Tag Archives: coal

A Strong Dose of Reality from Senator Byrd

West Virginia’s senior senator took a strong stand against the misguided Murkowski amendment that would have gutted the EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The other senator from West Virginia John D. Rockefeller IV supported Murkowski with the backing of Governor Joe Manchin.

Senator Byrd is urging his constituents to build their future on reality instead of rhetoric:

As I have said before, to deny the mounting science of climate change is to stick our heads in the sand and say “deal me out” of the future. But we have also allowed ourselves to ignore other realities. It is a simple fact that the costs of producing and consuming Central Appalachian coal continue to rise rapidly. Older coal-fired powerplants are being closed down, and they appear unlikely to be replaced by new coal plants unless we very soon adopt several major changes in federal energy policy. In 2009, American power companies generated less of their electricity from coal than they have at any other time in recent memory. In the last month alone, two major power companies have reportedly announced that they will idle or permanently close over a dozen coal-fired powerplant units that have consumed millions of tons of West Virginia coal in recent years. Moreover, an even larger portion of America’s aging fleet of coal-fired powerplants could be at risk of being permanently closed in the coming years–and the ability to sell coal in those markets could be lost for an indefinite period, if there is no new Federal energy policy to support the construction of new coal plants.

One does not need to agree with Byrd in order to salute his leadership which contrasts so starkly with other statewide politicians in West Virginia.

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Toxic Coal Poisons America’s Children

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released an assessment of EPA’s strategy to protect the health of our children from environmental health risks.  The biggest health threat to children comes in the air we breathe:

In 2007, for example, 66 percent of children lived in counties where air exceeded one or more of the six principal pollutants. Two of them—ozone and particulate matter—are known to cause or aggravate respiratory diseases such as asthma. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), asthma is the third most common cause of hospitalizations for children, resulting in $3.2 billion for treatment and 14 million days of school lost annually.

Ozone and particulate matter are driven by burning toxic coal to generate electricity.  Maryland remains heavily dependent on toxic coal for its power.

Next time you hear an industry mouthpiece defending toxic coal by getting hysterical about the “economic trade-offs,” remember what the real trade-off is: children’s health for Wall Street profits.

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Our Neighbor to the West

It’s time for West Virginians to have a frank discussion about the future of their economy.  Mining and burning toxic coal hasn’t been all that great for the poverty-stricken state and the future doesn’t look much better.

Senator Byrd has called the question:

Change has been a constant throughout the history of our coal industry. West Virginians can choose to anticipate change and adapt to it, or resist and be overrun by it.  One thing is clear.  The time has arrived for the people of the Mountain State to think long and hard about which course they want to choose.

In his remarkable statement, Senator Byrd acknowledges that the practice of mountaintop removal cannot be defended:

It is also a reality that the practice of mountaintop removal mining has a diminishing constituency in Washington. It is not a widespread method of mining, with its use confined to only three states.  Most members of Congress, like most Americans, oppose the practice, and we may not yet fully understand the effects of mountaintop removal mining on the health of our citizens.

He rightly questions the suicidal notion of blocking health care reform to protect mountaintop removal:

I believe that the notion of holding the health care of over 300 million Americans hostage in exchange for a handful of coal permits is beyond foolish; it is morally indefensible.  It is a non-starter, and puts the entire state of West Virginia and the coal industry in a terrible light.

Senator Byrd wants his state to be part of the solution:

To deny the mounting science of climate change is to stick our heads in the sand and say “deal me out.” West Virginia would be much smarter to stay at the table.

Toxic coal represents the past, not the future.

In 1979, there were 62,500 coal miners in the Mountain State. Today there are about 22,000. In recent years, West Virginia has seen record high coal production and record low coal employment.

These words of West Virginia’s senior senator mark a turning point in the debate over how to get our country onto the low-carbon path.

The contrast with the mindless blather of his fellow senators like Inhofe (who pretends to believe that human-caused climate change is not happening) could not be greater.

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Time to Focus on Coal

The UK Guardian newspaper reports that whistleblowers at the International Energy Agency have challenged that agency’s “cover-up” of “peak oil.” (Peak oil is the simple idea that annual oil production will be lower in the future because we have used up the easy-to-produce reserves.)

“The IEA in 2005 was predicting oil supplies could rise as high as 120m barrels a day by 2030 although it was forced to reduce this gradually to 116m and then 105m last year,” said the IEA source, who was unwilling to be identified for fear of reprisals inside the industry. “The 120m figure always was nonsense but even today’s number is much higher than can be justified and the IEA knows this.”

Conventional petroleum is useful and valuable; humanity will burn all it can find.  If we are smart, we will find ways to use it more sparingly.

What we cannot do is burn all the coal we can find because that would release too much carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere.  The result would be runaway climate instability and a very, very unpleasant life for our grandchildren.  NASA climate expert James Hansen has been hitting this point for some time now:

What is clear is that we cannot burn all the fossil fuels.  There is a limit on how much carbon we can put into the atmosphere. …we must phase out all coal emissions rapidly, not develop the unconventional fossil fuels, and not even go after every last drop of oil on the planet.  In that case, our children and grandchildren have a chance of inheriting a planet that is not spiraling out of their control.

In reality our governments are continuing to build new coal-fired power plants, develop unconventional fossil fuels, and encourage the search for more oil.  Instead of taking a strategic approach, governments pretend that they will solve the problem by setting “goals” for large emission reductions for some future date – say 80 percent by 2050 or some other target.  They say that they will set “caps” on emissions to achieve the emission reductions.  Our governments are lying to us, or, if you want to be generous, they are kidding us. [Emphasis added.]

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PJM’s CEO Tainted by TVA Coal Ash Scandal?

An independent consultant’s report has slammed TVA’s management of the coal ash from its 11 coal-fired power plants.

The consultants reported that “TVA did not have any standard procedures regarding operation and maintenance of wet-ash ponds” and didn’t put a priority on preventing spills or accidents. 

PJM Interconnection controls the interstate transmission system serving 51 million people, including Marylanders.  In 2008, PJM named Terry Boston as its new CEO.  Boston spent his career at TVA, rising to executive vice president.  Keeping those dirty coal plants humming is the core of TVA’s business — 64 percent of TVA’s electricity comes from coal.

What did Terry Boston know about serious deficiencies in TVA’s management of coal ash waste — and when did he know it?

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Offshore Wind versus Coal by Wire — Maryland’s Choice

Last Friday, EESI sponsored a briefing on the potential of offshore wind to generate electricity for the mid-Atlantic states.  A video is now available.  Here’s a quick look at the presentations.

George Hagerman (Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium) explained the economic boost for maritime communities as well as the benefits of offshore wind’s security and cost stability for the large U.S. Navy operations based in Virginia.  Hagerman presented data from NREL‘s Eastern Wind Integration and Transmission Study that included a scenario for aggressive development of offshore wind.

Willett Kempton, Director of the Center for Carbon-free Power Integration at the University of Delaware, explained that most of the East Coast’s energy needs could be met with offshore wind power.  (Incidentally, offshore wind dwarfs the energy from offshore oil and gas drilling.)  Kempton directly confronted the claims by proponents of a wasteful “green superhighway” of massive transmission lines carrying wind power from the upper Midwest to the East Coast.

Lance Miller from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities showed how offshore wind can help New Jersey meet its aggressive Renewable Portfolio Standard  of 30 percent renewable energy by 2020.  He called for FERC and NERC to require regional transmission organizations like PJM Interconnection to engage in more comprehensive planning.  (At present, PJM manages interstate transmission lines and not surprisingly sees building more of them as the solution to most problems — largely ignoring renewables and efficiency in their planning process.)

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What is the status of Project Mountaineer?

You remember Project Mountaineer — the dream of expanding coal-fired electrical generation in the Ohio Valley and shipping it to the East Coast via massive new transmission lines.  

Project Mountaineer was the first child of the October 1, 2004, marriage of AEP and PJM.

They don’t call it that anymore, but the basic “coal-by-wire” concept remains intact.  Each year, PJM publishes a new version of its Regional Transmission Expansion Plan (RTEP).  The plan includes many transmission facilities large and small, but the most controversial are the huge , interstate power lines:

The Mid-Atlantic Power Pathway (MAPP) would run for 220 miles from Virginia, across the Chesapeake Bay and up the Delmarva Peninsula to New Jersey at an estimated cost of $1.4 billion.

The Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line (TrAIL) would start in southwestern Pennsylvania, cut across West Virginia and end in Northern Virginia.  

The Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH) is proposed to run for 290 miles from AEP’s John Amos coal plant in southern West Virginia to the Kemptown substation in central Maryland.

The Susquehanna-Roseland project would connect northeastern Pennsylvania with northern New Jersey.

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