
But coal is fading. The number of West Virginia miners dwindled from 125,000 after World War II to around 15,000 today, as machines displaced human workers. All studies say easy-to-reach Appalachian coal is being depleted, and production will decline severely in coming years.
Under these circumstances, it's remarkable that coal lobbyists still have power to steer the Legislature, like the tail wagging the dog.
States like Colorado have already begun shuttering coal plants and moving to cleaner energy sources. Dominion Virginia Power is switching coal plants to natural gas & biomass. And now the Tennessee Valley Authority is announcing plans to phase out 18 units at three dirty, coal-fired power plants and install modern pollution controls on three dozen additional units:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced a settlement with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to resolve alleged Clean Air Act violations at 11 of its coal-fired plants in Alabama, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The settlement will require TVA to invest a TVA estimated $3 to $5 billion on new and upgraded state-of-the-art pollution controls that will prevent approximately 1,200 to 3,000 premature deaths, 2,000 heart attacks and 21,000 cases of asthma attacks each year, resulting in up to $27 billion in annual health benefits. TVA will also invest $350 million on clean energy projects that will reduce pollution, save energy and protect public health and the environment.But coal state politicians continue to insist all is well. Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston (WV) Gazette's Coal Tattoo blog has a must-read post on West Virginia politicians denying the reality of coal's decline:
"This agreement will save lives and prevent billions of dollars in health costs. Modernizing these plants and encouraging clean energy innovation means better health protections and greater economic opportunities for the people living near TVA facilities," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "Investments in pollution control equipment will keep hundreds of thousands of tons of harmful pollutants out of the air we breathe, and help create green job opportunities that will reduce pollution and improve energy efficiency."
Well, I'm not sure how it happened. But it seems like southern West Virginia has survived its first post-apocalyptic, economy-annihilating, way-of-life-ending weekend after EPA heroically vetoed Arch Coal's Spruce Mine permit last Thursday. As bad as Joe Manchin and Nick Rahall said life was going to be after the veto, myself and most folks in West Virginia ended up having a pretty decent weekend, all things considered. Heck, we even learned that despite the snow many if not most nearby residents are celebrating EPA's veto of Spruce #1 mine.The whole post is long but definitely worth reading.
Which leads me to wonder...has anyone ever been so loud and proud about shoving their head in the sand and ignoring the cries of their constituents and colleagues, the consensus of scientists, and the pleading of health professionals as loudly as Joe Manchin and Nick Rahall? Senator Manchin certainly hasn't had a very positive first few weeks in the United States Senate. In fact, despite not taking too many big votes, he has found that his actions have already left him with a lot to apologize for. He set another high bar last week when EPA announced its decision on Spruce. Not only was his rhetoric irresponsible, but his information is just plain incorrect - particularly in asserting that EPA was "retroactively" vetoing this permit.
Aside from his pick of committee assignments (likely the Energy and Natural Resources Committee), Manchin might get support for one of his pet projects -- a plant to convert coal to diesel fuel that has stalled under Democratic leadership in Washington. [...]If Joe Manchin is so eager to join the GOP, why didn't he do it before election? Oh, right. Because he'd have gotten obliterated in this or any other GOP primary. Any Democrat who offers any sort of "reward" to Manchin for staying in the party shouldn't be surprised if they suddenly find dozens of other Democrats with their hand out for goodies as well.
"He was elected as a Democrat and he has to go to Washington as a Democrat to try, in good faith, to make the changes in the party he campaigned on," said one Manchin advisor. "Now, if that doesn't work and Democrats aren't receptive, I don't know what possibilities that leaves open."