Coal Tattoo

Water from Addicks Reservoir flows into neighborhoods as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey rise Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)


The first thing Monday morning, as we were all still trying to grasp what has been happening on the Gulf Coast of Texas, the press release came from Gov. Jim Justice:

Governor Jim Justice announced Monday that the Mountain State is prepared to send resources including West Virginia National Guard assets and personnel as needed in areas deluged by what has become Tropical Storm Harvey.

“West Virginia stands ready, willing and able to provide first responders to assist our fellow Americans in Texas and in other areas along the Gulf Coast as they continue to deal with the massive flooding and devastating damage being caused by Tropical Storm Harvey,” Governor Justice said. “I encourage all West Virginians to join Cathy and I as we pray for their safety and well-being.”

It was hard not to think about another quote from Gov. Justice, the one where he was commenting on what a nice, warm day it was when he took the oath of office back in January:

You know, it’s phenomenal to think about it. How could we have weather like this on this day?

Gosh, Governor. How could we possibly have had weather like that in January? Then, as now, Gov. Justice doesn’t have it in him to confront — or even admit — one of the most daunting challenges facing humanity. He’s not alone.

As there usually is when a coal miner dies a completely preventable death in West Virginia’s mines, there’s a lot of prayer going on among our state’s political leaders:


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President Donald Trump talks with West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice during a rally Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, in Huntington, W.Va. Justice, a Democrat, announced that he is switching parties to join the Republicans. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)


President Donald Trump talks with West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice during a rally Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, in Huntington, W.Va. Justice, a Democrat, announced that he is switching parties to join the Republicans. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Here in West Virginia, the big political story over the last week has obviously been Gov. Jim Justice’s return to the Republican party.

Some of the media are of course very interested in promoting one of the governor’s reasons — this pretty far-out idea that the federal government is going to start subsidizing Appalachian steam coal production to the tune of $15 a ton.

There’s also a lot of interest in continuing to promote the sort of pandering that Gov. Justice (not to mention President Trump) are pushing that there’s a huge coal boom just around the corner. This is a comforting thought, both to state political leaders and to many of our fellow West Virginians. Just look at the last of those silly “Jim was right” press releases that Gov. Justice’s press office put out back while he was still a Democrat.

A huge coal boom would mean none of us would have to do the really hard work of building other kinds of economies in our coalfield communities — at least not right now. And it’s true that there has been an increase in coal jobs in West Virginia over the last three quarters. Taylor Kuykendall, the go-to guy among the media for these kind of numbers, explained last week:

Coal jobs in West Virginia are up 18.3% year over year in the second quarter, according to a new S&P Global Market Intelligence analysis of federal data, and up about 12.2% compared to the fourth quarter of 2016. The year-over-year increase represents about 2,132 jobs, while the increase from the final quarter of 2016 represents about 1,493 jobs.

But keep in mind, if you go back further than the last few quarters, or a year-over-year comparison, the increase in jobs doesn’t come anywhere close to rebuilding the sort of coal-based economy that politicians would have you believe is going to reappear.  Data from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration shows that West Virginia lost 13,000 coal jobs between the post-2000 high mark in the 4th quarter of 2011 and the low point in the 3rd quarter of 2016. Our state lost half of its coal-mining jobs in just that five-year period. We’ve only gained back a fraction of those. And the projections don’t suggest the jobs are going to keep coming back.

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Well, Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., was the first into my email inbox with a statement praising President Donald Trump for abandoning any global leadership by the United States in fighting the climate crisis. Here’s what the congressman had to say:

President Trump’s decision to withdraw is a bold statement that he will put America first even in the face of intense international pressure. The Paris Climate Agreement is a flawed deal that puts America’s energy needs and economic growth on the back burner, while transferring money and power to unelected international bureaucrats.

Moving forward, the best way to lead on this issue is to prioritize energy research and promote new technologies that will allow countries around the world to use all their resources – including fossil fuels – in the cleanest and most efficient manner.

I urge President Trump to seize this opportunity and champion technology to provide affordable, efficient and reliable energy. This alternative approach will not only benefit America, but will help the billions around the globe who remain in energy poverty.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., wasn’t far behind with this statement:

While I believe that the United States and the world should continue to pursue a cleaner energy future, I do not believe that the Paris Agreement ensures a balance between our environment and the economy.  To find that balance, we should seek agreements that prioritize the protection of the American consumer as well as energy-producing states like West Virginia, while also incentivizing the development of advanced fossil energy technologies.

To be fair, though, I think Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s statement hit Twitter before I saw either of those emails:

Today’s announcement is a major victory for working West Virginia families. My mission is to continue to fight against unlawful regulations that pose a threat to jobs and the success of the Mountain State.

I’m sure other West Virginia political leaders will follow with similar political pandering about the president’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. And they can talk all they want about how this is going to help the coal industry, and throw around phrases like “prioritize energy research” and “incentivize the development of advanced fossil energy technologies.” But the fact is that the Trump administration wants to gut government spending needed to make “clean coal” — whatever that is, exactly — any sort of reality.

Tons of journalists and scientists — and business people — who are way smarter than me have provided lots of discussion about the very real dangers that this move by President Trump poses to our society (see here, here and here for example).  There are also indications from some that the clean energy revolution is far from over, and that all hope for dealing with climate change isn’t yet totally lost.

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Wait – What did Capito say about climate change?

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, when President Trump issued his executive order on energy, there was such a flurry of statements from all manner of politicians and various special interest groups that it was hard to keep up. But there was one that stuck out. It came from EPA and was billed as, “What They are Saying About President Trump’s Executive Order on Energy Independence“:

Senator Shelly Moore Capito (W.Va)
With this Executive Order, President Trump has chosen to recklessly bury his head in the sand. Walking away from the Clean Power Plan and other climate initiatives, including critical resiliency projects is not just irresponsible — it’s irrational. Today’s executive order calls into question America’s credibility and our commitment to tackling the greatest environmental challenge of our lifetime. With the world watching, President Trump and Administrator Pruitt have chosen to shirk our responsibility, disregard clear science and undo the significant progress our country has made to ensure we leave a better, more sustainable planet for generations to come.

Wait, what?

Well, before anyone thinks that Senator Capito has come to her senses about climate change … within a little more than an hour, EPA had sent out a corrected press release with a different quote from the senator:

President Trump kept his promise to roll back one of the most harmful acts of overreach by the Obama administration – the so-called Clean Power Plan. If fully implemented, the Clean Power Plan would have completely decimated West Virginia’s vital coal industry while having no meaningful climate impact. Stopping this disastrous plan will preserve America’s coal industry, expand our manufacturing renaissance that is reliant upon affordable energy, and protect American families from unprecedented hikes in their electric bills. I was honored to join the president for the signing of this Executive Order, and I look forward to continuing working with the Trump administration to advance environmentally responsible policies that grow the economy – not kill jobs.”

This “corrected” EPA press release included a link to Sen. Capito’s own full statement on her Senate website, and a note saying “A draft released earlier today mis-attributed a quote from another senator to Senator Capito.

If you were wondering, that other quote from the initial EPA press release was what Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, said about the Trump administration action.


Coming clean about the Clean Power Plan

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.

Jim Justice doubles down on climate change denial

Jim Justice

It’s not enough that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Justice is tossing around nonsense about how electing him will assure that West Virginia “mines more coal … than has ever been mined before.” Now, Justice is just tossing science on climate change totally under the bus. Just look at what he told the Beckley paper:

Until we have really accurate data to prove (that humans contribute) I don’t think we need to blow our legs off on a concept. I welcome the scientific approach to it and the knowledge.  I would not sit here and say, ‘absolutely now, there’s no such thing’ or I would no way on Earth say there is such a thing. I believe there’s an awful lot of scientist that say, ‘no, no, no, this is just smoke and mirrors.’ I welcome the discussion, but I don’t know, I just don’t know.

Until we have really accurate data? Smoke and mirrors? Despite what he says, it’s clear that Justice doesn’t welcome the scientific approach to this issue.

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

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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‘Big ideas’: Jim Justice on climate change


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.”

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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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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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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Yesterday, the NRDC Action Fund sent out a strong attack on Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, saying:

Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito has received $865,436 from the Mining Industry over the course of her career. This is more money than any other House or Senate candidate besides House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. But, while she hopes to turn this Senate seat from blue to red, it also appears that she plans to turn our air black as she pushes for more coal in our national energy mix.

Mining interests support Capito, and she has supported them by voting numerous times against the health and safety of Americans. In 2013 alone, she voted against safeguards for the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the lands that belong to the American public. She voted to allow coal companies to continue polluting America’s waterways with toxic coal ash, voted to block the federal government from setting protections around hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) for natural gas and oil, and also voted against allowing the Department of Interior to limit methane emissions from oil and gas drilling operations. This is why Capito’s voting record earned her a score of only 4 percent in 2013 from the League of Conservation Voters.

The group continued:

Capito already had an abysmal LCV lifetime score of 21 percent, but it appears that her voting is getting worse and worse over the years. Who knows how bad it will get if she makes it into the U.S. Senate?!

Rather than investing in clean energy jobs to stimulate West Virginia’s economy, she recently supported subsidies for dirty fossil fuels while cutting funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency. And she’s beating the war drum against the EPA’s plan to limit carbon pollution from power plants, showing up to oppose the regulations at an EPA hearing, and being a leading voice in Washington, D.C. in support of coal.

Finally, the NRDC said:

Our advice: While Capito claims to care about the future of America, she consistently votes against the health and safety of her constituents and of all Americans. She should support policies that invest in cleaner jobs for her people and cleaner energy for our future. Keeping Capito as far as possible from the U.S. Senate is the best decision for America’s people – our air, our water, our land, our economy and our health.

OK … but I wondered. What about Capitol’s Democratic opponent in the Senate race, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant? How do the good people at the NRDC feel about Secretary of State Tennant’s campaign ad showing her turning out the White House lights on the Obama administration, or about her campaign’s criticism of a federal program to help make industry in West Virginia more energy efficient, or about her refusal to even talk about the growing science showing that people who live near mountaintop removal mines face increases risk of birth defects, cancer and premature death? Are they happy to see Natalie Tennant take a shot at Republican Mitt Romney’s accurate statements that pollution from coal-fired power plants kills people? (By the way, I’ve been asking Tennant campaign spokeswoman Jenny Donohue if Secretary of State Tennant believes coal pollution doesn’t kill people … and she hasn’t responded).

So I asked. Here’s the response I received from the NRDC Action Fund’s Melissa Harrison:

The #DirtyDenier$ campaign is focusing on members of Congress who cast dirty votes and accept campaign contributions from polluters. Our choice of Rep. Capito has nothing to do with her opponent, rather her poor history of supporting clean air and action on climate change. As you saw in our blog, she has accepted more money from the mining industry than any other House or Senate candidate besides House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. In 2013 alone, she voted against safeguards for our air, land and water which earned her a score of 4 percent from the League of Conservation Voters scorecard.

Aside from Rep. Capito, we also have serious concerns about the positions Secretary Tennant has taken about reducing dangerous carbon pollution. We believe West Virginians deserve a Senator who will do all he/she can to protect their health.

Maybe the NRDC just gave the Tennant campaign an idea for their next TV ad, in which they brag about how some Washington environmental group is concerned about her positions …

Reactions to the EPA announcement …

Obama-Global Warming

A hill of coal is seen at the North Omaha Station, a coal-burning power station, in Omaha, Neb., Monday, June 2, 2014. The Obama administration on Monday unveiled a plan to cut earth-warming pollution from power plants by 30 percent by 2030, setting in motion one of the most significant actions to address global warming in U.S. history. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Like most reporters covering this issue, my email inbox is filling up with reactions … I’ll try to post some of them here.

Democratic U.S. House 2nd District candidate Nick Casey:

I believe all of our state’s energy resources should be an option for the nation—coal, natural gas, wind and hydroelectric, as well as other sources that may become feasible like geothermal.  The EPA rules that are likely to be proposed on Monday will unfairly target the coal industry and its associated electric generation partners with requirements that, by most accounts, are not technologically or economically feasible at this time.  Natural gas-fired electric generation is just beginning to occur in our state and I expect that this opportunity for West Virginia will greatly expand in the future.

Republican U.S. House 2nd District candidate Alex Mooney:

“President Obama’s EPA is taking an unprecedented and blatantly undemocratic step in imposing job-killing cap-and-trade regulations that have already been rejected by Congress,” Alex Mooney said. “These burdensome regulations amount to a tax on carbon and will have disastrous effects, forcing the closure of existing power plants, killing West Virginia jobs, and sticking every American with higher energy bills.

I am running for Congress because West Virginia deserves a congressman who will stand up to President Obama and fight tooth and nail to protect our jobs. It is time to defeat President Obama’s War on Coal once and for all.

Sadly, West Virginian’s cannot trust Nick Casey to fight for our coal jobs,” Mooney continued. “Casey supported President Obama in the 2008 and 2012 elections and called for a ‘return to the Kyoto Treaty’ as chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party. The job-killing Kyoto Treaty would have imposed similar restrictions as the regulations imposed today by President Obama’s EPA.

United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts:

“The proposed rule issued today by the Environmental Protection Agency will lead to long-term and irreversible job losses for thousands of coal miners, electrical workers, utility workers, boilermakers, railroad workers and others without achieving any significant reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“Our initial analysis indicates that there will be a loss of 75,000 direct coal generation jobs in the United States by 2020. Those are jobs primarily in coal mines, power plants, and railroads. By 2035, those job losses will more than double to 152,000. That amounts to about a 50 percent cut in these well-paying, highly skilled jobs. When a U.S. government economic multiplier used to calculate the impact of job losses is applied to the entire economy, we estimate that the total impact will be about 485,000 permanent jobs lost.

“This is simply a recipe for disaster in America’s coalfields, especially the eastern coalfields. That is where the hammer of this rule will fall the hardest. And it’s not just that these jobs will be lost, it’s that the ability of companies to continue funding pension and retiree health care benefits will be at great risk. That puts hundreds of thousands more – mostly senior citizens living on already-low fixed incomes – squarely in the crosshairs of this rule.


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Gina McCarthyEnvironmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy signs new emission guidelines during an announcement of a plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030, Monday, June 2, 2014, at EPA headquarters in Washington. In a sweeping initiative to curb pollutants blamed for global warming, the Obama administration unveiled a plan Monday that cuts carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by nearly a third over the next 15 years, but pushes the deadline for some states to comply until long after President Barack Obama leaves office. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed carbon pollution rule for existing power plants is out, and you can read all about it here on the agency’s website.

Here’s our first cut at a Gazette story about the proposal:

Coal would continue to fuel 30 percent of the nation’s electricity generation by 2030 under an Obama administration plan to curb emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency projections made public this morning.

EPA touted its proposal as one that “preserves fuel diversity,” with both coal and natural gas each expected to continue to provide nearly a third of the nation’s electricity, even as greenhouse emissions from power plants are cut by 30 percent over 2005 figures by 2030.

“We don’t have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment — our action will sharpen America’s competitive edge, spur innovation, and create jobs,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

And here’s more from Gina McCarthy’s speech this morning:

There’s a reason empty allegations from critics sound like a broken record.  It’s the same tired play from the same special-interest playbook they’ve used for decades.  In the ‘60s, when smog choked our cities, critics cried wolf and said EPA action would put the brakes on auto production.  They were wrong.  Instead, our air got cleaner, our kids got healthier—and we sold more cars.  In the ‘90s, critics cried wolf and said fighting acid rain would make electricity bills go up and our lights go out. They said industry would, quote, “die a quiet death.”  Wrong again.  Industry is alive and well, our lights are still on, and we’ve dramatically reduced acid rain. 

Time after time, when science pointed to health risks, special interests cried wolf to protect their own agenda.  And time after time, we followed the science, protected the American people, and the doomsday predictions never came true.   Now, climate change is calling our number.  And right on cue, those same critics once will flaunt manufactured facts and scare-tactics, standing in our way of our right to breathe clean air, to keep our communities safe, and to meet our moral duty as stewards of our natural resources. 

Their claims that the science-driven action that’s protected families for generations would somehow harm us flies in the face of history, and shows a lack of faith in American ingenuity and entrepreneurship.  

I don’t accept that premise.  We can lead this fight.  We can innovate our way to a better future.  It’s what America does best.  Yes, our climate crisis is a global problem that demands a global solution, and there’s no Hail Mary play we can call to reverse its effects.  But we can act today to advance the ball and limit the dangers of punting the problem to our kids. 



Barack ObamaPresident Barack Obama wipes perspiration from his face as he speaks about climate change at Georgetown University in Washington, Tuesday, June 25, 2013.  (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

UPDATED: Here’s the link to the EPA proposed rule, just posted on the agency’s website.

A few hours ago, reporters at The Wall Street Journal broke the story with the first real details of the carbon pollution rules that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to propose tomorrow morning:

The Environmental Protection Agency will propose mandating power plants cut U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions 30% by 2030 from levels of 25 years earlier, according to people briefed on the rule, an ambitious target that marks the first-ever attempt at limiting such pollution.

The rule-making proposal, to be unveiled Monday, sets in motion the main piece of President Barack Obama’s climate-change agenda and is designed to give states and power companies flexibility in reaching the target.

Other stories quickly followed from The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Associated Press  … well, just about everybody.

There are obviously a lot of important details to come, and much debate — along with a lot of blustering and nonsense — but there are a few things to keep in mind right off the bat, tonight, and especially tomorrow as the chest-pounding really gets started by coalfield political leaders.

First, if the reporting so far is right, then EPA is choosing a baseline year for emissions reductions — 2005– that many utilities — including the two American Electric Power and FirstEnergy here in West Virginia — should be pleased with.  As The Associated Press explained:

Environmental Protection Agency data shows that the nation’s power plants have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 13 percent since 2005, or about halfway to the goal the administration will set Monday.

For example, here’s a quick chart (based on data available here) that Evan Hansen, president of Downstream Strategies, posted on Twitter this evening, showing West Virginia emissions already halfway to the overall goal:


BpFL9OBCUAAyt2a.jpg large

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The climate change disconnect in West Virginia was certainly on display yesterday, as the nation’s scientists and policymakers again made clear the urgent need to act to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, while our state’s elected officials talked more of the same about rejecting science to protect the coal industry.

This disconnect is really nothing new.  One of the reasons I started this blog in the first place was to try to bring together the completely different discussions that were going on about the coal industry. In West Virginia, some residents and almost all elected officials were focused only on trying to preserve coal jobs at all costs. Everywhere else, people were talking about the downside of the coal industry and practically begging for some action, especially on climate change.

And in some ways, West Virginia isn’t as unique as we might think. Check out this report from The Upshot, a new feature of The New York Times:

Perhaps more than people in any other rich nation, Americans are skeptical that climate change is a dire issue. In Pew Research Center surveys conducted last spring, 40 percent of Americans said that global climate change was a major threat to their country. More than 50 percent of Canadians, Australians, French and Germans gave that answer. More than 60 percent of Italians and Spaniards did. And more than 70 percent of Japanese did.

But what’s happening in West Virginia is still a little different. And despite the best efforts of a growing number of individuals and groups (see here, here and here), things seem to be getting worse, especially as we move into the silly season of the off-year elections, and Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., tries to combat the big spending by the Koch brothers in support of his opponent for re-election to Congress from our southern coalfields.

We in the media don’t make all of this any easier on public officials. Take coverage of yesterday’s events. On the one hand, perhaps it’s progress to see West Virginia Metro News and the Daily Mail both actually mention the National Climate Assessment in their stories. But given the long record of  commentary by Hoppy Kercheval and Don Surber dismissing the findings of the world’s scientific community, it’s going to take a lot more than two short daily stories for the damage to Metro News listeners and Daily Mail readers to be undone. And frankly, even when other news media clearly outline the scientific findings — and note the disconnect between science and West Virginia politics — there’s little in the way of constructive policy suggestions being offered and precious little holding our elected officials accountable.

The leadership void here is huge. It’s been more than four years since Sen. Robert C. Byrd urged West Virginians and their coal industry to “embrace the future,” and almost four years since Sen. Byrd passed away. Sen. Jay Rockefeller has tried to tell at least some of the truth about coal and climate issues, but he’ll be gone from the U.S. Senate before you know it — and far too often, Sen. Rockefeller’s comments on these issues are muddied by statements that clearly ignore the inevitable decline of coal in Southern West Virginia and the fact that much of that decline has nothing to do with climate policy or EPA rules.


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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)

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

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

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

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

And here’s more from The Wall Street Journal:

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

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

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

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Coal’s ‘bad arguments’ on climate change rules

Philippines Typhoon

Dozens of bodies of Typhoon victims are placed near city hall on Thursday Nov. 14, 2013 as workers prepare a mass grave on the outskirts of the ravaged city of Tacloban. Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms on record, hit the country’s eastern seaboard on Friday, destroying tens of thousands of buildings and displacing hundreds of thousands of people. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

This morning, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin is scheduled to testify in a House subcommittee hearing about what his office described as address “the dire impact of Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed and anticipated regulations for greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants, not only on the coal industry but also on our entire energy sector.”

You have to wonder if Sen. Manchin has noticed the dire impacts of the Typhoon that hit the Philippines, leaving thousands dead and hundreds of thousands displaced. As Climate Progress correctly explained, this is yet another warning about climate change, and evidence continues to mount that climate change is making the impacts of storm surges worse by raising the underlying sea levels.

Read Sen. Manchin’s testimony here if you like, but you won’t find the words “climate change” or “global warming” in there anywhere.  West Virginia political leaders desperately want to avoid those subjects, and the painful truths any discussion of them reveals. Meanwhile, the science keeps reporting more and more troublesome findings — like the latest study that shows the global warming “pause” disappearing and that warming since 1997 has been much worse than previously thought.

Today’s Gazette editorial dared to mention climate change and the Typhoon, but in connecting these things to coal, the editorial leaves readers wondering if there’s anything anybody could or should do about it:

Indirectly, the typhoon will inflict another blow against West Virginia’s coal industry. Each billion-dollar weather atrocity triggers more calls to limit carbon pollution that is loosed into the sky. Since coal is the foremost polluter, it draws the strongest attack.

Appalachian Basin coal mining is suffering relentless decline.  Typhoon Haiyan certainly won’t help.

Editors at Bloomberg didn’t have as much trouble finding a prescription for the problem. In an editorial headlined Five bad arguments from the coal industry, they take apart the sort of stuff Sen. Manchin and his friends in the coal industry continue to peddle. For example, Sen. Manchin will complain today that EPA’s proposals would “require coal-fired power plants to deploy technologies that are not currently commercially viable. The editorial explains:

The EPA’s critics are right to argue against imposing the same tough standards on existing plants that it has proposed for new plants. But that doesn’t mean states can’t find a way to rebalance their power systems in a way that reduces total carbon emissions. That could entail a combination of upgrading some coal plants, changing the mix of fuel for others, and replacing some with natural gas plants, renewable energy sources and greater efficiency measures.

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Obama-Climate Change-Winners and Losers

While I was out last week, my email inbox certainly filed up with statements about the big U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announcement regarding its continued movement toward the first-ever limits on global warming pollution from the nation’s coal-fired power plants.

Most of the reaction from West Virginia political and business leaders was hardly surprising.  It’s not too much of a stretch to say that Democratic leaders, generally, were all about attacking their own party’s president, bashing EPA, and generally trying to protect themselves from any criticism that they aren’t all about coal. The career campaign consultants who run our state’s Republican party, meanwhile, continued to basically show that they don’t really have any ideas on these issues, and just want to try to ride anti-Obama sentiment into office.

For example, here’s Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va. :

rahall_photo2I am dead-set against the EPA and their scheme to issue emissions standards that would make it next to impossible for new coal-fired power plants to be constructed. In mandating that new power plants utilize technology that is not even commercially available, let alone affordable, the Agency is preventing abundant American coal from meeting America’s future energy needs. The result of this wrong-headed policy would be higher energy bills for families and businesses, reduced power reliability and energy independence for our nation, and lost jobs for our coal miners.

This callous, ideologically driven Agency continues to be numb to the economic pain that their reckless regulations cause. Today’s rule is just the latest salvo in the EPA’s war on coal, a war I have unwaveringly soldiered against, and I will work tirelessly to prevent such an ill-conceived and illogical plan from moving forward.

And here’s Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.:

capito2EPA’s action strikes at the core of West Virginia and is yet another sign that this Administration simply doesn’t care about the hard working men and women who earn their living in the coal industry, doesn’t care about providing reliable and affordable energy to power the national economy for years to come, and doesn’t care about harming the very fabric of communities across our state.
West Virginia families and businesses have already paid a heavy price due to EPA’s overbearing regulations.  We must take into account the economic impact of government regulations on local communities, and we should not take an action that hinders our nation’s ability to compete globally.  

Keeps getting harder and harder to tell the difference, doesn’t it?

What becomes more and more maddening is the lengths to which our political leaders will twist reality and bend logic in their quest to pledge their allegiance to the coal industry.

Mine ExplosionTake the statement issued about last week’s EPA announcement by Sen. Joe Manchin, D.W.Va. You can read the whole thing for yourself here. What’s fascinating about it is that in one sentence, Sen. Manchin proclaims:

Forcing coal to meet nearly the same emissions standards as gas when experts know that the required technology is not operational on a commercial scale makes absolutely no sense and will have devastating impacts to the coal industry and our economy.

But then a few sentenced later, he insists:

It’s just common sense to level the playing field and accept that coal is, and will be for the foreseeable future, a significant part of our energy mix.

OK, now. Which is it? Does Sen. Manchin want a level playing field, where all sources of energy compete fairly? Or does he want a tilted playing field where coal is made competitive by allowing the true costs of using it to be externalized, in this case by contributing to global warming pollution and the climate crisis?

About the only West Virginia leader who was coming anywhere close to making sense on all of this was retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who issued this statement on the EPA announcement:

rockefellersept2013I’ve always said that any clean coal policy must, at its core, have the interests of miners and their families in mind — and that new technology is the best and only way to secure their future.

The EPA’s new carbon emission plan includes tough requirements for future coal-fired power plants and pushes us hard toward clean coal technologies that have great potential but are not yet deployed at full-scale, and are difficult to finance.

These rules will only work if we act now to strengthen our investment in clean coal technology and to advance public-private partnerships more seriously than ever. We need everyone with a stake in clean coal to come together for these solutions to become a reality.

This rule is undeniably a daunting challenge, but it’s also a call to action. West Virginia and America have overcome far greater technological obstacles than this one, and I refuse to believe we can’t do it again.

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