Coal Tattoo

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Here’s a shocker … West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin issued a statement to praise Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., for announcing he will vote in favor of the broad effort to block any EPA action to deal with global warming.

The statement said, among other things:

The governor believes that support of the Murkowski resolution is critical if West Virginia and our country expect to have a viable future in energy and job sustainability.

Critical? How so, given that the House has no plans to take up the measure and even if they did and it passed, President Obama would veto it?

One of the more interesting things to consider here is the headline on Sen. Rockefeller’s announcement (issued after business hours last night):

Rockefeller says support for Murkowski resolution is a vote for a strong West Virginia economy.

Given that the main concern here is coal … it’s interesting to consider whether coal production translates into a strong economy … consider, for example, Boone County, the state’s largest coal producing county. According to the latest Census data, about 16 percent of Boone County’s families live below the poverty rate. That’s compared to about 9 percent nationally.  And of course, Sen. Rockefeller should know that coal has so many hidden costs, and that if those costs were truly weighed, coal would cost the Appalachian region more than it benefits us.

On a Natural Resources Defense Council blog, Daniel Lashof, director of NRDC’s climate center, commented that Sen. Rockefeller — chairman of a key Senate panel on scientific issues — knows better than this vote:

No matter how many times supporters say otherwise, a vote for the Murkowski resolution of disapproval is a vote to deny climate science by overturning EPA’s science-based finding that global warming pollution is dangerous to Americans’ health and to their environment.

Of all people, Science Committee Chairman Rockefeller should know what’s wrong with denial of climate science.

Lashof points out that it wasn’t so long ago that Sen. Rockeller was taking ExxonMobil to task for the company’s efforts to make the American people believe there’s no such thing as global warming, saying in a letter to the company:

… We are persuaded that the climate change denial strategy carried out by and for ExxonMobil has helped foster the perception that the United States is insensitive to a matter of great urgency for all of mankind, and has thus damaged the stature of our nation internationally. It is our hope that under your leadership, ExxonMobil would end its dangerous support of the “deniers.”…

Indeed, while the group of outliers funded by ExxonMobil has had some success in the court of public opinion, it has failed miserably in confusing, much less convincing, the legitimate scientific community. Rather, what has emerged and continues to withstand the carefully crafted denial strategy is an insurmountable scientific consensus on both the problem and causation of climate change. Instead of the narrow and inward-looking universe of the deniers, the legitimate scientific community has developed its views on climate change through rigorous peer-reviewed research and writing across all climate-related disciplines and in virtually every country on the globe.

The part that got me was when Sen. Rockefeller wrote about fostering a perception that the U.S. “is insensitive to a matter of great urgency for all mankind.” It reminded me of Sen. Robert C. Byrd — who is undecided as yet on the Murkowski bill — who cautioned West Virginians on climate change:

To be part of any solution, one must first acknowledge a problem. To deny the mounting science of climate change is to stick our heads in the sand and say “deal me out.” West Virginia would be much smarter to stay at the table.

I’ve heard Sen. Rockefeller talk many times about how he won’t support any climate or clean energy bill that doesn’t do enough to protect West Virginia coal, by easing the pace of emissions reductions and providing tons of money for carbon capture and storage research and deployment.

But the rhetoric here from Sen. Rockefeller seems aimed more and appeasing the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, where former aides to Massey Energy Don Blankenship have steered the public relations efforts to an even more staunch position urging no action at all on climate change.

And by supporting a measure that not only blocks EPA action on greenhouse emissions, but overturns a finding by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson that did little more than confirm what scientists already know — that climate change is threat to public health and welfare — you have to wonder if Sen. Rockefeller is fostering the very “head in the sand” attitude that Sen. Byrd cautioned us against.

The NRDC’s Lashof, though, held out hope for West Virginia and our elected leaders:

The only path forward for the United States, and for West Virginia, is to enact a comprehensive clean energy and climate plan that breaks our addiction to oil, limits global warming pollution, and invests in technology to capture carbon dioxide from power plants. With Senator Rockefeller’s help, such a law could be enacted this year.

The Senate debates and votes on the Murkowski measure tomorrow …  stay tuned to see how Sen. Byrd ends up voting …