I was disappointed during the election when many environmental writers downplayed the role of Environmental Protection Agency regulation on coal. It was a timid response to the “war on coal” hype.
Sure, there’s not exactly a war on coal. There’s a war to save modern civilization as we know it from climate change disasters. The coal industry just happens to be on the pro-ending-modern-civilization side.
The argument downplaying EPA action bothered me. First, because I think it was somewhat disingenuous. You can’t honestly go from bragging one week about how many proposed coal plants activists have stopped, often by using EPA regulation as a tool, and the next week pretending the movement doesn’t exist. It’s the kind of defensive, weak-kneed messaging that gives tree-huggers and liberals a bad reputation. The low price of natural gas may be the bigger factor in determining the future of coal, but compliance with regulation is an important part of the cost/benefit analysis companies do when making decisions about building or retiring coal plants.
That rhetorical retreat was troubling because EPA may be our last best hope of dealing with carbon pollution during the next 2-4 years. The climate change movement will be forced to rediscover their conviction to cheer EPA action as a positive.
It’s not hard to see why. The House is still controlled by a Republican majority in the pockets of oil and coal. Even though most of them campaigned on being bipartisan, they made similar promises in 2008. We saw how that turned out.
The Senate has a small Democratic majority, but the Democratic caucus still includes fossil fuel Senators like Mary Landrieu and Joe Manchin. Plus, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seems uninterested in exposing oil and coal Democrats to controversial votes. He refused to bring cap-and-trade to the floor two years ago because it didn’t have 60 votes to pass, but then allowed three failed votes on stripping EPA authority to limit carbon emissions.
So, a big legislative solution like cap-and-trade is about as realistic as “clean coal.” I’ve seen suggestions about a carbon tax. As much as Congressional Republicans hate the idea of any tax increase, I can only imagine the category 5 hissy fit they would throw over a tax increase to deal with a problem they won’t even admit exists. I’d be happy to see someone try, but I won’t hold my breath.
What I’ll hold out small hope for in Congress is another jobs bill focused on energy efficiency, improving the grid, and promoting renewables. That was the best part of the stimulus bill, and we need another big round of green jobs spending in term II. Preferably, they should target spending in coal regions to offset job losses.
That leaves us with the authority a previous, more functional Congress already granted EPA to limit air pollutants. Obama moved forward with expanded EPA protections after Congress failed to act during his first two years in office. Some regulations have been stalled, like CSAPR. That needs to be completed along with better rules on mountaintop removal, coal ash, and air emissions like carbon.
My number one hope for Obama’s second term is that he moves forward much more aggressively with EPA limits on deadly coal pollution. Continue reading Help me, EPA, you’re my only hope!
How did I miss this whopper?! Republican Congressional candidate Rodney Davis claimed during a radio interview that climate change stopped sixteen years ago.
Clearly, you can tell that’s true because over the last several years we definitely haven’t had an unusual degree of extreme flooding along the Mississippi, no extreme droughts, and no Frankenstorms. Oh yeah, wait, those things are happening more often and it’s exactly what scientists told us to expect as a result of climate change.
You can listen to his comment after the 42:00-minute mark during a Focus interview on WILL public radio. A caller asked Davis how he plans to deal with climate change (no, it wasn’t me this time). Davis answered by claiming that, according to recent reports, “global warming stopped about sixteen years ago.”
Then he launched into his usual repetition of the Exxon/Koch Brothers talking point that there’s still a debate about whether man-made pollution is causing the crisis. It’s the argument climate change deniers have retreated to now that it’s impossible to ignore the change that’s already happening. As always, he dodged saying where he stands on whether man-made pollutants are the problem. He has gone through the entire campaign refusing to tell which side of that debate he’s on.
The caller interrupted Davis to tell him “that’s absolutely wrong” about climate change stopping, and challenged him to talk to a Nobel Prize winner at the University of Illinois about the scientific reality. That guy deserves a gold star. He may have been referring to a Professor of Atmospheric Science, Don Wuebbles, an outspoken, internationally recognized expert on climate issues who’s right here in central Illinois.
I googled the wacky claim about global warming stopping sixteen years ago and discovered it has been making the rounds on right-wing blogs and talk radio shows like Glenn Beck’s. It started with discredited writer Davis Rose publishing an article in a conservative British tabloid, which claimed there’s a report showing global temperatures stopped rising in 1996. The original report came from the British Met office.
The Met Office is the British version of the national weather service. They wrote a brutal, detailed response to what they describe as “misleading information” in the article. Here’s my favorite part: Continue reading Rodney Davis makes wacky claim that climate change stopped 16 years ago (IL-13)
Proposed changes to the county wind farm ordinance have become an issue in the election for Sangamon county board seats. In August, I wrote about the county board threatening to turn away green jobs and clean energy by adopting the most extreme restrictions in Illinois.
County board members punted the issue again by extending the ban on wind farms for another six months. Ordinance changes, which may halt development of a wind farm proposed in western Sangamon County, will be considered again after the election.
The delays, hesitation, and threatened destruction of a project that would create badly needed green jobs has been raised by several candidates challenging county board incumbents. Mike Ziri was the first to contact me after my blog post. Ziri is a Springfield Democrat running in district 11. Both Ziri and Mike Crews spoke in favor of wind farm jobs at the Liberty Brew & View candidate night last month. Crews referenced his opponent’s vote for the wind farm moratorium in a campaign mailing.
The sponsor of the ordinance is Springfield County board member Tim Moore. I contacted his election opponent, Tony DelGiorno, to ask if this is an issue in his race. He speaks about it with voters while knocking on doors and it’s included on his campaign website. Tony sent me this quote: Continue reading Wind farm ban becomes issue in Sangamon County, Illinois board election
I always felt Candy Crowley focused on the frivolous, like most of CNN, so she exceeded my expectations moderating the Presidential debate. She mostly did an acceptable job, but her decision to focus the energy discussion on gas prices rather than climate change was a massive failure.
Crowley chose the question on gas prices and asked two follow-up questions to keep the focus there. It’s a way of framing the energy debate that ignores a far more important issue. If a person’s home or workplace is destroyed by a catastrophic flood, hurricane, or wildfire, or if their crop is destroyed by drought, then suddenly gas prices aren’t the most important problem. I can only guess about whether Crowley’s misguided focus is due to a lack of understanding of the enormity of the problem or because of CNN’s reliance on massive advertising revenue from the fossil fuel industry. The press is still part of the problem.
It’s disappointing that Obama didn’t raise climate change himself, but keeping the focus on gas prices is a way to put politicians who want to deal with climate change on the defensive. Obama did the right thing by investing heavily in clean energy and efficiency. But, the smaller stimulus investments in clean coal have largely been a failure and pandering to coal is gaining Obama nothing politically. The coal industry will continue spending millions to fight him, no matter how much he increases coal mining production or throws subsidies at them. Continue reading Debate Moderator Fail: Does anyone worry about gas prices when their home is destroyed by disaster?
It finally happened! During an interview with the State Journal-Register editorial board, Rodney Davis was asked if he accepts the scientific consensus behind climate change.
The question came near the end of their interview with the three candidates in the 13th District Congressional race (at 53:00 in the video online). It was finally discussed after independent candidate John Hartman scolded the SJR editorial board for not asking about an issue as important as climate change. When asked if it’s man-made, Hartman spoke about the broad scientific consensus that man-made pollution is driving the climate crisis.
David Gill reinforced the position on his campaign website, saying, “It’s not a question of belief, it’s a question of what is. The science is extremely clear on this. It’s very, very real and it’s a grave threat. Irreversible damage is already taking place now. The failure of the Exxon-Mobil funded politicians in Washington D.C. to address it appropriately is perhaps the biggest mistake that we’re making.”
Gill didn’t mention that his Republican opponent, Rodney Davis, already took the maximum allowable campaign contributions from Exxon and the Koch brothers PAC. Both Exxon and the Koch brothers funded deceptive propaganda campaigns to spread doubt about the science of climate change. Does Davis represent the views of his corporate sponsors who try to undermine science?
Davis claimed that, “I think we all agree that climate change is reality. There’s a debate between how much of it is man-made and how much of it is due to natural causes.” He didn’t say where he stands in that debate.
Once again, Davis dodged saying plainly what he believes about climate change science. Furthermore, his claim about the debate is misleading. There’s broad scientific consensus that man-made pollutants are driving greenhouse gasses far beyond normal levels, causing the planetary emergency we face now.
After it became impossible to deny that climate change was already happening, the deniers switched to the “natural causes” argument in an attempt to cast doubt on the scientific consensus. Davis is repeating the misleading talking points used by the fossil fuel industry and their puppets like Glenn Beck, James Inhofe, and John Shimkus. He passed on the opportunity to distinguish himself from the anti-science conspiracy theorists who support his campaign.
Davis even brought out the old straw-man argument I often hear from coal industry spokesmen, that we can’t power the country on wind and solar alone. Back on planet reality, no one is seriously proposing we try doing that in the near future. What people do propose is that we create jobs by quickly building a lot of new clean energy. Unfortunately, Davis made it clear in his interview that he opposes meaningful policies to expand wind and solar.
When pressed about what tax loopholes he would close, Davis said “I would like to take away the energy tax credit that gave us the Solyndras of the world.”
First of all, Solyndra made news because it defaulted on a Department of Energy loan guarantee, not because it received a tax credit. Second, Davis personally spoke in favor of a loan guarantee from the same Department of Energy program for a proposed coal plant in Taylorville that was five times bigger than Solyndra’s loan. Continue reading Rodney Davis sides with climate change conspiracy theorists. Would kill green jobs. (IL-13)
David Roberts has an interesting article at Grist in response to a reader asking how energy journalism can be better. It got me thinking about my experiences giving interviews and pitching stories on energy topics in Illinois.
He writes that journalists and politicians are mostly sleepwalking into the great crisis of our time. With rare exception, we don’t have energy-specific journalists.
There are finance and business journalists who cover energy as a commodity business, tracking global supply and demand flows, prices, futures trading, all that sort of stuff. There are business and tech journalists who focus on cleantech. There are environmental journalists, who tend to cover energy (when they do it) through the lens of enviros vs. polluters. And there are political journalists who cover energy as a campaign and/or policy issue, sometimes as a specialty, more often as part of a portfolio.
He goes on to write that journalists generally view energy stories from the angle of of their beat, and that isn’t well suited to an issue like climate change that intersects so many national and international problems. How do journalists used to looking through one lens paint the bigger picture?
That is not necessarily something that comes easily to journalists, especially old-school reporters. Pushing climate change or energy poverty into a conversation where it hasn’t typically appeared and isn’t typically taken seriously can feel like advocacy or moralizing. It pushes against some quiet but insistent social and professional pressures. Right now, frankly, think tanks, NGOs, and bloggers are doing a better job of it.
Roberts’ observations make a lot of sense when I think about my interactions with the regional press.
Like most papers, the State Journal-Register doesn’t have a writer dedicated to energy. Several years ago I never would have expected to write that the best reporter on energy at the SJR is the business editor. Tim Landis covers developments in the regional coal industry without the critical view I would take. But, when there’s a controversial story, he does a good job of getting different perspectives and explaining complex issues. I’m consistently impressed by his work.
On the political side, there has essentially been a blackout on climate change at the SJR. In last year’s Springfield city election, they failed to ask candidates about clean energy or climate change even though the city council oversees our public utility. The decision to build a coal plant and purchase wind power was one of the hottest local government issues in the past decade but the SJR felt the top issue to cover at the utility was patronage hiring.
Their election coverage this year is no different. Every candidate is asked about the conservative wedge issues of guns and gays, but nothing on climate change. Despite the fact that state and national legislators will spend far more time on energy issues than gun control or gay marriage; despite the fact that climate change is the subject of intense citizen interest; and despite the fact that every paper in the region believes the impacts of climate change are a front page story when droughts hit farmers and rivers flood. In the 13th Congressional district race, political reporters across the district have helped Rodney Davis continue ducking the most pressing issue of our time. It’s difficult for me to understand why. Continue reading Does downstate Illinois need better energy journalism?
Illinois is attempting to become ground zero for clean coal projects. That effort cost state taxpayers millions of dollars for failed coal plants that will never be built. I recently filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) to find out how much their Office of Coal Development (OCD) gave to several proposed coal plants that were abandoned.
The OCD boasts of spending more to support the coal industry than any other state in the union. In 2011 their three primary coal programs spent $408.5 million in state taxpayer funds. Much of that spending is for coal mines and aging plants. For this post, I’ll focus on their support of four failed projects based on the results of my FOIA request and the DCEO grant tracker.
Tenaska’s Taylorville Energy Center
I haven’t seen an official announcement that Tenaska is abandoning the Taylorville Energy Center, but it’s definitely down for the count. After repeatedly failing over several years to pass a special rate-hike bill through the legislature, they scaled back their plans from a coal gasification and sequestration project to a natural gas plant. That appeared to cost them support from coal-friendly legislators without gaining the additional votes they needed. In July, their construction permit was withdrawn after US EPA took issue with its failure to require carbon sequestration. Without a permit and little chance of getting supportive legislation, this project hasn’t got a pulse.
The Coal Demonstration Program gave Tenaska $18 million in 2010. That came after Tenaska spent $2.5 million in grants given in ’06-’07. State taxpayers spent $20.5 million in direct grants for the Taylorville Energy Center. That comes out to a little over $1,800 for every resident of Taylorville.
As if that weren’t enough, Tenaska expected to qualify for $30 million to $60 million per year in clean coal tax credits included in the federal stimulus bill.
The company also received preliminary qualification for a $2.579 billion federal Department of Energy loan guarantee. Their application was strongly supported by area Congressman John Shimkus. He even sent a member of his staff (who’s currently running for Congress) to speak at a public hearing in favor of the loan guarantee. Later, Shimkus was outspoken in hearings criticizing the loan guarantee Solyndra received from the same Department of Energy program. In Shimkus’ view, a loan guarantee for a failed solar project is worth holding hearings over, but a loan guarantee five times bigger for a failed coal project in his own district is never mentioned.
Power Holdings of Illinois
Aurora-based Power Holdings sought to build a plant in rural southern Illinois that would convert coal to synthetic natural gas. It’s difficult to tell how serious they were since the company never had the finances or expertise to complete it on their own. They did manage to get the coal-friendly Illinois legislature to pass a bill forcing several utilities into 10-year contracts to buy the plant’s output.
Power Holdings received three OCD grants for studies and early engineering work in 2006 and 2010 totaling $4.05 million. Additionally, an economic empowerment zone was extended to provide the owners a variety of state and local tax breaks, despite objections from residents neighboring the proposed site.
Power Holdings finally declared defeat when they were unable to find enough investors who thought it was a good idea to create a very expensive, dirty way to produce synthetic natural gas from coal at a time when regular natural gas is plentiful and cheap. The market wouldn’t support this bad idea, even with mandatory contracts and millions in subsidies.
On Chicago’s south side, another coal-to-gas plant was proposed in an area already suffering from environmental public health threats. Governor Pat Quinn vetoed a bill that would have guaranteed profits for Leucadia and potentially cost consumers billions of dollars in rate hikes. That forced the company to give up, acknowledging that it can’t continue without special manipulations of the market.
Leucadia was awarded $250,000 in 2009 for a feasibility study. The next year they were granted $10 million more for additional studies and cost estimates. Millions of dollars in taxpayers funds were awarded in the early stages of the project when the company had not even applied for an EPA permit, had no legislative approval they needed to proceed, and faced significant community opposition.
FutureGen Episode 1: The Phantom Hope
The George W. Bush administration started FutureGen as a research project to demonstrate the viability of clean coal and carbon sequestration. Mattoon, Illinois won a competition to host the plant, but the federal Department of Energy soon abandoned the effort due to escalating costs. That failure wasn’t taken as signal about the viability of clean coal, so a new “FutureGen 2.0″ is now proposed in Meredosia, near Jacksonville, Illinois.
The first incarnation of FutureGen proposed in Mattoon was given three Coal Competitiveness Program grants totaling $1.32 million. Coles County invested millions and extended an enterprise zone to exempt FutureGen from paying many local taxes. The community was left devastated and angry when FutureGen was scuttled.
Demonstrating the persistence of Wile E. Coyote, FutureGen 2.0 was already granted $850,000
earlier this year. That totals $2.17 million in Illinois DCEO funds awarded directly to FutureGen. That number is tiny compared to the billions of dollars in federal support, but that’s a topic for another blog.
Shortly before Morgan County was selected for FutureGen 2.0, DCEO gave the Christian County Development Corporation $7,500 to compete for the project. They gave $10,000 to the city of Vandalia to compete against Christian county. Plus $10,000 more to Tuscola. Jacksonville got $18,000 to push for Morgan County. In total, DCEO awarded $45,500 to four communities so they could fight each other for the same project.
The grants provided an inducement for each community to offer the FutureGen Alliance their own package of incentives on top of federal and state dollars. Dividing up the money between competitors, instead of creating a unified state plan, seems like an uncoordinated waste. But, I can’t imagine a better way to boost local support, and encourage communities to overlook potential negative impacts of the project, than egging on a competition between small towns desperate for any jobs they can get. Continue reading Failed clean coal projects cost Illinois taxpayers millions
I sometimes hear people say they wish Barack Obama had created more New Deal style programs to create jobs like the WPA or CCC. It would be even better if he did it to build clean energy projects and deal with climate change.
I often think, that’s a great idea! I liked it even better the first time when it was called the federal stimulus bill! Then I try to remember not to be such a sarcastic jerk and politely point out that Obama funded a lot of projects like that when he decided to make energy the main focus of the stimulus bill. Many forget or never knew.
Part of the trouble is that Obama didn’t advertise stimulus jobs with catchy acronyms like CCC or WPA. Sure, there were signs at some public works projects but it wasn’t mandatory. The vast majority of jobs saved or created by stimulus funding didn’t arrive with a sign to let people know where the money came from.
For example, energy efficiency and weatherization funding. I learned at Climate Progress that, after getting $5 billion in the stimulus bill, the Weatherization Assistance Program has weatherized 1 million homes as of September 27, 2012. Woohoo!
The program is a triple win. It creates jobs, helps deal with climate change by lowering energy use, and lowers monthly utility bills. The post at Climate Progress points out that “state governments have been using a network of over 1,000 local agencies and more than 4,000 private contractors while employing an average of more than 12,000 workers per quarter to perform weatherization services across the country.”
The Weatherization Assistance Program not only created jobs desperately needed in the construction industry, it also provided a boost for American manufacturing and small businesses. More than 89 percent of the materials used in home retrofits are made right here in America. In all cases, except refrigerators (which are 62.3 percent domestically produced), retrofitting homes exceeded the national average for domestic share of all manufactured products used in the United States of 76.5 percent. Recovery Act funding went through these channels to stimulate local economies, employ thousands, and create demand for American-made supplies.
I’m sure workers in some of the factories making those materials know they won new orders because of the weatherization program. But, I wonder how many people are aware that a factory in their town was able to stay open or hire new employees because of orders generated by the program. Not many, I bet.
Consider how it was implemented in my community as a typical example. Federal money was given to the states and passed down to agencies with weatherization programs. It allowed Sangamon County to dramatically expand their program during a time of major budget cuts. I’ll be cynical and assume that the heavily Republican Sangamon County government probably operated by their usual buddy system and hired contractors they knew.
Neither Republican county leaders nor the friends they hire to do the work will go out of their way to credit Obama. In fact, many of them are the sort of people who nod their head when a politician says “government doesn’t create jobs” even if they’ve spent most of their lives working for the government.
One might read in the newspaper or on the county website that the program was expanded thanks to stimulus funds, but there’s nothing obvious to point that out when the work is being done. No one from the federal CCC or WPA came to work on their house. A contractor sent by the county did. It’s likely that many program participants are unaware or quickly forget about the connection to federal stimulus funding. Continue reading A hidden Obama success story: weatherization and energy efficiency
If you were watching Rodney Davis’ campaign Facebook page Sunday afternoon you would have seen a flood of questions from citizens asking where he stands on climate change. They’re still waiting for an answer.
I wrote about Davis ignoring my question and hurrying away when I asked if he thought floods and droughts are getting worse due to climate change. That’s not the only question he’s dodging. He attends very few public forums where he will have to answer questions from the public, and he won’t get specific about where he stands on many major issues. Would he respond to citizens on his campaign Facebook page asking about climate change, the great challenge of our time?
I repeated my own question about floods and droughts.
Mr Davis, you didn’t answer my question about whether you think floods and droughts in Illinois are getting worse because of climate change. It will be devastating to farmers, residents, and the regional economy if the extreme weather disasters we’ve had the last few years become the new normal. Do you acknowledge the scientific consensus that man-made pollutants are contributing to climate change and what would you do to solve the problem?
Dozens of questions by others were posted on his page.
My respectful questions were removed quickly and I was banned from commenting on his Facebook page again. That didn’t surprise me. After a while, every mention of climate change by anyone was deleted as quickly as it was posted. Even the most politely worded questions were removed, like this one:
Thank you for putting forth an energy policy but I’m unclear about your stance regarding climate change. Since I will likely not be able to attend one of your appearances, might you be able to respond in this forum? Thanks so much.
That got deleted.
Many more excellent banned questions can be viewed at my Flickr set. I captured many, but not all, before they were removed by the Davis campaign. My favorite was posted on a comment about a campaign sign in a soy field.
Wonder where he stands on climate change? Rodney are you going to answer ever? It might help out the bean field?
Questions in response to the energy plan posted on his main campaign website haven’t been removed yet. I’m sure they’ll get to those after they read this blog post so catch them while you can. A couple of voters there let Davis know they aren’t happy about their questions on Facebook being ignored and removed. Continue reading FaceMob Floods Congressional Candidate Rodney Davis with Climate Change Questions. Still No Answer. (IL-13)
House Republicans continue to ignore the American Jobs Act, but they found plenty of time for their ongoing effort to gin up a phony scandal around Solyndra. Today they passed the “No More Solyndras Act,” mostly along party lines. They want to end the Department of Energy loan guarantee program because one solar project failed.
Next month I expect them to pass the “No More Restaurants Act” because O’Boys Bar-B-Q chain in central Florida just closed their final location. Also, the “No More Movies Act” will be voted on in response to “Think of the Cold Light of Day” earning far less at the box office than it cost to make. As long as we’re irrationally overrating to minor setbacks, then why not?
Illinois Congressman John Shimkus has been making noise about Solyndra during the House’s desperate search for a scandal. He voted for the bill today that would ban the Department of Energy from approving loan guarantee applications filed after 2011. That’s an important deadline. It means the act won’t apply to a loan guarantee Shimkus enthusiastically supported in 2010 that’s five times bigger than Solyndra’s.