Coal and climate: Leaders out of step with public

June 3, 2014 by Ken Ward Jr.


Gazette photo by Chip Ellis

It’s not surprising to see the drumbeat from most West Virginia media outlets (see here, here and here) in opposition to the Obama administration’s fairly modest effort to fight climate change.  After all, the media apparently thinks its job is simply to repeat what our elected officials tell us, regardless of whether it makes any sense or has any basis in fact.

One of my absolute favorites is how public officials and media personalities here parrot the notion that it’s somehow wrong for President Obama to direct an agency of the executive branch of government to promulgate a rule under authority given to that agency by the Congress (see here and here). The coal industry and its friends seem to keep forgetting that their “war on coal” campaign against President Obama didn’t work — that he’s the one who won the November 2012 election.

Here in West Virginia, and in neighboring Kentucky, politicians from both parties raced to attack EPA’s proposal. Despite some suggestions otherwise, the hysteria was pretty much bipartisan. It’s true that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin did actually speak the words “diversifying our economy.”  But Gov. Tomblin did so only after blasting the EPA proposal — which his Department of Environmental Protection hadn’t yet fully read or analyzed — as realizing  “our worst fears” because it might mean power plants would “use less West Virginia coal.”

A statement yesterday from Sen. Joe Manchin might have seemed a tad tame, but that’s only because just last week the senator was declaring that people “are going to die” because of EPA’s efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions — and because Sen. Manchin’s past reactions to proposals to fight climate change have involved turning firearms on a defenseless piece of legislation.

It’s true that the state’s top Republican — Attorney General Patrick Morrisey — promised “to review every line, of every paragraph, of every page of this proposal” to find a way to have it thrown out in court.  But the two best hopes of the Democrats to retain a U.S. Senate seat or pick up a House seat — Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and House candidate Nick Casey — both promised to do everything they could, if elected, to block the EPA proposal from being finalized. As for Rep. Nick Rahall, his office has resorted to using the unnecessary rhetoric of the coal industry, inserting “war on coal” into its press releases on these issues.

Obama Global Warming Winners and Losers

In this March 9, 2006 file photo, a large dozer sit ready for work at Peabody Energy’s Gateway Coal Mine near Coulterville, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File) 

What’s becoming increasing clear, though, is that even the Democrats are out of step with the people of the coalfields on these issues.  Just look at the results of a Washington Post-ABC News Poll made public yesterday:

Americans living in coal-heavy states are supportive of limiting greenhouse gas emissions in the poll, even as their states will be forced to make bigger adjustments to meet the EPA’s new emissions targets. Among those in states where a majority of electricity is produced by burning coal, 69 percent say the government should place limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Support is a similar 71 percent in states where less than half of electricity comes from coal.

Previous polls have shown the same sorts of results (see here and here). Generally, people in the coalfields don’t really care for mountains getting blown up. They don’t at all like the idea of coal miners getting blown up. And they aren’t too keen on carbon pollution creating super-storms and an otherwise unlivable climate.

As for West Virginia Democrats, do they really think that trying to out pro-coal the Republicans is a winning strategy for not losing key congressional seats or their state House majority? More importantly, what about the future of a state where a huge chunk of the coal industry is already expected to go away — regardless of what EPA does? The only West Virginia Democrat to really talk much sense yesterday, the retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller, put it this way:

I understand the fears that these rules will eliminate jobs, hurt our communities, and drive up costs for working families …  However, rather than let fear alone drive our response, we should make this an opportunity to build a stronger future for ourselves. … The threat that climate change and unhealthy air pose to all of our futures cannot be understated.  And, the costs of inaction are far greater than the costs of action.

7 Responses to “Coal and climate: Leaders out of step with public”

  1. Observer says:

    “unlivable climate” Are we all really going to die if something isn’t done about climate change. I didn’t think so. Didn’t you say that the rhetoric needed to be turned down?

  2. That Guy says:

    The study interviewed by phone 1000 respondents yet “States where coal represents the majority of electricity consumed: West Virginia, Kentucky, Wyoming, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Utah, Ohio, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico, Maryland, Michigan, Colorado, Iowa, Tennessee, Arkansas, Montana. The sample size for respondents in these states is 280, carrying a margin of error of seven percentage points. ”

    1000 people represented the entire population of the US and 280 represented 19 states…do I really need to point out how skewed this survey appears to be…and really, who takes the time to respond to polls. I know I have never responded to a phone poll.

    I know my thoughts above are not “Peer Reviewed” so they aren’t “real” but think about it…280 people to represent 19 states worth of people…

    The quotes are from the actual poll you cited, I don’t have the time or inclination to post a link, you can find that yourself.

    I love alternative energy but through all the rhetoric and bluster I’ve yet to see a business advertise in WV for affordable solar or wind power for the home or a business servicing windmills or solar farms. So if renewable energy is the way of the future and there are jobs for all West Virginians where are the companies that are going to provide this energy and jobs? I want one!!!

    On a side note; how about an investigative article on how the wind and solar farms fared in the derecho and super storm sandy! And how much energy they produced before and immediately after the storms, reliability and durability are two big questions I have about these energy sources.

  3. Denise Binion says:

    It appears that among the candidates, only one, Ed Rabel (WV-02) had a sane response to the EPA announcement.

  4. david morrison says:

    An editorial cartoon in the June 4 Herald-Dispatch tells the story the Gazette, Obama and you fail to tell us regarding climate change and thereby are doing a disservice to Americans.
    One part shows a man laying in bed saying “Our electric bill is ..gasp…$1000 this month and his wife bringing him a glass of water saying “don’t worry, dear, the government will subsidize us!”
    An obvious exaggeration in the amount but it will increase and thereby put more middle class below the poverty line
    Another part shows a man standing under a cloud of dirty air saying to another guy wearing a respirator: “we’ve spent billions on clean air and still have dirty air!?? The other guy says: “It’s from China.”
    The only exaggeration here is the dirty cloud and the respirator.

  5. PlethoDon Juan says:

    I find it interesting that most folks, science educated or not, do not have a problem with the overwhelming evidence for various scientific theories (if they understand what “theory” is, is another topic) such as gravity, the heliocentric solar system, tectonic plate movement, germ theory, etc. But overwhelming evidence (97% of scientists concur) for human-induced climate change? “Oh that’s a conspiracy!” or “equal time must be given for deniers!” is often heard by those same people who deny the overwhelming evidence for biological evolution or rely on Faux news as their primary source of information. Polling results do not accurately reflect the reality of scientific findings but only how the public perceives the results and the results can be skewed by the media and politicians who have agendas that supply the confirmation bias of their denial. Most folks don’t have the means or time to go back and take a remedial class (or several) on science and the latest findings and have to rely on other sources of information that unfortunately filter much of the information into a sound bite or rant towards their political opponent. Lastly, one must realize that it is hard to get a person to support an idea contrary to the one that supplies their paycheck.

  6. Observer says:

    Is this regulation supposed to have a measureable impact on the earth’s tempeature? If so, how much? If not, why has it been put forth?

  7. Labelle Trawler says:

    It’s easy to kick COAL when it’s down. Yep, the demand is falling and prices are rising, the big fields are played out. Coal is on the way out as an energy source. The alternative, Natural Gas is cheaper, cleaner and more abundant.
    Heck, even China is going to switch to Russian gas and oil rather than US coal. Look at the coal producers stock prices if you need more proof.

    Seeing that the market place has made its decision; it’s easy for the politicos to appear like they are doing the right thing for the planet. When all along the big coal users are switching to Natural Gas anyway for all of the obvious reasons. It won’t matter what the EPA or Obama declares because only those with their heads in the sand will still be using or mining coal as an energy resource.

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