Coal Tattoo

Friday roundup, Jan. 25, 2013

Representatives of Cloud Peak Energy and Montana’s Crow Tribe sign an agreement Thursday Jan. 24, 2013, that gives the mining company leasing options on 1.4 billion tons of coal beneath the Crow Indian Reservation, in Billings, Mont. Pictured from left are Cloud Peak legal counsel Amy Stefonick, company chief executive Colin Marshall, Crow Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote and Tribal Executive Secretary Alvin Not Afraid. The deal would expand mining on the reservation with the coal likely to be exported overseas. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

We had more news this week about terrible mining accidents in other part of the world. First, there’s this:

Investigators have launched a criminal probe into a coal mine accident that killed four miners in Russia’s Siberia region on Sunday.

And from China:

As one more body was found Monday, the death toll in Friday’s coalmine accident in southwest China’s Guizhou Province has risen to three, with 10 miners still missing. Eighteen people were working in the mine shaft when the gas outburst accident happened Friday afternoon at the Jinjia Coal Mine in the Panxian County of Liupanshui City.

In a previous roundup of news and commentary about President Obama’s second term, I failed to include this from the Washington Post WonkBlog’s Brad Plumer:

A week after he won the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama addressed a gathering of governors and other officials in Los Angeles, assuring them that global warming would be a top priority for his first term. “Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all,” he said. “Delay is not an option.”

His goal at the time? An ambitious plan to cut America’s heat-trapping greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and invest $150 billion in new clean-energy and efficiency technologies over the next 10 years. It was a pledge to completely upend the existing U.S. energy economy.

But Obama got only part of the way there, to the chagrin of many of his green supporters. True, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have fallen 7.7 percent since 2006 — but much of that has been due to the recession and a glut of cheap new natural gas that has displaced dirtier coal, a dip that could just prove temporary.

From the Sierra Club, we have another report about more coal-fired power plants closing:

Today, the Sierra Club and Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy Company announced a landmark settlement that requires the Iowa utility to phase out coal burning at seven coal-fired boilers, clean up another two coal-fired boilers and build a large solar installation at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. The announcement also pushes the total amount of coal generation retired or announced to retire since 2010 to over 50,000 megawatts, almost one-sixth of the nation’s coal fleet.

Meanwhile, some readers may recall that I took NPR’s Noah Adams — who I otherwise greatly respect — to task for a piece a while back about the “war on coal.” Well, unfortunately for NPR listeners, he’s at it again … Earlier this week, Noah did In Kentucky’s Coal Country, A Resentment For Obama, in which he reported:

If the voters in Louisa, Ky., had their wish, Mitt Romney would have taken the oath of office Monday. Louisa is in eastern Kentucky, and “coal” was the one-word issue in the election. President Obama is seen as an enemy of coal mining and he got only 27 percent of the vote in the county.

And now comes word that Louisa is going to lose its biggest industry — a power generating plant that’s been burning coal since 1962.

The piece is big on turns of phrase that let us all know that Noah visited the community, with gems like this:

Stand outside the courthouse in Louisa, a small town of 2,000 people, and you’ll see that it’s easy to meet a coal miner. Mitchell Maynard is a third-generation miner. He’s not happy with the president.

Or this:

The Louisa Rotary Club meets at the First Baptist Church and has Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Of course, that line is complete, in the audio version, with sound of local folks singing “God Bless America.”

That’s all well and good. And I get that what Noah is after is giving listeners a slice of life sort of picture of what’s happening in Louisa, Ky. But it would be so wrong for him to provide a little bit more information about the underlying reasons for new air pollution regulations, the other market conditions leading to the closure of plants like this, or — gosh — a mention of coal’s impacts on climate change?

In other news, there’s a new study out that says CCS may not be as helpful as advocates hoped in terms of reducing greenhouse emissions, and Climate Progress reported on some interesting statements from the new governor of Washington:

Newly-minted Washington Governor Jay Inslee has been lauded for his impassioned views on environmental issues from climate change to renewable energy.  Indeed, his first official actas governor was to write a letter to a clean energy company inviting it to relocate to the state.

In his first press conference as governor last week, Inslee addressed another aspect of the climate change fight in the Pacific Northwest:  proposed coal export terminals that would allow for the shipping of 150 million of tons of coal every year from public lands in Wyoming and Montana’s Powder River Basin abroad.

In response to a question about whether or not federal government analyses of the terminals should take into account the carbon emissions that will come from the burning of the coal exported through the terminals, Inslee said:

It is clear that there are ramifications ultimately if we burn the enormous amounts of Powder River Basin coal that are exported through our ports… It is an enormous number of tons of carbon dioxide that will be released into the atmosphere, it doesn’t matter where it’s burned, it ends up in Puget Sound.  That is a physical fact.

The challenge is to figure out, frankly, for our state from a policy standpoint is where you sort of draw the line in evaluating those impacts from any carbon-based system.  I think that’s a challenge for us. I will say that from what I know, this is the largest decision we will be making as a state from a carbon pollution standpoint certainly during my lifetime, and nothing comes even close to it.  So I’m going to be giving some thought to this.

Have a good weekend, everybody.