“In Areas Fueled By Coal, Climate Bill Sends Chill” — so goes the title of a recent New York Times article by Felicity Barringer, in which she persuasively describes the “wounded economy” of Missouri. She explained the state’s reliance on “21 coal-fired power plants that emit more than 75 million tons of carbon dioxide annually and generate 80 percent of Missouri’s electricity,” based on “economic incentives built into the state’s laws, history and habits” that “encourage burning as much coal as possible.” But coal-state Democrats are fighting “legislation that would put a price on carbon-dioxide emissions”:
Missouri is hardly alone. Nebraska, Indiana and Iowa are also states where coal turns on most of the lights. That is why, even before Representatives Henry A. Waxman of California and Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, both Democrats, proposed legislation that would put a price on carbon-dioxide emissions, Senate and House Democrats from coal-using states began to push back. They are concerned that the new costs would get passed on to consumers, to Ms. Daniels-Hanner, to farmers from rural Missouri and to employers like the energy-hungry Noranda aluminum plant in New Madrid in the southeast of the state, which has 1,000 workers. And they worry that in an already wounded economy, increased costs could turn one of the relatively few economic blessings into a blight.
Is that really what “coal-state Democrats like Senator Claire McCaskill” are concerned about? After all, the “low-cost electricity” in coal states hasn’t helped their citizens much. In fact, states with higher electricity rates also have higher wages. Limiting coal pollution will increase the health of their constituents and spur a clean-energy economic recovery.
The actual beneficiary of coal’s dominance in states like Missouri have not been the working people Felicity Barringer profiles, but rather the polluting corporations and their conservative allies. In particular, Missouri is home to “the world’s leading coal merchant,” Peabody Energy, and the 20th largest utility in the country, Ameren. Peabody and Ameren respectively pulled in $6.6 billion and $7.5 billion in annual revenues in 2008. Peabody CEO Gregory Boyce’s salary was $11.95 million in 2008 — Ameren CEO Gary Rainwater made $5 million. Strangely for a piece about the politics of regulating coal’s pollution, Barringer fails to note Peabody and Ameren’s outsized political influence: Read more