Coal Tattoo

I just got out of a meeting between Gazette editors and Charles Patton, who is succeeding Dana Waldo as president of American Electric Power’s Appalachian Power subsidiary here in West Virginia.

It might come as a shocker to those in the coal world who are celebrating the death of congressional legislation to cap greenhouse gas emissions, but here’s what Patton had to say about lawmakers’ inaction:

We were disappointed that no action was taken. We understand why there was great opposition in the Midwest and especially in coal-producing states.

But the dilemma we face as an industry is there appears to be some amount of inevitability that something in the carbon world is going to happen.

Patton — who spent a good share of his career working as a policy person and lobbyist for AEP and related companies — lamented that climate change legislation has become such a partisan issue in Washington, D.C., and noted that during the Bush administration many more Republicans (including Sen. John McCain) supported passage of a climate bill.

Clearly, power companies like AEP would prefer congressional action to greenhouse gas regulations written by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — and certainly to lawsuits and court rulings like the one AEP is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

But Patton noted that the industry needs certainty and predictability, and needs time to put into place whatever emissions controls are needed or fuel switches or other actions are required. And he knows that in order for carbon capture and storage technology to be widely deployed, utilities must be given an incentive to do so in the form of some kind of emissions limits:

We can’t turn on a dime. It takes years and years to plan and develop generation capacity. So we need to know what the future holds to allow us to successfully plan for the future.

I’ll have more from our discussion with Patton in tomorrow’s Gazette …