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The real war on coal

My friend Sean O’Leary wrote this well researched op-ed in the Martinsburg Journal, and I reproduce it here in its entirety… maybe now we can get Bob Manchin off Obama’s ass…

Much is made of President Obama’s and the Environmental Protection Agency’s “war on coal”. And it’s true. In order to reduce air pollution and retard global warming, this administration, along with the governments of nearly all industrialized nations, is trying to reduce the burning of coal for the generation of electricity.

But, how much of a difference are the president’s policies making on the amount of coal that’s mined and on the number of jobs in the mining and power generation industries? In fact, let’s ask the big question. If this president is swept from office in November and the EPA’s power to regulate carbon dioxide emissions is removed, as presumed Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, has said he would do, what would it mean for America’s coal industry?

Would there be a rebirth? Would coal-burning power plants that are currently slated for closing become viable again? Would new coal-burning power plants be built to meet the growing demand for electricity? Would mines that have been closed be reopened? And would there be a rebound in hiring creating thousands of new jobs in the mining industry?

If you believe that the answer to any of these questions is, yes, you haven’t been paying attention to the market forces that, far more than government action, are killing coal in general and the Appalachian coal industry in particular.

What are those market forces? First, there is natural gas.

If the Obama administration is conducting a “war” on coal, then the English language hasn’t invented a word of sufficient ferocity to describe the conflict between coal and natural gas. Although West Virginia politicians are loath to admit it, every new gas well that’s sunk in West Virginia is another nail in the coffin of coal. Why?

The practice of fracking has greatly increased supplies of natural gas and reduced the price to the point that it costs only half as much to generate a megawatt of electricity from natural gas as from coal half as much.

That’s warfare. And, in case you’re under the delusion that the competition between coal and gas is friendly, consider that between 2007 and 2010 Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy, the largest gas driller in West Virginia, donated $26 million to the Sierra Club’s campaign to block the construction of coal-fired power plants. Just last month McClendon did a victory dance when a Wall Street Journal writer asked him about his reputation as “the scourge of coal”. McClendon said, “I probably am not as strident as I used to be because I don’t have to be. Natural gas has won in the marketplace and it is continuing to win.”

Far more than the president’s “war on coal”, the natural gas industry’s war has had measurable effects. Last year the amount of the nation’s electricity generated by coal dropped by 8.9 percent and coal is now responsible for less than 40 percent of the electricity generated in the US. This was partially attributable to warmer-than-average winter weather, but the bigger factor was natural gas which saw its volume grow by 7.2 percent.

And natural gas’s price advantage isn’t going away anytime soon. One of the reasons gas is so cheap is that the “wet gas” found in many of the Marcellus shale wells in West Virginia, also produces byproducts such as ethane, which is used in the plastics industry. At current prices, these byproducts almost double the value of natural gas. Economically this functions as a subsidy for which coal has no answer.

The second market force crushing coal in Appalachia is cost. The volume of Appalachian coal produced per miner dropped by 25 percent between 2001 and 2008. This decline in productivity is driven by the exhaustion of easily accessible coal seams and produces higher costs and reduced competitiveness in the face of the onslaught by natural gas.

The third market force killing coal is the American people.

In its April issue, Mother Jones magazine ran a story by Mark Hertsgaard documenting the virtual moratorium that has fallen upon the construction of new coal-fired power plants, particularly in the eastern part of the country. While there are just over 30 new coal-fired plants currently under construction in the US, more than 160 have been blocked often by local residents who don’t want what they perceive as a dirty industry in their back yards. The look not only at the global warming impact of coal burning, but at its effect on health as measured in elevated levels of asthma attacks and death.

By the end of the decade these combined market forces will have produced almost twice as much of a reduction in carbon emissions as would have been achieved under the proposed (and, in West Virginia, the much-reviled) cap and trade legislation that died in 2010.

Does that mean that Obama administration actions on coal are irrelevant or superfluous? Not altogether. Clean-air regulations are causing some older coal-fired power plants to be taken offline sooner than they otherwise would be because it’s not worth the cost to retrofit them with pollution control equipment. However, this is only slightly speeding up the inevitable. Those plants, like the coal industry as a whole, are dead men walking, not because of government action, but because of the free market. And the question for West Virginia’s political leaders is whether they will finally focus on building a post-coal economy rather than trying to postpone the inevitable.

– Sean O’Leary can be reached at seanoleary@citlink.net.

Here’s why I don’t support Senator Joe Manchin (and I’m a West Virginia Democrat):

Here’s an article and video from Russell Mokhiber at Morgan County USA. It points out with disturbing accuracy why I am unable to support Joe Manchin, the self-appointed Senator who is up for his first real election:

Joe Manchin Meet Glass Steagall – 2/18/2012

English: Official portrait of Senator Joe Manc...Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) came to Berkeley Springs, West Virginia yesterday to meet with citizens.

One citizen asked Senator Manchin about Glass-Steagall.

Glass-Steagall was the depression era law that prevented banks from gambling with your savings account.

It was repealed by President Clinton in 1999.

And many economists believe that the repeal of Glass-Steagall had a lot to do with the most recent economic collapse.

There’s a move to bring it back.

In the Senate and the House.

But Senator Manchin said he never heard of Glass-Steagall.

Not that the law was passed post depression.

Not the fact that Clinton repealed it.

Not the fact that it may have had something to do with the recent Wall Street collapse.

One man in the crowd tried to explain to Manchin what it was.

Manchin thought the man was referring to Dodd-Frank.

No, not Dodd-Frank, the man said.

Glass-Steagall.

I suggested to Senator Manchin that the reason the American people hold Congress in such low regard is because the American people think that Senator Manchin and his colleagues are corrupt.

I started to read to him from a list of his major corporate contributors.

FirstEnergy Corp. $88,000.

Mylan Inc. $59,900.

American Electric Power $45,950.

Jackson Kelly $45,398.

I told Manchin about the story of Rose Baker, the Wetzel County woman whose life was destroyed by fracking.

As a result of fracking by Chesapeake Energy and others, her quality of life went from a 10 to a 3 in a couple of years.

She can’t drink her well water now because it’s polluted.

There’s night light pollution, noise pollution, water pollution.

Manchin supports fracking.

He’s opposed to a moratorium on fracking.

How do we know that it’s not because of the money he takes from Chesapeake Energy ($21,900)?

Manchin is opposed to single payer national health care.

How do we know it’s not because of the $139,100 he takes from the pharmaceutical and other related industries?

Could it be that Manchin cares more about Chesapeake Energy than he does about Rose Baker?

Could it be that Manchin cares more about health insurance and pharmaceutical companies that give him money than he does about the 120 people who die every day in America just because they don’t have health insurance?

Manchin says he cares about Rose Baker.

He says he cares about a 63-year friend of mine who has been diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm, but can’t get it fixed because he has no health insurance and the operation will cost $120,000.

Manchin says every member of Congress has to raise money from corporations just to get re-elected.

True enough, said one woman in the audience.

So, what are we going to do to get money out of politics, she asked.

Manchin said we need transparency.

But we already have transparency.

Here’s the list of money you take from corporations.

We need to get the money out.

But Manchin is marinated in corporate cash.

He’s in no position to support a moratorium on fracking.

Or single payer.

Or legislation to clean up the system.

He’s corporatized to the core.

He doesn’t know Glass-Steagall.

He doesn’t know Rose Baker.

He doesn’t know about my friend with the aortic aneurysm.

Why should he know?

Or care?

Thank you so much, Russell. This was very revealing and EVERYONE in West Virginia should look at this. Who, however do we vote for? Mountain Party?

I’m really afraid we’re stuck with this Republican in a Democrat mask.

Pennsylvania Fracking Emergency Update…

I just got off the phone (live on the air) with John Case on Winners and Losers at WSHC, since he has another candidate for WV governor coming in this morning and I wanted to make sure that fracking was addressed. John said he’d cover it… so I’m switching between him and WNEP in Bradford County, PA, getting updates on yesterday’s giant leak of toxic fluid into the water supply. This is from their morning coverage:

WNEP-TV

Officials said thousands of gallons of fluid leaked over farm land and into a creek from a natural gas well in Bradford County.

Chesapeake Energy officials said Wednesday night the leak had been contained and the situation was stable..

The rupture near Canton happened late Tuesday night, contaminating nearby land and creeks.

Chesapeake Energy officials said a piece of equipment on the well failed.
A major response was launched to stop the leak of frack fluid and get control of the well.

Water gushed from the earth at the Chesapeake well pad for hours Wednesday.  It was all hands on deck to put a stop to the leak of fracking fluid that, according to company officials, spilled thousands and thousands of gallons into nearby land and waterways. Company officials stressed no gas leaked. (No…just fracking fluid! – BT)

“We’ve been able to limit the flow. We’re still doing additional work to regain full control,” said Brian Grove of Chesapeake Energy. He added there is no telling yet how much of that extremely salty water mixed with chemicals and sand has impacted the nearby Towanda Creek, but no gas has escaped into the air.

“The biggest thing is the footprint on the environment. Well obviously this is a big footprint,” said neighbor Ted Tomlinson. “It’s one of those things that happens. Gotta live with it, I guess.  Here to stay.”

His concern is for his drinking water well just several football fields away from the blownout gas well.
—-

Officials with DEP said the flow of frack fluid has stopped flowing into the nearby creek and its tributary.

Public safety officials in Bradford County said they, along with DEP, will continue to monitor the Towanda Creek which empties into the Susquehanna River. According to officials with Chesapeake Energy, the fluids that spilled all over farm land and into the creek have a very high salt content and contain numerous chemicals used to fracture the rock below.

“We’ve got our best crews out here working on it and we’ll keep at it until we get the situation resolved,” Grove added.

Officials have not said how long they expect to get the well under control.

OK… John has candidate Mark Sorsea (sp?), Republican primary candidate, on a telephone interview now… so I think I’ll listen.

Major Fracking Accident in Pennsylvania…

I’ve posted before on the dangers of Fracking (the horizontal drilling in the Marcellus Shale for natural gas using toxic fluids called “hydrofracturing”) and have been questioning the gubernatorial primary candidates in WV, where fracking is about to expand from where it now stands, asking what they are going to do to protect citizens.

If you have seen the film “Gasland” then you know what the real dangers are… and no one seems to have solutions to protect our water and air.

This from WNEP in Bradford County, PA (not far from us  West Virginians):

Officials said thousands of gallons of fluid leaked over farm land and into a creek from a natural gas well in Bradford County.

Now there is a massive operation underway to contain the spill of drilling fluids.

The rupture near Canton happened late Tuesday night, contaminating nearby land and creeks.

The blowout happened on the Morse family farm in LeRoy Township outside Canton, a farming community.

Chesapeake Energy officials said a piece of equipment on the well failed.
Now a major response is underway to stop the leak of frack fluid and get control of the well.

Water is gushing from the earth at the Chesapeake well pad.  It has been all hands on deck to put a stop to the leak of fracking fluid that, according to company officials, spilled thousands and thousands of gallons into nearby land and waterways.

“We’ve been able to limit the flow. We’re still doing additional work to regain full control,” said Brian Grove of Chesapeake Energy. He added there is no telling yet how much of that extremely salty water mixed with chemicals and sand has impacted the nearby Towanda Creek, but no gas has escaped into the air.

“The biggest thing is the footprint on the environment. Well obviously this is a big footprint,” said neighbor Ted Tomlinson. “It’s one of those things that happens. Gotta live with it, I guess.  Here to stay.”

Neighbors like him were asked to leave their homes as a precaution. Some did, and some did not.  “Our family’s been on this corner a long time and expect to stay and expect a good-faith effort from Chesapeake so that we can live here,” Tomlinson added.

His concern is for his drinking water well just several football fields away from the blownout gas well.

“That’s typically everyone’s concern in the area, is well water,” Tomlinson added. We don’t want all that other stuff. We want to keep on drinking it.”

Keep your eyes on this one and see when we get the politicians AND corporations in lying mode.