West Virginia’s climate change disconnect continues

May 6, 2014 by Ken Ward Jr.


A C.S.X. train loaded with coal winds its way into the mountains in this Nov. 21, 2004 file photo taken near the New River at Cotton Hill in Fayette County, W.Va.  AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)

This morning, the Obama administration will be releasing the latest version of the National Climate Assessment, a dense scientific report about the impacts our nation is already experiencing because of global warming pollution. If the initial media reports are correct, the picture isn’t pretty.

Here’s what the AP’s Seth Borenstein reports this morning:

Global warming is rapidly turning America the beautiful into America the stormy, sneezy and dangerous, according to a new federal scientific report. And those shining seas? Rising and costly, the report says.

Climate change’s assorted harms “are expected to become increasingly disruptive across the nation throughout this century and beyond,” the National Climate Assessment concluded Tuesday. The report emphasizes how warming and its all-too-wild weather are changing daily lives, even using the phrase “climate disruption” as another way of saying global warming.

And here’s more from The Wall Street Journal:

Climate change is having a present-day, negative impact on Americans’ everyday lives and damaging the U.S. economy as extreme weather brings flooding, droughts and other disasters to every region in the country, a federal advisory committee has concluded.

The congressionally mandated National Climate Assessment, produced by more than 300 experts overseen by a panel of 60 scientists, concludes that the nation has already suffered billions of dollars in damages from severe weather-related disruptions, which it says will continue to get worse.

As has previously been reported here, here, and here, the roll-0ut of this report (the PR, not the science) is being orchestrated to try to drum up more public support for Obama administration initiatives aimed at curbing climate change. The media narrative is that President Obama has renewed interest, as his time in the White House moves closer to an end, on doing more about climate change. Of course, President Obama has already done a lot on this issue, but given the scale of the problem, he’s done nowhere near enough.

Climate Report

This March 13, 2014 file photo shows cracks in the dry bed of the Stevens Creek Reservoir in Cupertino, Calif. The Obama administration is more certain than ever that global warming is changing Americans’ daily lives and will worsen — conclusions that scientists will detail in a massive federal report to be released Tuesday, May 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

The final version of this edition of the National Climate Assessment is going to get a lot of media attention in many places. You have to wonder how much it will get in West Virginia. Earlier drafts show some things our state’s leaders should clearly be worried about. For example:

— Regional climate model simulations 7 suggest that the southern part of the region, including large parts of West Virginia, Maryland, 8 and Delaware could experience more than a doubling of days per year over 95ºF by the 2050s  … which will impact the regions vulnerable populations, 18 infrastructure, and agriculture and ecosystems.

— Throughout the Northeast, populations are also concentrated along rivers and their flood plains. 11 In mountainous regions, including much of West Virginia and large parts of Pennsylvania, New 12 York, Vermont, and New Hampshire, more intense precipitation events will 13 mean greater flood risk to populations, many of whom are concentrated (along with infrastructure and agriculture) in drainage basins between the mountains.

So what are West Virginia’s political leaders doing today? Gathering together the state’s top scientists to get a briefing on this report? Planning state initiatives to do our part to fight climate change? No … here’s what our state’s leaders are up to, according to the Coal Forum:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) air emission regulations have helped facilitate the closure or planned closure of more than 160 coal generating units across the country, equating to over 22,000 megawatts of electricity.  New Source Performance Standards being proposed by EPA will make it nearly impossible to build new coal-based power plants in the future.  These regulations will further erode West Virginia’s coal economy.

The West Virginia Coal Forum in partnership with the Logan County Chamber of Commerce will conduct a meeting to discuss these green house gas emission standards and the impact to our state and the nation from Noon – 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 6th in the Field House at Logan High School in Logan, West Virginia.

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin will headline the event and conduct a ceremonial bill signing of House Bill 4346.  Passed during the 2014 Legislative Session, the bill establishes a framework for the development of a state compliance plan for EPA’s new climate rules while preserving current fuel supplies and protecting West Virginia coal jobs.

A variety of local, state and regional experts and policy leaders will speak at the event, to include:

— Governor Earl Ray Tomblin

Senators Art Kirkendoll and Ron Stollings

— Delegates Rupert Phillips and Ted Tomblin

— Bill Raney, WV Coal Association

— Jeff Herholdt, WV Division of Energy

— Roger Horton, Citizens for Coal

— Chris Hamilton, Vice-President, WV Coal Association & Co-Chair, WV Coal Forum

— Fred Tucker, UMWA, Co-Chair, WV Coal Forum

About the only West Virginia leader who seems to really talk much at all about trying to face up to climate change is Sen. Jay Rockefeller. As Taylor Kuykendall reported yesterday for SNL Financial, Sen. Rockefeller is trying to renew his push for government efforts to encourage carbon capture and storage. But even Sen. Rockefeller seems to feel compelled to wrap his reasonableness up in a red herring about our inability to immediately turn off all coal power:

The reality for West Virginia and the rest of the country is that we need coal; we can’t meet our energy needs without it. It is simply unrealistic to think that we can stop burning coal and shift to cleaner sources of energy instantly. And it is equally unrealistic to think that coal is as clean as it could be, or that it will be around forever. Either way, we have to prepare for the future.

As we wrote a couple of weeks ago, a group of other West Virginians are trying to get our state to start thinking and talking more about climate change, its impacts on our state, and what we can do about it. They have a rough road ahead.

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