Coal Tattoo

PolitiFact has an analysis out of a recent Senate campaign ad from Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, and the bottom line is they conclude a key statement in the ad is “Mostly False.”

Here’s the ad:

As PolitiFact explains:

Capito comes out swinging against new federal regulations aimed at curbing carbon emissions from fossil-fuel burning power plants in an ad released July 29.

“The president’s come out with rules that say ‘no new coal-fired power plants,’ ” Capito says. “But what he’s going to come out with in the next several months is you’re not even going to be able to burn coal very limitedly in the existing plants.”

We tackled the latter statement regarding existing facilities in a seperate fact-check and said it was False. Has the Obama administration banned new coal-fired plants, as Capito claims?

 Their analysis continues:

Obama’s “proposed rule for new coal plants sets a standard that cannot be met without the use of carbon capture and storage technology,” Capito spokeswoman Amy Graham said. This technology, she added, “has not been demonstrated at a commercial coal-fired power plant anywhere in the United States.”

That’s all actually true. The EPA even says the “standards will minimize carbon pollution by guaranteeing reliance on advanced technologies like … efficient coal units implementing partial carbon capture and storage.”

Carbon capture and storage is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of releasing carbon into the atmosphere, power plants must capture and store it. The technology has been around for a while, but on a much smaller scale and not for entire power plants.

It is a costly technology. According to Dallas Burtraw, director of the Center for Climate and Electricity Policy, an energy think tank funded by government, nonprofits and energy companies, carbon capture is estimated to cost electric companies 15 to 20 percent more in the near future.

They go on:

There are some promising developments with carbon capture technology. Southern Company, an energy provider, is already in the process of building a plant with carbon capture technology in Mississippi. The plant enjoys some special perks — including federal tax credits and proximity to an oil field that will pay Southern for its captured carbon to extract more oil — that make it somewhat unique. And there have been holdups. According to a Washington Post story, Southern Company pushed back the plant’s opening date by a year and the project has experienced significant cost overruns. But so far construction is proceeding as planned.

Burtraw said the high costs to get the plant up and running are not uncommon for trailblazers trying new technologies. Usually, costs decrease as competition increases and the building and manufacturing becomes more efficient and standardized. The EPA pointed us to three proposed projects in North America, including two in the United States, that will include carbon capture and storage.


West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney, center, endorses Rep. Shelley Moore Capito for U.S. Senate. Photo via Capito for Senate campaign website.

Perhaps more importantly:

In truth, coal plants face a much greater threat than regulation: Natural gas. Natural gas is much cheaper and amore efficient fuel source than coal, luring energy companies away from coal at a fast pace.

“Coal is getting really beat up badly in the market by cheap gas,” said Michael Webber, deputy director of the Energy Institute at The University of Texas at Austin. “Over the last few years, new power plants have been dominated by natural gas, wind and solar.”

Burtraw added: “There were not going to be any new coal plants built anyway. That is the real ringer here.”

Bottom line:

While the future of coal is uncertain, it has much more to do with energy markets and the rise of natural gas — a cheaper and more efficient energy source — than Obama’s regulations. The stricter carbon standards from the EPA may create additional barriers to building new facilities. But already there is one attempt to build a facility that would meet these thresholds and experts expect it won’t be the last.

The test facing coal is real, but Capito goes way too far in her indictment. We rate the statement Mostly False.

But after reading their analysis … I had to wonder what other West Virginia political figures have said … did any of them make these “Mostly False” statements?

Well, there’s Sen. Joe Manchin, who issued a press release that said that the EPA rule in question would “effectively prevent any new coal-fired power plants from being built.”

And then there’s Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who said that the EPA rule in question would “end the use of coal as we know it” and “kill coal.”

Rep. David McKinley said the EPA rule will “effectively stop any new coal-fired plants from being built.”

Then you have Rep. Nick Rahall, who issued a press release headlined Rahall condemns EPA scheme to prevent construction of coal power plants.