From the Wonk Room.
Recognizing the new era of “energy transformation,” a Montana electric utility has decided to “scrap its plans for a $900 million coal-fired power plant east of Great Falls and turn instead to renewable energy to meet the needs of its 65,000 Montana customers.”Years ago, the Southern Montana Generation and Transmission Cooperative introduced plans to build the Highwood Generating coal-fired plant to satisfy the electricity needs of Great Falls, Montana. Today, CEO Tim Gregori announced “they are changing construction plans from a coal-fired facility to a natural gas and high wind producing plant.” This switch will dramatically reduce the pollution footprint of the facility, from soot to greenhouse gases, and will take less time to get up and running. Montana Environmental Information Center Program Director, Anne Hedges, announced, “This is a relief”:
It’s a relief to the land owners adjacent to the plant. It is a relief to people across the state and across the nation who are concerned about the direction of our climate.
MEIC, Citizens for Clean Energy, Earthjustice, and Sierra Club’s Move Beyond Coal campaign worked together for years to challenge the Highwood plant on its environmental impact, including its mercury and particulate matter pollution. The utility also recognized that the global warming emissions of coal give the fuel an “aura of uncertainty”—in other words, a large economic risk, as has been pointed out repeatedly by economic analysts. It no longer makes environmental nor economic sense to rely on 19th-century technology to power a 21st-century America.
- Tom Kilgore, President and CEO, Tennessee Valley Authority
- Stephen A. Smith DVM, Executive Director, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
- William “Howie” Rose, Director of Emergency Management Services, Roane County, Tennessee
Coal giant Massey Energy was fined Tuesday $2.5 million in criminal fines and $1.7 million in civil fines for a deadly 2006 mine fire controlled by its subsidiary, Aracoma Coal Co.From Reuters:
A subsidiary of Massey Energy, Aracoma Coal Co, will pay $4.2 million for safety violations that led to the deaths of two miners in 2006.
“The global settlement is the largest financial settlement in the coal industry’s history,” the Justice Department said in a statement on Tuesday.
Federal mine inspectors decided to ignore violations to “let them run coal.”
Minness Justice, an inspector with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, told fellow MSHA employee Danny Woods that he believed dangerous amounts of spilled coal and dust had been allowed to accumulate along the belt line, raising the risk of a fire, and that the belt’s fire suppression system was inadequate, Mr. Woods said.Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship also decided to ignore violations to allow the miners to continue to “run coal.”
“He was just told to back off and let them run coal, that there was too much demand for coal,” Mr. Woods said. “He came up and told me he was told to do certain things and the inspectors before him hadn’t done a proper job.”
Blankenship involved himself in “day to day decisions” about how the Aracoma Mine would be run, including an October 2005 note in which Blankenship told mine managers to ignore anyone who tells them their job is to do anything except “run coal.”
The permits for a 800-megawatt, $2.4 billion Duke Energy Cliffside coal-fired power plant granted by the North Carolina Department of Air Quality in February have been struck down by a federal court. This case in part stems from a 2005 decision by the Bush administration EPA to remove these kinds of plants from the hazardous air pollutant provisions of the Clean Air Act. Shortly after the permits were granted, the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals found that the 2005 EPA decision was illegal, and environmental groups used that ruling to challenge the Cliffside project. Duke’s argument was that the permit was granted before the circuit court decision, and should stand.
Lacy Thornburg, for the Western North Carolina District Court, found that the DAQ permit failed to comply with the Clean Air Act, notwithstanding EPA’s illegal maneuvers. Thornburg determined that the permitting process ignored critical provisions of the Clean Air Act, and that “Duke is simply refusing to comply with controlling law.”
The Cliffside plant “has the potential to emit in excess of ten tons per year” of hydrochloric acid and “over 25 tons of a combination of” other hazardous air pollutants. Section 112 of the Clean Air Act governs the federal control program for hazardous air pollutants.Thornburg’s judgment found that the facts of the case were simple:
As of this date, neither the EPA or DAQ (North Carolina’s authority delegated with enforcing § 112) has issued to Duke an Air Quality Permit recognizing compliance with § 112. The material facts herein are not in dispute. Duke is simply refusing to comply with controlling law.
The Cliffside expansion project was launched in June 2006.
From the Wonk Room.Last Thursday, Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, the fourth largest United States coal company, described his critics as “communists,” “atheists,” and “greeniacs.” In an address before the Tug Valley Mining Institute in Williamson, WV, Blankenship said those who criticize him are “our enemies” like Osama bin Laden:
It is as great a pleasure for me to be criticized by the communists and the atheists of the Charleston Gazette as to be applauded by my best friends. Because I know they are wrong. People are cowering away from being criticized by people that are our enemies. Would we be upset if Osama bin Laden was critical of us?These are actually mild words for Don Blankenship. This spring, Blankenship was caught on tape threatening to shoot an ABC reporter and then assaulting him:
- The Fatal Aracoma Mine Fire. In the months before the fatal 2006 fire at the Aracoma mine, which had 25 violations of health and safety laws, Blankenship personally waived company policy and told mine managers to ignore rules and “run coal.”
- Political Corruption. Blankenship has spent millions of dollars to influence West Virginia judgeships and state legislative races, and palled around in Monte Carlo with state Supreme Court Chief Justice Elliott “Spike” Maynard and their “female friends” in July 2006. The state court reversed a $77 million verdict against Massey in 2008.
- Mountaintop Removal. Massey Energy is the king of the incredibly destructive practice of mountaintop removal mining. The Bush Administration (which includes former Massey officials) overturned Clinton-era rules limiting the practice. Massey now plans to destroy Coal River Mountain despite lacking necessary permits.
How many times have the people in this room heard, at the US Chamber of Commerce or at the National Mining Association, “I don’t believe in climate change, but I’m afraid to say that because it is a political reality”? The greeniacs are taking over the world.
From the Wonk Room.
Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Appeals Board ruled today that the EPA has no valid reason for refusing to place limits on the global warming emissions from Desert Power’s proposed 110-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Vernal, Utah.Deseret Power’s Bonanza Generating Station would have emitted 3.37 million tons of carbon dioxide each year. In July 2007, the EPA issued a permit for the plant, ignoring the Clean Air Act’s stipulation that all such permits must include a “best-available control technology” emissions limit for each pollutant “subject to regulation under the Act.” Before the Sierra Club brought suit, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform opened an investigation into the EPA’s decision, saying:
It is reckless to approve a huge coal-fired power plant with no global warming emission controls. This one massive plant will negate the emissions reductions being implemented by the Northeastern states in the first mandatory regional program to cut global warming pollution. The Administration’s shameful decision rewards polluters, flouts the Clean Air Act, and fails the American people.Joanna Spalding, the Sierra Club attorney who successfully argued the case, delivered this statement:
Today’s decision opens the way for meaningful action to fight global warming and is a major step in bringing about a clean energy economy. This is one more sign that we must begin repowering, refueling and rebuilding America. The EAB rejected every Bush Administration excuse for failing to regulate the largest source of greenhouse gases in the United States. This decision gives the Obama Administration a clean slate to begin building our clean energy economy for the 21st century.
The 69-page decision described the Bush administration’s arguments as “weak,” “questionable,” “not sustainable,” and “not sufficient,” and rebuked EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson for failing to issue CO2 regulations, repeatedly recommending an “action of nationwide scope.”
From ThinkProgress’s Ali Frick.
Today, the right wing – enthusiastically joined by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) – attacked Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) for advocating in a January interview a cap and trade plan that would reward new coal plants built with carbon capture technology. McCain said he wanted to control emissions, but insisted, “I’m not going to let our coal industry go bankrupt.” Palin claimed Obama has been “talking about bankrupting the coal industry,” and pledged, “John McCain and I, we will not let that happen to the coal industry.”
Now former governor Mitt Romney is using McCain’s attacks against Obama to attack McCain himself. On Glenn Beck’s radio show today, he denounced McCain’s cap and trade program, saying it would “kill jobs” in the U.S. and that he would “endeavor to convince” McCain to change his plans:
BECK: How would you address the cap and trade on the day when everyone’s paying attention to coal?
ROMNEY: Well as you know, there were a number of places in the primary campaign where I disagreed with John McCain, and his cap and trade proposal was one of them. ... If you want to negotiate with someone and you feel it’s important to bring down global CO2 emissions then China has to be part of the picture. And if we go out there and put a burden on our own industry and they don’t put a burden on theirs, why you’ll just kill jobs here.
From the Wonk Room.Both presidential candidates, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) have called for a mandatory cap on carbon emissions in the United States. Coal-fired power plants, which produce about 49 percent of U.S. electricity, account for 83 percent of power-sector emissions. Because of the global warming footprint, the cheapness of coal-fired electricity is illusory. Under a cap-and-trade system, the cost of those emissions – now a market externality – would have a dollar cost. In a January 2008 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Obama used blunt language to describe how a cap and trade system would change the future of the power sector:
That will create a market in which whatever technologies are out there that are being presented, whatever power plants are being built, they would have to meet the rigors of that market and the ratcheted-down caps that are imposed every year. So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted. That will also generate billions of dollars that we can invest in solar, wind, biodiesel, and other alternative energy approaches.Obama’s statements carry the same sentiment as his opponent. At a September 15 townhall meeting in Orlando, FL, McCain warned against building new coal plants:
We’re going to build new plants that generate energy, my friends, we’re going to build them. We’ve got to. There’s an increased demand for it. And it seems to me, it’s going to be coal, which I believe will increase greenhouse gas emissions dramatically, or it’s going to be nuclear, or it’s going to be clean coal technology.In the San Francisco Chronicle interview, Obama similarly stated that the future of power involves coal:
But this notion of no coal, I think, is an illusion. Because the fact of the matter is, is that right now we are getting a lot of our energy from coal. And China is building a coal-powered plant once a week. So what we have to do then is figure out how can we use coal without emitting greenhouse gases and carbon. And how can we sequester that carbon and capture it. If we can’t, then we’re gonna still be working on alternatives.Under either candidate’s cap and trade program, constructing new coal plants that do not employ “clean coal technology” – that is, carbon capture and sequestration technology – would raise costs “dramatically.” Independent analysts have found that new coal plants would “create significant financial risks for shareholders and ratepayers” because of the likely cost of their greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, energy providers will have a financial incentive to pursue alternative energy and energy efficiency. McCain explained the market signal of a cap and trade program in his May 12 speech on climate change:
And the same approach that brought a decline in sulfur dioxide emissions can have an equally dramatic and permanent effect on carbon emissions. Instantly, automakers, coal companies, power plants, and every other enterprise in America would have an incentive to reduce carbon emissions, because when they go under those limits they can sell the balance of permitted emissions for cash. As never before, the market would reward any person or company that seeks to invent, improve, or acquire alternatives to carbon-based energy. . . A cap-and-trade policy will send a signal that will be heard and welcomed all across the American economy. Those who want clean coal technology, more wind and solar, nuclear power, biomass and bio-fuels will have their opportunity through a new market that rewards those and other innovations in clean energy.
McCain emphasized who the winners under a carbon cap-and-trade system are: “clean coal technology, more wind and solar, nuclear power, biomass and bio-fuels.” The market “incentive,” “reward,” or “signal” is a euphemism that the winners will make money because the losers will pay more. And the losers, above all, are traditional coal plants—no matter who is elected president.
The Democrats are mighty proud of the “greening” of their convention. Recycling will be celebrated, as will bicycling and a whole host of other environmentally sound practices.
Amid the glow from all that global warming warfare enters the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. Yep, those fellows have got guts.
The coal coalition, a nemesis to many environmentalists, plans to spend $2 million on advertising in and around the Denver convention venues, promoting the virtues of clean coal.
It will also be doing “experiential advertising,” meaning the group will put people on the streets to actually talk to conventioneers about the role coal could play in future energy policy.
The street teams will also be handing out city maps with blurbs inserted about the importance of the coal-based electricity industry and ongoing research into capturing and storing carbon emissions from those plants.
“We started this conversation with policymakers and the American public in 2000,” said Joe Lucas, the coalition’s vice president of communications. “We’ve significantly turned up the volume on that conversation in the last year.”
And the coalition figured, what better place to go to continue that conversation than at the conventions?
In billboards and other ads, the coalition will argue that the coal-based electricity industry can help keep jobs at home, reduce costs for consumers and — with more research — find its own tidy spot in an environmentally cleaner energy future.
“Clean coal means the next president won’t have to choose between the economy and the environment,” concluded Lucas, adding that both Barack Obama and John McCain already see coal in the nation’s future energy industry.
This will be the coalition’s first appearance at the two political conventions. But Denver is clearly the group’s best shot at a breakthrough moment.
A report from the Public Campaign Action Fund on 2008 spending by oil and coal industries finds that they are on track to spend about one billion dollars this year on lobbying, political contributions, and advertising. The full report amasses the following expenditures:
|2008 SPENDING BY OIL AND COAL INTERESTS, BY CATEGORY|
|Amounts in millions||Coal/Electric Utilities||Oil/Gas||Total|
|Other Political Spending||40.0||12.2||52.2|
Lobbying expenditures and political contributions come from Center for Responsive Politics data compiled from public disclosures. Paid media figures are from TNS Media Intelligence, the industry standard for tracking media spending.
The “other political spending” comes from the coal industry group Americans for Balanced Energy Choices / American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ABEC/ACCCE) and from Newt Gingrich’s 527 corporation, American Solutions for Winning the Future (ASWF).
It does not include other industry and political groups that have not disclosed their spending:
- Alliance for Energy and Economic Growth
- American Council for Capital Formation
- American Energy Alliance
- American Enterprise Institute
- Americans for Prosperity
- American Future Fund
- Business & Media Institute
- Coalition for Affordable American Energy
- Competitive Enterprise Institute
- Heartland Institute
- Institute for Energy Research
- National Association of Manufacturers
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce