Archive for the ‘coal’ tag
Everything If You Want Things
The Cheeto-in-Chief’s shoot from the hip governing style has struck again, this time screwing his big time buddies, the US coal industry. I giggled.
On Monday, at the urging of the U.S. timber industry, Trump imposed tariffs of up to 24 percent on imports of Canadian softwood lumber. The issue of Canadian lumber imports has been vexed for years, but this latest hardball from Trump—especially at a time when he is threatening to pull the United States out of NAFTA—hit a nerve with Canada. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to stand up for Canada’s lumber industry, warning, “You cannot thicken this border without hurting people on both sides of it.”
Today, British Columbia Premier Christy Clark dropped a bombshell tweet, saying, “It’s time to ban thermal coal from BC ports.” In a letter to Trudeau, she wrote:
For many years, a high volume of U.S. thermal coal has been shipped through BC on its way to Asia. It’s not good for the environment, but friends and trading partners cooperate. So we haven’t pressed the issue with the federal government that regulates the port.
Clearly, the United States is taking a different approach. So, I am writing you today to ban the shipment of thermal coal from BC ports.
Clark goes on to note the success of the Beyond Coal movement in shutting down coal terminals on the U.S. Pacific Coast:
As you may know, over the past five years, every proposed coal export facility on the West Coast of the United States has been rejected or withdrawn, typically as a result of ecological or environmental concerns. . . . Oregon, Washington, and California have all made significant commitments to eliminate the use of coal as a source of electricity for their citizens. In fact, in August 2016, Governor Jerry Brown of California signed Bill 1279 that banned the provision of any state transportation funding for new coal export terminals.
Due to the lack of U.S. terminals, Clark says, U.S. exports through Canada have been increasing. Last year, she says, 6.2 million tons of U.S. thermal coal moved through the Port of Vancouver, and the number was expected to increase in the future.
(click here to continue reading D’oh! Donald Trump Inadvertently Cripples U.S. Coal Exports | Sierra Club.)
a little background about the lumber dispute which led to the imposition of tariffs: doesn’t seem like it is that clear of a “win”.
The average American’s stake in all of this — or the average Canadian’s, for that matter — is considerably less clear than the Trump administration’s rhetoric would imply.
As a lumber producer, Canada enjoys a basic advantage over the United States: a timber inventory that’s 13 times greater, per capita, according to Daowei Zhang, a professor of forest economics and policy at Auburn University who has made a career of his own studying this never-ending kerfuffle. Canada’s resource endowment, plus exchange rates and many other economic factors, helps explain the rise of Canadian softwood-lumber imports from a mere 7 percent of the U.S. market during the Korean War to 30 percent or so in recent years.
U.S. producers emphasize the fact that Canada’s forests are government-owned, whereas most U.S. timber stands are on private land. Provincial agencies set the price loggers must pay — delightfully known as the “stumpage fee” — for cutting down pines and other conifers, a.k.a., “soft” wood. U.S. producers say that this results in below-market stumpage fees for Canadian loggers — or, as the U.S. industry contends, a subsidy.
A 2105 Congressional Research Service report called evidence on this point “widespread, but inconclusive.” The U.S. side has not fared well in international arbitration. Even so, Canada has agreed to a series of temporary market-sharing agreements, the most recent of which expired in the waning days of the Obama administration, thus freeing the Trump team to take its new position, whether in earnest or as posturing ahead of a NAFTA renegotiation remains to be seen.
The best thing for the public, in both countries, would be to use market mechanisms to allocate timber resources to the maximum extent feasible, then allow free cross-border trade in lumber as in (almost) everything else. May the most efficient producer win!
Certainly, limiting imports of Canadian lumber, whether through tariffs or by negotiated agreement, will make U.S. housing more expensive, since Canada supplied roughly 31 percent of the U.S. market for softwood lumber in 2016 and softwood lumber accounts for about 7 percent of the construction cost of a home, according to the Washington-based National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).
The NAHB, another D.C. lobby that the softwood-lumber dispute periodically activates, estimates that the jobs that Trump’s latest move saves in American saw mills would be offset elsewhere, resulting in a net loss of 8,241 U.S. jobs, $498.3 million in wages and salaries, and $350.2 million in taxes and other government revenue.
No doubt the housing lobby is a dubious proxy for the public, given its own dependence on government market manipulation and subsidies. Yet, in this case, the NAHB study illustrates a valid point: The Trump administration is not proposing to protect America from Canada; it’s proposing to protect certain American special interests from certain Canadian special interests.
(click here to continue reading Trump has set out to protect lumber workers. Instead, he’s helping lobbyists. – The Washington Post.)
So Trump purses his lip, imposes a tariff on Canadian lumber to show how “tough” he is against those meanie Canadians, and ends up screwing his coal producing buddies. Doh! Coal is a dirty, dying business, and shouldn’t be propped up in any circumstance.
Oh, and since I had to look it up: thermal coal is coal used for power generation, as opposed to metallurgical coal used mostly for steel production.
Coal mining, lumber, whale oil extraction: none of these industries are going to be resurrected to save the working classes of the United States, those eras are over, and are not returning. No amount of new regulation or removal of existing regulation is ever going to bring those jobs back.
Sadly for all of us, many Trump voters expect him to be able to magically recommission steel plants, to make coal a cost efficient means to create energy, and so on.
To see where things get more tangled, head into the damp woods of the Cascade Range in central Oregon, and the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, where a long economic decline began in the late 1980s as international trade shifted timber markets to places like Canada, and automated mills eliminated tens of thousands of jobs. Those computer-run mills are not going away even if more logs start arriving.
“We really don’t have a clear and easy path to go back to the good old days when natural resource extraction was driving our economy,” said Sean Stevens, the executive director of Oregon Wild, a conservation group. “It is not as easy as just logging more,” he said.
But the hopes, and the fears, about how that system might now change are boundless.
“My big hope is that people would be able to go back to work in San Juan County and these rural areas,” said Phil Lyman, a county commissioner in southern Utah, where antigovernment feelings run as deep as the slot canyons. “You just feel like everything has been stifled with regulations.”
Republicans in Congress have proposed bills weakening federal laws that protect wilderness, water quality, endangered species or that allow presidents to unilaterally name new national monuments. Some conservatives hope Mr. Trump will support their efforts to hand federal land over to states, which could sell it off or speed up drilling approvals.
Uranium mines around the Grand Canyon. Oil drilling rigs studding the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. New coal and timber leases in the national forests. States divvying up millions of acres of federal land to dispose of as they wish.
To environmental groups, it would be a nightmare. To miners, loggers, ranchers and conservative politicians in resource-dependent areas, it would be about time. Either way, Donald J. Trump’s election presages huge potential change on America’s 640 million acres of federal public lands, from the deep seas east of Maine to the volcanic coasts of Hawaii.
(click here to continue reading Battle Lines Over Trump’s Lands Policy Stretch Across 640 Million Acres – The New York Times.)
This Tree Is Older Than You
and on that topic from D Watkins:
A common theme that’s being tossed around is that Trump’s election was the white working class’ chance way to say “F**k you!” to the political elites who forgot about them, sucked up their factory jobs and left them out to dry. I take issue with this for a number of reasons.
The first and most obvious reason is this: How do you buck a system ruled by elites by electing a billionaire who was born rich, employed the Mexicans he blamed for taking jobs away and could never possibly understand someone else’s struggle? Next, I don’t fully understand the term “hard-working whites.” I come from the blackest community in one of the blackest cities, and I don’t know how not to have 10 jobs. Everybody I know has 10 jobs, even the infants. Black people, Asians and Mexicans alike work their asses off, so why is the “hard-working white” class even a voting bloc?
What’s sad is that these angry, hard-working white people don’t understand that they saw more economic gains under President Obama than they did under George W. Bush. Unemployment went down across the board except among African-Americans — the rate actually doubled for us — so those folks should be praising Obama, not championing Trump or subscribing to all this alt-right B.S.
Then there’s the myth of returning factory jobs. It’s not a real thing! And trust me, I used to subscribe to the same ideas, all caught up in the nostalgia of the old dudes from my neighborhood. My friend Al’s grandpa used to park his Cadillac on Ashland Avenue, hop out and roll up on us nine-year-olds like, “Finish high school, get a job at Bethlehem Steel and your future is set!” He’d spin his Kangol around backwards, pull out a fistful of dollars, give us each a couple and continue, “I made so much money at the steel factory, my lady ain’t worked a day in her life! I bought a house that I paid off and that shiny car right there! Yes sir, life is good!”
Those jobs were long gone by the time we came of age, at Bethlehem Steel and almost every place like it across the country. They weren’t taken by Mexicans or sent overseas — industries changed, new products were made and robots were invented that could do the job of 10 men and work all night without complaining. Those beautiful factory positions for uneducated hard-working whites (or anybody else) aren’t coming back, and I don’t care what Trump says. What’s even weirder is that we have created a generation of people complaining about jobs that they have never had and will not see in their lifetime — and again, for what?
(click here to continue reading Dear hard-working white people: Congratulations, you played yourself – Salon.com.)
While this topic is not strictly technology as defined by my editor, energy sources and methods are certainly technology related.
Anyway, this is the part of Hillary Clinton’s mind that irks me and many others who want to be able to vote for her in the general election. Rather than tell West Virginians the truth that coal is the energy source of the past, not the future, Ms. Clinton apologized for speaking the truth in front of a different audience.
Voters in Appalachian coal country will not soon forget that Democrat Hillary Clinton told an Ohio audience in March that she would “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”
“It was a devastating thing for her to say,” said Betty Dolan, whose diner in this mountain hamlet offers daily testament to the ravages that mining’s demise has visited upon families whose livelihood depends on coal.
Mine closures, bankruptcies and layoffs are staples of lunchtime conversation for those who have not fled town in search of work. Like many fellow Democrats in the region, Dolan, 73, favors Republican Donald Trump for president, however rude he might seem to the proprietor of a no-frills restaurant known for its graham cracker pie.
“I’m going to go for the person who wants coal,” she said.
(click here to continue reading Clash between Trump and Clinton over coal foreshadows a tough fight for her in battleground states – Chicago Tribune.)
and even went so far as to apologize! Come on…
front-running Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton in West Virginia, where a pledge the former U.S. secretary of state made two months ago to kill coal miners’ jobs in favor of renewable energy continues to haunt her.…She had added that she doesn’t intend to abandon workers “who did the best they could to produce the energy we relied on” and apologized directly last week to an out-of-work foreman who confronted her in Williamson, West Virginia, but the general sentiment hasn’t played well in coal country.
“That was really a devastating comment,” said Robert DiClerico, a professor emeritus of political science at West Virginia University. He said he believes Clinton’s remark more than any other factor has boosted Sanders.
(click here to continue reading Hillary Clinton faces primary challenge in West Virginia coal country – Chicago Tribune.)
Mining coal is not even that big of a part of the Appalachian economy! 5% or something close to that per Wikipedia – $3.5 billion / $63.34 billion = approximately 5.5%
[West Virginia] has a projected nominal GDP of $63.34 billion in 2009 according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis report of November 2010…Coal is one of the state’s primary economic resources, first discovered in the state in 1742. The industry employs 30,000 West Virginians directly, resulting in $2 billion in wages and a $3.5 billion economic impact
(click here to continue reading Economy of West Virginia – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)
In other words, coal is not that big of a slice of West Virginia’s current economy, more important for intangible reasons, like “optics”, and “tradition”, and “tradition” and other empty words. Ms. Clinton shouldn’t worry about putting coal miners out of business, she ought to suggest re-education programs to train coal extraction employees to work in solar and wind and other alternative energy fields instead! They get to keep being productive members of the 21st Century, and we make advances towards ameliorating global climate change.
Instead, she said this:
The exchange during a visit to a health center in Williamson, West Virginia, highlighted the challenge Democrats will face in November winning over working-class voters in states where that have lost jobs in manufacturing and mining.
“I don’t mind anybody being upset or angry” about the struggles of the industry, its workers and their families, Clinton said. “That’s a perfect right for people to feel that way. I do feel a little bit sad and sorry that I gave folks the reason and the excuse to be so upset with me because that is not what I intended at all.”
“I don’t know how to explain it other than what I said was totally out of context from what I meant because I have been talking about helping coal country for a very long time,” she responded at the start of several minutes of back-and-forth with Copley. “I understand the anger and I understand the fear and I understand the disappointment that is being expressed.”
(click here to continue reading Clinton walks back coal remarks after confrontation in West Virginia – Chicago Tribune.)
and also, most maddening, Hillary Clinton’s pandering is not even necessary – West Virginia is not going to suddenly vote for a Democrat in the general election! They are a reliable Republican state!
David Myers, an out-of-work miner, echoed the profanity Trump has repeatedly used on Twitter to repudiate global warming. Like Trump, Myers and others in coal country say misguided plans to stop it are costing jobs.
“A man of my caliber should be able to get a job in a blink of an eye, but there’s no jobs to be had,” said Myers, 49, who wore miner coveralls to Trump’s rally.
Trump has dismissed global warming as a “canard,” “hoax” and “total con job,” citing cold weather snaps as evidence.
On the day of Obama’s 2012 reelection, Trump tweeted: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” In September, he told CNN, “I don’t believe in climate change.”
(click here to continue reading Clash between Trump and Clinton over coal foreshadows a tough fight for her in battleground states – Chicago Tribune.)
update: both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton already have retraining proposals, fwiw:
“We just don’t want to be forgotten,” said Betty Dolin, who co-owns a restaurant in Danville, about 20 miles southwest of Charleston, where customers tucked into hearty meals like meatloaf and country fried steak with gravy.
She pointed out the empty tables that would once have been filled. “We can’t have coal? Bring us something else,” she said. “And I don’t mean job training. A lot of these men are too old to train for another job.”
Presidential primaries tend to bring attention to local issues as candidates move from state to state, and as the candidates have come to West Virginia to campaign, coal has been no exception.
“These communities need help,” Mr. Sanders said last week at a food bank in McDowell County. “It is not the coal miners’ fault in terms of what’s happening in this world.”
In some ways, Mr. Sanders is not a natural candidate to be courting the votes of coal miners: He is outspoken on climate change and advocates moving away from fossil fuels. But his message of economic fairness has been embraced by white, working-class voters.
Mr. Sanders has proposed legislation that would provide $41 billion to help coal and other fossil fuel workers and their communities, offering support like financial assistance and job training.
Mrs. Clinton has her own $30 billion plan to help coal miners and their communities, including a program to provide funding to local school districts to help make up for lost revenue.
(click here to continue reading Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton Court West Virginians Hit Hard by Coal’s Decline – The New York Times.)
embiggen by clicking
I took West Wind Blowing Ill – Redux on January 14, 2012 at 05:44PM
and processed it in my digital darkroom on June 16, 2014 at 02:59PM
The smart energy companies are already upgrading their smokestacks – making them more efficient, more modern, better for their investors – but the old guard will fight innovation every step of the way, even if it means reducing life expectancy of humans on earth…
the Obama administration is pushing stringent limits that by 2015 would force every power plant in the nation to capture 90 percent of the mercury in the coal it burns, a standard many plants already are meeting. The proposed rule also would impose tougher limits on lung- and heart-damaging soot and other “air toxics,” including arsenic and chromium.
On Tuesday, industry lawyers, environmental groups and public health advocates will converge in Chicago for a daylong hearing on the administration’s proposal, which has prompted an intense lobbying effort from some power companies that are trying to delay or kill the rule.
Echoing claims made during past debates about antipollution measures, opponents say tough national standards on mercury and other toxic air pollution will force dozens of coal plants to shut down, costing jobs and making the nation’s electrical grid less reliable.
But some power companies already have moved to clean up their coal plants. And supporters note that recent power auctions guarantee there will be enough electricity to meet demand for years after the rule takes effect, even if some older plants are shuttered.
“It is disappointing, irresponsible and coldhearted for the power companies that are operating these plants not to make the sensible, relatively easy and inexpensive changes the (Environmental Protection Agency) is requesting,” said Mary Gade, a Chicago lawyer who served as President George W. Bush’s regional EPA administrator.
Coal-fired power plants are the biggest man-made source of mercury contamination, one of the last kinds of pollution to be targeted for limits under the federal Clean Air Act. Uncontrolled for years, the pollution is so pervasive that Illinois and 43 other states advise people, especially women of childbearing age and young children, to avoid or limit eating certain types of fish because they often are contaminated with high levels of the toxic metal.
(click here to continue reading Air pollution: Obama administration seeks stricter limits on mercury pollution from power plants – chicagotribune.com.)
Shuttering the damn things would be my preference – I can see the Fisk Coal plant from my window, spewing all sorts of toxins, and I don’t even live that close by.
Owners of two coal-fueled power plants on Chicago’s Southwest Side would have to clean them up within the next five years — or shut them down — under a proposal being pushed by an interesting coalition of aldermen and a Chicago environmental group.
The proposed ordinance is aimed at the circa-1920s Fisk plant in Pilsen and the Crawford plant in Little Village, both now operated by Midwest Generation LLC.
Under its terms, scrubbers and related anti-pollution equipment would have to be installed by 2013-15, four to five years earlier than now required by state regulators.
“The purpose is to get two of the oldest, dirtiest coal plants located in any urban neighborhood cleaned up soon,” said Howard Learner, executive director of Chicago’s Environmental Law and Policy Center.
“These are the two biggest (single) point sources of pollution in the city,” Mr. Learner added. But modernization of the plants repeatedly has been deferred, and the city now has an interest in making the plants “clean up or shut down,” he said.
A statement e-mailed by Alderman Joseph Moore (49th) said the measure will be co-sponsored by him and colleagues including Sandi Jackson (7th), Eugene Schulter (47th) and Toni Preckwinkle (4th).
Ms. Preckwinkle’s presence is particularly notable since she is the Democratic nominee to head the Cook County Board and is heavily favored to win that position in the November general election.
[Click to continue reading Push begins to ‘clean up or shut’ Fisk, Crawford coal power plants | Greg Hinz | Crain’s Chicago Business]
Cleaning them up so they fit current EPA standards would be a positive step, but would mean that lots of toxins would still be allowed, just not quite as much.
Facing wide criticism over their recent finding that greenhouse gases endanger the public welfare, top Environmental Protection Agency officials said Monday that any regulation of such gases would be phased in gradually and would not impose expensive new rules on most American businesses.
The E.P.A.’s administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, wrote in a letter to eight coal-state Democrats who have sought a moratorium on regulation that only the biggest sources of greenhouse gases would be subjected to limits before 2013. Smaller ones would not be regulated before 2016, she said.
“I share your goals of ensuring economic recovery at this critical time and of addressing greenhouse gas emissions in sensible ways that are consistent with the call for comprehensive energy and climate legislation,” Ms. Jackson wrote.
The eight Democratic senators, led by John D. Rockefeller IV(Coal) of West Virginia, said hugely significant decisions about energy, the economy and the environment should be made by elected representatives, not by federal bureaucrats.
The senators, who earlier questioned broad cap-and-trade legislation pushed by the Obama administration, join a number of Republican lawmakers, industry groups and officials from Texas, Alabama and Virginia in challenging the proposed E.P.A. regulations of industrial sources. Senate Republicans are going a step further, seeking to prevent the agency from taking any action to limit greenhouse gases, which are tied to global warming.
[Click to continue reading E.P.A. Plans to Phase in Regulation of Emissions – NYTimes.com]
Don’t do anything, in other words. Senator Rockefeller (Coal) wants climate change policy making to come back to the Senate where it can die the Death of the Thousand Cuts and Additions2, and generally get debated until we’re all dead. In the last 10 years, what climate change policy has the Senate actually passed into law, Senator Rockerfeller (Coal)? I have exactly zero faith in the US Senate accomplishing anything productive, not unless LBJ rises from the grave to give some of the nattering nabobs of the Senate The Treatment.Footnotes:
A story that makes my blood boil: politicians dithering and being petty about enforcing environmental laws. They treat pollution like it is an earmark, or something to be bartererd. No you evil people, it isn’t – toxic death is permanent, and willfully destroying the health of your citizens should be a felony. The Illinois EPA is so corrupt and toothless, the entire organization’s staff should be fired, and new employees brought in, preferably not from the ranks of energy-related corporation employees.
Even though the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency had plenty of evidence to file charges against the owner and operator of Anchor Metal Finishing, top agency officials sat on the case for more than a year. Meanwhile, carcinogenic solvents and caustic acids kept leaching from barrels packed haphazardly into a ramshackle building, two blocks away from a Schiller Park subdivision.
What appeared to be an obvious violation of state environmental laws became entangled in one of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s political feuds, delaying action for months. Dozens of other cases against polluters languished as well, largely because Blagojevich and his top aides refused to refer them to his archnemesis, Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan, a Tribune investigation found.
The bitter dispute still reverberates through state government today, eight months after Blagojevich was arrested on federal corruption charges and then impeached and removed from office. Nearly 19 months after it was discovered, the Schiller Park site still hasn’t been cleaned up, and several other older cases are moving through an enforcement system that Gov. Pat Quinn and Madigan only recently have begun to repair.
Blagojevich and Madigan started out on amicable terms after they were elected in 2002. But EPA referrals of civil and criminal violations to the attorney general began to drop sharply in 2005, and fell to a record low of 114 in 2007, according to state records.
The agency hasn’t sent a criminal case to the attorney general in two years, records show.
[Click to continue reading Illinois pollution enforcement hampered by politics — chicagotribune.com]
and this is just horrible:
Federal regulators also cited Midwest Generation, the owner of six coal-fired power plants that records show are some of the biggest contributors to dirty air in the Chicago area. Madigan’s staff documented thousands of pollution violations at the plants, but the state EPA repeatedly refused to take action against the company, which was represented for years by one of Blagojevich’s top campaign aides.
Business lobbyists persuaded lawmakers in 2002 to require a less-confrontational approach that doesn’t involve the attorney general’s office unless there is an imminent threat to the environment; lawsuits still can be filled if an agreement can’t be brokered.
Although the state EPA declined to cite Midwest Generation — the agency agreed with the company that frequent bursts of soot from its coal plants weren’t harmful — Scott noted the Blagojevich administration negotiated a deal that will force the aging generators to clean up or shut down by the end of the next decade. Environmental groups are seeking to impose tighter deadlines.
The EPA agreed with the polluter that frequent bursts of soot from its coal plants weren’t harmful? Un-fucking-believable. The EPA should be forced to move their offices to be located adjacent to pollution sites like the Midwest Generation plants, or adjacent to the Crestwood polluted well.
Read the whole article if you can stomach it.
Hard on the heels of the health care protests, another citizen movement seems to have sprung up, this one to oppose Washington’s attempts to tackle climate change. But behind the scenes, an industry with much at stake — Big Oil — is pulling the strings.
The event on Tuesday was organized by a group called Energy Citizens, which is backed by the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s main trade group. Many of the people attending the demonstration were employees of oil companies who work in Houston and were bused from their workplaces.
This was the first of a series of about 20 rallies planned for Southern and oil-producing states to organize resistance to proposed legislation that would set a limit on emissions of heat-trapping gases, requiring many companies to buy emission permits. Participants described the system as an energy tax that would undermine the economy of Houston, the nation’s energy capital.
[Click to continue reading Oil Companies Back Public Protests of Greenhouse Gas Bill – NYTimes.com]
Opposing climate change legislation, how forward thinking!
One such group, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity went as far as having their PR agency forge letters from non-profit groups and sending them to Congress. They’ve been caught, and are attempting to blame a “temporary worker”. Uhh, yeah, right.
A public relations firm hired by a pro-coal industry group, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, recently sent at least 58 letters opposing new climate laws to members of Congress. An investigation by the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming found that a total of 13 letters sent by the firm, Bonner & Associates, were forgeries. The committee is currently investigating another 45 letters to determine whether they are fakes. The letters purported to be from groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Hispanic organizations.
Mother Jones has more:
Rep. Ed Markey’s Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming has released a new batch of bogus letters sent to members of Congress by Bonner & Associates, including one the DC-based PR and lobbying firm previously told the committee was genuine but admitted on Monday was also a fake. The letters claim to be from representatives of local senior citizens groups concerned that climate change legislation will drive up energy costs for the elderly in an already “volatile economy.”
Founded in 1984 by Jack Bonner, a former GOP Senate aide and Republican National Committee staffer, the company specializes in Astroturf campaigns—efforts to create the illusion of grassroots support around the positions of its corporate clients. The firm accomplishes this by, among other things, convincing citizens, nonprofits, and others to sign letters to lawmakers in support or opposition to various issues.
Markey’s committee has been investigating the falsified letters since late July. According to a release issued by the committee on Monday:
The five letters revealed today brings the total number of fraudulent letters to 13, now representing 9 different community groups. The letters released today were staged to appear as if they were sent by groups representing senior citizen services like the non-profit Erie Center on Health & Aging. Previous letters already made public were from the Charlottesville NAACP chapter, Creciendo Juntos, a hispanic advocacy organization, the Jefferson Area Board on Aging, and the American Association of University Women.
In a statement, Markey drew parallels between advocacy efforts to derail health care reform and those opposing global warming legislation. “We’ve seen fear-mongering with our nation’s senior citizens with health care, and now we’re seeing fraud-mongering with senior citizens on clean energy,” he said. “Lately, democratic debate has been deceptively debased by fake facts and harsh rhetoric. We must return to an honest discussion of the issues, and ensure that this sort of campaign does not further poison the well of trustworthy debate.”
[Click to continue reading Bonner’s Latest Astroturf Admission (Plus More Fake Letters) | Mother Jones]
as does Talking Points Memo
But a closer look suggests a culture at Bonner and Associates that makes such deception all but inevitable. As one former employee put it, at Bonner, distortion “was the norm rather than the exception.”
Internal Bonner documents obtained by TPMmuckraker, and interviews with former employees, shed light on the modus operandi of a firm that’s known as the pioneer of astroturf lobbying — that is, creating the illusion of grassroots support for corporate-backed positions, just as corporate-backed groups like Freedom Works are currently doing in their fight against health-care reform. Bonner’s business model involves using both carrots and sticks in spurring low-paid and poorly-trained employees to convince local groups or individual voters to agree to offer nominal expressions of support for the campaigns of the firm’s corporate clients, which have included Philip Morris, the health insurance industry, and the pharmaceutical industry, among others. Often the voters or local groups know little about the legislation at hand, which is typically obscure to all but the industries affected by it — medical liability reform, say. But the resulting form letters, faxes, or phone calls are then represented to a list of targeted lawmakers — generally drawn up by the client — as genuine expressions of grassroots concern. Bonner then satisfies its client by reporting back to it on the number of communications it’s generated.
[Click to continue reading Behind The Forged Letters: Jack Bonner’s “White-Collar Sweatshop” | TPMMuckraker]
and much more on Bonner and Associates if you’re interested.
You would think such transparently false campaigns would be ineffective once exposed, but apparently Senators and Members of Congress are easily fooled, and don’t have time in their busy schedules of lobbyist dinners and fund-raising luncheons to read much news.
Coal plant looming over Indiana Dunes
From my vast, unknowable photo archives
the original photo (from my first digital camera, an Olympus C3040Z) was a little generic, so added a blue tone for atmosphere.
Indiana Dunes, April, 2003
strolling through my archives yielded some shots of a coal plant from 2003.
The Economist points out clean coal is no panacea – expensive, and more hype than reality. Politicians love mouthing the phrase, but the energy industry is not so sanguine, at least when cash is being discussed.
“FACTORIES of death” is how James Hansen, a crusading American scientist, describes power stations that burn coal. Coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels, producing twice the carbon dioxide that natural gas does when it is burned. That makes it a big cause of global warming.
But some of the world’s biggest economies rely on coal. It provides almost 50% of America’s and Germany’s power, 70% of India’s and 80% of China’s. Digging up coal provides a livelihood for millions of people. And secure domestic sources of energy are particularly prized at a time when prices are volatile and many of the big oil and gas exporters are becoming worryingly nationalistic. It is hard to see how governments can turn their backs on such a cheap and reliable fuel.
There does, however, seem to be a way of reconciling coal and climate. It is called carbon capture and storage (CCS), or carbon sequestration, and entails hoovering up carbon dioxide from the smokestacks of power plants and other big industrial facilities and storing it safely underground, where it will have no effect on the atmosphere. The technologies for this are already widely used in the oil and chemical industries, and saltwater aquifers and depleted oilfields offer plenty of promising storage space. Politicians are pinning their hopes on clean coal: Angela Merkel and Barack Obama, among others, are keen on the idea.
But CCS is proving easier to talk up than to get going (see article). There are no big power plants using it, just a handful of small demonstration projects. Utilities refuse to make bigger investments because power plants with CCS would be much more expensive to build and run than the ordinary sort. They seem more inclined to invest in other low-carbon power sources, such as nuclear, solar and wind. Inventors and venture capitalists, in the meantime, are striving to create all manner of new technologies—bugs for biofuels, revolutionary solar panels, smart-grid applications—but it is hard to find anyone working on CCS in their garage (although some scientists are toying with pulling carbon dioxide directly out of the air instead of from smokestacks: see Technology Quarterly in this issue). Several green pressure groups, and even some energy and power company bosses, think that the whole idea is unworkable.
[click to continue reading The illusion of clean coal | The Economist]
There are better options for reducing carbon emissions, pretending that clean coal is a viable solution damages the progress in other possibilities.
from a related Economist article:
Despite all this enthusiasm, however, there is not a single big power plant using CCS anywhere in the world. Utilities refuse to build any, since the technology is expensive and unproven. Advocates insist that the price will come down with time and experience, but it is hard to say by how much, or who should bear the extra cost in the meantime. Green pressure groups worry that captured carbon will eventually leak. In short, the world’s leaders are counting on a fix for climate change that is at best uncertain and at worst unworkable.
CCS sounds beguilingly simple. It entails isolating carbon dioxide wherever it is produced in large quantities, such as the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants, compressing it and pumping it underground. The oil and chemical industries already use most of the processes that this involves, although not in combination. And oil, gas and salt water seem to stay put in certain rock formations indefinitely, suggesting that carbon dioxide should as well.
CCS particularly appeals to politicians reluctant to limit the use of coal. Coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels, and burning it releases roughly twice as much carbon dioxide as burning natural gas. The world will struggle to cut greenhouse-gas emissions dramatically if it continues to burn coal as it does today. Yet burning coal is one of the cheapest ways to generate power
[click to continue reading Carbon capture and storage | Trouble in store | The Economist]
boiled down to the most basic facts, the problem is the technology is too expensive to be feasible, even with governmental support.
The problem with CCS is the cost. The chemical steps in the capture consume energy, as do the compression and transport of the carbon dioxide. That will use up a quarter or more of the output of a power station fitted with CCS, according to most estimates. So plants with CCS will need to be at least a third bigger than normal ones to generate the same net amount of power, and will also consume at least a third more fuel. In addition, there is the extra expense of building the capture plant and the injection pipelines. If the storage site is far from the power plant, yet more energy will be needed to move the carbon dioxide.
Estimates of the total cost vary widely. America’s government, which had vowed to build a prototype plant called FutureGen in partnership with several big resources firms, scrapped the project last year after the projected cost rose to $1.8 billion. Philippe Paelinck, of Alstom, an engineering firm that hopes to build CCS plants, thinks a full-scale one would cost about €1 billion ($1.3 billion).
Not the answer, in other words.
Michael Hawthorne alerts us that Illinois is at risk for a coal ash disaster as well.
More than a dozen Illinois power plants store toxic coal ash in sludge ponds similar to the one that burst and spread contaminated muck over 300 acres of eastern Tennessee last month, according to a Tribune review of federal records.
The sludge dumps, all Downstate, are among hundreds of makeshift ponds across the nation that are regulated far more loosely than household garbage landfills, despite years of studies documenting how arsenic, lead, mercury and other heavy metals in the coal ash threaten water supplies and human health.
Most of the water-soaked ash—the byproduct of burning coal to generate electricity—is stored close to bodies of water, including Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, the Mississippi River and the Illinois River.
The administration of President Obama might be more interested in monitoring this potentially hazardous problem, but nobody really knows yet. Obama received a lot of campaign contributions from Exelon. Also, leaks don’t have to be quick to be dangerous, slow and steady contamination is just as deadly.
The dangers here are two-fold,” said Eric Schaeffer, a former Environmental Protection Agency official who now heads the non-profit Environmental Integrity Project. “You can have the sudden spill and the dramatic disaster that Kingston represents, or you can have slow poisoning as these impoundments leach toxic metals.”
Illinois is in the top ten in a dubious category:
14 of the state’s power plants dumped sludge containing a combined 2,826 tons of toxic metals into Downstate sludge ponds during 2006, the last year for which figures are available from the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory.
Only nine other states dumped more toxic metals in this way. Alabama led the nation with 6,680 tons; Indiana was fourth with 4,431 tons.
National environmental policies and regulations have to change, lest we all are buried underneath a veritable lake of toxic dust.
There really isn’t any such thing as clean coal, well, other than a marketing tool utilized by energy company hacks to greenwash coal, one of the dirtiest energy sources ever created. Clean coal might be created in the future, but then again, so might cold fusion1. Or robots with bees in their mouths.
I hope Barack Obama and Joe Biden will alter their campaign positions supporting clean coal, but I’m not holding my breath.
Coal washing results in the formation of large quantities of slurry. This is placed in waste piles. Rain drains through the piles, picking up pollutants which end up in rivers and streams. This runoff is acidic and contains heavy metals.
Between 7 and 30 percent of coal consists of non-combustible material that just has to be eventually disposed of. “Clean coal” technologies attempt to trap these waste products before they leave the smokestalks; waste material that is trapped is then used (despite containing a number of toxic elements) or dumped as landfill.
The use of higher quality coal – lower in ash and sulphur should reduce emissions and increase efficiency, but thermal efficiency is increased by only one percent. If clean coal is used to meet the increased electricity demand predicitions of govenments instead of cleaner renewable alternatives, there will in fact be a net increase in carbon dioxide emissions.
According to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) mercury and its compounds are highly toxic and pose a ‘global environmental threat to humans and wildlife.’ Exposure to it has been associated with serious neurological and developmental damage to humans. The report also states that coal-fired power and heat production is the largest single source of atmospheric mercury emissions. According to the Coal Utilization Research Council ‘there are no commercial technologies available for mercury capture at coal-fuelled power plants’. Furthermore, a US Department of Energy commissioned report, states that the consistent, long-term performance of mercury control has yet to be demonstrated. Experimental removal of mercury is prohibitively expensive at $761,000/kg mercury removed and even then 10% of the mercury still remains.
Despite $5.2 billion of investment in the US alone , clean coal research has been plagued with difficulties. For example, of the 13 clean coal projects that the US General Accounting Office looked at, eight had serious delays or financial problems – six were behind schedule by 2-7 years and two were bankrupt and will not be completed.
The operators of the $297 million Healy Clean Coal project in the USA intend to retrofit the current clean coal plant with traditional technologies. The plant has been closed since January 2000 because safe, reliable and economical operation was not possible with the experimental technology.
Hidden Social and Environmental Costs
Social and environmental problems caused by the use of coal begin at the point where coal is mined. Mine workers are at great risk of death, injury and illness. Local communities suffer from land degradation and pollution and in many cases are forced to relocate.
At a coal-fired power plant, coal is pulverised and burnt in a high temperature furnace. Various toxic gases and tiny particles are released from the furnace into the smokestalks; pollution devices are used to try to trap pollutants before they are released into the atmosphere. The use and disposal of solid wastes trapped in the furnace and the release of gases and fine particles from the smokestacks have severe impacts on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and people’s health.
Failure of leadership means money for desert wars, not for reducing carbon emissions.
For years, scientists have had a straightforward idea for taming global warming. They want to take the carbon dioxide that spews from coal-burning power plants and pump it back into the ground.
President Bush is for it, and indeed has spent years talking up the virtues of “clean coal.” All three candidates to succeed him favor the approach. So do many other members of Congress. Coal companies are for it. Many environmentalists favor it. Utility executives are practically begging for the technology.
But it has become clear in recent months that the nation’s effort to develop the technique is lagging badly.
In January, the government canceled its support for what was supposed to be a showcase project, a plant at a carefully chosen site in Illinois where there was coal, access to the power grid, and soil underfoot that backers said could hold the carbon dioxide for eons.
Perhaps worse, in the last few months, utility projects in Florida, West Virginia, Ohio, Minnesota and Washington State that would have made it easier to capture carbon dioxide have all been canceled or thrown into regulatory limbo.
Coal is abundant and cheap, assuring that it will continue to be used. But the failure to start building, testing, tweaking and perfecting carbon capture and storage means that developing the technology may come too late to make coal compatible with limiting global warming.
“It’s a total mess,” said Daniel M. Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley.
Lets hope Obama’s friendship with energy companies like Exelon won’t impede research funds into cleaner coal when he wins in 2009.
But only a handful of small projects survive, and the recent cancellations mean that most of this work has come to a halt, raising doubts that the technique can be ready any time in the next few decades. And without it, “we’re not going to have much of a chance for stabilizing the climate,” said John Thompson, who oversees work on the issue for the Clean Air Task Force, an environmental group.
The fear is that utilities, lacking proven chemical techniques for capturing carbon dioxide and proven methods for storing it underground by the billions of tons per year, will build the next generation of coal plants using existing technology. That would ensure that vast amounts of global warming gases would be pumped into the atmosphere for decades.
The highest-profile failure involved a project known as FutureGen, which President Bush himself announced in 2003: a utility consortium, with subsidies from the government, was going to build a plant in Mattoon, Ill., testing the most advanced techniques for converting coal to a gas, capturing pollutants, and burning the gas for power.
Seems like besides a failure of political leadership, energy companies are milking taxpayer funds for their own purposes.