Coal Tattoo

Manchin keeps pushing Mingo liquid coal plant

Just as he enters the final stretch in his race for the U.S. Senate, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin yesterday resumed promoting the TransGas coal-t0-liquid plant he hopes will locate in Mingo County.

The governor’s office sent out this press release, which was certainly gushing over Gov. Manchin:

After four years of continuous effort, Gov. Joe Manchin and TransGas Development Systems President Adam Victor, along with several state and local representatives, today announced that the company has selected its Engineering Procurement Contractor (EPC) and technology provider for its coal to gasoline facility that will be built in Mingo County, West Virginia.

During today’s meeting, [TransGas president Adam] Victor reminded officials that four years ago, he was on the verge of relocating his operations overseas after facing years of challenges while trying to convince officials across the Northeast to make the tough decision to support necessary energy infrastructure development. Only after Mr. Victor met Governor Manchin did he realize that West Virginia could be a place where energy infrastructure could be built and supported by state and local officials.

But the real news for West Virginians was buried in the release:

Victor praised the governor for bringing the construction trades union together with his chosen contractor and technology provider to ensure that this project will be built by skilled West Virginia workers, on time and under budget.

Coal Tattoo readers will remember that the Affiliate Construction Trades Foundation had been concerned that TransGas might not hire local unionized workers to build the plant, a fear that led the ACT Foundation to take a closer look at the company’s air pollution permit.

That permit has been the subject of appeals hearing this week before the state Air Quality Board, in a challenge filed by the Sierra Club.  And of course, serious concerns remain about the fact that — without carbon capture and storage equipment TransGas is not proposing — liquid coal will generate twice the greenhouse gas emissions of regular gasoline.

Stay tuned …

AP report: Old-style coal plants expanding

In this photo taken Wednesday, April 28, 2010, Jon LaCour, manager of the Wygen III coal-fired plant, looks over pollution control equipment built onto the recently completed $247 million plant in Wyodak, Wyo. Utilities across the country are building dozens of old style coal plants that will cement the industry’s standing as the largest industrial source of climate changing gases for decades. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

Here’s a story just out by Matthew Brown of The Associated Press:

WYODAK, Wyo. (AP) — Utilities across the country are building dozens of old-style coal plants that will cement the industry’s standing as the largest industrial source of climate-changing gases for years to come.

An Associated Press examination of U.S. Department of Energy records and information provided by utilities and trade groups shows that more than 30 traditional coal plants have been built since 2008 or are under construction.

The construction wave stretches from Arizona to Illinois and South Carolina to Washington, and comes despite growing public wariness over the high environmental and social costs of fossil fuels, demonstrated by tragic mine disasters in West Virginia, the Gulf oil spill and wars in the Middle East.

The expansion, the industry’s largest in two decades, represents an acknowledgment that highly touted “clean coal” technology is still a long ways from becoming a reality and underscores a renewed confidence among utilities that proposals to regulate carbon emissions will fail. The Senate last month scrapped the leading bill to curb carbon emissions following opposition from Republicans and coal-state Democrats.

“Building a coal-fired power plant today is betting that we are not going to put a serious financial cost on emitting carbon dioxide,” said Severin Borenstein, director of the Energy Institute at the University of California-Berkeley. “That may be true, but unless most of the scientists are way off the mark, that’s pretty bad public policy.”

In this photo taken Wednesday, April 28, 2010, Marty Snell with Black Hills Power monitors a bank of computer screens used to track operations of the Wygen III power plant in Wyodak, Wyo. Utilities across the country are building dozens of old style coal plants that will cement the industry’s standing as the largest industrial source of climate changing gases for decades. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)


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W.Va. coal plants showing big air pollution cuts

I did a quick piece for the Gazette’s Sustained Outrage blog about EPA’s very quick turnaround this year in releasing federal Toxics Release Inventory data.

While I haven’t had a ton of time to analyze the new numbers, I did notice what appears to be a pretty large cut in statewide total air emissions of TRI toxic chemicals … something around 40 percent, if the preliminary EPA data turns out to be correct.

And, a big chunk of that appears to be coming from pollution reductions at some of the state’s largest coal-fired power plants — like the John Amos plant out near St. Albans, where total air emissions reported to the TRI program dropped by half between 2008 and 2009.

Other coal plants, all typically among the state’s biggest polluters, also showed big drops. They included some of the big facilities owned by American Electric Power and Allegheny Energy.

The reason? A combination of things is likely, power company officials say, including the economic downturn — which cuts demand for power — as well as new pollution control equipment on some of the plants and, probably, even a switch by some electricity buyers to natural gas.

Groups seek air pollution limits for coal mines

Orange cloud at Jacobs Ranch Coal Mine in Powder River Basin of Wyoming. Photo taken from nearby Thunder Basin National Grassland.

A coalition of environmental groups is calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to for the first time impose air pollution limits on coal mines.

That’s right … EPA has adopted air pollution standards for gravel mines, coal-fired power plants, coal processing plants, and dozens of other sources. But currently, no national limits exist for the air pollution from coal mines.

Hoping to change that, the groups WildEarth Guardians, Center for Biological Diversity, the Environmental Integrity Project and the Sierra Club filed this petition with EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. The groups are represented by attorneys from Earthjustice.

Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, said:

It’s time to finally hold coal mines accountable to our health, safety, and environment. With mines spewing methane, dust, toxic orange clouds, and other dangerous gases, we need a national response that puts clean air before coal.

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A new report released yesterday by the Environmental Integrity Project warns that power plants are “not making a dent” in their emissions of the potent toxic chemical mercury.

There’s a press release online here, and you can read the full report here.

According to the report, more than half of the nation’s 50 worst power plants in terms of mercury emissions increased those emissions between 2007 and 2008, the latest year for which data is available.

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Obama EPA to tighten smog standards

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Coal Tattoo readers might want to check out this post I just wrote for the Gazette’s Sustained Outrage blog, about a decision by U.S. EPA to tighten its air pollution standards for smog.

Of course, burning coal is a leading source of pollutants that cause smog.

EPA announces plans to tighten SO2 standards

This just in from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

For the first time in nearly 40 years, EPA is proposing to strengthen the nation’s sulfur dioxide (SO2) air quality standard to protect public health. Power plants and other industrial facilities emit SO2 directly into the air. Exposure to SO2 can aggravate asthma, cause respiratory difficulties, and result in emergency room visits and hospitalization. People with asthma, children, and the elderly are especially vulnerable to SO2’s effects.

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Virginia coal plant shot down by court action

A state court judge in Virginia has declared invalid one of the state permits allowing Dominion Virginia Power to build a $1.8 billion coal-fired power plant in Wise County, Va., throwing up a new roadblock for the project, according to a short report in The Washington Post.

The Southern Environmental Law Center is calling the decision “a momentous victory for clean energy advocates” and described the ruling’s details this way:

The Clean Air Act requires the maximum achievable controls on mercury and other hazardous emissions from coal-burning plants. Virginia Circuit Court Judge Margaret P. Spencer agreed with SELC and a coalition of environmental groups that an “escape hatch” in the hazardous emissions permit for the Dominion plant is unlawful and would allow the company to exceed the standard.  Judge Spencer ruled that the limit on mercury emissions—pollution that can cause severe neurological deficits in fetuses, infants and young children—“must be set ‘irrespective of cost or achievability’” and must be locked in before construction begins.

A copy of the ruling is posted here,  and there’s more on this story here, here and here. Recall that the Sierra Club had already claimed victory in defeating 100 coal-fired power plant proposals across the country.

Breaking news: EPA finds greenhouse gases a threat

This just in from AP:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases are a danger to public health and welfare. It is the first step to regulating pollution linked to climate change.

Congressional sources told The Associated Press that EPA will announce its proposed finding Friday and begin a comment period before issuing a final ruling. The EPA also will say tailpipe emissions from motor vehicles contribute to climate change. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the finding hasn’t been announced.

The action was prompted by a Supreme Court ruling two years that said greenhouse gases are pollutants under the Clean Air Act and must be regulated if found to be a human health danger.

There’s also coverage from The Washington Post,  Reuters, and The Wall Street Journal.

[UPDATED — the EPA finding is available here, and there’s a bunch of other information from EPA here.]

What does this mean for coal mining?

Well, the Clean Air Act contains similar language that requires EPA to write regulations to limit emissions from coal-fired power plants if those emissions are a threat to public health and welfare.

So this action by EPA is indeed a first step toward administrative action by the agency to do something about greenhouse emissions from coal.

“The writing is on the wall,” Sierra Club lawyer David Bookbinder told me earlier this week. “The only question is the timing.”

I’ll be reporting more on this, so stay tuned to Coal Tattoo and to the Gazette’s Web site.

Power plant emissions: Calm before the storm

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There’s a new report out today from the Environmental Integrity Project that looks at power plant greenhouse gase emissions over the last few years, and over the previous decade.

The bottom line?

While annual U.S. power plant carbon dioxide emissions dropped a little more than 3 percent last year, they’ve gone up more than 1 percent since 2003 and 4.5 percent since 1998. That’s according to the latest data on file with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and analyzed by EIP.

Commenting on the CO2 data, EIP’s report, called “Calm Before the Storm,” said:

The overwhelming consensus of the world’s scientific community is that urgent measures are needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 80 percent over the next four decades. The Obama Administration has proposed a plan to reduce emissions by 83 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2050, through cap-and-trade legislation. The Administration has proposed an interim short-term goal of a 14 percent reduction in emissions by 2020.

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Much ado about biomass: Co-firing with coal

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 First Energy Corp.’s R.E. Burger Power Plant near Shadyside, Ohio.

First Energy Corp. announced this week that it is going to spend $200 million to convert its R.E. Burger Power Plant near Shadyside, Ohio, so it can burn a mix of coal and biomass — wood and plant wastes.

The Columbus Dispatch has a story about this,  and they report:

Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club’s National Coal Campaign, said FirstEnergy’s decision will create less pollution from a cleaner fuel. Unlike coal, burned biomass doesn’t emit mercury, a potent neurotoxin, or sulfur dioxide, a compound that helps create smog, soot and acid rain. “It’s a lot less toxic pollution,” he said.

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Mining leads the nation … in toxic emissions

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Toxic pollution decreased across the country in 2007. But the industry with the largest toxic emissions remains … you guessed it: Mining.

That’s according to the latest Toxics Release Inventory, made public yesterday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The metal mining sector reported nearly 1.2 billion pounds of toxic releases and waste disposal, according to disclosures companies filed with EPA.  Coal mining reported far less, but still more than 13.4 million pounds of emissions and waste disposal.  Both sectors cut their emissions, coal by about 10 percent and metal mining by 8 percent. (Electric utilities — mostly coal-fired power plants — are a  close second, btw).

But the huge total toxic figures reported by mining explains why the industry fought long and hard to avoid having to report its pollution to the TRI program.

The National Mining Association Web site has some information on the industry perspective.

All of the TRI data is available here, and state-by-state fact sheets here. The public can also do searches and queries on TRI data at EPA’s TRI Explorer site.

More on the Capitol Power Plant

One of the major backers of the big anti-coal protest Monday in Washington, D.C., is author Bill McKibben.

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McKibben has a commentary in Sunday’s Washington Post about the protest. Here’s a bit of what he had to say:

Washington has seen its share of big protests over the years, and most of them center on the White House, the Mall or the Capitol. That will change tomorrow, when the first big protest of the Obama era — and the first mass civil disobedience against global warming in this country — will take place against the not-very-scenic backdrop of the Capitol Hill Power Plant, a dirty symbol of the dirtiest business on Earth, the combustion of coal.

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Obama, Manchin and coal

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(President Barack Obama talks with W.Va. Gov. Joe Manchin following a White House dinner with the nation’s governors. AP photo)

The Associated Press had a story the other day about a letter that the governors of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming sent to President Barack Obama, urging the president to fund development of so-called “clean coal” projects in western coal states.

It struck me as a little odd, because West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin is buddies with Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, and the pair have worked together before on coal issues that affect the two states. But Manchin wasn’t part of this letter to Obama.

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Another Bush rule tossed

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A federal appeals court today struck down a key Bush administration rule that set national standards for airborne soot and dust.

Coal-fired power plants are among the largest sources of particulate pollution, which has been linked to respiratory problems, decreased lung function, aggravated asthma, and premature death.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia  ruled that the U.S. EPA’s 2006 standards for fine particulate matter were “in several respects, contrary to law and unsupported by adequately reasoned decision-making.”

As a statement issued by Earthjustice explained: At issue was the rule that kept the primary standard for annual fine particulate matter at 15 micrograms per cubic meter, even though EPA’s staff and scientific advisers had recommended a standard between 13 and 14 micrograms.

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Court won’t consider mercury appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court said this morning that it would not consider overturning a decision that invalidated a Bush administration rule on toxic mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Justices listed the case, Utility Air Regulatory Group v. New Jersey, 08-352, among a long collection of cases that they declined to consider.

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Obama reverses Bush on mercury

Dina Cappiello of The Associated Press is reporting  that the Obama administration will seek more stringent controls on mercury pollution from the nation’s coal-fired power plant, “abandoning a Bush administration approach that the industry supported.”

The news is also being reported by Reuters, and  is making the rounds of environmental-issue blogs.

David Baron, an attorney with Earthjustice, issued this statement about Obama’s decision:

“Today’s news signals an end to years of attempts by the Bush administration to undermine Clean Air Act protections against mercury  and comes not a moment too soon. The Bush policies have allowed coal plants to release more than 700,000 pounds of mercury pollution during the past eight years.”