Senator Joe Manchin’s passionate plea to save what’s left of the coal industry is extremely discouraging for West Virginia. Rather than show leadership during this time of energy transition, Sen. Manchin (as well as Senator Shelley Moore Capito, our Representatives in Congress, and most other statewide leaders) chooses to take the well-worn path of the status quo, and lacks the vision to see a real future for our state, one based on new technologies, services, and renewable energy.
Sen. Manchin says that carbon capture and storage (CCS) “has not been demonstrated at any commercial scale power plant anywhere in the world.” This is simply not true. According to the Global CCS Institute, “globally, there are 14 large-scale CCS projects in operation, with a further eight under construction. The 22 projects in operation or under construction represent a doubling since the start of this decade. The total CO2 capture capacity of these 22 projects is around 40 million tonnes per annum.” That is enough to offset the typical energy consumption of over 3.3 million American homes each year. Several of these CCS projects are in the U.S.
According to Sen. Manchin, “the good Lord gave the state…an abundance of natural resources….” I would argue that “the good Lord” also gave us beautiful natural habitats meant to be enjoyed by all humans and animals, clean rivers and lakes which have been polluted by industry, gorgeous mountains that draw West Virginians home yet are slowly being destroyed by the coal industry, and black lung disease as a grim reminder of years of dedication to ruthless companies mostly headquartered in other states. The fact is we are burning through coal faster than the earth can regenerate it. Conservation and energy efficiency measures will actually serve to help the industry long-term by reducing the demand of a non-renewable resource annually, thereby increasing its availability in the future.
Sen. Manchin also mentions that “by 2040, China will get 62% of its electricity from coal.” What he fails to mention is that Beijing shut down four major coal-fired power plants due to hazardous air quality in that city [Bloomberg 3/24/15]. As America demands cheap products manufactured in countries with little human rights or environmental regulations, the demand for greenhouse gas-destroying fossil fuels by China will increase. But at what cost? There are environmental costs, for sure, but it also costs jobs here at home. Contrary to those who believe there is a “War on Coal,” President Obama is not responsible for huge losses in coal industry jobs: these can be attributed to technological “advances” by the industry itself, such as mountaintop removal, over the past three decades. Quick research will show that serious job losses began under President Reagan, and in fact, the losses accrued under the current administration are less than job losses accrued during the 1980’s [National Journal 11/4/13].
Sen. Manchin is right about one thing: “American ingenuity should be harnessed right now to ensure our future at home and to be a leader for the world.” However, clean coal technology hardly shows ingenuity…it shows a hanging on to 175 year old technologies that we have since learned are harmful to the planet. Perhaps West Virginia can still be an energy leader by embracing policies which promote renewable energy (vs. alternative energy) technologies, manufacturing, research, and demand. Perhaps our national and local leaders will recognize that “the good Lord” also gave us creativity, forethought, and real ingenuity to embrace change.