Sen. Joe Manchin, common sense and coal: Where the heck does he get some of this stuff?

April 12, 2012 by Ken Ward Jr.

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.

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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.

12 Responses to “Sen. Joe Manchin, common sense and coal: Where the heck does he get some of this stuff?”

  1. Ted Boettner says:

    It is important to note that had coal, nuclear, and oil not be given support from the nanny state it would not be where it is today (see blog post:http://blog.wvpolicy.org/2011/10/10/thomas-jefferson.aspx).

    As a recent study by Nancy Pfund of DBL Investors and Ben Healey of Yale University concluded: “Suffice it to say, domestic coal did not arrive on the scene as a mature, low-cost and competitive fuel source. Rather, government support over many years helped to turn it from a local curiosity in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania into the dominant fuel source of its time.” The report also found that compared with government backing for other forms of energy (oil, gas, and nuclear), solar and wind have received scant support.

  2. Vernon says:

    If the government had applied Manchin’s Solyndra logic to the coal/utility industry overall, subsidies for that industry would have gone away a long time ago, if cost overruns and bankruptcy were the measure of an industry’s viability.

  3. Steve says:

    Senator Manchin is just speaking like any good politician should. He just isn’t speaking those things that you all what, like, or agree with.

    Who doesn’t want clean cheap energy. If wind and solar could provide it in the quantity we need to drive our industry and produce electricity on demand whenever demand dictated, well I’m for that! But the facts out way our wishes. Some are trying to drive or force technological breakthroughs in alternative energy by reducing the use of fossil fuel. I guess they believe some amazing breakthrough will come through forced necessity.
    Along with government subsidies, where are all the private entrepreneur’s who are investing in all these wind and solar farms we don’t see?
    If I’m not mistaken, when coal, gas and oil took off, many private entrepreneur’s invested heavily and some lost heavily. I really don’t see the same mad dash for alternatives right now. Wonder why?

  4. Keryn says:

    Excellent! Manchin’s Amos speech was so loaded with foolish contradictions that it read like satire. It’s bad enough he embarrassed himself delivering it, but to then send it out to the media showed a complete lack of “common-sense.”

  5. bob says:

    The coal industry has done a good job of reducing NOx and SOx, cadmium, carbon particulate and other pollutants, and yes the EPA was a driving forces to make these things happen. The current issue of CO2 is where the problems are. CO2 CCS technology is not completely viable at this time and the costs for implimentation could increase capital costs of any fossil fuel project by upwards of 80%. This not only would impact coal plants but also cement, pulp & paper and steel plants just to name a few. This would be a major job killer and drive the US to be even less competitive in the international market place. Human contribution to GHGs is less than .28% and CO2 is a smal fraction of that .28% (please note the decimal point to the left of the 2). China has surpassed us as the msjor emitter and India will soon overtake us. Transportation fuel are the largest contributor to these emissions and while auto usage growth in the US being minimal growth in developing economies is skyrocketing. The US EPA will not save the world but can be a manjor factor in destroying the US economy which will result in the US ceasing to be a voice in settting global policies. Senator Manchin gets this and has been a significant voice of reason and has not been bound by party affiliation but rather by his own conscience. Coal and other fossil fuels are used in the US in a more environmentally beneficial manner than anywhere else in the worls so by the EPA taking actions that deprive us of utilizing a very inexpenseive energy source in an environmenatlly benficial manner that displaced coal will be exported to high growth economies where it will become a greater environmental hazard. Keep up the great work Senator

  6. Paul says:

    The electric consumers seem to be missing at the roundtable in this discussion. AEP, as the utility, obtained the loans for the scrubbers which were backed and paid for by the consumers while Big Coal was getting huge tax credits by turning their mined coal into synthetic fuel with a spray of diesel fuel..

  7. Dwayne says:

    Right Bob–Senator Manchin gets it that the EPA can be a “major factor in destroying the US economy…”. That’s why he stood up and spoke–with a straight face–about all the great jobs that came from the scrubber installation at John Amos, right?

    Call me crazy, but from my reading the gist of Ken’s post is that our esteemed Senator wants to play it both ways–pat himself on the back about his “success” in bringing jobs to WV (that are directly due to EPA regulations that he does not support); then he tells us that the same type of EPA regulations will be job and economy killers.

    My question is: how does the Senator avoid suffering whiplash?

  8. Steve says:

    Does anyone really understand where the majority of profits are made for power plants? From industry. When Ravenswood Aluminum shut its doors, AEP said at the time it was it’s largest customer. The average coal company (including the preparation plant) will use somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty five hundred to five thousand dollars worth of power a day. That’s a day! Now say that half of all coal companies shut their doors tomorrow. Where do you suppose AEP will pass on those cost? To small business and home owners. Don’t think for a minute that houses are all that profitable for power companies. At this time it is NOT their bread and butter.

  9. Jim says:

    Steve & Bob are absolutely correct. The real problem with energy production in this country is the extremists on both sides of the issue are setting the agenda. Energy policy in the US is affected by the same political polarization in the country which sees reasoned compromise as weakness and not as a means for policy advancement.

  10. unbiased2 says:

    Bob has it right.
    The others above apparently wouldn’t mind their power bills doubling and more industries moving to China or India, where there are little or no restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions, and reducing our standard of living.
    No expert has yet claimed America alone controlling carbon emissions would prevent global warming—-if in fact carbon dioxide is the only cause of global warming; no recognized, unbiased (some people make a living crying “wolf”) expert has yet claimed it is the only cause.

  11. Frank says:

    “Congress to enact legislation that would require” so Obama’s EPA took it upon itself to require….and you defend them every step of their way.

    I did not vote for Democrat Manchin but I may next time…

  12. Ryan says:

    Wow Ken. You are sounding more and more bitter every day.

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