U.S. Senator Manchin speaks at the conclusion of a roundtable discussion on the “Impact of the Federal Government on the Appalachian Coal Industry” as WV Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, right, and Tim McLean, left, of Walker Machinery, look on. The roundtable discussion, hosted by the WV Coal Association and the Federation for American Coal, Energy and Security, was held at Walker Machinery Wednesday. Gazette photo by Chris Dorst
We don’t really know what Sen. Joe Manchin talked about with his buddies from the coal industry. Yesterday’s meeting was held behind closed doors out at Walker Machinery. But we did get a taste of it in a media availability and a statement issued by Sen. Manchin’s press office. Most if it was predictable, like this:
Senator Manchin described how he’s fighting new overly burdensome emissions rules that are forcing power plants to close prematurely and preventing new coal-fired plants from being built, unrealistic timetables for implementing additional rules, the backlog of permits, and EPA’s interference with state permitting programs.
OK. But for anyone to take Sen. Manchin seriously on this stuff, he needs to show us he knows what he’s talking about — he can’t play fast and loose with facts, and he can’t just throw out whatever nonsense he wants to see if it sticks to the wall. For example, here’s one quote that was the press release about yesterday’s event:
Instead of investing $500 million in bankrupt solar companies like Solyndra, we could’ve invested in cleaner coal technology and had something to show for it. If the EPA wants us to build cleaner coal-fired plants, then the government should help us develop that technology.
The government should help develop “clean coal” technology, like maybe carbon capture and storage, or CCS, technology that would be required for new coal-fired power plants to meet the EPA’s proposed greenhouse gas regulations?
Well, gosh, Sen. Manchin. What did you think the President Obama’s Department of Energy was doing over in Mason County, W.Va., where it was giving American Electric Power $334 million to help expand its CCS test project at the company’s Mountaineer Plant? You must have forgotten attending a groundbreaking at that plant, when you touted the project as proof that CCS technology “is here, today.“
Now, one might wonder … was Sen. Manchin mistaken when he said that CCS technology “is here, today”? Or was he mistaken when he suggested the Obama administration wasn’t trying to help fund such projects? Or maybe he was mistaken both times?
Whichever it is, keep in mind that American Electric Power dropped that project, in large part because it has no incentive to work on or deploy CCS technology, given the failure of Congress to enact legislation that would require plants like Mountaineer to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. And in case anybody has forgotten, Sen. Manchin moved from the governor’s office to Washington, D.C., in part on the message that he would get out his gun and shoot the defenseless piece of legislation that would have enacted such emission reduction requirements.
Reading Sen. Manchin’s statement from yesterday reminded me of some quotes I saw from him in the piece my buddy Paul Nyden did about the senator’s much-touted speech about EPA policies, delivered a few weeks ago out at AEP’s John Amos Power Plant near St. Albans:
Between 2006 and 2011, Manchin said Tuesday, AEP had as many as 3,200 construction workers at its John Amos plant, now one of the world’s cleanest coal plants.
Those workers installed more than $1 billion worth of scrubbers and other equipment to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 90 percent, he said.
“Between 2006 and 2011, at AEP power plants in West Virginia, you created 27.7 million work hours on environmental construction projects,” Manchin told his audience.
“This plant is an example that when government works as a partner, not an adversary, we can put thousands of people back to work, and find the balance between the economy and environment.”
I went back and checked, and just to be clear, here’s the full text of that part of Sen. Manchin’s speech (as released by his office):
The last time I was here at John Amos was when I was Governor, and you were putting thousands of West Virginians to work making this one of the cleanest coal plants in the world.
There were times when this plant had as many as 3,200 construction workers on site, installing more than a billion dollars worth of scrubbers and SCRs. Between 2006 and 2011, at AEP power plants in West Virginia, you created 27.7 million work hours on environmental construction projects.
When I tell my colleagues why this country can’t walk away from coal-generated power – and that we can make it cleaner, I point to this plant. When they say a picture is worth a thousand words, I wish every Senator could come in and see this plant and what you do here.
And just as importantly, this plant is an example that when government works as a partner, not an adversary, we can put thousands of people back to work, and find the balance between the economy and environment.
That’s right. Sen. Manchin is saying that the billions of dollars spent on air-pollution controls at plants like John Amos are “an example that when government works as a partner, not an adversary, we can put thousands of people back to work, and find the balance between the economy and the environment.”
Seriously now, what is he talking about? Anybody who followed the history of these issues knows that scrubbers and nitrogen oxide controls were installed on coal-fired power plants only because EPA pressed new regulations to require air pollution reductions. Utilities, including AEP, fought these kinds of rules and in some cases pollution reductions came about only because EPA went to court to force the companies to act.
The current outcry by Sen. Manchin, other regional political leaders and the coal and utility companies is much like the outcry back in the 1990s, when the Clinton administration launched its efforts to try to enact the sorts of pollution reductions that these same folks now take credit. These air quality successes came about over the objections of these same companies and many of the same political leaders, and now these folks make out like it was all some big cooperative effort.
Talking over and over about “common-sense” solutions (note to Sen. Manchin’s staff — common sense is not one word) is all well and good. But changing history to make your point doesn’t add to your credibility on important issues about coal, environmental protection, and the future of our region and the planet.