Today the United States abstained on a World Bank vote to approve a $3.75 billion loan for South African utility Eskom to build a 4800 megawatt coal plant. Ultimately, the loan was approved. But the U.S. vote sends a clear signal that the U.S. government is not willing to accept business as usual – continuing a trajectory of unabated carbon pollution – without due consideration of the environmental consequences. CAP’s Kari Manlove has the story.
Natural gas companies want to prevent oversight of fracking
The oil and natural gas lobby is working hard to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from establishing safeguards to protect the public from chemicals used to produce shale gas through “hydraulic fracturing,” also called “fracking” or “fracing.” CAP’s Sarah Collins and Tom Kenworthy have the story in this repost.
Coal baron Don Blankenship is complaining about the “indignity” of the press for investigating his role as the CEO of Massey Energy, whose Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, WV, is the site of the deadliest mining disaster since 1984, with at least 25 miners killed. Blankenship has a long record of putting coal profits over safety. At the time of the accident, Massey was contesting dozens of major safety violations at the Montcoal mine, even as Blankenship increased production. Blankenship — whose $23.7 million annual compensation includes the use of the company jet and helicopter and a mansion with several servants — has made no effort to hide his “radical” philosophy of unfettered capitalism. He explained this philosophy most clearly in a 1986 documentary by Anne Lewis on his role crushing the union miners at AT Massey’s Blackberry Creek mine, saying that “everybody’s going to have to learn to accept” that the United States is ruled by the law of “survival of the fittest”:
What you have to accept in a capitalist society, generally, is that I always make the comparison it’s like a jungle, where a jungle is survival of the fittest. Unions, communities, people, everybody’s going to have to learn to accept that in the United States you have a capitalist society. And that capitalism from a business viewpoint is survival of the most productive. And you may have a year, two years, five year periods where lesser productive companies or people have benefit. But in the long term, it’s going to be the most productive people who benefit.
Blankenship’s social-Darwinist view of the United States is dark, soulless, and destructive. Unlike the mythical uber-capitalists of Ayn Rand novels, Blankenship has no interest in free-market competition within the bounds of the law. Instead, he subverts the political system, busts unions, illegally destroys Appalachia’s unique ecosystem, flouts labor laws, ignores safety rules, and intimidates employees to serve his black obsession with running coal.
Blankenship has successfully delivered his twisted vision of society to West Virginia — flattened mountains, toxic waters, crushing poverty, political corruption, broken communities, and the needless, preventable deaths of the state’s hard-working miners.
Our guest blogger is JW Randolph, Legislative Associate for Appalachian Voices.
Daniel Stone published a piece on coal and energy over Newsweek’s The Gaggle called “West Virginia Mine Disaster Unlikely to Affect National Energy Debate.” David Roberts at Grist responded to Energy Committee Staffer Bill Wicker for a quote he had in the article, and it’s well worth the read. But the article was so full of misinformation and false pretexts that I wanted to spend some pixels correcting a few things, beginning with this paragraph:
Coal is the one fuel that powers most of what we do. It accounts for 49 percent of American power consumption, and as demand for power increases while the cost of alternatives (wind, solar, biofuels) remains high, coal is poised to play a bigger, not smaller, role in our energy landscape. To put it more crassly, the cost of coal is just too cheap. A kilowatt hour of coal power costs about $0.04, less than a third of renewables.
A) For 2009, coal provided just 44.6% of electricity, not the 49% Stone suggests (likely from the 2008 data.) If you are looking at “energy” then it is 22-23%, much less.
B) Saying that coal is poised to play a “bigger” role is ridiculous. Coal is declining, particularly production in Central Appalachia. It has been declining for the past two decades and is projected to continue downward. But not only that. It is getting deeper, thinner, and of less quality. The heat content is in decline as well, meaning that it takes more tons of coal to produce the same amount of electricity.
C) Delivered costs of coal are wildly different in different locations and in different coal plants. Central Appalachian coal (like that in West Virginia) is the most expensive coal on the domestic market.
D) Stone uses ballpark figures for the cost of a coal plant that is already built, but renewables that are not yet built. If you are looking at building a new coal plant versus investing in renewables, the two are cost competitive, even without a price on coal pollution (EIA). In fact, except for solar, nothing even doubles the cost of coal, and that’s without CCS.
E) The deeper we go for thinner seams of less quality coal, the more expensive central Appalachian coal gets and the more competitive natural gas, wind, geothermal, or biomass may look. The same is true for safety regulations. Coal companies fight them tooth and nail because safety isn’t free. This has an impact on energy policy. You can’t look at mining safety in a vacuum.
Secondly, I am concerned that many in the news media continually fail to appreciate the sacrifice of coal miners, whose deaths occur with alarming frequency both at home and overseas. Mr. Stone continues: Read more
“We know how to limit greenhouse-gas emissions. We have a good sense of the costs “” and they’re manageable. All we need now is the political will.”
Nobelist Paul Krugman has a long piece in the upcoming Sunday NY Times Magazine, basically climate economics 101.
It is nearly 8000 words, so while you should read the whole thing, I’ll post some of the highlights below. I’ll also throw some links to the scientific and economic literature that the NYT, in its infinite wisdom/stupidity, refuses to include.
Energy and Global Warming News for April 8: Solar airplane completes maiden voyage; Austin seeks a new blueprint for power utilities; Record drought turns southern China into arid plain
Solar Impulse, a prototype of an airplane designed to fly around the world using only solar power, made its first real flight today. As the sun shone down on the Swiss countryside an aircraft powered by 12,000 solar cells flew for 87 minutes to an altitude of nearly 4,000 feet.
Our guest blogger is economist James Barrett.
Economics is critical to getting decent climate legislation passed, as Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman discusses in a extended piece for the New York Times. Economists like me have always suspected that this was true, but then we also suspect that economics is critical to pretty much everything. The problem is that economics hates the environment, or at least environmental policy.
In the real world, environmental policy has been very good for the economy. But economic analyses of climate legislation find that pollution limits slow economic growth and increase costs. The Waxman-Markey climate bill — the American Clean Energy Security Act (ACES) — is a perfect example. As any good wonk will tell you, the economic analyses of ACES actually looked pretty good, especially when compared to some of the econolyptic predictions of past climate policy. The problem is that while the analyses were pretty good for ACES, they were horrible for climate policy. The analysis done by the EPA was the source of some the lowest cost estimates that anyone put out. This analysis was actually bad news.
The reason why this is such bad news for climate policy is because it resonates strongly with people’s fears, it reinforces the conventional wisdom that climate policy will hurt the economy, and because it’s wrong.
The heart of the problem is that the economic models economists use were written, for the most part, by economists. They are based on logical economic theories that make sense to economists because, in part, they assume that everyone understands that economics is critical to pretty much everything, and act rationally as a result. Not “rational” in the sense that people understand the difference between up and down, but rational in the sense that if your boss cut your hourly wage, you would voluntarily choose to work fewer hours, even if you have a family to feed. If you take the assumptions that underlie economic rationality to their logical conclusions, they can result in a pretty strange view of the world and how it works:
1. We already live in an economically optimal world. In an economically rational world, there is no inefficiency and everyone is investing the optimal amount of money on research and development of new technologies. If a business could save money by switching to a more efficient heating and cooling system, it would have done it already. Likewise, firms are investing in energy efficiency research up to the point where an additional dollar of investment yields an expected return of one dollar in energy savings. To do less would leave money on the table, and to do more would be a waste. Anything else would be irrational. The implication of this is that, with everyone constantly and correctly optimizing their behavior, there is nothing the government can do to make us any better off. If everyone is investing exactly the right amount in energy efficiency, government incentives for to do more would induce people to do too much, diverting resources from other areas with a higher rate of return. This assumption is most prevalent in what are called “general equilibrium” (GE) models. As you might guess, GE models are preferred by the economic profession, yielding logically consistent if demonstrably wrong results.
2. There can be no win-win solutions. Since everyone is constantly optimizing their energy decisions, anything that could cut carbon emissions while simultaneously saving money or increasing profits has already been done. Emissions cuts that save money have, in economics terms, a negative price. Since no one would ever give you something you wanted and pay you for the privilege of taking it (that would be irrational even to most non-economists, I think), negative cost emissions reductions can’t exist. While it might sound trivial, there is also a technical problem with this. Economic models have a hard time assimilating prices with a negative sign in front of them. So, we declare win-win solutions non-existent by fiat. The EPA analysis comes out looking so good for ACES in large part because the costs of carbon abatement are lower than in other models. But what if someone, say a big consulting firm (McKinsey & Company), went out into the real world and found that carbon abatement costs look more like this:
All those negative cost (win-win) emission reduction opportunities on the left of the McKinsey cost curve are essentially excluded from the EPA analysis — and CBO, EIA, NAM/ACCF . . . So even the most optimistic analysis of the bunch badly overstates the costs of cutting carbon. No doubt that some of these negative cost reductions require some effort to capture, which is what policy for. Read more
After the worst coal mining disaster in at least 25 years, Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship is facing long-overdue scrutiny for his record of putting coal profits over fundamental safety and health concerns. Blankenship, a right-wing activist millionaire who sits on the boards of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Mining Association, used his company’s ties to the industry-dominated Bush administration to paper over Massey’s egregious environmental and health violations.
Massey rewarded Republicans with massive donations after the company avoided paying billions in fines for a 2000 coal slurry disaster in Martin County, three times bigger than the Exxon Valdez. After both mine inspectors and Massey employees got the same message that it was more important to “run coal” than to follow safety rules, a deadly fire broke out in the Aracoma Alma mine in 2006, burning two men alive. Brad Johnson has the full story of Blankenship’s reckless pursuit of profits over human safety in this TP repost.
A group of 3,000 national and grassroots companies are taking part today in a new national advertising campaign calling for swift action on energy and climate legislation. These businesses, including the groups American Businesses for Clean Energy (ABCE) and the US Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), range from national brands — like Google, Nike and Timberland — to mom-and-pop companies.
That’s from a press release from American Businesses for Clean Energy. Here’s more on this groundswell of business support for action on climate change and clean energy jobs: