Coal Tattoo

Sen. Manchin’s Magical Mystery Tour

This weekend is sure to see a flurry of media coverage here in West Virginia of  what Sen. Joe Manchin’s press office is for some reason calling an “unprecedented energy tour“.   The Daily Mail and the AP are already promoting the events which include visits — and “media availabilities” — at “a Marcellus Shale drilling pad, coal mines, a coal-fired power plant, a wind farm and reclaimed surface mining locations.”

Manchin is bringing the likely incoming chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to West Virginia, his press office insists to “demonstrate the state’s “all-of-the-above” approach to energy” and to “bring lawmakers together around a commonsense energy policy.” Manchin explained in his office’s press release:

In West Virginia, we truly have an all-of-the-above approach to energy and, for the first time, I am bringing leaders in both parties together to see how our state is an example of how to develop a comprehensive energy policy using all our domestic resources. I invited the incoming leaders of the powerful Senate Energy Committee to our state to see how we can do it all, and to explain how the country can follow this model.

Nothing on the schedule for the tour indicates Sen. Manchin thought his fellow lawmakers should also see things like West Virginians who live with contaminated well water from coal-slurry pollution, or talk to residents who have watched their neighbors die from cancers that scientific studies say are more likely because they live near mountaintop removal mines. They won’t watch what a local law enforcement official called the “invasion” of heavy truck traffic related to the boom in Marcellus Shale gas drilling — or even talk with residents who worry that local land-use planning rules and federal environmental enforcement practices are too weak to ensure proper siting of our state’s increased number of wind energy facilities.

You have to wonder how lawmakers could ever push for the sort of “balance” Sen. Manchin talks about between the environment and the economy if they see only energy production, and don’t spend any time while they’re here visiting communities that are impacted by this energy production.

But the real mystery of this tour is exactly what Sen. Manchin did as governor or has done as a U.S. Senator to encourage a sound, reasonable and balanced energy policy for our state or this nation.

Let’s review:

— As governor, Sen. Manchin pushed for a state “energy plan” that focused almost exclusively on coal.  In particular, it promoted the notion that a series of coal-to-liquids plants around the state would be a great idea, without mentioning the words “global warming,” or discussing at all the potential harm coal-to-liquids technology does to any efforts to combat climate change.

— Also as governor, Sen. Manchin convinced lawmakers to create an “alternative energy” portfolio requirement for state power companies that — by the senator’s own recent admission — did nothing to require utilities to actually install more new clean energy generation in their systems. That’s right, the power companies can meet the requirement with pretty much to same coal-fired power plants they already had online.

— Along the way as governor, Sen. Manchin glossed over citizen concerns and scientific studies about environmental damage and public health threats, ordering his Department of Environmental Protection to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to try to block the Obama administration’s crackdown on mountaintop removal.

— As a United States Senator, Sen. Manchin has continued along this path. Of course, he campaigned in his promise to shoot a poor, defenseless piece of legislation that not only would have started serious action to deal with climate change, but would have helped provide key funding to perfect and deploy carbon capture and storage technology he professes to support. (See also this post)

— In Washington, Sen. Manchin makes himself out to be some huge “commonsense” expert on energy matters, grilling a Nobel Prize-winning scientists in President Obama’s cabinet, but not letting Secretary Chu even answer his questions.  And when he opens his mouth to talk about energy policies, Sen. Manchin says silly things — coal “doesn’t get a penny of subsidies” — that show he either doesn’t have a grasp of the facts or chooses to ignore them.

— Sometimes, Sen. Manchin’s efforts to be pro-coal produce double-talk, especially when he is confronted by the fact that competition from natural gas — another industry he claims to support — is what is eroding coal’s share of today’s energy market. Remember this one from Sen. Manchin, in response to EPA’s rule to require new coal-fired power plants to control their greenhouse gas emissions:

This approach relies totally on cheap natural gas and we’ve seen that bubble burst before. It might sound good now, but what happens if those prices go up? Your average hardworking families and manufacturers will be left holding the bag of uncertainty – either in the prices they pay or in the reliability of our electrical system.

— As best I can tell, Sen. Manchin opposes every single effort by the federal government — whether EPA or Congress — to chart a course that moves American toward cleaner and more reasonable energy policies, whether it’s trying to move ahead with more responsible oil and gas drilling rules or improving the handling and disposal of toxic ash from coal-fired power plants.

— Sen. Manchin talked just last week again about his concern for the safety and health of our nation’s coal miners. Do you think during today’s visit to Arch Coal’s Mountain Laurel Complex in Logan County the senator will ask mine managers why they didn’t comply with their MSHA-approved roof control plan, a violation federal investigators say led to the death of one of Sen. Manchin’s constituents, Charles M. Hall, in a terrible roof fall last August?

— Sen. Manchin’s own portfolio of proposed energy legislation is only about blocking things the Obama administration has proposed. Where are his proposals that outline anything he’s in favor of, instead of just what he’s against?  The only real guide we have is the energy plan and the “alternative energy” legislation he put forth as governor. As mentioned above, neither of them really moves the country forward.

— Along with the rest of the Democratic party, Sen. Manchin pushes the notion that the cornerstone of our nation’s energy efforts should be “energy independence,”  something that real experts say isn’t a top priority, won’t work anyway, and doesn’t address the biggest energy challenge: Fighting global warming.

Given all this, it’s hard to buy that Sen. Manchin’s tour today or tomorrow is anything but a dog-and-pony show, perhaps aimed at responding to the barrage of campaign ads from his Republican opponent, millionaire industrialist John Raese.

Interestingly, last night the Raese campaign decided trying to argue that Sen. Manchin is soft on the Obama “war on coal” wasn’t the best tactic, given Sen. Manchin’s record, and instead tried to go with the old “flip-flop” narrative, in a statement that said:

After campaigning with Barack Obama in 2008 where he said coal companies in West Virginia would need to pay for their carbons – through cap-and-trade or a carbon tax – liberal Obama Democrat Joe Manchin claims that he now opposes these job-killing regulations on the coal industry.

In a move that’s clearly designed to garner votes, Manchin supported a resolution rebuking Barack Obama’s EPA from implanting their job-killing Utility MACT. Yet as Governor, Manchin supported a bill that regulated electric utilities and decreased coal consumption. The legislation specifically mandated that electric utilities obtain 25 percent of their electricity from alternative or renewable energy sources and signaled the beginning of the end for coal miners in West Virginia.

The truth is West Virginia has no leadership from our elected officials on these issues. Sen. Jay Rockefeller shows brief hints that he wants the role, but then he remains silent on whether he will align himself with Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. and one of our leading climate conspiracy theorists — on a resolution aimed at blocking EPA’s effort to reduce the emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollutants from coal-fired power plants.  Rockefeller spokesman Andrew Beckner told me yesterday:

Senator Rockefeller is studying the resolution closely and we’ll let you know when we have something to announce.

Meanwhile, efforts to deal with these sorts of issues move forward.  Just this morning, for example, we saw this announcement:

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that his 11-state coalition has reached a settlement with the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that requires the Agency to adopt updated air standards for harmful particulate matter — commonly referred to as “soot” pollution — by December 14, 2012. Today’s settlement, contained in a consent decree lodged with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, resolves a February 2012 lawsuit that Attorney General Schneiderman’s coalition filed after EPA failed to timely revise its existing lax air standards for soot.

I’m reminded again of the words of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd:

… The time has come to have an open and honest dialogue about coal’s future in West Virginia … West Virginians can choose to anticipate change and adapt to it, or resist and be overrun by it.  One thing is clear.  The time has arrived for the people of the Mountain State to think long and hard about which course they want to choose.