Train cars full of coal head to the FirstEnergy Corp., coal-fired power plant in Eastlake, Ohio is seen on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012. FirstEnergy Corp. says it will shut down six older, coal-fired power plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland, affecting about 530 employees on Sept. 1. The Akron, Ohio-based utility said Thursday that the move is related to new environmental rules. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)
Well, folks, Sunday is the 3rd anniversary of the launching of this blog. In a post called, “Welcome to Coal Tattoo,” I wrote:
… One thing that I want to note is that it seems that there are really two separate discussions going on about coal.
One of them is out there in the broader world. Scientists, policymakers and even investors are becoming more and more convinced that the downsides of coal have to be addressed. One way or the other, coal-fired power’s contribution to global warming must be dealt with. To these folks, the question is: Can coal have a place in our energy mix in a carbon-constrained world?
The other discussion is happening here in West Virginia, and in other coal communities. Locally, the issues are different, and in many ways much more emotional. It’s a battle between families who rely on coal to put food on their tables and send their kids to college, and folks who live near coal mines and are tired of blasting, dust, and water pollution. To these folks, the questions are: How can we protect coal’s future or how can we shut down mountaintop removal?
These two discussions are starting to intersect a little bit. Activists who don’t like mountaintop removal are talking more and more about climate change. But there’s still a huge disconnect between the way the broader world talks about coal and the way we here in the coalfields do.
Perhaps the scientists and activists who understand what coal burning is doing to our climate should try to understand a little more about how a third-generation coal miner in Eastern Kentucky feels. And maybe that coal miner should be a little more open to hearing what the world would be like if we don’t do something about rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.Â Most importantly, maybe the policymakers in Washington need to understand what the economic impact of climate change regulations is going to be on places like West Virginia and Wyoming. And maybe politicians and government officials in places like Charleston, W.Va., need to come to terms with the fact that change is coming to this industry.
I hope this blog contributes a little bit to helping these discussions along. I welcome thoughts, comments, suggestions and criticisms on how to get this job done.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments on all things coal and on how this blog can do better.
The news everybody who is on the inside of these controversies — mostly PR people, lobbyists, and journalists — is talking about comes from a Time magazine blog reporting (later picked up by Politico) earlier this week:
… The biggest and oldest environmental group in the U.S. finds itself caught on the horns of that dilemma. TIME has learned that between 2007 and 2010 the Sierra Club accepted over $25 million in donations from the gas industry, mostly from Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy—one of the biggest gas drilling companies in the U.S. and a firm heavily involved in fracking—to help fund the Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. Though the group ended its relationship with Chesapeake in 2010—and the Club says it turned its back on an additional $30 million in promised donations—the news raises concerns about influence industry may have had on the Sierra Club’s independence and its support of natural gas in the past. It’s also sure to anger ordinary members who’ve been uneasy about the Club’s relationship with corporations. “The chapter groups and volunteers depend on the Club to have their back as they fight pollution from any industry, and we need to be unrestrained in our advocacy,” Michael Brune, the Sierra Club’s executive director since 2010, told me. “The first rule of advocacy of is that you shouldn’t take money from industries and companies you’re trying to change.”
I see this whole thing as a bit of a sideshow … it’s fodder for some of the coal lobbyists I heard at this week’s West Virginia Coal Association meetings to make nasty comments about the Sierra Club. And it was too bad that the United Mine Workers of America union joined in that, issuing a name-calling news release about the Sierra Club so soon after former UMWA President Richard Trumka called for constructive discussions between differing groups about the future of coal.
This reminded me that one of the folks I know whose been wrestling with Chesapeake Energy over its impact on his homeplace is a fellow I met many years ago when he was walking a UMWA picket line and I was covering a coal strike. The people and communities impacted by these industries are quite a lot alike and are even sometimes one in the same. Dust-ups that cause more friction between citizens who suffer damage from extractive industries and the folks who work for those industries do little but play into the hands of those in these industries who don’t want to be reformed.
Moving on to the rest of this week’s coal news and commentary:
— The Economist had a take on how “Tighter regulation, bountiful natural gas and declining installation costs for renewable energy herald the end of America’s coal era“:
To some, regulations prove the current administration’s hostility to coal. To others, however, they are a long-overdue attempt to gauge a putatively cheap fuel’s true external costs. A National Academy of Sciences report estimated that the external costs unrelated to climate-change costs (to human health, crop and timber yields, building materials and recreation) of coal-fired power plants in 2005 totalled $62 billion. A study of coal’s effects on Kentucky’s budget in 2006 found that it contributed $528m in revenue, but its on-budget costs—training, support, repairs to the roads, R&D for the coal industry—totalled $643m. A study in West Virginia in 2009 also found the coal industry a net cost to the state.