"More small battles won in war on coal — but trouble looms behind enemy lines"
News from the front: Accompanying Pelosi’s and Reid’s announcement that the Capitol Power Plant will switch to natural gas, more coal plants around the country are on the chopping block due to lawsuits and power companies’ getting wise.
Behind enemy lines, however, the industry-funded front group ACCCE (American Coalition for Clean Coal Euphemisms?) is regrouping and recruiting new allies.
In Tulsa Oklahoma, a proposal to build a second coal-fired generation plant was abandoned last week.
The decision came directly from the project developer (global power giant AES), without litigation, but AES spokesmen were murky about the exact reasons for their decision to pull out, saying only:
Although we would like to help meet the need for an affordable source of base load power, our decision to withdraw our application is part of our broader strategy to re-evaluate our growth plans.
As usual, grassroots activists had campaigned against the plant, but in this case, the decision to close the plant does not seem to have been provoked primarily by climate change concerns. Instead, critics of the plant focused on conventional pollutants by suggesting that the plant’s impacts on regional airsheds might put Tulsa in non-compliance with the Clean Air Act.
A spokesperson for the Center for Energy Matters, one of the organizations opposed to the plant, did point out that the political uncertainty about the future of carbon emissions should have caused the company’s shareholders to think twice.
AES claimed that the cancellation had nothing to do with grassroots opposition.
Meanwhile, in Kansas and Louisiana, Department of Justice reinforcements have brought big federal guns to small local battles. In its first month in power, the Obama DOJ has joined the fray, announcing a “national initiative to stop illegal pollution from coal-fired power plants” and filing suit against two coal-fired power companies in February alone.
On February 4th, the DOJ sued the Kansas utility Westar Energy Inc., and on February 11th, it sued Louisiana Generating LLC, for allegedly increasing pollution levels without installing the best available technology to abate emissions. Just days later, the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board ordered Michigan regulators to put a coal-fired power plant in the Upper Peninsula on pause for failing to consider emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases when granting emissions permits to the facility.
Eric Schaeffer, who resigned from his post in the EPA’s Office of Compliance and Enforcement in 2002 in protest of the Bush administration’s policy of non-enforcement, said “they’re sort of rolling [the lawsuits] out, which is good.” (Isn’t it good to know that we finally have an EPA that actually does its job? Here comes the artillery.)
However, despite these encouraging developments, much is afoot behind enemy lines, and the oxymoronic American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) has been regrouping and seeking to capture the high ground. Three developments are troubling:
First, in a blatant attempt to capitalize on Obama’s popularity, on February 18th the not-so-secretive pro-coal lobby group issued a statement implying that the stimulus package had sent a “strong message that investing in clean coal technologies creates jobs for American workers, promotes energy independence, accelerates advanced technologies for CO2 capture and storage… (etc).”
Second, to sharpen its tactics and shore up its flanks, the ACCCE has also brought on board a potentially dangerous and well-connected new general of federal affairs to strengthen the ACCCE’s invasion of Washington. A Former officer in the Bush DOE and at the American Petroleum Institute, Paul Bailey was also spotted in The Hill newspaper’s 2007 list of top lobbyists. His connections as well as his credentials as a former nuclear engineer could spell trouble for the agendas of the reality coalition and its allies.
[NOTE: Originally, the previous paragraph mistakenly identified ACCCE’s new staffer as John Sopko. We apologize for this mistake.]
Third, accompanying this addition to the leadership was a call by three western governors for the Obama administration to support the development of clean coal technology. My favorite paragraph from the letter contains three completely unsupported assertions:
These projects are consistent with findings from scientists who have concluded that: (i) carbon capture and sequestration is likely to be competitive with other major carbon mitigation technologies; (ii) the geological carbon dioxide storage capacity in the Great Plains and Intermountain West coincides with large coal reserves; and, (iii) there is good cause to be optimistic about the safety and security of geological carbon dioxide storage with careful planning and management.
(ii) Well, the intermountain west might seem like a nice places to put CO2 in the ground, but lets not forget what happened with Yucca Mountain.
But time is not in the ACCCE’s favor, and no amount of posturing will change the fact that the clean coal myth is a dirty lie and may even be the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on this planet.
Next week we’ll be following developments from the Ohio front closely as the electricity cooperative American Municipal Power maneuvers to get a $30 million loan from the state’s “advanced energy” fund for a coal plant with scrubbers (there is nothing advanced about scrubbers, and they don’t reduce CO2 emissions).
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