Coal Tattoo

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With each passing day, it becomes more and more difficult to take seriously any of this stuff that politicians and their consultants are trying to pass off as a discussion about the future of the coal industry and coalfield communities.

Take the latest email from the West Virginia Republican Party, which under the red headline, “Coal Alert” warned voters:

Tomblin Voted For W.Va. Cap & Trade: 2009 Bill Helped Obama Launch War On Coal

Ah, that old chestnut.  It goes like this:

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin voted to pass a Bill that installed Cap and Trade legislation to hamper our coal industry. Period. He and West Virginia Democrats did it at the behest of liberals like Barack Obama.

Oh, and they added this:

And no matter the excuses their insider friends might make, it’s bad for West Virginia coal.

Wonder if they mean “insider friends” like the pro-business State Journal newspaper, owned by conservative businessman Bray Cary. Some readers may recall that we discussed a few months ago how State Journal reporter Pam Kasey soundly debunked this line of political rhetoric when GOP Senate candidate John Raese tried it:

Cap and trade, a system that would administer allowances for a limited volume of carbon dioxide emissions and let companies trade those allowances in an open market in order to find the most efficient allocation, was considered at the national level but has never been policy in West Virginia.

House Bill 103 established the state’s renewable and alternative and renewable energy portfolio standard — an entirely different policy that requires utilities to generate minimum levels of their power from alternative and renewable sources.

Not deterred by the truth, state Republican Chairman Conrad Lucas opined:

The only thing that bill did is put a cap on our jobs and trade our energy advantage in coal for unicorns, magic beans and windmills. Our power plants are closing, our mines are turning into ghost towns, and guys like Tomblin and Manchin are trying to hide from their allegiance to Obama.

The only conclusion I can draw is that either Mr. Lucas knows so little about energy and environmental policy that he honestly doesn’t know the difference between cap-and-trade and a renewable portfolio standard, or he knows the difference and doesn’t care that he’s misleading everyone. Regardless, as Pam Kasey has also reported, the legislation that then-Senate President Tomblin supported clearly did nothing to hurt the coal industry:

It became clear, we reported late last year as the last of the utilities’ compliance plans were under review by the Public Service Commission, that the large utilities would not need to make any changes to meet the standard of 25 percent of electricity from “alternative and renewable” sources by 2025. As “alternative and renewable” were defined in the act, AEP, for example, accumulates credits for generation from supercritical (high-temperature) coal-fired generation at Amos and Mountaineer and natural gas-fired generation at its new Dresden plant in Ohio, along with wind and hydropower generation and energy efficiency programs.

The act allows only 10 percent of compliance generation to come from natural gas and 10 percent from supercritical coal. AEP is getting some of its power from the wind and hydropower that we conventionally think of as alternative and renewable. But a utility could, theoretically, get the remaining 80 percent of its compliance generation from coalbed methane, waste coal and liquid fuels made from coal.

Alas, the Republicans aren’t alone in their bid to reduce the level of debate over coal issues to such silliness.

Take this statement issued by Gov. Tomblin following a federal court ruling that threw out the EPA’s latest effort to control cross-state air pollution from coal-fired power plants:

For the fourth time, a federal judge ruled against the EPA for the exact same thing: overstepping its authority and trampling on states’ authority. It’s time for Washington to stop trying to tell us how to run our coal mines. The policies the EPA is trying to push on our state are anti-coal and anti-West Virginia. The record is clear; the EPA is 0-4 in its war on coal. I’m asking President Obama to reign in his EPA and end this war. Enough is enough-the EPA has been told time and time again that it is acting outside its authority.

First of all, memo to Gov. Tomblin’s PR staff: This ruling had absolutely nothing to do with EPA “trying to tell us how to run our coal mines.” Just sayin’.

Next, we’ve talked before on Coal Tattoo about how lawsuits against just about every EPA regulatory initiative — and rulings against the agency in such suits — are not a new thing with the Obama administration.

Finally, I don’t recall Gov. Tomblin issuing a statement to react to this federal court ruling in EPA’s favor back in June. As Politico explained at the time:

In a surprisingly sweeping win for the Obama administration’s climate policies, a federal appeals court said Tuesday that the Environmental Protection Agency is “unambiguously correct” in the legal reasoning behind its regulation of greenhouse gases.

Among other things, the ruling itself concluded:

The body of scientific evidence marshaled by EPA in support of the Endangerment Finding is substantial. EPA’s scientific evidence of record included support for the proposition that greenhouse gases trap heat on earth that would otherwise dissipate into space; that this “greenhouse effect” warms the climate; that human activity is contributing to increased atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases; and that the climate system is warming. Based on this scientific record, EPA made the linchpin finding: in its judgment, the “root cause” of the recently observed climate change is “very likely” the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Relying again upon substantial scientific evidence, EPA determined that anthropogenically induced climate change threatens both public health and public welfare. It found that extreme weather events, changes in air quality, increases in food- and water-borne pathogens, and increases in temperatures are likely to have adverse health effects.

The record also supports EPA’s conclusion that climate change endangers  human welfare by creating risk to food production and agriculture, forestry, energy, infrastructure, ecosystems, and wildlife. Substantial evidence further supported EPA’s conclusion that the warming resulting from the greenhouse gas emissions could be expected to create risks to water resources and in general to coastal areas as a result of expected increase in sea level.

Reading that, and remembering that Gov. Tomblin talks every chance he gets about how EPA should stay out of our business, and how the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection knows best how to deal with environmental problems our state confronts, you could perhaps assume that Gov. Tomblin has a plan for dealing with climate change.  Well think again, and remember that this was the best we could get out of Gov. Tomblin during the last gubernatorial debate:

Once again, there are differences of opinion as to whether we’re in global warming now.

That’s just one example of what I described previously in a post called Coal Politics: Let the silly season begin:

Of course, what the discussion so far from both sides ignores are the many real problems facing the coalfields (and the coal industry): Increased competition from natural gas and other coal regions, a declining base of economically extractable reserves, serious water quality and human health issues linked to large-scale surface mining, the deadly toll of black lung disease.

For another example, look no further than the continued insistence  by both sides that environmental regulations and permitting are the major cause of the current downturn in the coal industry, the layoffs that have come with it, and the bad times that appear likely ahead for the coalfields. See the most recent example from the Maloney gubernatorial campaign here, or the latest effort by some in the West Virginia media to simply promote the industry line here.

The good folks at the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy did a great job debunking this stuff last month with a blog post called Ending Environmental Regulations Won’t Save Central Appalachian Coal. Using the latest Energy Information Administration projections, they put together charts like this one, which compares the EIA’s base case coal production forecast for Central Appalachia to a forecast assuming no action by the government to limit coal-fired power plant greenhouse emissions:

 The Center explained:

… What if the coal industry got its way? What if we could guarantee that the EPA would never limit greenhouse gas emissions, allowing utilities to burn as much coal as they want? Would coal production in Central Appalachia reverse its decline? The answer is no.

 They concluded:

The reality is that even without greenhouse gas or mercury regulations, coal production in Central Appalachia is going to dramatically decline. Repealing environmental regulations won’t make the remaining coal seams in West Virginia any thicker or easier to mine, and it won’t stop power plants from converting to natural gas. To ignore this reality, and to act as if stopping the EPA will save the coal industry in West Virginia, is shortsighted and dangerous to the state’s future.