Coal Industry Losing Despite Their Money and Politicians

by Kyle Ash

March 1, 2012

Today, Senator Bingaman (D-NM), chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, unveiled his legislative abomination of President Obama’s proposed clean energy standard. As its obvious to everyone, including Chair Bingaman, that this CES bill will be only a discussion piece, its an utter failure. This bill ratchets down the debate on energy policy by reiterating once again that anything managing to reduce C02 emissions at the smokestack is “clean”: Fracking with its massive methane plumes and toxic water pollution–as long as they confess their hundreds of chemicals. Burning old-growth treesthey’ll grow back. Nuclear generation and its radioactive wastesif you can get public money to pay for it. Over a hundred million tons of toxic coal ash per year–it’s recyclable. If we don’t burn it in America, we’ll raise its climate footprint by shipping it abroad to be burned.

If anyone does take seriously this so-called CES bill, it would certainly be a perverse signal to utilities, and empowerbrokers, buyers, and sellers of the worst and dirtiest forms of energy pollution. The bill provides no incentives for renewables or efficiency, or disincentives for fossil fuels, that are beyond market expectations.

Despite theSenate and coal industry, Greenpeace and our partners in Quit Coal were victorious yesterday, following announcements that two of our target companies would be closing some of their dirtiest plants within the next few years. Midwest Generation LLC, a subsidiary of Edison International will be closing the Fisk and Crawford plants in Chicago. And, another Greenpeace target, GenOn, will close plants in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New Jersey.

Coal-mongers made a big mistake by opposing climate legislation three years ago. Greenpeace opposed the cap-and-trade debacle of 2009 in part because it set aside tens of billions of dollars for America’s filthy coal plants. Now, despite the fact that companies like Duke Energy get so many tax subsidies on top of their handsome profits that they actually have a negative tax rate, a growing number of utility companies are deciding they can’t make enough money anymore off some of their oldest plants.

For these power companies, It’s not about climate or the health of local communities, it’s about money. Jim Rogers, the head of Duke Energy, claims to care about the climate and his grandkids’ future, but his decisions as head of Duke show that making money comes first. Duke has ahistory of raising electricity rates, another of which was just approved by regulators, not to build solar and wind farms but to build new coal and nuclear plants or keep old ones open.

Long before Rogers was toying with the hearts of utilities and environmental groups, Duke was a part of the Utility Air Regulatory Group (UARG). The UARG is comprised of dozens of companies as page 46 of this 2006 court document shows. In 2004, the Natural Resources Defense Council revealed that UARG was conspiring to violate clean air laws.

Today, the UARG is among several industry groups arguing in court that it’s illegal for EPA to try protect the public from climate pollution, insinuating that global climate disruption does not endanger the public. As far as we can tell, Duke is still a member of UARG. Duke also has contributed to theSoutheastern Legal Foundation, a polluter law firm also involved in this case.

A third industry group in the EPA climate climate case, seemingly unconnected with Duke, is the Houston-based Coalition for Responsible Regulation. Having been reared in Dallas, I feel a duty to harp on how Texas is killing itself with its politicians’ stubborn (not conservative) position on climate.Drought and loss of biodiversity may have never been worse than now. Members of Congress like Joe Barton – who famously apologized to BP for congressional oversight of the Gulf disaster – have done little to reduce climate impacts of the fossil fuel industry and a lot to ensure that the industry reaps profits. The voices of reasonable Texas officials have unfortunately been drowned out.

Since the Texas government told EPA to git on outta herewith its climate protections, it is a wonder that CRR is wasting its time in Washington to fight over federal pollution protections the Lone Star State intends to ignore. And, yet, the Texas tone on climate is representative of how bleak the Washington energy debate has becomeand how low utilities will go to make sure science and public health don’t interfere with their potential profits. For the fossil industry and the politicians they pay, its all about the money.

But we are winning to shut down coal no matter how ‘clean’ they call it. Over thirty companies have also announced coal-plant retirements in the two years since we started our coal campaign. And more to come.

Kyle Ash

By Kyle Ash

Kyle Ash formerly served as Greenpeace's Legislative Policy Expert, responsible for domestic and international climate change policy analysis and campaign strategy. He has been quoted in Politico, Greenwire, the New York Times, and CNN, and was one of the most frequently quoted sources during the Copenhagen Climate Conference.

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