Coal Tattoo

Has Rep. Rahall become a climate change denier?

Another candidate interview, and another effort by one of West Virginia’s political leadership to avoid straight talk about global warming and the coal industry. Today’s example? Rep. Nick J. Rahall, the longtime Democratic congressman from Southern West Virginia. Here’s the relevant passage from Dr. Paul Nyden’s story in this morning’s Gazette:

Rahall said he does not believe coal emissions are the main cause of climate change today. He cited vehicle emissions as one of “many other factors.”

OK … a few relevant facts.

As we’re tried to explain many times here on this blog, there’s simply no question that coal-fired power plants are among the largest global warming polluters in the U.S. and across the planet. The Union of Concerned Scientists has warned us:

According to EPA data, annual carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants are greater than the emissions from all cars, trucks, planes, trains, and other forms of transportation combined.

And the most recent data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows us:

While coal provides 20 percent of U.S. primary energy consumption, it contributes to 34 percent of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.

It’s true that the EIA figures cited there show that petroleum accounts for a higher share of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. So perhaps when Rep. Rahall says coal is not the “main cause” of global warming, he’s chosen his words carefully enough to not be, strictly speaking, incorrect. But really, isn’t this really the same sort of two-step that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin tried to do when he told us that  he’s “not 100 percent convinced” that global warming is a scientific reality? Isn’t Rep. Rahall just trying to avoid having to tell his constituents what many of them don’t want to hear: That something has to be done about the global warming pollution from their favorite industry?

On the other hand, suppose for the sake of argument that Rep. Rahall accepts the science, and knows that something has to be done but really does, as his statement suggests, think that vehicle emissions are the first problem that should be tackled.  Then, you would have to wonder why Rep. Rahall went along with the Republican-pushed “Stop the War on Coal” bill. Because, of course, that legislation also did this, according to The Associated Press:

New fuel economy standards that cut tailpipe emissions — set for model years 2017-2025 — would be gutted by the act. So would the EPA’s ability to regulate gases blamed for global warming. A 2007 Supreme Court ruling cleared the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases under its authority to control air pollutants, but the legislation amends the Clean Air Act to preclude any taxes or regulations on greenhouse gases.

So we’re really back again at Rep. Rahall simply trying to avoid saying anything negative about the coal industry — anything that the Republicans might try to jump on and use against him. Perhaps doing that is a good short-term political strategy. But where does it leave Rep. Rahall’s district, as the coal industry contract and the people who live there continue to face the many challenges coal creates for them and the world?