On eve of President Obama’s jobs speech, industry goes after Sierra Club’s ‘Beyond Coal’ campaign

September 7, 2011 by Ken Ward Jr.

As the nation waits to hear more details of President Obama’s new jobs plan, the National Mining Association sought today to inject its own agenda into the mix — issuing a news release criticizing the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign:

On the eve of the president’s address to the nation on job creation, a new report shows potentially 1.24 million jobs in 36 states have been destroyed by the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign aimed at stopping coal-based power plants. The finding, from an analysis released today by the National Mining Association (NMA), shows that while the Sierra Club boasts of stopping coal plant projects it is also destroying high-wage jobs for American workers in a struggling economy.

Aside from its news release, the NMA made public just two charts (see here and here) from the analysis, but said:

Applying coal plant employment data from the U.S. National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) to the Sierra Club’s own claims of halted power plant construction, the analysis shows Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign has targeted for destruction 116,872 permanent jobs and an additional 1.12 million construction jobs represented by the power plants they have prevented from being built. Examples include Illinois, where proposed power plants could have supported 126,612 total jobs there and in surrounding states, and Texas, where blocked power plant construction represented 122,065 total jobs and where potential shortages of electric power exists today.

NMA President Hal Quinn said:

From this analysis, only two conclusions are possible: Either the Sierra Club is exaggerating its effectiveness, or its effectiveness is genuine but at the cost of hundreds of thousands of high-wage jobs for Americans struggling to find work in the middle of an historic employment crisis.

Of course, the Sierra Club is exaggerating its own effectiveness. Not all of the plants on their list were specifically blocked by the group. A variety of factors played into decisions about not building new power plants, not the least of which was the economic downturn in the country.

But obviously, the mining industry and other coal supporters were none to pleased with the announcement that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was going to pump another $50 million into the Sierra Club’s campaign against dirty coal-fired power plants.

The other thing is, as the Sierra Club’s Bruce Nilles pointed out to me earlier, the NMA numbers only tell part of the story — they assume that no economic activity or jobs were created in place of these coal plant positions. Wind and solar are both making major gains. As Bruce told me:

They don’t answer what do these coal plants get replaced by? We had record investment in wind and gas this past year. They are in fact creating a lot of jobs.

Unfortunately, one of the only comparisons between these industries and their job count that is tossed around is the bogus one that compares every single person working in the entire wind industry to just those coal workers who actually do the mining.

Without better numbers on cleaner energy development, the National Mining Association’s new figures are only telling part of the story.

42 Responses to “On eve of President Obama’s jobs speech, industry goes after Sierra Club’s ‘Beyond Coal’ campaign”

  1. Matt Wasson says:

    Does anybody really believe the NMA is concerned about jobs??? It’s not like the association is funded by working people — it gets its funding from corporations because those corporations believe NMA can help improve their bottom line. One might say that the NMA is only concerned about mining jobs, but even that wouldn’t be accurate. Where was the NMA when tens of thousands of union mining jobs in West Virginia were displaced by mountaintop removal mines that employed far fewer workers?

    Here’s a thought experiment: if NMA came out in support of a renewable energy bill that would create tens of thousands of jobs, what do you think would happen to its contributions from coal companies?

    NMA has no credibility on jobs whatsoever — at least organizations like Appalachian Voices and the Sierra Club receive a large portion of our funding from working people. This is report is 100% about NMA’s political strategy to support policies that increase the profits of its corporate sponsors, it has nothing whatsoever to do with jobs

  2. Casey says:

    Matt,
    I’m not aware of any industries that do not require manpower. If the NMA is successful in allowing the coal industry an opportunity to continue to exist then there certainly are many jobs that can continue that are both direct and indirect coal employment.

    This opportunity is no guarantee that a profit or an acceptable risk adjusted return on investment will be made. Just like any other non-monopolistic industry only the ones that are efficient and competent can stay in business (assuming competing products or an over reaching EPA do not curtail the industry).

    I do not know of any private industry that has a goal to maximize employment. Their capitalist goal is to make a return on investment and this system has worked pretty well overall in improving the standard of living of the citizens of the U.S.

  3. Christopher says:

    Nice comments Matt. I love good irony and was just thinking the same thing about NMA’s alleged support for jobs amidst their shifting from more labor intensive methods towards massive amounts of explosives and mountaintop removal.

  4. Vnxq809 says:

    Matt,

    For the record please quantify the % of $$$ that “Appalachian Voices and the Sierra Club receive……….our funding from working people”.

    I would be curious to see that breakdown.

    Thanks,

    Vnxq809

  5. Matt Wasson says:

    Casey,

    I agree with every word you wrote. The point, however, is that NMA is an advocacy organization that exists, like all such organizations (including my own) to accomplish a mission. In NMA’s case, that mission is to increase the profits of the companies that support it. If NMA supported other goals that were in any way at odds with that one overriding goal then the companies on whose financial support NMA relies would no longer support it. That’s no indictment of NMA – the same sort of argument could be made about Appalachian Voices and the Sierra Club.

    My problem is that a controversial study about jobs from trade groups like NMA are treated by the media as having far more credibility than they deserve. If Appalachian Voices issued a report projecting job impacts of coal mining regulations, I guarantee it would not be covered in the Charleston Gazette unless it was conducted by credible and independent analysts like economists at WVU or Downstream Strategies. And rightly so – while our mission is to protect the environment and the welfare of communities in Appalachia, our supporters would abandon us in droves if we advocated for blowing up mountains and burying streams, even if it really did create jobs (which it doesn’t).

    NMA should be held to the same standard – the more so because this and other analyses they have put out, as Bruce Nilles noted, are so wildly one-sided and uncredible that I would challenge anyone to find an independent academic economist who would certify their projections provide an accurate and complete picture of the impact on jobs of the Sierra Club’s activities – even if that organization were solely responsible for the 150 or so proposed power plants that haven’t been built (which, of course, they are not).

    If NMA were to simply report government numbers on employment trends (as regular readers of Coal Tattoo know I regularly do), then their findings would be worth looking at, but the results of economic studies that project job impacts can be so easily manipulated that they’re meaningless unless there is good reason to believe that the authors of the study are objective and credible or that their methods have been subjected to a rigorous peer review process.

    I don’t believe there is anyone who truly believes this “report” by NMA comes within miles of meeting those standards. Unfortunately, there are a whole lot of people in the media and politics that simply aren’t concerned about such issues as credibility and motives. But anyone interested in getting to the truth would do well to follow the advice given to two very famous reporters back in the 70s – follow the money.
    .

  6. Matt Wasson says:

    Vnxq809,

    One of the great things about non-profit groups like Appalachian Voices is that our IRS 990 forms are required to be made public. Those forms provide a breakdown of our funding sources, though I apologize that “working people” is not one of those categories so I can’t give you a precise number – but a significant proportion of our funding comes from individual donors and my experience is that most of them work for a living.

    If you don’t know about CharityNavigator and Guidestar you should definitely look them up – they’re an excellent resource for looking into the financials of organizations like my own and they provide direct access to our IRS filings as well.

    Unfortunately, trade groups like NMA and non tax-exempt groups like the Sierra Club fall under different rules and I’m not sure how to get more precise information on their financials.

  7. coalguy says:

    First, I should state that I have absolutely no use for the Sierra Club. I think they are a group of environmentalists that do nothing more than cost this country and all Americans a lot of money by filing litigation against every and any industry trying to create jobs by expanding their business.
    Second, obviously the NMA is going to support their cause which is all mining including coal mining. And they do not and should not differentiate between mining methods as long as the mine has a legal permit. But, they are right that the Sierra club has either cost a lot of jobs or they are not as effective as they might tell you. You decide which. But, the Sierra Clubs beyond coal campaign would lead you to believe that we don’t need coal to supply our electric needs. I believe that is an absolute mistake. It can be argued that coal may not need to supply almost 50% of our power but in the end, the Sierra Club offers no realistic replacement for the current coal generation. Gas is a possible alternative but fuel diversity is the only way to keep affordable generation available to power the country. So, I believe we need coal, we need gas, we need nuclear and we need some wind/solar power. A good mix of all tpyes of generation will keep power more affordable.

  8. Vnxq809 says:

    Matt,

    Thank you.

    Vnxq809

  9. Edd442 says:

    NMA’s own record on job creation is itself paltry. Just look at the legacy of decline in coal mining jobs over the last 40 years. It would seem like they just want to cry “victim”, as with the rest of the anti-regulation sentiment in this country. But every American success story in our history has been one in which the “victim” mentality has no place. I say, if they want to create jobs, let them innovate their way to success, no matter what the obstacles. Nothing is stopping them.

  10. Enviro says:

    Fact – the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” initiative is for the purpose of stopping the mining and use of coal for energy production. To that end the Sierra Club is being successful.

    I fail to understand why some on here are so upset about a report that simply affirms what the Sierra Club (and others) are trying to accomplish. Jobs have been lost and jobs have not been created as a direct result of the efforts of these organizations. Are you ashamed of your own success?

    AppVoices has as one of its primary purposes to cease surface mining in Appalachia. In so doing, this translates to jobs lost and jobs not being created. That is the simple fact of the matter. I don’t understand why an organization whose mission and objective it is to stop an activity and the jobs with it would be upset about someone stating this obvious conclusion and fact. I would think that AppVoices would be proud of their success.

    Take credit for and be proud of what you are doing. That is stopping the use of coal and the jobs that go with it. That’s your goal and you’re accomplishing your goal.

    Stand up and be proud of it instead of criticizing the messenger.

  11. Matt Wasson says:

    Enviro,

    I can’t speak for the Sierra Club, but as I understand it they are advocating a phaseout of our reliance on coal over a few decades, not shutting down the coal industry tomorrow. That’s important because it provides a lot of time for transitioning to other sources of energy and to invest in bringing new industries and creating new jobs in mining regions.

    I’m curious if you have any information as to what jobs have actually been lost as the result of the Sierra Club’s advocacy or that of the dozens of other organizations focused on preventing construction of new coal-fired power plants. Virtually all of those proposed plants were abandoned because they weren’t needed or because state regulators believed that it would be a financially risky decision to invest in coal rather than other energy sources. Sierra Club and other groups may have played a role in educating regulators about those risks — and their tendency to claim credit for all those retirements goes a long way toward inflaming the issue — but I’m not aware of any situations where regulators decided to allow people to freeze in the dark rather than supporting investments in other sorts of energy. Are you?

    In other words, it may be that jobs are being created in producing wind, solar and natural gas generation rather than coal, but to call that change in investment decisions “jobs lost” is deeply misleading.

    As for Appalachian Voices’ advocacy and mining jobs — where, exactly, are these jobs being lost? We have no control over the low price of natural gas, which is what has depressed coal demand. But even with that depressed demand, the number of mining jobs in West Virginia has increased by 12% since the start of the recession. That’s not a projection, it’s simple math based on data from MSHA.

    What is clear is that underground mines are supplying a greater proportion of coal to meet that lower demand, which explains why the number of mining jobs is increasing, not decreasing. I am quite proud of the fact that our efforts to reduce strip mining are not only saving mountains, streams and communities, but are actually creating jobs in Appalachia – and I hope, though can’t confirm, that a lot of those are at union mines, rather than at non-union strip mines.

    In short, while ending mountaintop removal (which is almost, but not exactly, the same as strip mining in Appalachia) is an imperative, our goal is to do that in a way that creates jobs — and every bit of evidence I’ve seen so far indicates that we’re doing a good job of that so far.

    If you have any actual information to suggest this is wrong, I’d love to hear about it.

  12. Rachel Doughty says:

    I agree, Matt. And I agree with Enviro. Stand proud. Even if stopping coal-fired plants was a job destroying endeavor, that would be OK. What comes with those jobs is childhood asthma, ponds of toxic liquid, removal of mountains, destruction of water quality, loss of tourism, changing the chemistry of the planet, and corruption of our political system. The people who had those jobs need to be offered the option of retraining in interesting, challenging, and productive jobs. How about design, construction, and maintenance of wind and solar power? How about the energy efficiency field?

  13. Casey says:

    Matt,
    Here’s some “working people” that are proud coal miners.

    http://bdtonline.com/local/x1095937151/Coal-Miner-s-Reunion-celebrates-workers-who-built-W-Va

    Maybe they are not current miners but most all miners look at others in the coal industry as almost family. And these working people support the industry and others that work in the industry, even if they do not do so via monetary contributions.

  14. Rudy Waltz says:

    Well at least a few of you are actually being honest and saying you’re proud of putting people out of work.

  15. Rudy Waltz says:

    As for the statement that mountain top mining put 10,000 union miners out of work, one of the biggest and longest running mountain top mine in WV is a union mine. Not to mention all the bigger surface mines in the southern part of the state are union as well.

  16. Casey says:

    Matt knowinly supports a method (underground) that historially results in a higher rate of injuries and fatalities. Which is also a method that will not allow the extraction of most of the seams of coal that is being surface mined. He also supports a method that must utilize fill in valleys (and drainage classified as “streams”) to allow the storage of the non-coal material mined while deep mining. Matt are you okay with refuse fills and impoundments, more injuries, and less U.S. energy sources being utilized?

  17. Kevin F says:

    I would like to make a point many here have lost. None of these groups would be here without public support. Yes; the members of these groups are your neighbors and even co-workers. Some even work in the mining industry itself. These people put their incomes in harms way because they see a problem with an industry they may work for or an industry which may be located next door. But so many of the people in our country do not believe these people should have a voice or speak up about anything if it interfears with someone else’s job or life. But that is one of the rights we who live in the US have faught and died for, anything else does a diservice to our founders and our past generations.

  18. Enviro says:

    Casey – you are correct. It does strike me as a bit hypocritical, if in fact environmental issues are the concern. Or, is it a political posture?

    “What is clear is that underground mines are supplying a greater proportion of coal to meet that lower demand, which explains why the number of mining jobs is increasing, not decreasing. I am quite proud of the fact that our efforts to reduce strip mining are not only saving mountains, streams and communities, but are actually creating jobs in Appalachia – and I hope, though can’t confirm, that a lot of those are at union mines, rather than at non-union strip mines.

    Then there is this statement:

    “In short, while ending mountaintop removal (which is almost, but not exactly, the same as strip mining in Appalachia) is an imperative, our goal is to do that in a way that creates jobs — and every bit of evidence I’ve seen so far indicates that we’re doing a good job of that so far.

    I have to ask. Is AppVoices saying that they are not opposed to all forms of surface mining in Appalachia? This is different than what I have been personally told by various representatives of AppVoices. Or, if it is in fact just MTR as Matt suggests, then from a pure SMCRA perspective there aren’t very many of those that exist in Appalachia. There’s a lot of contour mines and the like however which are not MTR under SMCRA.

  19. Matt Wasson says:

    Casey, Rudy and all,

    I don’t suppose you watched the President’s jobs speech last night, did you? If not, you should. What I think the President accomplished is communicating to a divided country that we are facing a real national crisis – not a rhetorical or a politically expedient crisis, but a crisis in which tens of millions of good people’s lives are catastrophically falling apart because they can’t find work.

    We all know that a jobs crisis is nothing new in southern West Virginia. It’s been going on for decades. And a lot of us are more concerned about an even greater crisis — a moral crisis in which it’s ok if the very drinking water for families in Rawl or Prenter is poisoned with coal waste. And I am motivated every day by an existential crisis that people — my friends — feel in seeing their mountains, their history and their way of life dismantled before their eyes. I will never apologize for fighting to end mountaintop removal coal mining, whatever the consequences, Casey, because I believe – I have to believe – that America is better than to treat our people and our resources like they are treated by coal companies and politicians in southern WV. And I won’t rest until it stops.

    But I recognize that we’re also at a time of national crisis, and I fear sometimes that my colleagues fighting coal fired power plants are a little tone-deaf to where the country is at. Ok, utterly tone-deaf. But what I see on this blog from the coal industry is just as tone-deaf.

    It’s not just miners that need to stand up for each other during a national jobs crisis — all working Americans need to stand up for each other. The American economy shed more than 5% of its jobs during the recession and most were in industries that aren’t coming back — meaning replacing those jobs requires developing new industries and investing in emerging ones. Should Americans only be concerned about the West Virginia mining industry, which, by the way has seen a 12% increase in jobs over that same period? Because analyst after analyst (the credible kind) has projected that “clean energy industries” are going to be among the largest – if not the largest – drivers of global economic growth in the decades ahead.

    This isn’t just about miners, Casey, it’s about our country. But if Appalachians can stand together we can make sure that our economy and our children’s future don’t get left behind again. We can phase out our reliance on coal without putting people out of work (it’s been happening for a decade) and we can end mountaintop removal without losing mining jobs, which is already happening as well. And most importantly, the members of Congress in this region have enough political power to ensure that investments in a clean energy economy are made right here in Appalachia — the region that has been powering this country for centuries.

    And as for future coal mining, I utterly reject your false choice between destroying our mountains and moving jobs to unsafe underground mines, Casey, and you should reject it too. Improving the safety of mines creates jobs (although I regret Arch and Alpha’s shareholders may have to shave a few tenths of a percent of their dividends to pay for it).

    There’s a lot more that unites us than divides us, so let’s stop letting ourselves get divided by those who would take advantage of a genuine national crisis to advance their narrow agenda.

  20. Observer says:

    Matt,

    Your first problem is trying to make this a national issue. It isn’t. It goes no further than my driveway. It is about me being able to pay my mortgage, feed my kids, send them to college and go on a vacation.

    This is about you trying to destroy my job and me trying to save it.

    I am all for new technology and innovation in bringing new energy sources into service. If I can’t afford to pay the electric bill, what good does it do?

    You talk about moving away from coal “whatever the consequences”. On a national scale the 15,000 mining jobs in West Virginia doesn’t seem so bad. Look where the jobs are. Take a 1000 jobs out of Mingo county. What have you done? You have destroyed that local economy.

    ” … tens of thousands of union mining jobs in West Virginia were displaced by mountaintop removal mines … ” 20,000 union jobs really??? The are only 15000ish mining jobs in the state.

    ” … Sierra Club receive a large portion of our funding from working people …” What part of $50 million, Bloomberg and working man go together?

    “… are actually creating jobs in Appalachia … ” How many jobs have been created?

  21. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Observer,

    Thanks for your comment.

    You wrote to Matt:

    “Your first problem is trying to make this a national issue. It isn’t. It goes no further than my driveway. It is about me being able to pay my mortgage, feed my kids, send them to college and go on a vacation.”

    There’s few higher callings — if any — than trying to take care of one’s family.

    But you express here a pretty narrow definition of what is involved in doing that. What about the increased risk of birth defects associated with living near mountaintop removal coal-mining operations, documented by WVU researchers? There are other folks who live in these communities who are concerned — rightly so — about these sorts of impacts.

    Those folks have a right to be heard as well, and I was brought up to care about how what I do impacts my neighbors. Most of us were, and I’m sure you were as well.

    A narrow view that cares only about me and mine doesn’t get any community anywhere.

    I don’t speak for Matt, but I believe his comment about mountaintop removal displacing tens of thousands of union jobs goes to the question of the longer-term decline of coal jobs in the region — as companies in some part of the state moved to non-union surface mining operations over unionized underground mines. Matt wrote more about such issues here, http://appvoices.org/2011/08/14/fact-checking-cnns-new-documentary-about-mountaintop-removal-the-jobs-vs-environment-frame-is-dead-wrong-once-again/

    You’re right that taking 1,000 jobs out of Mingo County has a huge impact there. No question about it.But coal jobs in Central Appalachia are going away regardless of what Appalachian Voices does about mountaintop removal, and regardless of what EPA does about air pollution or global warming. I’ve not seen any forecasts that show this part of the coalfields isn’t destined for big job losses over the coming decade — even without any new environmental restrictions. Other factors are at play, as has been discussed here.

    Ken.

  22. Observer says:

    You are correct Ken, there are higher callings. There are a few I take part in that have nothing to do with coal. To the issue at hand, what am I supposed to do if I can’t meet the basic needs of my family? Am I supposed to quit and look for work elsewhere?

  23. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Observer,

    This blog has been writing for more than two years now about how the coal-based economy in parts of West Virginia is simply not working and isn’t sustainable over a long-term … and we’ve been trying to ask elected officials, industry leaders, the UMWA and environmental groups what they’re going to do about it …

    You might start asking those same questions: The decline is coming — what are all of the people who are charged with being leaders in our society going to do about it?

    Ken.

  24. Matt Wasson says:

    Observer,

    I am glad for Ken’s question and even more so for your response. I found your original comment heartbreaking, but I see now that it came out of frustration and fear for your ability to provide the kind of life you envision for your family and not that any concern over the jobs crisis facing millions of Americans goes “no further than your driveway.”

    I assume that your frustration was from my focus on the national instead of the personal. For every one of us, the issue of coal’s future runs deep, and our concerns range from the personal to the community to the national to the global — all of which are important. For me the issue is personal because people I know and love in West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee are suffering terrible injustices. And it’s personal because the country I love and believe in with all my heart is allowing it to happen.

    For supporters of Appalachian Voices and for idealistic and passionate members of the Sierra Club I see everywhere I go, it’s deeply personal as well — they fear that the changes we are causing to the global climate is among the greatest threats to their children’s future.

    If your job is strip mining, Observer, then I’m afraid you’re right that if my efforts and those of my colleagues are successful, the job you currently have will no longer exist. But as Ken points out again and again and again, that will almost certainly be the case whether or not we are successful in stopping mountaintop removal in the near future (and to address Enviro’s point – Appalachian Voices believes that all forms of strip mining in the steep slopes of Appalachia should be phased out).

    What I am also committed to, Observer, is doing everything I can to ensure that your ability — and that of your neighbors — to provide for your family in the long term is increased far beyond the false security provided by the coal companies. Companies that, as a dear friend of mine says in a song she wrote, have “one eye on these mountains and one foot out the door.”

    How many mining jobs have been created since the EPA issued its preliminary guidance in April, 2010? To be precise: 3,182 jobs. Again, that’s not a projection, it’s straight from data provided to MSHA and other agencies:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/appvoices/6130794844/in/photostream

    The number of mining jobs has increased largely because of a shift from surface to underground production. Importantly, it has also occurred despite the fact that demand for US coal has declined due to lower energy demand and low-priced natural gas (although that decrease has partially – but not completely – been offset by the surge in international demand for met coal).

    I hope that helps answer your questions, Observer. I really do want the best for you and your family, even if my top priority is to stop the grievous injustices occurring as a result of mountaintop removal. I am absolutely certain that your children’s future prosperity and justice for people living below mountaintop removal mines are compatible, if not inextricably linked.

  25. Observer says:

    Matt,

    Thanks for the response.

    If you were given the chance to eradicate surface mining in Appalachia today with the stroke of your pen, I assume that you would. At that point what happens to the economy as people can no longer meet the basic needs of their families?

    That is right. You can’t eradicate it overnight. It is both politically and economically impossible. What is your plan to phase it out?

  26. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Observer,

    Thanks for continuing the discussion … just so that all the pressure isn’t on Matt here, I have a couple of questions I hope you’ll try to answer:

    1. What is your plan for what the families who rely on coal mining will do in 10 years, when production in Central Appalachia has been cut in half, and thousands of jobs are gone? What happens then as people can no longer meet the basic needs of their families?

    2. What is your proposal for dealing with what scientists have concluded are pervasive and irreversible impacts from mountaintop removal to the environment — and for dealing with the increased risks of birth defects, cancer and other ailments associated with living near these operations?

    Thanks, Ken.

  27. Elizabeth says:

    My gosh, what heart breaking dialogue. I believe this discussion has the potential to demonstrate explicitly the effect WV’s sole reliance on Coal as an economic base has had on our communities, families, relationships, environment and politics. It is truly tragic. Observer, I don’t know what to say. Your way of life and how you provide for your family is vulnerable. But in Coal Country it has always been that way. It used to be vulnerable because there was no Union and Mr Peabody’s coal compant could treat you any way they wanted. It was vulnerable because mines were just shut down and you were just out of luck. Coal has not always been the miners’ friend. Matt has pinpointed other problems resulting from MTR. Ruined wells, home places destroyed. And Ken has presented the questions about ends justifying means. Does coal production and jobs for West Virginians preempt the right of our constituents to live in a healthy environment or is the price we pay for jobs the very health of out babies and families? What other State in the Union has to confront these issues so desparately

  28. Elizabeth says:

    Sorry, hit the wrong key and didn’t get to correct spelling “desperately”. And finish my statement. I believe Matt is right. We all love our State and we need to find ways to support each other as we transition to a more diversified economy and a healthier political environment. (wishful thinking)

  29. Observer says:

    My posts weren’t intended to be heartbreaking. I don’t want want anybody to feel sorry for me. I began working in the coal world in 1986. It didn’t take me long to realize there would be an end game at some point. I always thought that the end would be when the coal ran out not when somebody started thinking what I was doing was an injustice.

    Yes West Virginia must diversify its economy. Do you do that by destroying a big part of it or do you do it by embracing the extraction of coal and gas.

    Here are some suggestions:
    Return all severence $ to the county in which it originated. These $ should only be used for infrastructure and community development.
    Return all AML $ to the state in which it originated. These $ should only be used for reclamation (waterlines included).
    Turn a few MTR sites into industrial parks. Build roads, water and sewer for these parks.
    Complete the construction of the King Coal Highway.
    Improve the access to higher education. Put a four year public university in Logan or there abouts.

  30. Matt Wasson says:

    You ask a fair question, Observer. It deserves a response. It’s true that I would eradicate surface mining in Appalachia if I could, though nothing I could do with the stroke of a pen , even if I were President, would impact most existing permits – meaning that the pen-stroke would trigger a 5-year phaseout of Appalachian strip mining, but it would not shut down operations overnight.

    Here’s my best guess as to how it would play out:

    Because there is a large captive demand for low-sulfur Central Appalachian coal among older power plants in the East that were built specifically to burn CAPP coal, there would be a rush among those plants to sign contracts with underground coal mines. There would be no supply constraints in the near term because Central Appalachian underground mines are operating at just 68% capacity (as of the most recent EIA report). Nevertheless, the price that Central Appalachian coal suppliers could command would obviously go up (though not through the roof now that natural gas prices are so low). Natural gas plants would gain a greater proportion of the electricity generation market, as they always do when coal prices go up. But the increased profits at underground mines would generate plenty of capital to expand those operations and open up new ones to replace those where reserves are depleted.

    What would happen to employment? It would almost certainly go up in the short term. Based on current productivity figures, this shift would generate between 500 and 5,000 additional jobs per year for at least a few years, depending on the price of natural gas.

    Beyond that I suspect that a fair number of plants that rely on Central Appalachian coal will have shut down (which many are scheduled to do already) or converted to natural gas. Some others will have installed scrubbers that allow them to burn Illinois Basin coal. A few may even have retrofitted their boilers and/or fuel handling facilities, allowing them to burn Powder River Basin coal.

    That scenario is pretty similar to what EIA projects will happen anyway. The only difference on the demand side is that a greater proportion of electricity would be produced by natural gas in the short run and more CAPP-burning plants would be replaced with natural gas and other energy sources (or efficiency) sooner than they would otherwise have been.

    The drop in demand will require some of the highest cost underground mines to shut down and the 2-3 year increase in employment would begin to drop back down. At that point, Central Appalachian steam coal will be pretty much a niche market – maybe 40-50 million tons per year between domestic and European buyers. And another 50-60 million tons of met coal sold mostly to overseas buyers. So my prediction 5-10 years out is that Central Appalachian production would level be at about 100 million tons per year, which is 10 million tons lower than what EIA projects. However, because all of it would come from underground mines, mine employment would be about the same – at most 2-3% lower than it would otherwise have been without signing the law banning strip mining in Appalachia.

    Finally, with the most hot-button issues out of the way, Rahall, Rockefeller – maybe even Manchin – would finally get out from under the thumb of their corporate masters in the coal industry and would start doing something meaningful to help bring new industries to the region. As a result, we would see more rapid diversification and job growth.

    There are plenty with more expertise than me, Observer, though I doubt there are many who think about this issue more. It may play out quite differently than I project, but I am utterly convinced that it would be a net positive for southern West Virginia in terms of jobs and transformative in terms of people’s health and quality of life. And for what it’s worth, I’ll do everything in my power to make sure it is all of those.

  31. Casey says:

    Matt,
    Under your scenario whereby you eliminated surface mining resulting in all deep mining in central App, would you now be in a position to target deep mine refuse disposal for elimination? Are you 100% okay with all aspects of deep mining practice and associated impacts?

  32. Observer says:

    Matt,

    Again, thanks for your response.

    How do you square up the need for fills in road construction and commercial development? I would imagine that those would still be “legal”.

  33. Matt Wasson says:

    I’m glad you asked that question, Observer, as it brings the conversation full circle back to where it started. The entire “controversy” about restrictions on fills impacting road building or the ability of Wal-Mart to build a parking lot is made up out of nothing by NMA to stoke fear – there’s not a shred of truth to it. People build roads, Wal-Marts and homes in mountainous areas all over this country every day. All we’ve ever supported is preventing the use of 404s for the primary purpose of waste disposal. Yes, that would affect the specific plans of the “King Coal Highway” boondoggle, but it would not prevent construction of such a highway through Mingo, Logan and Boone Counties where people feel that one is needed.

    Casey, the quantities of refuse generated by underground mines is miniscule in comparison to surface mines. That refuse could easily be disposed of or temporarily stored on abandoned mine benches and other suitable areas and much of it used later to reclaim the mine. I looked closely at this question about whether underground mines could operate without 404 permits and here are the facts: more than 3/4 of the underground mine permits approved in Central Appalachia in 2009 required no valley fills. For those that did, they were on average about 1/100th the size of fills associated with surface mines. It might cost just a little more, but disposing of that refuse in safer ways wouldn’t even register in the overall cost of operating a mine.

    In terms of processing wastes, you know well where we stand on disposal of wet processing wastes in impoundments and abandoned mine shafts, but there are perfectly good dry deshaling processes that would be more than adequate for supplying coal to power plants with basic pollution control (which is all that will exist in 5-10 years). In fact, as I understand it, the reason the industry chose wet processes was because it required less man power. An attorney that many of you are familiar with told me about a document from Massey in the early 80s explaining that they chose wet processes because it allowed them to hire 2 fewer workers per shift – I haven’t seen the document myself, but he’s a highly credible source.

    I hope I didn’t imply that all we wanted to accomplish was stopping surface mining – as long as families are being forced to live without clean drinking water or are threatened by having to live below leaky earthen coal sludge dams, we’ll be fighting for their rights.

  34. Matt Wasson says:

    Casey, I’m curious whether you have any intention of responding to the questions Ken posed. And thank you, Observer, for taking a stab at the first of Ken’s questions. But let’s revisit them. Ken asked:

    1. What is your plan for what the families who rely on coal mining will do in 10 years, when production in Central Appalachia has been cut in half, and thousands of jobs are gone? What happens then as people can no longer meet the basic needs of their families?

    2. What is your proposal for dealing with what scientists have concluded are pervasive and irreversible impacts from mountaintop removal to the environment — and for dealing with the increased risks of birth defects, cancer and other ailments associated with living near these operations?

    I’m not sure you got very far into #1, Observer — I love the idea of a university in Logan. I’m pretty sure we’d all like to see a teaching college opened up in Welch and a graphic design academy in Williamson as well, and I fully believe they should be. One wonders, in this day and age, where the political will to make such far-sighted investments in our people and our economy is going to come from, though.

    But I’m not a West Virginian – do you believe it would be possible to generate that sort of political will among West Virginia’s political leaders to make those kind of investments in the future, Observer? What would it take to start convincing them?

  35. Casey says:

    Matt,
    I disagree with your beliefs that “disposing of that refuse in safer ways wouldn’t even register in the overall cost of operating a mine” and that this deep mine refuse disposal could be done without 404’s. You have been misimformed although there may be unique and small scale applications but would not be low cost.

    Ken did not ask those questions of me. But we do need to diversify the WV economy. Unfortunately it is rated as one of the very worst places to do business. Coal mining must occur where the coal is so we have a mining industry in WV although it’s threathen by the EPA on the supply side (permits) and on the demand side (power plant regulations). Anytime one industry is dominant in an area it is more subject to the boom and bust cycles of that one industry i.e.Detroit, McDowell etc. It is false notion to say coal mining caused the poor economic conditions in some areas as it is more a lack of coal mining at the previous scale that causes it.

    I do not know the answer with dealing with the possible health effects of surface mining since no cause and effect has been revealed to target a solution.

  36. Enviro says:

    1. What is your plan for what the families who rely on coal mining will do in 10 years, when production in Central Appalachia has been cut in half, and thousands of jobs are gone? What happens then as people can no longer meet the basic needs of their families?

    Even though it is the clear objective of some parties, the answer isn’t the elimination of coal mining in the short term. Let’s be clear on that. The answer is not easy or we would already be doing the things that need to be done. Coal isn’t prohibiting anyone from developing new economies or opportunities. To the contrary, coal should be viewed as enabling the development of these things rather than the contrary as it is being viewed today. If the energy spent on stopping coal were used to develop other opportunities, we would all be the better for it. I would argue that the if the venom between the views were gone, a lot more good would get accomplished. Instead, we have purposely created division which by its very nature leads to a lack of progress. All of that said, you have to develop the unique niches that are Appalachia. Be that tourism, cultural attractions, etc. There is ample opportunity to nurture that which is there already or that can be developed.

    2. What is your proposal for dealing with what scientists have concluded are pervasive and irreversible impacts from mountaintop removal to the environment — and for dealing with the increased risks of birth defects, cancer and other ailments associated with living near these operations?

    The hypothesis is incorrect to start with. Unless you are referring to leaving the mountains completely untouched, the issues are not irreversible. Watersheds restoration has in fact been observed and verified post-mining. Now, in some cases it has taken 20 years, but it has occured. AOC in some cases has yielded post-mining land use that can look a lot like pre-mining land use. With regard to birth defects, you need to increase population on potable water and decrease well water usage. This is true regardless of whether this is or is not mining. Analysis of the public on potable water has clearly shown that the drinking water is of good quality. I am well aware of the WVU study, but it is generally not a accurate finding where there is potable water.

  37. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Enviro,

    Thanks for continuing the discussion, and taking a shot at my questions … A couple of things in response…

    You write:

    “If the energy spent on stopping coal were used to develop other opportunities, we would all be the better for it.”

    Couldn’t one just as easily say that if all of the energy spent by public officials and business leaders trying to protect the coal industry were spent trying to diversify the economy, we would all be the better for it?

    Not for nothing, but you didn’t really offer what your plan is … of course, nobody else has either.

    Also, you write regarding the birth defects study:

    “I am well aware of the WVU study, but it is generally not a accurate finding where there is potable water.”

    What is your evidence for this?

    Ken

  38. Enviro says:

    I have argued this point for several years now – as have others obviously. My view on this has been consistent.

    That is, if instead of working toward eliminating the use of coal, case in point today from the links below, …

    http://action.sierraclub.org/site/MessageViewer?em_id=215221.0
    http://energycommerce.house.gov/news/PRArticle.aspx?NewsID=8911

    (could we view things any differently?)

    … which has created a very adversarial and divisive political climate, we had approached this issue from the perspective of, coal is a limited resource and we need to work toward how we will supplement and eventually replace the coal industry, I would submit that the discussion today would be entirely different.

    Unfortunately, that ship has long since gone and here we are in the situation we find ourselves in today. What that will sadly leave is a significant danger for an abandoned economy in some parts of Appalachia. The very thing that we want to change (coal) ends up being removed to the success of some only to end up with a worse situation when it is gone. I would wager good money that in another 15-20 years we will be arguing over who caused the coal industry to shut down and left us with nothing. It could have and should have been different.

    As to the potable water analysis, I am aware of an ongoing evaluation of public water supply data (not online) that shows clean public water in the middle of coal mining areas. This shouldn’t be surprising. By the way, public water supply data is public record and I think you might be surprised to know the percent of population on public water in some areas of Appalachia. Lot higher than you might imagine. On the other hand, there are private well issues that have some concerns which are largely unregulated by anyone. If a person is on a private well, regardless of where it is, they largely do so at their own risk.

  39. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Enviro,

    OK … you’re definitely losing me here.

    You wrote, regarding the findings of a scientific study that found an association between higher levels of birth defects and living near mountaintop removal operations,:

    “I am well aware of the WVU study, but it is generally not a accurate finding here there is potable water.”

    I asked what evidence there was of this, and you wrote:

    “As to the potable water analysis, I am aware of an ongoing evaluation of public water supply data (not online) that shows clean public water in the middle of coal mining areas. This shouldn’t be surprising. By the way, public water supply data is public record and I think you might be surprised to know the percent of population on public water in some areas of Appalachia. Lot higher than you might imagine. On the other hand, there are private well issues that have some concerns which are largely unregulated by anyone. If a person is on a private well, regardless of where it is, they largely do so at their own risk.”

    So, to be clear: You’ve argued that, where residents are on public water, the WVU study findings — an association with higher birth defects — are not accurate.

    What you said is that where you have public water in areas near mountaintop removal, there is NOT an association with higher birth defects.

    But just because you are aware of another study — apparently not public and apparently not peer-reviewed — that shows public water in areas of Appalachia and clean public water in those areas — that doesn’t mean at all that those same areas don’t have higher rates of birth defects.

    One thing may or may not have anything to do with the other … and what you’ve presented thus far simply doesn’t support your original comment on the birth defects study … Do you have actual evidence that the association Dr. Hendyx found DON’T exist in the areas with public water?

    Ken.

  40. Matt Wasson says:

    Sincere thanks to Casey and Enviro for answering the questions. While I doubt we’ll reach agreement on the best path forward in relation to mountaintop removal and our reliance on coal – or even on the science of health impacts – I hope this sort of real dialogue will pave the way for advocacy groups and miners to support policies to diversify and improve the economy of Appalachia as the coal industry declines (whether that’s in the short-term or long-term and whether it’s caused by regulations, legislation, geology, or all of the above).

    Many of my friends living near mountaintop removal sites would justifiably go ballistic about your unwillingness to acknowledge the abundant scientific evidence of health impacts from coal-related pollution. And saying there’s not a “direct link” is not sufficient — in public health studies there is no such thing (unless you could treat people like lab rats and intentionally set up experiments). Also, as somebody who lives on well water, I shudder to think if my neighbors’ activities were linked to contamination of my water and they were prepared to write it off as “my own risk” for being on well water.

    But one thing we can all agree on is that coal isn’t going away overnight — and there’s no evidence to suggest that the number of mining jobs in Appalachia will plummet or even decrease over the next few years.

    Looking toward the future, though, I’d like to address Enviro’s point: “If the energy spent on stopping coal were used to develop other opportunities, we would all be the better for it.”

    The amount of money spent by environmental groups to fight new investments in coal is a pittance compared to the lobbying expenses alone of coal producing and consuming companies. In 2010, coal companies spent $18 million lobbying Congress and electric utilities (with expenses absolutely dominated by coal-burning utilities) spent almost $200 million!

    http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/indusclient.php?id=E08&year=2010
    http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/induscode.php?id=E1210&year=2010

    By comparison, the Sierra Club spent $450,000.

    http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientsum.php?id=D000000259&year=2010

    Imagine if $200 million per year were spent investing in building and diversifying the economy of Central Appalachia instead of lobbying for weaker regulations on pollution from coal. What if West Virginia’s Congressional delegation were able to pass legislation to invest $5 billion per year — the investment would be well justified, given how much the region has sacrificed to power America’s economy for more than a century.

    What if, what if, what if… But I’ll just close with the conclusion of an Appalachian Regional Commission study on persistent economic distress. Here’s what the authors wrote:

    “The counties that have emerged from distress in the [Central Appalachian] region have consistently had fewer jobs in mining and a greater number of jobs in manufacturing when compared to the counties that have remained persistently distressed.

    “…regional economic development is most likely to take place when national policies create the conditions to support it. As such, addressing persistent distress would seem to require a renewed national commitment, similar to the one that inspired the establishment of the ARC and the regional development policies of the 1960s.”

  41. Enviro says:

    Yes. Data from the Eastern KY coalfield does not comport with the Hendyx study.

  42. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Enviro,

    Let me point you to Coal Tattoo’s comments policy, http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/comment-policy/ … Specifically No. 4, which says:

    “Please provide links or citations to published material to back up your views, when appropriate.”

    You are challenging published science that appeared in a peer-reviewed journal … If you expect to have those comments appear on this blog, you need to provide us with a citation, the data, or a link to where we can find it.

    Otherwise, there’s no way that the rest of us have any idea what you’re talking about or can have any confidence in what you’re telling us.

    Thanks, Ken.

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