Friday roundup, August 28, 2009

August 28, 2009 by Ken Ward Jr.

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In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, a man walks past a pipe sending fresh air into a pit of mine operated by the Xingguang Coal Industry Co. in Heshun County, north China’s Shanxi Province, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2009. At least 11 people have been killed, three are missing and two survived following a gas blast inside the mine on Monday, Xinhua said. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Yan Yan)

At least 14 people were killed and three others missing following a coal-mine explosion in China earlier this week, according to reports from China Daily,  the Voice of America, and The Associated Press. There was also a report this week that seven workers were trapped in a flooded Chinese coal mine.

murrayhorizont.jpgHere in the U.S., there was news this week out of Utah, where the courts are approving settlements in the wrongful death lawsuits filed over the deaths in Murray Energy’s Crandall Canyon Mine disaster, which occurred two years ago this month.

And in a pretty interesting piece of news from out west, The Dakota Minnesota & Eastern Railroad Corp. appears to have dropped — at least for now — its plans to extend its railway nearly 300 miles to access surface coal mines in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. The PRB is currently served by BNSF Railway and Union Pacific, as Dustin Bleizeffer reports in the the Casper Star-Tribune.

Some residents along the route had been fighting the project, and the railway has dropped its lawsuits seeking to condemn their land.  Also, the Sierra Club had been fighting the project under the National Environmental Policy Act, arguing that the project would increase coal mining in the PRB, thus worsening global warming.

Earlier in the week, the AP had a somewhat related story about environmental groups targeting the expansion of some Wyoming mines because of coal’s contributions to greenhouse emissions.

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Also in the western U.S. coalfields, a dragline named Queen Bee made headlines when it crossed a highway in North Dakota.  See coverage here and here.

It was a tough week for the fine folks at FACES of Coal.  First, Jim Hoggan at Desmog.com revealed the link between this supposed grassroots group and the Adfero Group, a D.C. public relations firm. Then, Appalachian Voices exposed the fact that photographs of supposed “FACES of Coal” appear to actually be from  istockphotos. Rachel Maddow covered this last night on her MSNBC show as well. Please watch it. It’s really funny.

Incredibly, the letter-faking coal industry group American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity made this claim about its own lobby efforts in a New York Times story published today:

This is the truest form of grass-roots there is. We don’t charge people to be members of the Citizen Army, so if anything, it’s more organic that what some of the environmental groups do. We allow these people to express their own opinions on these issues.

In other coal-related news and commentary this week:

The New York Times reports, “Some think that the only way to clean up coal is to stop burning it altogether. Now a handful of researchers and companies are pursuing a technology to do just that, but one that has the potential of keeping part of the nation’s economy coal-fired. “

— Here in West Virginia, local folks in Mingo County celebrated the ground-breaking for a new airport to be build on a former strip-mine site.

— This week’s mountaintop removal news included the start of a tree-sitting protest against a Massey operation down in Raleigh County. Vicki Smith over at the AP had a feature-piece based on her text-messaged interview with one of the protesters.  You can follow news on the protesters at the Climate Ground Zero site, or I’ll be trying to update things periodically on Coal Tattoo. Also, Erica Peterson at West Virginia Public Broadcasting did a piece that examined the views of two men on opposite sides of the growing protest over mountaintop removal.

— In Illinois, the AP reported that the U.S. Justice Department and the state of Illinois filed a lawsuit Thursday against a company that runs six coal-fired power plants, claiming violations of the federal air pollution law.

— And in Tennessee, the Chattanooga Times-Free Press reported, “True to their name, some of TVA’s fossil plants could become extinct dinosaurs for the nation’s biggest government utility within the next five years. The Tennessee Valley Authority, which operates the oldest fleet of coal plants in the South, is looking at shutting down its oldest coal-fired power generation. Meanwhile, the costs are rising for the cleanup of TVA’s coal-ash disaster in East Tennessee, and a recent peer-reviewed study examines the nasty stuff people could be exposed to because of TVA’s negligence, according to two recent posts on NRDC’s Switchboard blog by Rob Perks.

— The Washington Post’s Green Lantern blog had an interesting post about acid rain, and how it hasn’t really gone away.

The New York Times reported from London the United Kingdom is nearing a crucial decision as it tries to tackle the climate crisis — whether to make a major push into new nuclear power or to proliferate coal-fired power plants constructed so their carbon emissions are captured and safely stored.

— My buddy Peter Fairly at Carbon Nation  reported on this CCS development over in Ohio, summarizing the work of several local newspapers there:

Columbus-based sci-tech research group Battelle is pulling out of a $92.8 million project to test carbon capture and storage (CCS) in Ohio — one of seven regional sequestration tests underpinning the U.S. Department of Energy’s program to kick the wheels on CCS. A Battelle spokeswoman cited “business considerations” in a terse statement on Friday announcing the decision, but Ohio newspapers highlighted local fears that injecting CO2 underground would spark seismic tremors, disrupt underground water supplies, and depress property values.

— Carl Pope from the Sierra Club, Trip Van Noppen of Earthjustice and Eric Schaefer wrote a major op-ed commentary called No More Loopholes for King Coal, which argued that the American Clean Energy and Security Act pending in Congress gives old coal-fired power plants “a free pass to continue business as usual — without making any serious reductions in heat-trapping carbon dioxide for 15 years or more.”

In response, Joseph Romm at the indespensible blog Climate Progress wrote that the op-ed authors — three respected environmental group leaders — are all simply wrong:

The bold-faced statements are simply not accurate, especially not as written.

No existing coal plants are grandfathered under this bill. All coal plants — all electric power plants — must have allowances in order to emit CO2.  It is true that the bill does not mandate shutting down existing coal plants — and I do think it would be worthwhile to have a “Cash for coal clunkers” provision.  But fundamentally this bill uses a shrinking emissions cap and a rising carbon price to shut down existing coal plants.

For folks who are trying to follow this from afar, this might become a little confusing, so let’s review: What Pope, Van Noppen and Schaefer are complaining about is Section 116 of the ACES, which sets carbon dioxide emissions limits for all coal-fired power plants permitted after January 2009. They want the bill to be changed to add limits for power plants built before then. Romm understands that the bill doesn’t contain emissions limits for those older plants, but he believes their greenhouse discharges will be forced down — and in fact cites analysis that many coal plants will be shuttered to do this — by other provisions of the ACES that require all power stations to have greenhouse gas allowances.

I’d encourage Coal Tattoo readers who want to know more to read both the op-ed and Romm’s piece, and then take a look at this Congressional Research Service report that spells out the specific provisions of the bill. The part about emissions limits for coal plants starts on page 22.  David Hawkins at NRDC also provided Congress with helpful explanations of the coal provision of the bill in this previous testimony.

— On a related note, more than 300 groups this week called for the U.S. Senate to strengthen the climate bill by, among other things, adding emissions limits and deadlines for these older coal plants. Read the letter here, and see a list of the groups here.

— Bloomberg reported that Coal India Ltd. may invest as much as $1.5 billion to acquire mines overseas to help overcome a shortage of the fuel as the country plans to almost double power generation capacity by 2012.

— And a very interesting Reuters story explained that, declining industrial electricity demand and an abundance of cheap natural gas will threaten coal’s status as the dominant U.S. fuel to generate electric power, even after the economic recession ends.

Finally, if you liked the story above about the dragline crossing a highway, check out this YouTube video pointed out to me by Coal Tattoo reader Bob Mooney:

3 Responses to “Friday roundup, August 28, 2009”

  1. Red Desert says:

    You gotta love Joe Romm. Who else could say that the EPA and EIA both got the nation’s future energy portfolio completely wrong in their studies of W-M and then talk up their positive cost conclusions (i.e., “Despite its many flaws, EIA analysis of climate bill finds 23 cents a day cost to families, massive retirement of dirty coal plants and 119 GW of new renewables by 2030 — plus a million barrels a day oil savings“).

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  3. Red Desert says:

    May I add one more to the Week in Review? The New Yorker published an excellent 2-part piece by Ian Frazier this month, “Travels in Siberia”. Of note here:

    “Until we left Novosibirsk, we had seen none of the large-scale environmental destruction that Siberia is famous for. Then we hit the small, smoky city of Kemerovo, in the Kuznetsk Basin coal-mining region. Russians don’t bother to hide strip mines with a screen of trees along the road to spare the feelings of motorists, as we Americans do. Beyond Kemerovo, the whole view at times became the gaping pits themselves, sprawling downward before us on either side while the thread-thin road tiptoed where it could between. Strip mines are strip mines, and I had seen similar scenery in North Dakota and southern Ohio and West Virginia, though never quite so close at hand. Often through this Siberian coal region the road strayed and forgot its original intention, and more than one fork we took dead-ended without warning at a city-size strip-mine hole. We meandered in the Kuznetsk Basin for most of a day and drove until past nightfall in order to camp on the other side. . . . “

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