Coal Tattoo

Coming clean about the Clean Power Plan

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FILE - In this July 1, 2013, file photo, smoke rises from the Colstrip Steam Electric Station, a coal burning power plant in Colstrip, Mont. Most Americans are willing to pay a little more each month to fight global warming, but only a tiny bit, according to a new poll. Still environmental policy experts hail that as a hopeful sign. Seventy-one percent of the American public want the federal government to do something about global warming, including six percent of the people who think the government should act even though they are not sure that climate change is happening, according to a poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File)


Tomorrow is a big day for coal and energy issues, what with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia set to hear oral argument in the case trying to stop the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.

Lots of eyes in West Virginia will be watching, and we’ve covered the implications of this issue before (see here, here and here).

There’s a bunch of stories out there nationally that provide various sorts of previews of tomorrow argument.

The New York Times, for example, takes this angle:

The pitched battle over President Obama’s signatureclimate change policy, which is moving to the courts this week, carries considerable political, economic and historical stakes. Yet its legal fate, widely expected to be ultimately decided by the Supreme Court, could rest on a clerical error in an obscure provision of a 26-year-old law.

That error, which left conflicting amendments on power plant regulation in the Clean Air Act, will be a major focus of oral arguments by opponents of Mr. Obama’s initiative when the case is heard on Tuesday in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The initiative, known as the Clean Power Plan, which Mr. Obama sees as at the heart of his climate change legacy, gave the United States critical leverage to broker the landmark 2015 Paris climate change accord. If the plan is struck down, the United States, the world’s largest carbon polluter over the centuries, will lose its main tool to cut greenhouse gas emissions. If it is upheld, it will transform the nation’s electricity system, closing hundreds of coal-fired power plants and setting in motion a wholesale shift to wind, solar and nuclear power, as well as to improved electric transmission systems.

And here’s The Washington Post:

President Obama’s signature effort to combat global warming will be in the hands of federal judges this week, as an appeals court in Washington weighs the legality of the administration’s plan to force sharp cuts in power plants’ carbon emissions and push the nation toward cleaner energy sources.

Even after a marathon hearing Tuesday, the legal questions about the Clean Power Plan are almost certain to remain unresolved when Obama leaves office. But the outcome of the case ultimately could shape the president’s environmental legacy and influence how millions of Americans get their electricity.

“It’s the big kahuna,” said David Doniger, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which backs the proposal.

The sprawling, unpredictable legal battle — which has attracted attention from the Supreme Court — pits the nation’s leading environmental groups, climate scientists and even tech giants such as Apple against more than two dozen states, industry groups and conservative lawmakers.

There are many others, including pieces from EnergyWire, The Wall Street Journal, and The Daily Caller.

Locally, the Daily Mail editorial page had an op-ed from West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is among those challenging the EPA rule, and West Virginia Public Broadcasting had a brief preview that included these comments from the AG:

We know that over the last number of years that the regulatory onslaught has play a part in the onslaught of the loss of coal jobs. There are other factors, I would concede, but the regulatory onslaught has been a factor.

It was nice to see AG Morrisey acknowledge the “other factors” that have led to coal’s decline, something we’ve certainly tried to convince public officials to face up to over these last few years (see here, here and here, for example). As with election stories these days, it’s often easy for public officials — and voters — to get away with spouting the coal industry line without ever being confronted by journalists with facts about coal’s decline and the reality of the challenges faced by coalfield communities — even if the AG and his allies manage to win the day in court.

President Barack Obama speaks during the third day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Wednesday, July 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)


Last night, during a remarkable speech at the Democratic National Convention, President Obama again included coal miners in the discussion about what this election is about. Here’s what he said:

It can be frustrating, this business of democracy … When the other side refuses to compromise, progress can stall. People are hurt by the inaction. Supporters can grow impatient and worry that you’re not trying hard enough, that you’ve maybe sold out.

But I promise you, when we keep at it, when we change enough minds, when we deliver enough votes, then progress does happen. And if you doubt that, just ask the 20 million more people who have health care today. Just ask the Marine who proudly serves his country without hiding the husband that he loves.

If you want to fight climate change, we’ve got to engage not only young people on college campuses, we’ve got to reach out to the coal miner who’s worried about taking care of his family, the single mom worried about gas prices.

You can read the whole speech here or watch it below:

It’s a great point, and it reminds me of the speech that AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka — who knows a thing or two about coal miners — made more than four years ago, urging the nation to have a broader, more meaningful and more inclusive discussion about the future of coal. Trumka talked about how the folks he grew up with understood climate change, perhaps in more meaningful ways that some of the world’s top scientists:

And to those who say climate risk is a far off problem, I can tell you that I have hunted the same woods in Western Pennsylvania my entire life and climate change is happening now—I see it in the summer droughts that kill the trees, the warm winter nights when flowers bloom in January, the snows that fall less frequently and melt more quickly.

And he reminded environmental groups that policies that change our energy system affect real people in places like Southern West Virginia:

When these folks hear “End Coal,” it sounds like a threat to destroy the value of our homes, to shut our schools and churches, to drive us away from the place our parents and grandparents are buried, to take away the work that for more than a hundred years has made us who we are.

So why, in an economy without an effective safety net, would the good men and women of my hometown and a thousand places like it surrender their whole lives and sit by while others try to force them to bear the cost of change.

The truth is that in many places – and not just places where coal is mined – there is fear that the “green economy” will turn into another version of the radical inequality that now haunts our society—another economy that works for the 1% and not for the 99%.

Continue reading…

Speaking of jobs …

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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)

There’s a new report out from Downstream Strategies and the WVU College of Law’s Center for Energy and Sustainable Development that takes a look at the opportunities that the Clean Power Plan could create for West Virginia’s coalfields.

You can read the report, “Expanding Economic Opportunities for West Virginia under the Clean Power Plan,” but here’s the conclusion:

Achieving compliance with the Clean Power Plan presents a number of challenges for West Virginia, which has historically relied on coal to generate most of its electricity and as an economic driver. Over time, coal-fired power plants in West Virginia will burn less coal, and other states that have historically imported West Virginia coal will also burn less coal. Increasingly stringent environmental regulations will converge with market forces that continue to make Central Appalachian coal less competitive—the development of cheap Marcellus Shale natural gas, the greater affordability of renewables, and the increasing cost of mining thinner and deeper coal seams. Even today, before Clean Power Plan implementation has even begun, coal production is decreasing, West Virginia coal miners are losing their jobs, coal companies are filing for bankruptcy, and severance tax revenues are declining.

West Virginia has the resources to meet these challenges, however, and can usher in new economic opportunities with appropriate planning and policies.

To do so, policymakers must take advantage of the opportunities presented by the Clean Power Plan and utilize the full flexibility provided by the rule to shape a strategy for West Virginia that reflects its unique circumstances and leverages its strengths. West Virginia is fortunate to have tremendous energy resources in addition to coal, and these other resources—including natural gas, renewable energy (wind, solar, hydropower), and energy efficiency—are relatively untapped. By implementing the legislative and regulatory policy changes outlined in this report, West Virginia lawmakers and regulators would provide an investment climate that attracts new investment in renewable and DG technologies, energy efficiency, and natural gas–fired generation. West Virginia can also spur innovation in other areas that would diversify the state’s electric power sector, reduce carbon pollution, and provide West Virginians energy savings and new economic opportunities. Taking advantage of the emissions trading opportunities contemplated by the Clean Power Plan would provide West Virginia with a fairly low cost compliance strategy, by incorporating the relatively abundant ERCs and allowances from surrounding states having greater zero- and low-carbon resources and energy efficiency savings, as noted in the DEP Feasibility Report, to enable coal plants to continue operating.

A better strategy would be to take advantage of the economic opportunities that will be created by emissions trading, through enactment of state policies that will encourage the development of zero- and low-carbon resources and energy efficiency savings within West Virginia. The state’s strategy for achieving compliance with the Clean Power Plan should focus not only on minimizing compliance costs, but should also consider the opportunities that are created by the economic activity stimulated by the Clean Power Plan.

Developing an all-of-the-above energy policy like those modeled in this report would help West Virginia take advantage of additional cost-effective compliance measures available under the Clean Power Plan, while at the same time capturing the other benefits of tapping into off of West Virginia’s energy resources. Leveraging all of West Virginia’s energy resources to reduce carbon pollution will also provide long-term benefits throughout the state as new jobs are created in new sectors of the state’s economy.

Navigating a path forward for West Virginia will require a comprehensive approach, both in terms of the energy resources deployed and the involvement of policymakers throughout both the state and federal government. Lawmakers, regulators, utility operators, and other stakeholders in West Virginia can build upon the results of this report and develop additional analyses to evaluate West Virginia’s options for meeting its obligations under the Clean Power Plan. Coordinating state planning efforts with other states and PJM will provide additional insights and new compliance avenues. West Virginia regulators deserve the full support of the state government to engage in regional planning discussions. Building on the analysis conducted for this report will enhance West Virginia’s ability to take advantage of the broad flexibility provided under the Clean Power Plan and serve the dual purpose of providing a framework for identifying opportunities to expand other sectors of the state’s energy economy and foster new opportunities for economic growth throughout the Mountain State.


EIA: Coal keeps losing market share

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While the coal industry and the media are focused on trying to turn Obama’s “war on coal” into Clinton’s “war on coal,” the U.S. Energy Information Administration reminds us today:

For decades, coal has been the dominant energy source for generating electricity in the United States. EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) is now forecasting that 2016 will be the first year that natural gas-fired generation exceeds coal generation in the United States on an annual basis. Natural gas generation first surpassed coal generation on a monthly basis in April 2015, and the generation shares for coal and natural gas were nearly identical in 2015, each providing about one-third of all electricity generation.


The recent decline in the generation share of coal, and the concurrent rise in the share of natural gas, was mainly a market-driven response to lower natural gas prices that have made natural gas generation more economically attractive.


Environmental regulations affecting power plants have played a secondary role in driving coal’s declining generation share over the past decade, although plant owners in some states have made investments to shift generation toward natural gas at least partly for environmental reasons. Looking forward, environmental regulations may play a larger role in conjunction with market forces. Owners of some coal plants will face decisions to either retire units or reduce their utilization rate to comply with requirements to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants under the Clean Power Plan, which is scheduled to take effect in 2022 but has recently been stayed by the Supreme Court pending the outcome of ongoing litigation.

And who would have thought:

Beyond the growing market share for natural gas-fired generation over the past decade, coal’s generation share has also been reduced by the growing market share of renewables other than hydroelectric power, especially wind and solar. Unlike the growth of natural gas-fired generation, which has largely been market-driven, increased use of nonhydro renewables has largely been driven by a combination of state and federal policies. The use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar has also grown rapidly in recent years so that generation from these types of renewables is now surpassing generation from hydropower.

Head in the snow: Why W.Va. doesn’t move forward

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Utility trucks head west bound on I64 crossing the St. Albans/Nitro bridge, in St. Albans, W.V., Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016. (Tom Hindman /Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

Utility trucks head west bound on I64 crossing the St. Albans/Nitro bridge, in St. Albans, W.V., Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016. Photo by Tom Hindman.

When we last left the West Virginia Legislature, this was the sad report from The Associated Press:

phillips_rupertAs the snowstorm approached, a West Virginia delegate handed out sunscreen to his colleagues in an attempt to ridicule global warming.

Democratic Delegate Rupie Phillips passed around the bottles of sunscreen Thursday.

The lawmaker from coal-producing Logan County told his colleagues on the House floor, “I worry about you. You’ve got global warming going on. It’s not cold outside. It’s in your mind.”

Phillips said he was going to get everyone a pair of Maui Jim sunglasses, but they are “a little expensive.”


It’s hard to know where to start with this kind of silly stuff. Do we engage with it, and show the science that indicates, just for example that big blizzards in winter don’t disprove global warming and that climate change can actually make East Coast blizzards worse? Or do we ignore it, and hope it goes away?

The Beckley paper decided to take it on, with a very strong editorial that explained how we ignore science at our own risk:

It is clear Delegate Phillips is ignoring facts. Even the kids know that coal, which leaves a heavy carbon footprint in its wake, is a major contributor to global warming. Coal is a fossil fuel just like natural gas. When it is burned, it releases carbon dioxide into the environment. There, it helps trap heat and moisture in our little dome of life. It’s called the greenhouse effect — a pretty simple concept to grasp for anyone paying attention. And so, it gets hotter here on Earth and we get more extreme weather events. Even the oceans are warming up. It is undeniable. It is science. It has been researched. It is a fact. It is the truth.

But forget all of that. Forget the mountains of research. Forget all of the climate scientists around the world who have poured their intellectual curiosity into their work. According to Phillips, one winter weekend storm was all the evidence we needed.


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Obama to continue push for coalfield aid

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President Barack Obama speaks at a town hall styled event at McKinley Senior High School in Baton Rouge, La., Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

There’s big news coming today about the federal coal-leasing program, with an Interior Department press conference planned later this morning and this report out from The Wall Street Journal:

The Obama administration plans to announce Friday that it is going to change the way the federal government handles coal leases on public lands, the latest step in President Barack Obama’s plan to address climate change, according to a congressional aide.

The administration is also expected to put in place a moratorium on at least some new coal leasing until the Interior Department conducts a broad environmental review, which could include coal mining’s impact on climate change, wildlife and other environmental issues. An Interior Department representative didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

As the Journal noted, this is following up on President Obama’s comments earlier this week in his final State of the Union address:

Now we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from dirty energy.  Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future – especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels.  That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet.

At the same time, the administration is also making clear that it plans to continue a major push to help coalfield communities in Appalachia that are struggling through the industry’s continuing downturn.  White House officials told me this week that the upcoming budget proposal for next financial year would include more funding for the Power Plus Plan.

Readers will recall that last year, President Obama included significant funding in his budget proposal to help coalfield communities, including $1 billion in new spending over five years to clean up abandoned strip mines, additional funding for research on carbon capture technology for power plants, and nearly $4 billion over 10 yeas to protect the health and retirement benefits of retired coal miners.

Congress came through with some money for some of these projects, such as a $90 million pilot project for abandoned mine cleanups, $50 million for the Appalachian Regional Commission, and $15 million to the Economic Development Administration for projects and grants under Power Plus.

While the full budget proposal won’t be public until next month, White House officials say that it will include proposing to continue the additional money for the Appalachian Regional Commission, along with more money for other components of the administration’s coalfield aid plan.

“We expect to come out of the gate pretty strong,” one White House official told me. “We are going to be making this a priority for us.”

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President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Pool)

President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Pool)

It seems like a long time ago that if President Obama would deliver a State of the Union address or other major speech that touched on energy there would be at least some vague mention of “clean coal.”

Last night, well … not so much.

Instead, President Obama’s discussion of such things last night in his final State of the Union went something like this:

Seven years ago, we made the single biggest investment in clean energy in our history.  Here are the results.  In fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power.  On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills, and employs more Americans than coal – in jobs that pay better than average.  We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy – something environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support.  Meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly 60 percent, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.

Now, I don’t know about this business where solar “employs more Americans than coal.” The numbers touted by folks like The Solar Foundation seem to include a pretty broad brush, whereas the figures for the coal industry are a smaller subset that focuses more strictly on miners — not on things like manufacturing, sales and distribution or “project development.” I’m not sure it’s a completely fair comparison. This has been a popular comparison for the wind industry as well, and I’ve pointed out before how that bothered me as well.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman dismisses questions about these kinds of comparisons:

… While you might want to quibble with specific numbers, the boom in renewable energy is very real, as are the surging number of jobs in things like solar panel installation. I can’t imagine any calculation under which the number of green jobs added doesn’t exceed the loss in coal mining, which was already a shadow of its former self before Obama took office.

There’s no question that the boom in renewable energy is real. But there is also no question that coal’s downturn is hurting many families in the coalfields and it’s also hammering the budgets of coal-producing states like West Virginia.

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Will W.Va. look for some other baskets?

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Photo by Kenny Kemp

There’s a new white paper out from Downstream Strategies that summarizes some of their previous findings and recommendations (see here, here, here and here) about the place West Virginia coalfield residents find themselves in.

It’s called, “All of our eggs in one basket?” and among its key messages are:

Among the key messages:

For years, we have known that Central Appalachian coal production was going to decrease dramatically. And it has.

Coal production is falling fast in southern West Virginia, but staying stable in northern West Virginia. This is significantly impacting coal-dependent communities in southern West Virginia.

This is a statewide issue. Severance tax revenues from the coal industry are declining, and increased revenues from the natural gas industry have not fully made up the difference.

The General Revenue Fund relies heavily on severance tax revenues.

Recent budgets have overestimated expected revenues from severance taxes, including the first three months of fiscal year 2016.

Their conclusion:

For years, we have known that coal production was likely to drop significantly in southern West Virginia, and that coal
production will likely continue to decline in the future. Now that these projections are coming true, the state is grappling
with fewer jobs, bankrupt companies, and declining severance tax revenues.

Together, these present unprecedented challenges not just for southern West Virginia counties, but also for the state as a

New approaches are needed.

‘Big ideas’: Jim Justice on climate change

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Photo by Christian Tyler Randolph

Here’s one of the more interesting parts of David Gutman’s story today from a long interview with Democratic gubernatorial candidate (and billionaire coal operator) Jim Justice:

Justice denies the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and is caused by human activity.

“There’s documentation that would give one concern, and I don’t think you should ignore that,” he said. “At the same time, I think there’s an awful lot of research that still should be done.

“I surely wouldn’t sit here and say I am a believer in global warming, but I wouldn’t sit here and say that I am not concerned.”

Court won’t block Clean Power Plan

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Climate Rules Arkansas

Here’s the news from The Wall Street Journal:

A federal court denied a request by more than a dozen states on Wednesday to temporarily block the Obama administration’s carbon regulations while they mount a full legal challenge to the rules.

The decision is an early victory for the Environmental Protection Agency, which completed the rules last month calling for carbon emissions from power plants to be cut 32% by 2030 from 2005 levels. The regulations are the cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s climate plan, and Wednesday’s ruling is an early legal salvo in what is expected to be a yearslong court battle over Mr. Obama’s climate agenda.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has been leading the legal fight against the EPA rule. You can read the court’s brief decision here.

Clinton campaign looks to future on coal policy

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FILE - In this Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton listens to a home care worker during a roundtable discussion in Los Angeles. Calling for a “new college compact,” Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday, Aug. 10, will unveil a $350 billion plan aimed at making college more affordable and reducing the crushing burden of student debt. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

In this Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton listens to a home care worker during a roundtable discussion in Los Angeles.  (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

Over the weekend, Reuters picked up on a story that we covered her late last month on Coal Tattoo, regarding Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s position on coal-mining issues. Their story started out:

In her 2008 bid for the White House, Hillary Clinton cast herself as a blue-collar Democrat who was unabashedly pro-coal, a stance that helped her beat opponent Barack Obama easily in primaries in states that produced or were reliant on coal.

Eight years later, a Reuters review of her recent campaign speeches and policy announcements shows that the great-granddaughter of a Welsh coal miner is now talking about the coal industry in the past tense.

The little-noticed shift in rhetoric speaks volumes about how the United States’ energy landscape has changed since Clinton last campaigned in 2008: oil and gas fracking have exploded and cheap natural gas has taken a huge bite out of coal.

In the intervening years the Obama administration has also proposed aggressive measures to tamp down greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels like coal, while once-powerful coal companies like Arch Coal, which declared bankruptcy last week, have lost their political clout.

The shift by Clinton is not without significant political risk. She will have to walk a fine line in trying to please the progressive activists she needs to win her party’s nomination and working-class “swing” voters whose support will be crucial for the general election in November 2016. Ohio and Pennsylvania, in particular, have a lot of electoral votes, which are key to electing a new president.

Mindful of that, Clinton has been careful to pay tribute to the contribution coal miners have made to the American economy, but she has also made clear that they should be helped to find new jobs, and a new way of life.

Ed Rendell, former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania and Clinton ally, said an economic case for addressing climate change could resonate in his state, where the coal industry employs more than 36,000 directly and indirectly, according to the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance.

“Citizens, coal miners and executives are not dumb and they see the handwriting on the wall. Someone needs to tell them the truth and make it clear,” he said in an interview.

The next sentence seemed familiar:

Clinton’s campaign declined to comment on the shift in her coal message or how she plans to appease both environmentalists and coal workers.

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FILE - This Feb. 10, 2006 file photo shows the Sidney Coal Company's Coal Preparation Plant in Sidney, Ky. Sidney is a subsidiary of Alpha Natural Resources Inc. Alpha Natural Resources Inc., one of the country's biggest coal producers, became the latest in a string of coal companies to seek bankruptcy protection amid an historic shift in the electric power sector brought on by cheap natural gas prices and pollution regulations. (AP Photo/Brian Tietz, File)

This Feb. 10, 2006 file photo shows the Sidney Coal Company’s Coal Preparation Plant in Sidney, Ky. (AP Photo/Brian Tietz, File)

It is not surprising that the usual suspects among the West Virginia media have come out in full force to thunder against the final version of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan (see here, here and here).

There’s a lot of uninformed talk about “power grabs” and “doctrinaire” regulatory moves, given the near-unlimited flexibility that EPA gives states to come up with their own compliance plans.  The Wheeling paper is fixated on why Hawaii was exempt, and Hoppy Kercheval is so eager for some “civil disobedience” that I picture him chaining himself to a computer in Washington in a patriotic attempt to keep the rule from being published in the Federal Register.

The Daily Mail editorial page is ranting about how the EPA rule is  “aimed at dramatically reducing use of fossil fuels and forcing rapid shifts toward alternative energy sources like solar and wind.” They ignore the fact that these shifts have already happened, and are continuing to happen, largely as a result of the kinds of market forces that they so love to champion. As we reported today, citing EPA’s analysis of its rule:

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy speaks in the East Room at the White House in Washington, Monday, Aug. 3, 2015, before President Barack Obama spoke about his Clean Power Plan. The president is mandating even steeper greenhouse gas cuts from U.S. power plants than previously expected, while granting states more time and broader options to comply. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

We expect that the main impact of this rule on the nation’s mix of generation will be to reduce coal-fired generation, but in an amount and by a rate that is consistent with recent historical declines in coal-fired generation. Specifically, from approximately 2005 to 2014, coal-fired generation declined at a rate that was greater than the rate of reduced coal-fired generation that we expect to result from this rulemaking from 2015 to 2030.  In addition, under this rule, the trends for all other types of generation, including natural gas-fired generation, nuclear generation, and renewable generation, will remain generally consistent with what their trends would be in the absence of this rule.

Sadly, the other trend that’s already happening is climate change. As President Obama explained in his remarks at the White House on Monday:

Climate change is no longer just about the future that we’re predicting for our children or our grandchildren; it’s about the reality that we’re living with every day, right now.

The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security.  While we can’t say any single weather event is entirely caused by climate change, we’ve seen stronger storms, deeper droughts, longer wildfire seasons.  Charleston and Miami now flood at high tide.  Shrinking ice caps forced National Geographic to make the biggest change in its atlas since the Soviet Union broke apart. 


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Coming soon: Final EPA ‘Clean Power Plan

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In this July 15, 2015, file photo, President Barack Obama answers a question during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Turkey’s dramatic air campaign against the Islamic State and Kurdish forces has created a bit of a conundrum for Obama, who is leading the fight against one of Turkey’s targets while relying heavily on the other target.  (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

The New York Times reports today:

The final version of President Obama’s signature climate change policy is expected to extend an earlier timeline for states to significantly cut planet-warming pollution from power plants, according to people familiar with the plan.

If enacted, the climate change plan, the final version of which is expected to be unveiled as early as Monday, could stand as the most significant action ever taken by an American president to curb global warming. But some environmental groups have cautioned that a later deadline for states to comply could make it tougher for the United States to meet Mr. Obama’s climate change pledges on the world stage.

This is just the latest in a series of press reports that try to predict when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is going to issue the final version of its Clean Power Plan and what that EPA plan will say.

One story from U.S. News and World Report, for example, said:

A sweeping federal rule that would curtail carbon emissions from power plants will likely be made even more stringent when it is finalized later this summer, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, widely regarded as a close ally of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The rule, known as the Clean Power Plan, was unveiled by the EPA in June 2014. The subject of more than 4.3 million public comments, it is the keystone of President Barack Obama’s climate agenda and vigorously opposed by conservatives and industry groups.

“We are very optimistic and confident that it will be stronger, in particular in the areas of renewables and efficiencies,” NRDC President Rhea Suh said during a press briefing Wednesday at the organization’s headquarters in the nation’s capital.

UPDATED: Here’s a new report out today from EnergyWire:

U.S. EPA appears to be leaning toward giving states an extra two years — until 2022 — to start cutting carbon emissions from power plants under a final Clean Power Plan rule expected to be rolled out as early as Monday.

The rule will also provide more time for states to submit final plans, according to a timeline E&E obtained that was posted to EPA’s website.

Moving out the compliance dates could strengthen support from states friendly to the Obama administration’s climate plan and assuage the concerns of some critics. Across the political spectrum, state officials and energy companies have said more time is a concession EPA could grant in a final rule that would make it easier to cut greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 (ClimateWire, July 27).

Another piece from ClimateWire reported:

In countless meetings on the Clean Power Plan with states and energy companies, the most common plea to U.S. EPA has been for more time. More time to work on plans, more time to allow coal plants to retire and more time to move toward final goals.

It’s an easy concession for EPA — one that could go a long way toward ensuring flexibility under the rule without undercutting climate goals, knowledgeable observers say.

In particular, EPA has heard it should relax the rule’s interim goals, which require states to reach an average emissions rate between 2020 and 2029.

It’s a “big problem, and an unnecessary problem, with respect to the real goals of this regulation,” said Ken Colburn, a principal at the Regulatory Assistance Project, which advises state regulators tasked with writing carbon-cutting plans to meet state-specific targets.

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Gov. Tomblin and the Clean Power Plan

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Earl Ray Tomblin

West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tombin, a Democrat, waves at the conclusion of his inauguration speech on Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, in Charleston, W.Va.  (AP Photo/Randy Snyder)

Late last week, the Washington Post’s Joby Warrick had what certainly appeared to be a pretty interesting story with a Hazard, Kentucky, dateline:

Even after years of talk about a “war on coal,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell startled some of his constituents in March when he urged open rebellion against a White House proposal for cutting pollution from coal-fired power plants.

The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan is “extremely burdensome and costly,” the Kentucky Republican said in letters advising all 50 states to boycott the rule when it goes into effect this summer.

The call for direct defiance was unusual even for McConnell, who has made a career of battling federal restrictions on coal. Yet more striking is what has happened since: Kentucky’s government and electric utilities have quietly positioned themselves to comply with the rule — something state officials expect to do with relatively little effort.

In this coal-industry bastion, five of the state’s older coal-burning power plants were already scheduled to close or switch to natural gas in the next two years, either because of aging equipment or to save money, state officials say. As a result, Kentucky’s greenhouse-gas emissions are set to plummet 16 percent below where they were in 2012 — within easy reach of the 18 percent reduction goal proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency in a draft of the agency’s controversial carbon-cutting plan.

“We can meet it,” Kentucky Energy and Environment Secretary Leonard Peters, speaking at a climate conference, said of the EPA’s mandate.

The nut graph:

The story is the same across much of the country as the EPA prepares to roll out what is arguably the biggest and most controversial environmental regulation of the Obama presidency. Under the Clean Power Plan, states will have to find ways to achieve dramatic cuts in carbon pollution over the next 15 years, with reduction quotas topping 50 percent over 2012 levels for some states. But despite dire warnings and harsh political rhetoric, many states are already on track to meet their targets, even before the EPA formally announces them, interviews and independent studies show.

Later on, though, a problem cropped up when Joby wrote:

Six governors have taken up McConnell’s call to “just say no” to the EPA’s proposal. Five are Republicans — including presidential contenders Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Scott Walker of Wisconsin — and one, Earl Ray Tomblin of West Virginia, is a Democrat.

The Gazette-Mail’s David Gutman pointed this out, and noted he didn’t recall Gov. Tomblin actually going along — at least publicly — with Sen. McConnell’s plan. So I checked in with the governor’s communications officer, Chris Stadelman. And sure enough, Chris told me in an email message that Gov. Tomblin “has not made a final decision” on Sen. McConnell’s proposal but “will do what’s in the best interest of WV residents.”

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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a campaign event, Sunday, July 26, 2015, at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The Hillary Clinton presidential campaign’s new climate change platform is getting a fair amount of attention coming out of the weekend. Here’s the New York Times:

Promising more than a half-billion solar panels by the end of a first term and an ambitious target of clean energy for every home in America in a decade, Hillary Rodham Clinton unveiled goals on Sunday evening to reduce the threat of climate change.

She said she would continue President Obama’s sweeping plan to limit carbon emissions from power plants, and announced targets that even push beyond current goal’s for greenhouse gases.

Mr. Obama’s proposed regulations are expected to be finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency in August, and the real work of making the changes — shutting down coal plants and increasing the number of renewable electricity sources — would fall to the next administration.

There’s more coverage here, here, here and here.

It’s interesting to compare the “fact sheet” released last night by the Clinton campaign with this text of the 2008 Clinton presidential campaign’s climate and energy plan, which included a lot of the obligatory language about various ways to accelerate the development and deployment of “clean coal technology”. This time around, the fact sheet simply promises this:

Coal Communities: Protect the health and retirement security of coalfield workers and their families and provide economic opportunities for those that kept the lights on and factories running for more than a century.

FILE- In this April 3, 2014, file photo, giant machines dig for brown coal at the open-cast mining Garzweiler near the city of Grevenbroich, western Germany. A global health commission organized by the prestigious British medical journal Lancet recommended in a report published Monday, June 22, 2015, substituting cleaner energy worldwide for coal will reduce air pollution and give Earth a better chance at avoiding dangerous climate change. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)

In this April 3, 2014, file photo, giant machines dig for brown coal at the open-cast mining Garzweiler near the city of Grevenbroich, western Germany.  (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)

Over at Vox, Brad Plumer has a piece out titled, “The most important climate story today is the global coal renaissance.” He reports:

If you only focused on the United States, you might think coal’s days are numbered.

The dirtiest of all fossil fuels once provided more than half of America’s electricity. That has since dropped to 39 percent, thanks to competition from cheap natural gas, a dogged campaign by the Sierra Club to shutter old coal plants, and strict new air pollution regulations. Add in the Obama administration’s upcoming crackdown on CO2 emissions from power plants, and US coal will keep declining in the future.

But that’s not true globally. Far from it. According to data from BP’s Statistical Review of Energy, coal consumption has actually been accelerating worldwide since the end of the 1990s … It’s tempting to think that this worldwide coal boom is mainly a one-time blip due to China, where coal use has surged since 2000 but has since leveled off as the country transitions away from heavy industry. But as it turns out, that’s not true either.

According to an important new study in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, we’re in the midst of a global “renaissance of coal” that’s not confined to just a few countries like China or India. Rather, coal is becoming the energy source of choice for a vast array of poorer and fast-growing countries around the world, particularly in Southeast Asia. “This renaissance of coal,” the authors write, “has even accelerated in the last decade.”

Why is coal becoming so popular? The authors of the PNAS study — Jan Christoph Steckel, Ottmar Edenhofer, and Michael Jakob — argue that coal is often the cheapest energy option for many people, relative to other sources like oil, gas, nuclear, or renewables.

What’s especially notable is that countries no longer need their own domestic mines to take advantage of coal power. International coal markets have become so robust, with exports surging in mining countries like Australia and Indonesia, that it’s become much easier for a wide variety of countries to build coal-fired power plants. (Notably, the authors say, the price of coal itself, rather than the capital costs of building power plants, seems to be the important economic driver here.)

Now, I can just hear Sen. Joe Manchin … “See, Ken, coal has been and always will be our most important global energy resource. If we can just that that darned EPA off our backs, West Virginia can power the world. That’s just common sense.”

Not so fast. Sen. Manchin should read this study:

If future economic growth of poor countries is fueled mainly by coal, ambitious mitigation targets very likely will become infeasible. Building new coal power plant capacities will lead to lock-in effects for the next few decades. If that lock-in is to be avoided, international climate policy must find ways to offer viable alternatives to coal for developing countries.

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A different kind of coalfield discussion

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FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2015 file photo, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., accompanied by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Senate Republicans discussed a proposal Wednesday to temporarily help millions of people who could lose federal health care subsidies should the Supreme Court annul the aid, which has been a pillar of President Barack Obama’s health care law.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Earlier this week in Washington, they had another one of these congressional hearings that beltway insiders thrive on about coal and climate and economics.

West Virginia’s own Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito was there, chairing the meeting of a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee meeting called, “The Impacts of EPA’s proposed Carbon Regulations on Electricity Costs for American Businesses, Rural Communities and Families.” Sen. Capito opened the hearing by saying:

I am not exaggerating when I say almost every day back home in West Virginia, there are new stories detailing plants closed, jobs lost, and price increases … It is important to note that all electricity has to come from somewhere. In many states, odds are that it is being imported from a state that relies on coal.  But no one is talking about that. 

While Sen. Capito was leading this hearing, a relatively small, but dedicated bunch of officials from various government agencies were meeting back home in West Virginia. Here’s the lead of the story I wrote about that meeting:

A team of Obama administration officials visited West Virginia this week to promote new programs and proposals to help struggling mining communities and hear about ongoing efforts by a variety of local groups to diversify coalfield economies.

Representatives from the White House and a half-dozen agencies met with economic development officials from state agencies and with a long list of local and regional non-profit organizations for a briefing on President Obama’s proposal to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in coalfield aid as part of his 2016 budget recommendation to Congress.

About 75 people who attended the meeting at Hawks Nest State Park also heard about additional money available through an ongoing companion initiative to provide federal help for local economic development planning and project implementation in communities around the country hit by layoffs as part of the coal industry’s downturn.

Now, a lot of this meeting focused on the ins-and-outs of the Obama programs, and the details of grant application rules and, frankly, a lot of stuff that, while not very sexy, plays a huge rule in how non-profit groups and others can go about creating bottom-up change in our society.  And, a lot of it also highlighted the growing efforts that go on — often without headlines, at least here in Charleston — of local citizens and leaders to try to build stronger communities in our coalfields. The first lesson I learned at this meeting is how much those of us who live in the state Capitol need to do more to understand and encourage such efforts.

But the first thing I saw when I got back to Charleston and started browsing the news was the headline from Inside Climate News: Aid Package for Coal Country Goes Ignored by Congress. They reported:

A massive $3 billion package to help struggling coal communities transition to a new economy is sitting unappropriated in the Republican-led Congress. And lawmakers are saying little—at least publicly—about if and how they ever plan to support it.

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Pope Francis waves as he arrives for his weekly general audience, in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican,  Wednesday, June 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Pope Francis waves as he arrives for his weekly general audience, in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, June 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

It’s obviously no secret that most West Virginia leaders would just rather not talk about global warming  and the coal industry’s role in the climate crisis. But you would have thought that maybe … just maybe, hearing more than a few words from the Pope on these matters would make the usual suspects be quiet and listen. Doesn’t look like it.

Take the statement issued by West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney:

… There are many reasons for these improvements, but none, perhaps as vivid, as the electrification of parts of our world, which came most successfully with the continued and improved use of fossil fuels.  I am concerned the Pope does not acknowledge that with his challenge to all of us to improve the way we use the indigenous resources our Lord has blessed us with in this world …

I wish Pope Francis would have traveled to Logan, Mingo or any of our other West Virginia counties where miners have been put out of work because of the uncertainty created by polices that mandate impossible requirements that reach beyond today’s technology.  The suffering of that unemployment is vivid, stark and extremely concerning. 

It’s times like this that you have to wonder if West Virginians really understand the world, or the context of their complaints about the downturn of the coal industry and its economic implications. In his new “On Care for Our Common Home,” Pope Francis actually has a lot to say about poverty. But he’s not talking about whether folks can make the payments on their big pickup truck. And what he has to say is important for anyone who really wants to understand the context of this global problem and the path to finding real solutions. For example:

A true “ecological debt” exists, particularly between the global north and south, connected to commercial imbalances with effects on the environment, and the disproportionate use of natural resources by certain countries over long periods of time. The export of raw materials to satisfy markets in the industrialized north has caused harm locally, as for example in mercury pollution in gold mining or sulphur dioxide pollution in copper mining. There is a pressing need to calculate the use of environmental space throughout the world for depositing gas residues which have been accumulating for two centuries and have created a situation which currently affects all the countries of the world. The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming. There is also the damage caused by the export of solid waste and toxic liquids to developing countries, and by the pollution produced by companies which operate in less developed countries in ways they could never do at home, in the countries in which they raise their capital: “We note that often the businesses which operate this way are multinationals. They do here what they would never do in developed countries or the so-called first world. Generally, after ceasing their activity and withdrawing, they leave behind great human and environmental liabilities such as unemployment, abandoned towns, the depletion of natural reserves, deforestation, the impoverishment of agriculture and local stock breeding, open pits, riven hills, polluted rivers and a handful of social works which are no longer sustainable”

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14_0395_02That’s a map that appeared this week as part of a U.S. Centers for Disease Control study that looked at the “most distinctive causes of death” in each state across the country.  The Washington Post had a write-up on this here, which is where I first saw the map and the study.

The concept is to pinpoint the cause of death for each state that, as the Post explained is the cause of death that stands out most relative to its national average.

Click to enlarge the list with the map, and you’ll see that for West Virginia, the most distinctive cause of death is “Pneumoconioses and chemical effects.”  That’s right, the cause of death that stands out in West Virginia relative to its national average is black lung  — the terrible disease that we know how to eliminate, but don’t because doing so might cost the coal industry too much money.

But gosh, if you follow what our elected officials are doing in Washington, or read what the leaders of our state’s media establishment are opining about, you would barley know that the coal industry hurts anybody in any way.  What West Virginia really needs, these folks keep telling us, is not better regulation of coal and creation of a broad new range of diverse industries and economies, but more coal. Lots more coal. And, they tell us, if we can just stop President Obama and his EPA, we’ll have more coal.

Take Hoppy Kercheval’s commentary today for West Virginia Metronews. In a nutshell, Hoppy argues that the absolute last thing West Virginia needs is any federal money or other assistance to find ways to diversify the state’s southern coalfields. Hoppy is apparently totally against the Obama administration’s efforts in the federal budget and with administration agency programs to give those coal communities help that they desperately need:

Washington’s answer is to throw some hush money at the problem.  This year, the POWER initiative will award grants using $28 to $38 million to pay for “planning and preparation” for the post-coal era.  The administration promises more money in future years, but that’s uncertain.

Obama supporters and a few desperate souls will appreciate Washington’s benevolence, cheering the federal government’s attempts to foster the long-desired “economic diversity” the state needs.  And it’s possible that the POWER creators actually believe central planning and yet another underutilized job retraining program will help.

Even if Washington’s efforts are in good faith, they pale when compared with the damage done by the administration’s policies. It’s as though the White House stabbed the coal industry in the heart with the right hand, while the left hand offers a tissue to help clean up the mess.

As we discussed yesterday, what Hoppy and his buddies among the state’s career campaign consultants really want is to be able to run Republican candidates in 2016 in another anti-Obama campaign:

What POWER will do is give the national Democratic Party some cover, a useful political diversion.  Federal Democratic candidates campaigning in coal country in 2016 can try to temper the impact of the EPA’s decisions by pointing to ways Washington is helping to, according to the White House, “build a better future.”

If politicians really wanted to help they would reign in the EPA and/or spend money on badly needed infrastructure. But that’s not going to happen, at least not with this administration or with the current direction of the national Democratic Party.

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Obama-Global Warming

As the first full week of this year’s legislative session comes to an end, it’s more clear than ever that there’s little room up at our statehouse for facts. If you listened to the debate on the House floor yesterday as delegates took turns standing up for coal, you know what I’m talking about.

It was hard not to wonder if as many lawmakers will still be so concerned about coal miners when it comes time to vote on whether to give the industry immunity to many workplace injury and death lawsuits.

But seriously, the longer I watch West Virginia politics — especially politics surrounding coal and energy — the more that each debate over each issue seems to become more and more deprived of facts or data, let alone reasoned analysis of those facts and data.

The facts about the terribly minor, really negligible, impacts of then-Gov. Joe Manchin’s “Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard Act” were made clear in a Gazette story we published on Thursday:

… State records show that the 2009 law actually does little to hurt the coal industry and maybe even less to really promote alternatives like wind energy or solar power. West Virginia’s coal-heavy utilities say they have been — and will continue to be — able to meet the law without adding new renewable generation.

This story was based on annual reports that West Virginia’s two largest utilities filed with the state Public Service Commission (see here and here), and with an annual analysis that the PSC itself performed (see here). No one has really produced any facts or data or evidence of any kind that disputes this information. None.

It’s not surprising that career political consultants tried to use passage of this do-nothing “alternative” energy bill tried to re-label it as “cap and trade” so they could use it against now-Sen. Joe Manchin and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (see here and here).  And you have to hand it to the Republicans — they campaigned against this bill, and in repealing it, they’re doing what they said that they would.

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