Sen. Manchin’s Magical Mystery Tour

June 15, 2012 by Ken Ward Jr.

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.

[HTML1]

— 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.

16 Responses to “Sen. Manchin’s Magical Mystery Tour”

  1. Rick Wilson says:

    Rock on with your bad self, Ken–this was a great post!

  2. Celeste Monforton says:

    Any comprehensive energy policy MUST include an assessment of impacts on communities and the front-line workers involved in the related industries. That means items like guaranteed and just compensation for workers who suffer chronic and acute injuries and/or develop illnesses like black lung and silicosis because of their work. If employers and their industry trade associations insist on fighting rules to PROTECT individuals from work-related injuries and disease, when these individuals have evidence of harm, there should be a presumption that their work contributed to this harm and there should be a hefty COST paid by their employer. The “energy” industries cannot have it both ways—-fighting regs to protect workers’ safety and health AND THEN fighting rules defining fair compensation.

  3. Bill Price says:

    Well said Ken! We need visionary leadership in WV!

  4. Maria Gunnoe says:

    Great story Ken. Its time people start seeing the truth. Now getting them to admit it is the next task. I imagine that Senator Manchin will likely ignore this as he did us when we pleaded with him to END the violent retoric against people living in the communities fighting to stop the mining impacts near their ancestrial homes. I will never forget Joe Manchin’s first words after he heard each of pour our hearts out to our then Governor telling him the terror that we were living in because of terrible violent attacks against us. His words was “Every job in WV is an important one and my job here is to find BALANCE” I guess so… especially seeing as how he plans to employ half of our state (and other states) to kill the other half of our state for energy and $$$. I think personally that WVn’s are better people than this! We want real jobs with a real future in our mountains with clean water, healthy air, land AND JOBS. I am personally tired of seeing people die so we can power this insane cycle of the puppy chasing its tail. In todays world we no longer have to kill people in these mines and communities to have power. Renewable energy works too! As long as there are coal hungry politicians out of control in our state its not likely we will ever get better than the crumbs they want to throw at us. As long as there is a half breathing human left here to mine their coal they will swear that this one job is more important than the entire states water supply only because it pads their pockets. I would like to see them tour the communities where the wind farms are and then tour the communities where the mountaintop removal, sludge dam, massive coal trucks, prep plant fall out and water pollution is killing people for coal! Let them all see this stark difference! I wonder who they gonna get to mine their coal when they kill us all?

  5. Bob Kincaid says:

    As you noted, Ken, Senator Manchin said the following: “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.”

    Yes, we have seen that bubble. In particular, of late, we’ve seen it in our coal-fired power bills, a doubling of the bill in the past few years based upon reckless coal-buying by AEP when market prices drove coal to insane levels and AEP cried “buy, Buy, BUY,” and then demanded of the PSC that the rest of us pay, Pay, PAY.

    I guess massive coal-fired rate increases don’t bother Senator Manchin, since he has enough money to burn a sopping wet elephant, but most of us don’t. A lot of us have neither the money nor the elephant, and coal-fired electricity has become devastatingly expensive.

    At a basic level, Senator Manchin’s comment betrays that he understands neither household economics, nor market-based natural resource pricing, which applies to both coal AND gas. He also apparently lacks even the most elementary conceptualization of externalization, having no basic understanding that those allegedly low coal prices were kept that way via putting the cost of all coal’s harm onto its most innocent victims.

    Given the cynicism and ignorance on display from both camps, it is difficult to see how this November’s senate race is anything but yet another Hobson’s choice for the people of our long-suffering state.

    The ancient Greeksmcalled such an intractable conundrum being caught between Scylla and Charybdis. In our era, the voters are caught, as you demonstrate, Ken, between Silly and Charisma.

  6. J.F. Rote says:

    Once again the choice is… do we stack the deck chairs on the port or starboard side of the Titanic. Outstanding work, Ken.
    Peace

  7. darrell king says:

    well done again Ken, it seen like the rest of the politicians, Manchin has determined that he knows what is best for us, and the state is determined to shove coal and mtr down our throats weather we want it or not, he needs to go as soon as we find someone to replace him with.

  8. Joe Morris says:

    Nothing illustrates Manchin’s hollow support for renewable power so well as his stock line about the state having the biggest wind project east of the Mississippi (repeated in Nyden’s Sunday story). This was true 10 years ago, when Mountaineer was built, but it stopped being true in 2005. For (at least) seven years, then, he hasn’t so much as thumbed a fact sheet.

  9. Jeff Altizer says:

    “I don’t see any evidence that working class folks here are interested in robbing and pillaging their land, their air and their water. Quite the opposite, I think they want to protect their treasures and at the same time they want to make a living.” – Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)

    Senator Wyden’s comments on the tour make pretty good sense (link below).

    The ‘reasonability’ you speak of Ken has nothing to do with economics. (to this you will respond with faulty data concerning healthcare costs that have to be all coals fault) Read the link and notice the first point of the five the Senate Energy Committee is commited to.

  10. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Joe,

    Thanks for your comment … could you provide some more information and perhaps links to explain more about this:

    “This was true 10 years ago, when Mountaineer was built, but it stopped being true in 2005.”

    thanks, Ken.

  11. Joe Morris says:

    The reference comes from AWEA’s projects database. It lies behind a paywall now, but you can view an archived version accurate through 3Q 2009 here: http://archive.awea.org/projects/

    In a nutshell: Mountaineer, with 66MW of capacity, was the biggest east of the Mississippi at its commissioning in 2002. It lost that claim in 2005, when the first phase of Maple Ridge in New York (137MW) came online.

    Subsequently, both phases of NedPower Mount Storm (264MW) were finished in 2008. But the year before that, Twin Groves (360MW) in Illinois was commissioned. So West Virginia never reclaimed the distinction that Manchin continually confers.

    Today, there is one project in Indiana, Fowler Ridge (whose output, by the way, is sold to Appalachian Power), that BY ITSELF generates more capacity than all of West Virginia’s wind projects combined.

  12. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Thanks for that, Joe. Very interesting.

  13. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Joe,

    On closer examination, it appears that quote was from Gov. Tomblin:

    “Manchin, D-W.Va., led Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on a two-day tour across the state to tour energy production sites that demonstrate West Virginia’s commitment to an “all of the above” approach to energy. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin greeted them at a reception in the West Virginia airplane hanger at Yeager Airport in Charleston on Saturday. “Coal has been backbone of our state for 100 years,” Tomblin said.
    “Today, natural gas production is growing. We have the largest wind farm east of the Mississippi. And we are developing hydropower. We have an abundance of water and water resources.
    “We are an energy state and we want to produce it in an environmentally friendly way.”
    Tomblin said American Electric Power and other power companies “have spent billions upgrading our coal-fired power plants.”
    http://wvgazette.com/News/201206160076

    Ken.

  14. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    But, Sen. Manchin has made similar remarks:

    http://www.manchin.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2011/10/commonsense-ideas-for-a-stronger-america-manchin-ends-tour-with-focus-on-creating-energy-jobs?IsLowBandwidth=NO

    “We all know that West Virginia is a proud coal-producing state with an abundance of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale. What you might not know is we also have the largest wind farm east of the Mississippi.”

    And such false statements have made it into official government documents:

    http://www.budget.wv.gov/executivebudget/archives/Documents/VIBR2011.pdf (see page 4 of the executive message).

    Ken.

  15. Joe Morris says:

    So it was. You can understand how I made the mistake, I’ve heard Manchin say it so often. It’s his line, and it’s telling that Tomblin has dutifully taken it up.

    There was an even more untrue variant of it in Manchin’s Senate Energy testimony last month on the clean energy standard:

    http://www.energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/hearings-and-business-meetings?ID=0e90e4ea-a5be-44ae-b7f0-a9cd9b98dbdb

    At 97:54 he says, “We have as much wind if not more wind than anyone east of the Mississippi.” Simply willful.

    Note that he drags it out on that occasion in the context of arguing for a balanced approach that fosters renewables along with fossils.

    I have more to say on this here: http://wvwindreport.wordpress.com/2012/06/19/largest-wind-farm-east-of-the-mississippi/

Leave a Reply