Friday roundup, Feb. 1, 2013

February 1, 2013 by Ken Ward Jr.

In this Jan. 18, 2013 photo, BHP Billiton spokesperson Norman Benally steps down from one of the smaller buckets used at Navajo Mine east of Farmington, N.M.  The Navajo Nation is in negotiations to buy the Navajo Mine from BHP Billiton in 2016 when BHP’s lease expires. (AP Photo/The Durango Herald, Joseph Stephenson)

The news side of the journal Nature had a story this week headlined Obama rekindles climate hopes: President will use regulations to sidestep stalled Congress that reported:

Throughout his re-election campaign, US President Barack Obama rarely said the words ‘climate change’. But in his second inaugural address, on 21 January, Obama renewed a commitment to address global warming, citing both moral and economic imperatives. To fail, he said, “would betray our children and future generations”.

The 2010 demise of a climate bill that would have enacted a cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse-gas emissions remains one of the key failures of Obama’s first term. With a divided Congress still standing in the way of legislation, the administration is likely to rely on its own power to impose new regulations, once Obama has replaced the retiring heads of three agencies key to the climate agenda.

And the journal had an editorial that said:

… The administration should issue strong regulations for power plants and send a message to the coal industry: clean up or fade away. The energy utilities will duly cry foul, but the same companies are already powering down old and inefficient coal-fired power plants in favour of natural-gas plants. Why? Because natural gas is cheap and burns more cleanly than coal, helping companies to meet increasingly stringent air-quality regulations.

Meanwhile, SNL Energy had a pretty comprehensive rundown of impending coal-fired power plant retirements, reporting:

A new year and another four years of the Obama administration have sparked a flurry of announcements from fossil fuel generators in the opening month of 2013, including numerous planned coal unit retirements and several potential unit conversions from coal to natural gas.

The most prominent of the announcements came from coal-fired heavyweight Southern Co., which announced Jan. 7 that its Georgia Power Co. subsidiary would seek to retire or refuel 15 coal- and oil-fired units, in part to avoid costly air emissions upgrades that would be needed to comply with the U.S. EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, or MATS.

On the chopping block for Georgia Power are 11 coal-fired units at its Harllee Branch, Kraft and Yates plants. Under the current plan, the Branch and Yates coal units would be retired by April 16, 2015, the effective date of MATS. The utility expects to seek a one-year extension of the MATS compliance date for the Kraft units, retiring them by April 16, 2016.

More recently, Berkshire Hathaway Inc.-owned MidAmerican Energy Co. committed to stop burning coal at three Iowa power plants under a settlement agreement with the Sierra Club. The plan, announced Jan. 22, calls for MidAmerican to cease burning coal by April 2016 at units 1 and 2 at the George Neal station; units 1 and 2 at the Walter Scott plant; and units 7, 8 and 9 at the Riverside plant.

Retired miner Larry Knisell, 63, of Morgantown, W. Va. is arrested during a protest by the United Mine Workers of America, at Peabody Energy headquarters in St. Louis on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013.   (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Stephanie S. Cordle)

When I blogged the other day about the UMWA protest out in St. Louis, I somehow failed to first catch the story in which Kris Maher of the Wall Street Journal broke the story about details of Patriot’s plans:

Patriot Coal Corp., currently under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, is seeking to limit its obligation to provide retiree health benefits to 22,000 active miners, retirees and their spouses and set up an outside trust to fund future benefits, according to documents filed in federal court Monday.

The future retiree health benefits of the active and retired miners and the beneficiaries, which represent an estimated liability of $2.1 billion for Patriot, have been in question since St. Louis-based Patriot filed for bankruptcy protection last July amid one of the worst coal-market downturns in decades.

Patriot has proposed creating a trust known as a voluntary employee beneficiary association, or VEBA, with an initial payment of $15 million, a maximum payment of $40 million annually and a $200 million total limit, according to the documents in an amended lawsuit against Patriot’s predecessor companies by the United Mine Workers of America. The documents include Patriot’s proposal.

Retiree health costs are expected to reach $73.8 million in 2013, nearly double the maximum proposed funding this year, according to the documents.

In other news this week, West Virginia Public Broadcasting reported:

Consol Energy has nearly completed building a water treatment facility in northern West Virginia, to address chloride levels discharged from four of its underground mines. The company says everything is moving well and in some cases, ahead of schedule.

 The water treatment plant is in the final phases of construction, before it’s scheduled to start operating in May.

Consol is spending nearly $200 million, according to information from a consent decree with the state Department of Environmental Protection, to build this facility near Mannington, which is located in Marion County.

This plant will keep 20 people working full-time and will be using a method known as reverse osmosis technology to treat chlorides discharged from its mining activities.

“I would expect by April, we would be running the plant, more than not,” said John Owsiany, water systems and operations director at Consol. He says he expects commissioning to be completed by the end of May.

And, from my friend Tim Wheeler at The Baltimore Sun:

A trio of environmental groups warned Monday they would sue the operator of three coal-fired power plants in Maryland for allegedly discharging excessive amounts of nutrient pollution into Chesapeake Bay rivers and trying to mask their violations by transferring pollution “credits” among facilities.

Food & Water Watch, the Patuxent Riverkeeper and the Potomac Riverkeeper contend that NRG Energy has been violating state-imposed pollution discharge limits for the past three years at its Chalk Point, Morgantown and Dickerson power plants.

In 2010, for instance, state documents show that the Chalk Point plant in Prince George’s County discharged more than 2,200 times as much nitrogen into the Patuxent River as it was permitted to do, the groups said. All three plants exceeded their limits on nitrogen pollution, the groups contended, and the Dickerson plant in Montgomery County also discharged more phosphorus into local streams than it was allowed. The Morgantown plant in Charles County discharges into the Potomac River.

And finally, for all you climate change science deniers out there, check out this post from Grist that explains why abnormally cold weather doesn’t disprove the science. Among other things, it explains:

Researchers expected a colder winter — thanks to global warming.

This summer saw the most extensive Arctic ice melt in recorded history. As it concluded, we noted that scientists expected that ice loss to translate to colder weather events. And, sure enough, from the Climate Central article linked above:

Sudden stratospheric warming events take place in about half of all Northern Hemisphere winters, and they have been occurring with increasing frequency during the past decade, possibly related to the loss of Arctic sea ice due to global warming. Arctic sea ice declined to its smallest extent on record in September 2012.

The “warming event” disturbs a pattern known as the “polar vortex.”

Sudden stratospheric warming events occur when large atmospheric waves, known as Rossby waves, extend beyond the troposphere where most weather occurs, and into the stratosphere. This vertical transport of energy can set a complex process into motion that leads to the breakdown of the high altitude cold low pressure area that typically spins above the North Pole during the winter, which is known as the polar vortex.

The polar vortex plays a major role in determining how much Arctic air spills southward toward the mid-latitudes. When there is a strong polar vortex, cold air tends to stay bottled up in the Arctic. However, when the vortex weakens or is disrupted, like a spinning top that suddenly starts wobbling, it can cause polar air masses to surge south, while the Arctic experiences milder-than-average temperatures.

Climate Central has a nifty animation of this happening.


14 Responses to “Friday roundup, Feb. 1, 2013”

  1. Steve says:

    I don’t consider myself a climate change denier, although I do sometimes doubt the extremes used by some trying to prove or blame every weather pattern change, storm or extreme on man made global warming. Some will look at their long forty plus year memory and see weather changes and somehow see man to blame, without one shred of credible scientific evidence to back it up. They just feel that it’s man’s fault, because summers and winters just don’t feel or look like they use to. And now they make it a little more cloudy, by interchanging the two phrases, Climate change and man made global warming. Climate change will always happen and I do believe that. As for man made global warming, I have my reservations and doubts about much of the evidence presented thus far.

  2. Soyedina says:

    Steve, what amount of evidence would be sufficient to convince someone such as yourself?

    Specifically, please.

  3. Steve says:

    That may be my point. How can you prove one way or the other? There are credible arguments on both sides, very silly ones too. If we use four times the natural gas to produce the same amount of electrical energy as coal, who will pay? The poor. They always do. Are all industrialized nations going to play alone? Of course not. They never do. If those that truly believe we are destroying our planet by using any form of fossil fuel, the by all means do your part, just don’t drag everyone else down that road.

  4. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    I just want to remind everyone of this part of Coal Tattoo’s rules for the comment section:

    “Please provide links or citations to published material to back up your views, when appropriate.”

    In this instance, Steve, you’ve been arguing that the scientific evidence isn’t adequate that the world is warming, that human activity is causing that warming, and that the impacts of that warming will ultimately be negative on humanity. If you’re going to do that, you need to provide links or citations to published materials — preferably some science, not Fox News — to back up what you’re saying.

    While I appreciate you reading and commenting, if you’re not interested in a fact-based discussion of this, then with all due respect, this isn’t the place to just spout unfounded opinions.

    Thanks, Ken.

  5. Soyedina says:

    Steve since I’d like to understand what it is that you are talking about, I will ask again

    “What sort of evidence would be required to convince you of the reality of global warming?”

  6. Soyedina says:

    And, Ken, I believe it’s possible for Steve to answer this question without citations, since after all it’s a question about his epistemology.

    But, in order to argue that there is in fact no warming occurring then I join your plea for him to post citations to support this curious assertion.

  7. Steve says:

    Where am I arguing that the planet isn’t warming or cooling? I’m not arguing one way or the other. It may indeed be warming. I’ve read many of the links that Ken and others have posted and I am still not convinced one way or the other. I’m simply referring to economic impact of converting electrical production from coal to natural gas on the consumer, especially the poor. Show us all how much we will save by converting. Use the British Thermal Unit. That’s good old science, and see if natural gas will really be less expensive to the consumer. And Ken, I don’t get all my info. from Fox news, thank you.

  8. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    Your proposed cost benefit analysis leaves much to be desired … it’s simply not looking at the full picture to try to boil it down to, “show us all how much we will save by converting” from coal to gas. That’s not the issue here. But if you’re concerned about costs, you should check out some of the literature about the costs to our society to NOT doing something about climate change. For example, read this post from the Duke School of the Environment, , which explains:

    “… Others have stepped up to the plate; perhaps most notable of these was Nicholas Stern whose 2006/2007 report titled “Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change” concluded [ ] that “the benefits of strong and early action far outweigh the economic costs of not acting.” The report raised quite a stir and was roundly criticized by some economists (see here [ ] and ) for, among other things, assuming an unrealistically low discount rate. ”

    Moreover, you say you’re not arguing one way or the other on whether the planet is or isn’t warming or cooling. I disagree. Like many deniers, you try to take little pokes and raise doubts, without being able to actually take on the real matter directly. For example, you wrote in your initial comment here:

    “Climate change will always happen and I do believe that. As for man made global warming, I have my reservations and doubts about much of the evidence presented thus far.”

    I’d be interested to have you provide 3 examples of links to scientific papers (or mainstream media coverage of scientific papers) that support either of these ideas:

    1. The world isn’t getting warmer;
    2. Even if it is getting warmer, humans are not responsible for the bulk of the warming; or
    3. Even if it is getting warmer, and humans are responsible for the bulk of it, that the impacts really aren’t anything we need to worry about.

    I’ll look forward to your examples.


  9. Soyedina says:

    If he can’t provide that information, perhaps he can answer the original question.

    I’ll just post it here again, to make it easier

    Steve, what sort of evidence would be required to convince you of the reality of global warming?

  10. Steve says:

    The article by Mr. Bill Chameides sites all examples based entirely on the US. The carbon tax, the dollar and so on. To make a dent in this “global warming”, don’t you think you may want China, India, South Africa and other industrialized nations on your side, and thinking just like Bill? If we are the only ones playing, then it’s futile, and the poor will be the ones who will pay through the nose.
    In the article “The Growing Irrelevance of U.S. Climate Policy”, Marlo Lewis wrote last January that China alone consumes 47% of the worlds coal. In fact the article states the world will burn 1.2 billion more tons of coal in 2017 than in does today. What we may regulate or tax here in the US will only cause some to feel better about themselves and thier cause. It will cause others real financial hardship. This is what WILL happen in just three years, not what may transpire in the year 2050.

  11. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    There’s no question that anyone who accepts scientific fact also understands that other nations need to take action on this crisis as well.

    But you’re offering the common distraction — to divert attention away from the need for action — that says if U.S. action alone won’t fix the problem, we shouldn’t do anything. If that’s the test for action, then there are few problems that we should take any one action about — because if doing something that HELPS doesn’t SOLVE the problem, then in your view it’s pointless. This gets no one anywhere — except for the fossil fuel industry, which it lets off the hook.

    Regarding Marlo Lewis, well, it’s not surprising that someone from the Competitive Enterprise Institute opposes action on climate change. It’s pretty well understood that their efforts in this regard are funded by the fossil fuel industry … see this, for example: .

    I believe my question to you was that you cite some peer-reviewed science from appropriate journals … articles from CEI don’t cut it.


  12. Soyedina says:

    Perhaps it’s uncharitable, but I must say my inclination is to interpret this silence (in regards to “What sort of evidence would convince you of the reality of global warming) as an implicit admission that no amount of evidence could convince Steve of the reality of global warming.

    But I’d love to change my mind! Perhaps someday he will answer this question.

  13. Steve says:

    Again, I’m not arguing one way or the other as to which way the planets temperature is going, but I am convinced by looking at the problem through the short lens (what the US government may impose) to save the planet will harm many financially, without so much as putting a dent in the problem. That is simply being a realist.
    “Other countries need to take action on this crisis as well”. So easy to say isn’t. Ken, That’s the point! If they don’t, and I don’t see it, the effort is in vain. As for the article by Marlo Lewis, do you doubt the information? Much of the info from the article comes from the government. Would you consider information if I would were to quote someone that may be supported or represented by the Sierra Club? Do they have those who are on fixed incomes and the poor in mind when they focus on their cause? Do you believe the masses in India, China or any other growing industrialized nation really know or care about global warming? You would better serve your cause by learning a foreign language and trying to convince those who do not have the access to all the info you all post.

  14. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    Thanks again for continuing the discussion.

    But lets circle back again and see if you can try to stay on point … from my previous comment, you wrote:

    “Climate change will always happen and I do believe that. As for man made global warming, I have my reservations and doubts about much of the evidence presented thus far.”

    I’d be interested to have you provide 3 examples of links to scientific papers (or mainstream media coverage of scientific papers) that support either of these ideas:

    1. The world isn’t getting warmer;
    2. Even if it is getting warmer, humans are not responsible for the bulk of the warming; or
    3. Even if it is getting warmer, and humans are responsible for the bulk of it, that the impacts really aren’t anything we need to worry about.

    For that matter, you now are writing this:

    “… I am convinced by looking at the problem through the short lens (what the US government may impose) to save the planet will harm many financially, without so much as putting a dent in the problem.”

    Please provide examples of peer-reviewed studies in economics, engineering or other appropriate fields, which support the following —

    1. That efforts “to save the planet will harm many financially.” I’d be most interested in seeing examples which show that the costs of DEALING with climate change outweight the costs of the damage the it’s already doing and will do in the future; and

    2. That such efforts will not put “a dent in the problem.”

    Thanks, Ken.

    I’ll look forward to your examples.

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